Enter The Goblet Squat
The barbell back squat is the ultimate exercise for the lower body, without question the pure length strength, core stability and progressive overload that comes as a by-product of the barbell back squat is unmatched.
But what if you can't perform the back squat? What if you don't have access to a barbell? What if you're in the rehabilatation stage from a previous exercise induced injury?
This is where the goblet squat shines!
Goblet squats, also referred to as the 'kettlebell squat' can be performed with a number of different pieces of equipment, regardless of whether you've only got a dumbbell, a kettlebell, a pair of dumbells, a pair of kettlebells, an atlas stone or a medicine ball... if it can be held and offers a reasonable amount of resistance we can use it for our goblet squats!
Goblet Squat Benefits
Builds explosive power
After lowering yourself down into a goblet squat driving aggressively through the heels (see correct form below!) while holding onto a relatively heavy kettlebell or dumbbell is a fantastic means of building explosive power. This drive and explosive power built in the quads and hamstrings from performing the goblet squat converts into functional power... this is why you'll see at least one variation of the goblet squat, be it dumbbell or kettlebell in athlete's workout routines.
Works the core
If you've tried front and back variations of the squat before the first thing you'll notice is the additional load placed on your core when balancing the weight infront of your body as opposed to on your back. The goblet squat is a great builder of core strength and when performed correctly with your chest up and your core tight will ensure your posture is correct.
Can be performed where space is limited (small apartments, while travelling etc.)
Dumbbells and kettlebells are quite portal, if you're travelling overseas you probably won't be packing your 88lb dumbbell in your suitcase but for occasions such as road trips, training at small gyms, taking your workout outdoor to the park, training your clients in a bootcamp if you're a personal trainer etc. the goblet squat can be set-up and performed quite easily!
As when performing a back squat room is not only required for an olympic barbell, but also for a squat rack or power cage to unrack the bar from, somewhere to store additional weight plates etc. it can quickly become an unrealistic exercise to perform in small apartments, home gyms, while travelling or at an outdoor boot camp.
Excellent for exercise rehab
I know all about lower back injuries, having slipped a disk when not warming up correctly prior to performing barbell back squats several years ago.
After resting it for a period of time, performing stretches, mobility drills and the like my physiotherapy had me re-introduce the goblet squat into my regime as the first lower body exercise/squat I started to perform again after my injury - the goblet squat allowed me to transition back into the barbell squat safely.
Inspires confidence while learning the correct mechanics of a squat
For a beginner, squatting with a 45lb barbell on your back straight up can be quite intimidating, and as a result good form can take an eternity to learn.
The goblet squat allows a newcomer to learn the mechanics and correctly movement of the squat, including keeping an upright torso, dropping hips down and back and driving through the heels in a far more manageable way - in the case of poor form, an incorrect choice of weight or any factor that requires a set to end early the goblet squat is extremely easy to bail out from in comparison to the barbell back squat.
Simply drop or lower the dumbbell or kettlebell to the ground and you're out of there - no need for a spotter or power rack rails, it's extremely simple to get out of there if the set goes south.
Goblet Squat Form
Before you pick up a dumbbell or a pair of kettlebells and start performing goblet squats lets take a look at how to actually do them correctly.
- Stand holding a kettlebell (or two in the rack position) or dumbbell close to your chest.
- Squat down between your legs until your hamstrings are on your calves. Keep your chest and head up and your back straight.
- At the bottom position, pause and use your elbows to push your knees out.
- Drive through your heels to power yourself back up to a standing position with your legs extended.
The above video is a perfect example of how goblet squats look when performed correctly.
Dan John stresses the key points of goblet squats including...
- dumbbell must be tucked into the upper chest
- Keep your elbows in, don't flare them
- feet slightly wider than shoulder width with no more than 30 degrees of flare
- knees out, elbows should track on the inside of your knees
- push through heels to power back up
- Maintain a position with your torso keeping your chest up
Common Goblet Squat Mistakes
Falling forward/heels coming off the ground
Upon bending the knees and squatting down many gym-goers begin to hunch forward on their toes, with their heels coming off the ground.
This is probably the most dangerous out of all of the mistakes I see being made as once heavy weight starts being lifted the chance of losing balance as you’re on your toes towards the bottom of your rep is extremely heigh… resulting in you and your overloaded barbell going face first into the squat rack.
The other issue with coming forward on your toes while squatting is you lose all of your power and drive.
When squatting your power comes through your heels! Once good squat form has been mastered you should be able to lean back on your heels with your toes off the ground and squat.
In order to ensure you’re staying back on your heels:
Drive your hips back and down (commit to the exercise)
In order to drive through your heels you need to commit to the squat, dropping your hips backwards is key – this will put you in the correct (stable) position to power the weight up through your heels as opposed to leaning hunching forward on your toes.
Practise and ‘commiting’ to the exercise are the only way to master this portion of the exercise – squatting in a smith rack or utilizing another machine will not help you here – it’s best to get straight to the real deal and learn the right way straight away.
Work on your ankle Dorsiflexion
Provided you’re commiting to the exercise and dropping your hips back if you’re still finding your heels coming off the ground on the bottom portion of your squat your ankle dorsoflexion may need work.
Rather than me explain how to work your ankle mobility I recommend watching this short easy to understand clip and replicating these exercises:
Poor range of motion
On all exercises the key to getting the best bang for your buck is to focus on performing full range of motion – weight comes second, range of motion comes first.
When it comes to the squat this means you should be starting with your legs extended and finishing when your thighs are at minimum parallel to the ground.
ATG is great but if your mobility won’t allow it as of yet parallel is good too.
Poor range of motion is often the result of training with your ego.
You’re lifting too heavy
Lower the weight.
The lower you go the harder the squat becomes, getting out of the ‘hole’, the very bottom portion of your repetition is impossible if you’re lifting ridiculous amounts of weight. With heavy weight and poor range of motion you’ll only be slightly working the quads… however when you’re working with a weight you can squat down to the ground with full range of motion you’ll be engaging the quads, calfs, hamstrings and glutes.
Rounding your lower back
Having spent too long squatting in the smith I found my quad strength in particular to be way ahead of the rest of my physique.
As I began to rep 225lbs on the barbell my legs were able to drive the weight upwards however my core strength was non existant – resulting in me shaking and rounding my lower back on the eccentric portion of each rep.
Looking down, on any exercise is a sure-fire way to round your lower back.
Looking slightly up or directly forwards in front of you as you squat will keep your lower back in the right position.
Regardless of how good your mobility and form is if you’re looking directly down it’s very hard to keep your lower back in the right position!