How To Master The Goblet Squat
Hunker down to target your quads, glutes and hamstrings with the goblet squat
You don’t need to be the proud possessor of a goblet to pull off this effective lower-body move, but it does require a kettlebell (or a dumbbell).
The move, invented by American strength and conditioning coach Dan John to help people master the correct movement pattern of the barbell back squat, is so called because you hold a kettlebell by the handle with both hands at chin height, much like the way you would hold a large goblet just before taking a big gulp.
It might sound slightly comical, but it’s a serious exercise if you want to master your form ahead of doing heavier compound lifts, such as back squats, front squats and deadlifts, minimising the risk of a painful lower-back injury that could keep you on the sidelines for months. Because the load is in front of you, the goblet squat creates a natural counterbalance, making it easier to keep your torso upright. It will also help to prevent your heels rising off the floor and tipping you forwards.
The goblet squat is also a highly effective exercise for burning fat, because you can do a high number of reps in one set (ideally towards the end of a weights workout) to get your heart rate high and increase energy and oxygen consumption so your body is forced to burn more calories during its recovery process.
The goblet squat will also improve flexibility around the hips, as well as your lower-body strength and balance. In short, there’s much to like about the goblet squat. Read on for tips and advice on how to incorporate this powerful leg exercise into your training arsenal.
How To Do A Goblet Squat
The setup for the goblet squat is key, in that it makes it very hard for your form to go wrong during the exercise itself. Stand with your feet positioned just a tad wider than your shoulders. Hold a weight against your chest, with your elbows tucked in as if you’re holding a goblet – like we all do from time to time.
If you’re using a dumbbell, hold it vertically. If it’s a kettlebell, grab the “horns” – the side of its handle. If you have neither, get something you can hold against your chest.
As you squat, keep your elbows inside the line of your knees, and the heels of your feet flat on the ground. Go as low as you can in this position, then come back up, pushing through your heels. Keep your movements measured and your abs tensed as you move.
Aim for ten to 12 reps in three to five sets, three to five times a week. Either add goblet squats into your normal exercise routine, or work through your sets as a stand-alone workout. Once comfortable with the technique, you can build up the challenge with heavier weights, or do more reps if you’re shooting for endurance over muscle mass.
Common Form Mistakes
When trying most moves for the first time, it can be easy to fall into some simple form errors that can soon become big problems, both in terms of increased injury risk and not taxing the target muscles to the greatest extent. The goblet squat is no exception. Here are some of the most common mistakes and how to avoid them.
The goblet squat, like all squat variations, requires you to keep your chest up at all times to keep your centre of gravity over your feet. Start by standing tall with your chest up and focus on maintaining this body position.
The key to avoiding this is to keep your lats – the big muscles down the rear sides of your torso – tight throughout each rep to keep your body balanced and stable. Do this by pretending someone is standing behind you trying to tickle your armpits, so you draw your elbows in towards your sides.
Make sure you start each rep with your abs and lower back tight and tensed. This will keep your torso more stable and assist in creating a smoother and controlled rep. Focus on squeezing and tensing your glutes at the top of each rep, too.
Goblet Squat Variations
Goblet squat with overhead press
If you only have time for one exercise when you hit the gym, this combo-move might well be your best bet for all-round results. Not only do you get the lower-body strength benefits of the goblet squat, but you also work your upper body by pressing the weight overhead. This enlists your shoulder and back muscles as well as increasing the challenge to your core. On top of that, if you perform long sets of this exercise or use it as part of a HIIT circuit, you’ll improve your cardiovascular fitness as well.
You can perform the move by pressing the kettlebell overhead with both hands as you come back up from your squat, or use one hand to press the weight up and switch to the other once you’ve completed half the reps in your set. This latter variation will work the muscles in your upper body unilaterally, and you’ll be able to spot if one side of your body is stronger than the other. Lifting the kettlebell one arm at a time also increases the work your core does to resist rotation and keep your torso upright.
Slow, pause and pulse
The most common way to make goblet squats harder is to increase the weight of the kettlebell you hold, but if you only have one weight available there are several others ways to up the intensity.
Start by slowing down the speed of the descent – count to three or even five as you lower, making sure you don’t reach the bottom of your squat before you finish counting. Then drive back up quickly.
Pausing during the movement is also a great way to increase the challenge. You can do this at the bottom of the movement, holding the squat for a few seconds before pushing back up, or lower in stages, pausing two or three times on the way down like a lift stopping at different floors.
And if your really want to feel the burn in your legs during your squat session, add pulses at the bottom of the movement. Push up slightly and then lower again five to ten times, making sure to keep your back straight while pulsing. Then drive back up to the starting position,.
Goblet squat with resistance band
Wrap a resistance band around your feet or shins, and move your legs apart until the band is taut before you squat. Throughout the movement you’ll have to work against the band to stop your legs collapsing in, and this strengthens the outer glutes and thighs. This in turn will help ensure your legs don’t cave in during all your future squats, even when there’s no band involved.
Double kettlebell front squat
This is a serious upgrade in difficulty on the goblet squat because you’re doubling the load, and when working with heavy kettlebells it’s actually one of the toughest types of squat you can do full stop, so make sure you have your goblet technique nailed before reaching for a second kettlebell. And while you get used to squatting with two kettlebells racked, make sure they’re light ones.
To perform the double kettlebell front squat, hold two kettlebells in the rack position in front of your shoulders. Your elbows should be close to your ribcage, with the handles of the two kettlebells held next to each other under your chin while the weights themselves rests on your forearms. Once you have both kettlebells in position, lower into a squat as normal, then drive back up.
The placement of the two kettlebells on the front and sides of the chest makes this variation especially challenging for your core, which has to battle to keep your body stable during the movement.
Get the Coach Newsletter
Sign up for workout ideas, training advice, reviews of the latest gear and more.
Joe Warner is a highly experienced journalist and editor who began working in fitness media in 2008. He has featured on the cover of Men’s Fitness UK twice and has co-authored Amazon best-sellers including 12-Week Body Plan. He was the editor of Men’s Fitness UK magazine between 2016 and 2019, when that title shared a website with Coach.