Walk into the typical gym and a few things stand out: The bro in a cut off t-shirt, the old dude wearing bikers spandex stretching spread eagle on the mat, and the same cardio queens snappin’ Instagram selfies on the elliptical.
Even more perplexing is the same people doing the same exercises day after day, week after week and not making jack-squat (pun-intended) for progress.
While there are staple movements that make up the best muscle and strength building programs some variety is needed to reduce your chance of injuries and attack your weak points.
Case in point, the goblet squat.
The goblet squat is a movement most everyone (injuries non-withstanding) should do. Still, all I see are barbell squats andfront squats, often with hips shooting up early, poor depth and varus/valgus issues at the knee. Despite being a natural movement squatting with sound technique has somehow become a lost art.
Despite being a natural movement squatting with sound technique has somehow become a lost art.
Between sedentary jobs and inactive lifestyles, basic movement quality sucks for most folks. Among most exercises what’s supposed to be a squat ends up looking like a quasi-modo twerking with a steel bar on his back.
As you’d imagine, it ain’t pretty. Squats are a great tool, but like anything else, how you use the tool is most important. A hammer is great when hitting a nail, as long as you strike the nail instead of exploding your thumb.
As it is, the goblet squat is my preferred exercise when introducing the squat to new clients and beginners in the weight room. Whether you’re an inexperienced athlete or a desk jockey with the mobility of a screwdriver, the goblet squat is an easy way to teach body awareness and improve your squat.
Here’s A Sample Progression For Your Squat
Start with a bodyweight squat with the arms at shoulder width, progressing to an overhead squat to see how thoracic mobility limitations are playing a role in limiting movement.
At this point, most peoples knees begin shaking, their heels leave the floor, and all hell breaks loose. More than common mobility restrictions like poor dorsiflexion or tight hips my concern lies with the lack of stability during the movement. The fact that so many folks run around playing sports with major instabilities sets off the alarms faster than deadlifts at Planet Fitness.
With this in mind, the last thing you want to do is hop under a heavy barbell and squat your face off until your form is rock-solid. This is where the almighty goblet squat comes into play.
Here’s a quick demo from my YouTube Page, which you should probably subscribe to.
Goblet Squats for Muscle Building:
Few exercises stimulate total body muscle growth like squats. Problem is, most people suck at them. Piling volume-on-top of dysfunction is a huge no-no, and squats are a frequent perpetrator. You won’t be able to load goblet squats heavy like barbell squats, but you maintain great form and not snap your spine in half during longer duration sets.
You won’t be able to load goblet squats heavy like barbell squats, but you maintain great form and not snap your spine in half during longer duration sets.
Sound like a win? It is.
Aim for 3-5 sets of 10-20 rep goblet squats. Add pauses, mid-rep holds, and load these bad-boys up 100+ pounds if you’re able. This creates tons of muscular damage and metabolic stress from the accumulation of metabolic by-products from hard-work—setting you up for legs gains.
P.S. Are you ready to build functional strength and muscle without all the aches and pains? To cut through the fluff transform your body download:
Those with poor coordination are better candidates for the goblet squat. Since the compact weight is held in front of the athlete it’s much easier to stabilize than a long, unstable barbell. Add in the fact that goblet squats strengthen your anterior core, your upper back (hello better posture) and create muscle building metabolic tension and you have a winner.
Increase anterior core engagement:
I cover this thoroughly when talking about front squats here, and the mechanism responsible for strengthening your core with goblet squats and front squats is largely the same. Anterior bar placement keeps the torso vertical, preventing the hips from going into an excessive tilt, and requiring greater oblique and rectus abdominus involvement to prevent flexion.
This means your spine stays more vertical, lengthens the lats, reduces shear stress on the spine and requires extra core involvement to keep you vertical. In a nutshell, proper front squats and goblet squats protect your back from shooting a disk across the room and sending you to the ER.
Vertical Spine position and less shear stress on the spine:
Per the increase in anterior core engagement, the spine stays vertical, lengthens the lats, reduces shear stress on the spine. Altogether, this requires extra core involvement to keep you upright. During de-load periods heavy goblet squats opposed to back squats deload the spine and nervous system.
Minimal Equipment or Space Needed:
If you’re traveling or don’t have any room to squat because some hair-gelled douche is curling in the squat rack then goblet squats are an awesome substitution to hammer your legs. In all seriousness, exercise doesn’t need to be complicated, it just has to be effective. Find out more on Exercise Minimalism in my three-part series here, here, and here.
Teach upper-back tightness during lower body exercises:
Too many novice lifters don’t realize the importance of keeping the upper back tight because they don’t lift enough weight to get stapled forward. With even moderate weights, the goblet squatter feels his upper back and must retract the shoulders to hold the ideal position. As a bonus, this will keep you from getting the oh so sexy quasi-modo posture.
Teach tightness in the hole without significant loading:
Lots of folks lose lumbar stability in the bottom of the squat, bounce out of the hole, and losing spinal integrity. If you feel yourself rounding forward when you squat or your hips shooting up before your chest, this could be you.
To learn tightness and technique in the bottom of a squat, goblet squats with a pause are perfect. The anterior load forces anterior core engagement and abdominal bracing when the lower back is most prone to injury– the bottom of a squat. Adding a pause allows time to check the alignment of your hips, knees, and ankles to prevent pronation/supination of the foot and valgus/varus stress on your knees.
In other words, adding pauses and slow tempo to reinforce your technique keeps your body from breaking down into potentially injury-causing positions.
How to Goblet Squat:
Hold a dumbbell (or kettlebell) with both hands underneath the “bell” at chest level, and set your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outwards
(a). Push your butt back like you’re sitting in a chair and descend until your elbows reach the inside of your knees.
(b). Keeping your heels flat, pressing into the floor, pause at the bottom of the squat, and return to a full standing position. If your heels rise push your hips further back and work on partial ranges of motion until mobility and form improve
(c). Repeat for three to four sets of 8-10 reps.
Here’s a video of my beastly client Raven hitting some goblet squats. Despite the fact that he hits 700lb squats for fun it’s still important to ingrain movement skills to limit potential weaknesses and deficiencies.
Goblet Squat Coaching Cues:
Keep your chest tall with your shoulders squeezed down and together.
Brace the trunk like you’re taking a punch rather than arching your lower back.
Sit between your legs and open your hips. Push your knees out while you’re at it.
Reverse directions, driving your feet evenly into the ground and returning to a tall standing position. Squeeze the glutes at the top, rinse, and repeat.
Sample Goblet Squat Progression:
The bodyweight squat and overhead squat are two tests used for assessments for good reason: they show coordination and movement in a basic movement pattern.
I prefer this progression as it reinforces movement quality in a limited range of motion (ROM) and gradually increases ROM and difficulty as you get stronger.
Bodyweight Squats to Box>Bodyweight Squats with Pause> Goblet Squat to High Box>Goblet Squat to Lower Box>Goblet Squat with Pause>Goblet Squat
From here, you can take your goblet squat to a front squat or back squat with a more refined movement pattern and better total-body stability for pain-free progress.
The Goblet Squat Challenge
Think you’re too advanced to use goblet squats effectively? Ahh, it’s time to be humbled my friend.
As covered in my work on T-Nation, the goblet squat challenge is as follows: ”
When loaded heavy, the goblet squat is a brutal exercise that challenges the strength of your legs, anterior core, and upper back. Add in an iso-hold on the front end and you have a battle for the ages.
Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell. Between 40-80 pounds is plenty for seasoned lifters.
Hold it at chest height and descend to the bottom position of the squat. Hold in the bottom position for 15 seconds.
After 15 seconds, stand up to full extension then perform as many full goblet squats as possible, up to 15 reps. If you can bang out more than that, go heavier.
Start with 40 pounds until you complete the full iso-hold plus 15 reps, at which point you increase the weight by 5-10 pound increments in subsequent workouts.”
In my experience, most men should start with 65 pounds and progress from there. Women will do well with 40 as a starting point. Work your way all the way to 100+ if you can and #gobletsquatchallenge and tagging @bachperformance on Instagram. Here’s a quick demo:
By now you’re well versed in the goblet squat. The goblet squat is a great teaching tool for beginners, a slam dunk for improving your technique, and a deceptive tool for building bigger, stronger legs.
Yea, it’s not ideal for maximum strength and power development, but let’s be real—more trainees would benefit from building sound mechanics of a goblet squat before piling weight on a faulty foundation and getting hurt.
Whether you’re new to squats or can’t squat due to hair-gelled curl in the squat rack guy the goblet squat is a high-performance training tool you should be doing.
A final note before you go…
Are you ready to build functional strength and muscle without all the aches and pains?