March 21, 2022
The goblet squat is a great exercise for people of all fitness levels. For beginners, it can help solidify proper movement mechanics of the squat while at the same time allowing for progressive overload to build muscle and hypertrophy. For more seasoned trainees, the goblet squat is a fantastic accessory exercise to increase volume, particularly for the quads and glutes. And while the goblet squat is a leg dominant exercise, the fact that you are holding onto the kettlebell or dumbbell really makes it a full body movement to develop overall functional strength.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about goblet squats. So, whether you are a beginner, an athlete, or even a trainer or coach, we know you'll find value in this one...
The most common squat in fitness is the back squat. This requires a barbell with or without weight to be on your back. A goblet squat is performed holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of the chest.
Holding a weight at the chest forces the core to engage the entire repetition, as well as the arms, allowing the body to remain upright and the kettlebell/dumbbell in position.
Another big difference between the standard barbell squat and goblet squats is the goblet squat is a safer movement. If imperfect form begins to happen while executing a goblet squat, the person can just drop or set the kettlebell or dumbbell down.
What's more, holding the load at your front (and keeping your body more upright) takes a lot of pressure off your lower back. There’s far less risk for injury here than in traditional barbell back squat as the spine isn't being loaded.
In terms of load position, body position, and muscles targeted, the goblet squat is actually similar to the barbell front squat:
That said, there are some differences:
Considering the similarities, the goblet squat is often used as an alternative and precursor to front squats. Plus, the majority of people aren't going to be doing that heavy of barbell front squats anyway, so the load potential is often irrelevant.
Related: Front Squats vs Back Squats
For those who are interested in barbell strength training, the goblet squat is a great precursor of the barbell back or front squat. You will be able to learn the fundamental mechanics of the squat much easier with the position of the goblet hold rather than a traditional squat.
Learning the proper mechanics of the squat is extremely important. The ability to squat was given to us when we were just learning how to walk and pick up things off the ground. As we grow older, we are put into desks for at least 13 years of school, and perhaps much longer depending on the university and career path we decide to take, and we often lose that innate movement pattern.
Before loading a back squat, or any squat for that matter, the proper techniques are necessary. If you learn to squat incorrectly and add external weight to it, you are solidifying that movement pattern to the brain. It’s much more difficult to unlearn faulty movement patterns than learning to do it correctly the first time.
The kettlebell Goblet Squat was created by Dan John, to do just that. To make sure his students learned how to properly squat.
Bottom line: The goblet squat invokes less stress on the back than a traditional squat. This can be a game-changer for a lot of practitioners who have not yet perfected their squatting technique. Put the barbell away for just a moment to use the goblet squat as a teaching tool.
Now, for those who simply want to get fit, lose weight, and look good, the goblet squat is a great exercise to build a solid foundation of lower body and total body strength. You can actually pack on a lot of muscle with just dumbbell/kettlebell goblet squats alone, especially as a beginner. Point being, if you don't care about "graduating" to the barbell, you would do just fine with kettlebells and dumbbells (of course, you won't be able to become the strongest and biggest potential version of yourself, but you can still look really great, feel really great, and be strong without barbells - and with much less risk of injury).
The goblet squat provides benefits such as (some of which have been mentioned):
To get a little deeper into this matter, and give you some insight into my personal experience (I'm coach Mike Pastor by the way, MMA practitioner and Kettlebell specialist), here are some more thoughts...
Real-World Application: First and foremost, it’s a fundamental human movement. Being put into a desk at a young age in the western world and being kept there throughout school, and even into university and possibly your career, has hurt our physical bodies in many ways. The ability to sit into a deep squat is normal around the world to work, eat, get off the ground and possibly use the bathroom.
Throughout my travels, the most predominant countries that utilize the deep squatted position are Vietnam, Thailand, and Bali.
In Vietnam, they eat while sitting on what we (in the western part of the world) would consider child-size chairs. They are technically sitting but their butts are lower than their knees. They are in a relaxed squat position if you will. Each meal, they could potentially be sitting in this position.
My wife and I were amazed at the Vietnamese manual laborers, both men, and women, they removed a gigantic tree from the ground by hand. They spent days digging with shovels, in a deep squatted position and were finally able to cover the roots in burlap, pick the tree up by hand and place it in the back of a truck. There were many people executing this process.
The reason for bringing these stories up is, none of them were worried if they could or could not squat to be able to eat or work. It’s a necessity and something they’ve been doing their entire lives.
So, the moral of the story, if you use it, you won’t lose it. And vice versus.
If it's something you can incorporate into your everyday life, there shouldn’t be a time when you can no longer do it. It may not be as fast or as heavy but you should still be able to perform the squat.
Posture: Holding the weight in the front of the body will create a neutral spine. It is not possible to do the goblet squat if you feel like you’re falling forward. Also, it will help you figure out your footing and where to put your weight. You shouldn’t ever feel like you are falling forward or backward. Having weight in front of the chest allows you to set your shoulders in the proper place and to have the latissimus dorsi fire up. This is all to help protect the spine.
Squat Mobility: Squatting is necessary on a daily basis, most people do it throughout the day without even realizing it or they are so deconditioned that they injure themselves doing a simple movement because the wrong muscles are being utilized. Getting up and down out of a chair, picking a child up off the floor, bending down to pick up something really heavy are all examples of the squat pattern. Now, why not train this movement properly, so you decrease the risk of injury in your daily life.
Strength: The goblet squat can be used to gain strength in the lower body and core. It helps engage the muscles of the lower legs, abdominal muscles, upper back, shoulders, and forearms.
Warm Ups: Using the goblet squat as a part of your warm-up prior to workout out is a huge benefit. Not only will it help with your hip mobility but it will help prepare you for a workout that involves heavy squatting, lunging, walking, running, deadlift, and basically any human movement that you will do. When using the kettlebell or dumbbell goblet squat in your warm-up, make sure to start with a bodyweight movement and then progress towards a lightweight. Since it’s the warmup, you have to prepare the body to lift the heavyweights.
Finally, and as a last note, it’s important to train and build the lower body muscles because they aid in improving overall athletic performance and support your daily movement patterns. A strong lower body can also aid in injury prevention, reduction in joint pain, burn calories and aid in weight loss, strengthen the core and sculpt the legs.
The kettlebell and dumbbell goblet squat is a very effective lower body exercise. Mainly, the goblet squats work the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, similar to the ‘regular’ squat.
Being that the weight is centered near the chest and at the front of the body, the quads will be placed under more emphasis and the abdominal muscles will be fired up and engaged for the duration of the repetition. While the arms, upper back and latissimus dorsi help keep the kettlebell or dumbbell in place in front of the chest.
Another thing to consider is that the goblet squat generally allows for a deeper squat, which means great stretching contraction (eccentric contraction), particularly for the quads and glutes. This is great for building muscle and strength in the legs, and it does so in a safer manner than traditional barbell squats.
With kettlebells, there are a couple holding positions:
The easiest and most secure way is by the horns of the kettlebell with the bell down as you can grip the handle tightly and press your forearms into the bell.
With a dumbbell, everything in terms of the movement mechanics and holding position are the same. You will just hold the dumbbell vertically with your palms in and slightly up on the underside of the upper head of the dumbbell.
Often, the goblet squat is done with higher volumes to achieve muscle hypertrophy in the lower body muscles. This exercise is utilized by beginners and advanced practitioners alike. To work towards muscle hypertrophy the range is 4-5 sets of 12-15 repetitions with a moderate to heavy load. You can add the goblet squat into a workout regime you already have or program them as a stand-alone exercise.
Squats aren’t easy. Weighted squats are even more challenging. Add in a kettlebell racked position and you are really making your glutes do the work. If you’re a novice practitioner, start with the kettlebells or dumbbells held with arms down by your side. Do not attempt the rack position kettlebell goblet squat, you need to work your way up to it. I know most people want to jump into the hardest, coolest looking movement but that will result in injury or solidifying a poor movement pattern. Below are different progressions of a kettlebell/dumbbell squat.
This is easier than the goblet squat in that you don't need to hold the kettlebell/dumbbell up so some of the upper body work is taken out of the equation. That said, you can generally load heavier with this exercise, which is great if you really want to hone in on your legs.
If you only have one dumbbell or kettlebell, you can also perform the exercise like this...
This is like the advanced version of the goblet squat. It allows you to use two kettlebells (or dumbbells) - although it can be done unilaterally too - which allows for greater load potential. Like the goblet squat, the emphasis will be on the quads and glutes, as well as the core and upper back to maintain the load position.
This one is easier with kettlebells due to the design of them. They simply sit in the pockets created by your arm position easier than dumbbells, which usually means you can go heavier with kettlebells and it's more comfortable.
The overhead squat is for the athlete who has mastered the squat technique. This is an advanced movement and should not be performed by a beginner or someone who doesn’t have the muscle mechanics to properly push weight overhead.
With the goblet hold you have plenty of other exercises as well, such as...
In conclusion, whether you’re a seasoned vet or just a beginner, the kettlebell and dumbbell goblet squat has a wide range of benefits. It is a teaching tool to use to learn the proper squatting technique but also is used to create hypertrophy in the lower body muscles. The goblet squat can be progressed into several different versions as well as adding two kettlebells or dumbbells to the mix.
Not only is it a great tool to progress your squatting technique, it’s something to use to help with your squat for real-world application as well as your squat mobility is extremely important to continue to work on as you age. The more work and effort you put in now, the better your physical future will be. I highly recommend adding the goblet squat to your workout toolbox.
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