How to Perform the Goblet Squat

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The squat is without the doubt the king of leg exercises.

It’s a compound push movement typically placed on leg day (when performing a traditional bodybuilding or push/pull/legs split) or push day (when following a push/pull split). When properly performed it not only torches your quadriceps and engages your glutes, but it also incorporates lower leg and upper body muscles which act as stabilizers.

Squats benefit athletes in all realms – whether it be organized team sports, bodybuilding, powerlifting, or Olympic lifting. A simple web search yields countless squat variations – back, front, overhead, dumbbell, barbell, etc.

This article focuses on how to properly perform the goblet squat. This lift is completed using one dumbbell or kettlebell. It’s one of the most underrated and underutilized squat variations.

For beginners, the goblet squat is an excellent exercise for teaching and reinforcing proper squat form. For intermediate and advanced lifters it’s an excellent warm-up exercise prior to performing barbell front or back squats.

This exercise is the perfect tool to add to your arsenal if you have hip and ankle mobility issues preventing from squatting below parallel on the traditional barbell squat. Many squatters find with mobility issues find it much easier to break parallel with the goblet squat.

If you have tight shoulder or chest muscles, you may be excessively leaning forward on the barbell back squat, which turns the exercise in to more of a good morning. The goblet squat forces you to stay more upright due to the location of the weight, ensuring you work the hips and upper thighs rather than the lower back.
The goblet squat involves muscles from ankle to neck. It primarily targets the gluteus maximus but also engages the quadriceps, adductor magnus (inner thigh), and soleus (calf) muscles to assist in completing the movement. The hamstrings, gastrocnemius (calf), erector spinae, upper & middle traps, levator (rear neck), rectus abdominis & obliques (abdominals) are stabilizers during the exercise. [1]

MTS Nutrition CEO Marc Lobliner demonstrates proper goblet squat form.

How to Perform the Goblet Squat

Before attempting to perform the goblet squat you should be able to successfully complete bodyweight squats for a reasonable number of sets and reps. If this is your first time performing goblet squats then pick a conservative weight you can safely lift for 8 to 12 repetitions. When learning and performing a new lift rep quality is exponentially more important than rep quantity.

At this point the dumbbell or kettlebell is resting in the rack or on the floor. If you’re using a dumbbell carefully pick up and hold it vertically so both hands are grasping on to the higher end. If you’re using a kettlebell then both hands should be grasping either side of metal semi-circle, commonly referred to as the horn. The dumbbell or kettlebell should be held against your mid-chest at this point and should remain here for the entire set.

You will start and end each rep standing upright with a neutral spine and neck, shoulders down, and chest up. Imagine you’re standing at attention in the military except with a dumbbell or kettlebell in your hands.

Take a shoulder-width or slightly wider stance. Those with longer femurs may have to widen their stance further. Your feet should be pointing slightly outwards. It’s important to keep your knees in-line with your feet throughout movement.

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After setting your grip and stance, take a deep breath, brace your abdominals as if you’re about to get punched in the stomach, and begin lowering your hips. During the lowering of the hips it’s crucial to keep the hips underneath you at all times; focus on sitting down rather than back.

This cue will help to ensure you remain on your heels throughout the entire lift a well as minimize forward lean of the torso. During the descent of the hips and torso your elbows should freely move past the inside of your knees and thighs.

For some the elbows may lightly brush the inner thigh and for others, the elbows may noticeably push out the knees; both are acceptable. The goblet squat is an excellent movement for stretching the inner thigh muscles and increasing hip mobility.

Descend until you’ve hit the desired depth – for most this will be until the upper thighs slightly below parallel to the floors. Those who are more flexible can descend until the thighs hit the calves, commonly referred to as ass-to-grass or ATG. It’s completely normal for the knees to bend forward past the ankle; no your knees will not explode nor will you be crippled.

If you look at some of the best ATG squatters, Olympic lifters, you’ll notice their knees come slightly past their ankles. At this point you’re at the bottom of the lift, commonly referred to as the hole. You should still be holding a big breath and bracing your abdominals with a forward-facing head, relatively upright torso, and high chest.

To initiate the raising portion of the exercise begin pushing through your heels, extending your knees, and raising your hips in one smooth motion. Your torso angle should remain upright during the ascent; don’t let your hips raise too quickly as this will turn the squat in to a good morning. At the top of the movement, often referred to as the lockout, legs are straight (but not hyperextended), your torso is upright, and your glutes are squeezed. Some choose to breath between each rep while others prefer to breath out during the ascent; experiment and see which feels most comfortable and natural to you.

This exercise can be performed using straight sets, drop sets, rest-pause sets, supersets, trisets, giant sets, paused reps, or slow negatives. Partial and forced reps are not advised. As with any exercise, the two most important components are high-quality form and progression. Progression can take a variety of forms (e.g. more weight, sets, or reps, decreased rest period, improved rep quality, etc…) but strive to improve every time you walk in to the gym.

Goblet Squat Form Tips

Avoid Half Reps – The goblet squat provides maximum benefit if performed using full range-of-motion reps. Not squatting until the upper thigh breaks parallel with the knee places additional stress on the knees, reinforces poor movement patterns, and doesn’t provide as much stimulus to the target and supporting muscle groups.

Knees Out – While other squat variations are more forgiving and allow your knees to cave in to complete the rep, the goblet squat is not as forgiving. If your knees cave in with the goblet squat your upper thighs likely won’t be breaking parallel and you may fall forward.

Sit Down, Not Back – It’s crucial to stay on your heels and keep your hips underneath you at all times. While some squat variations encourage sitting back, rather than down, doing so with goblet squats leads to excessive forward lean which may cause injury or lead to low quality reps.

Pause at the Bottom – Paused at the bottom of the rep or in the hole increases the intensity by extending the duration of the set and time under tension as well as stretches the adductors (inner thigh muscles) and hips because the elbows are pushing out the knees and upper thighs so that the torso remains upright.

Double Up – Use two dumbbells or kettlebells if the largest kettlebell or dumbbell becomes too easy to squat. The 2-bell variation will be performed exactly the same as described above except one dumbbell will rest on each shoulder or one kettlebell will sit in the crook of each arm, resting on your forearm, bicep, and shoulder. Using two bells also requires more balance and increases the recruitment of stabilizer muscles in the shoulders and upper back.

References

1. Griffing, James, et al. “Dumbbell Front Squat.” ExRx.net. N.p., 2015.

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Name: Nick Ludlow

Bio: When it comes to fitness I enjoy reading about historic weight lifters, non-conventional weightlifting approaches, nutritional protocols, and the science behind supplements.