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Goblet Squats, Your New Favorite Exercise: How and Why

Goblet Squats

They’re one of the most ubiquitous and well known exercises in the strength training world and for good reason. While they’re most popularly associated with their leg and glute building ability, they are one of the most efficient exercises for general overall strength, not limited to just the legs, and the strength they build is highly functional for simple everyday tasks we do all the time because they are so variable and adaptable. Wide stance, narrow stance, heels elevated, barbell, dumbbell, and numerous kettlebell variations exist depending on what you want to mimic or accomplish with the exercise.

Goblet Squat

(Photo Credit: ShutterStock)

When looking for workout and exercise information it’s easy to come across barbell squats. Because they’re one of the main power lifting exercises as well as popular with fitness competitions like Crossfit, it’s easy for one to imagine a buff dude or lady with a barbell laden with plates strung across their shoulders huffing and puffing out of the bottom position to be the first image to spring to mind. To many, especially novices or those with lacking mobility, this can be an intimidating picture and understandably so. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a squat variation for everyone and I believe the goblet squat is that variation for many reasons.

 Let’s see why.

While the general form and execution is similar to that of a typical barbell squat, the weight distribution and hold is quite different and to understand why that matters and the benefits it can provide we need to start at the beginning. Those of you who are seasoned exercisers are probably so familiar with general squatting form that you don’t think about it near as much as a beginner might, but for those closer to the beginner side of the spectrum.

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Let’s go over the basics of a squat and more specifically a goblet squat:

  1. Starting position should look roughly something like feet about shoulder-width apart and slightly externally rotated or turned out. Head stacked on top of shoulders which are directly over hips which are over the mid-foot so that your weight is pretty evenly distributed through the whole of both feet. 
  2. As you lower yourself down both feet should maintain full contact with the floor, knees should point the same direction as your second toe and you should be able to keep your gaze forward and not let your head or chest drop similar to the picture to the right.
  3. Maintain this position as you push out of the bottom position and return to full tall standing.
  4. Specific to the goblet squat is how you hold the weight. Usually done with a kettlebell or dumbbell, the weight is held directly in front of the chest with flexed elbows throughout the movement. Keep it close to your body!

Goblet Squat

(The Author)

This is your basic starting position to which endless variation can be added to perform a multitude of different types of squats, but that is where we need to start. The next thing we need to talk a little bit about is weight distribution. This matters for a few different reasons because where the weight is distributed changes where your center of gravity gets shifted to and the types of forces that get exerted on our body as you move through your squat, which brings us to our first major but often forgotten, benefits of postural strength.

Check out the image below.

Squat

(Source: Slightly edited from and inspired by Mark Rippetoe’s image in Starting Strength which is pictured here)

It gives three different versions of barbell squats.

Front, high back, and low back. The vertical dashed line is a plumb line that shows, depending on where the weight sits, how the body has to form around the line to support and balance the weight. A goblet squat is most similar to the first version, the front squat because of where you hold the weight and the forces on the body.

Typically when we’re standing in normal posture, our center of gravity (COG) sits just behind our belly button like so:

Anatomy

(Source: Physio-Pedia)

You can see the dashed line traveling down through the body which is called a plumb line. This is used to help assess posture based on where the line of gravity acts around certain joints. As you follow the plumb line down through the body you see it cross through specific joints in specific areas. For example, the line runs slightly in front of the thoracic curve (upper back). This creates what’s called a flexion force from gravity, causing you to want to hunch over forward more easily, whereas at the lumbar curve it’s almost directly thorough or even slightly towards the back of the vertebrae (spinal bones) which can create an extension force. These are forces that we resist naturally anytime you are in an upright posture but they can be shifted, changed, or exaggerated depending on where and how you choose to add weight to an exercise or posture.

Which Muscles does Goblet squat work on?

The goblet squat is a versatile exercise that primarily targets several key muscle groups in the lower body and core. Here are the main muscles worked during a goblet squat:

Primary Muscles

  1. Quadriceps: These are the muscles on the front of your thigh. The goblet squat is particularly effective at engaging the quadriceps.
  2. Gluteus Maximus: The largest of the gluteal muscles, responsible for hip extension.
  3. Hamstrings: These muscles, located on the back of the thigh, play a role in stabilizing the movement.
  4. Adductors: The muscles on the inner thigh that help with stabilizing and balancing during the squat.

Secondary Muscles

  1. Core Muscles: Including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis, these muscles work to stabilize your torso during the movement.
  2. Erector Spinae: These are the muscles along your spine that help maintain an upright posture.
  3. Calves: The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles help stabilize the lower leg during the squat.

Stabilizing Muscles

  1. Shoulders and Upper Back: Holding the weight in a goblet position engages the deltoids, trapezius, and rhomboids, as well as the muscles of the upper back and arms to maintain the weight's position.

Overall, the goblet squat is a compound exercise that provides a comprehensive workout for both the lower body and core, making it an excellent choice for building strength, improving balance, and enhancing overall stability.

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When you hold weight in front of you during the goblet squat this shifts your COG forward which exaggerates the flexion-based force gravity exerts on your trunk which means your posterior chain - i.e. the muscles along the back of your body that help you maintain upright posture - have to work harder to keep your upper body up while you squat. Knowing how many folks are desk workers or have long commutes these days, we can all use a little extra postural strength work. So not only is the goblet squat great for legs and glutes, it’s an excellent postural strength exercise too.

So we have an excellent posture builder. But what else can the goblet squat do for you?

The next major reason to love the goblet squat is it’s accessibility to all exercisers from seasoned to beginners. Other squat variations, especially barbell versions, require a high level of mobility specific to the shoulders and are also highly technical. Being able to get a barbell behind your shoulders and stabilize the weight in that position is difficult. In the image below you can see how far back the gentleman has to rotate his arms back behind his shoulders to hold onto the bar. There are a lot of people out there who would struggle not only to just get their hands and arms in this position but to also stabilize any kind of weight here. 

Goblet Squat 1

(Source: Wikipedia)

So a goblet squat is a perfect alternative.

All it just requires is someone who can hold something at their chest. Just about everyone I know can do this barring a major arm injury. A client or participant could have the tightest shoulders you’ve ever seen and they could still probably hold weight in front of their body. So the struggles with shoulder mobility are ameliorated.  Compare the photo above to the one just below: 

You can see how much more of an accessible position the goblet squat is.

Goblet Squat 2

(Source here)

Related to this is the goblet squats functional application because of how one holds the weight. Squatting is already one of the most functional exercises we do. Just think of how many times per day you sit down/stand up from chairs, the toilet, the bed, maybe even the floor and you see it’s vital importance in physical functional independence. I’d also be willing to bet that once in a while you have to carry something with you when you stand up and sit down. Whether the item is a book or a baby, carrying weight in front of you while you sit and stand is just a goblet squat by a different name. So with that perspective, let’s train that movement to be as strong as possible so that you can do it with ease in your daily life.

The benefits of goblet squats 

The last major benefit that we need to talk about related specifically to goblet squats is accessory muscle use. Look at the picture below:

Goblet Squat Benefits

(Source: www.strengthlevel.com)

Now pretend the biceps muscle group wasn’t highlighted. If I asked you whether you could tell if this man was getting ready to do a goblet squat or a bicep curl would you know? Come on, be honest. Probably not. The position looks basically the same to a hammer curl, a specific type of bicep curl exercise. 

Because of how you hold the weight in the goblet squat you’re essentially doing an isometric bicep curl for the entire duration of your set. Isometric might sound fancy but it just means your muscle is exerting force but no actual movement is happening - think pushing on a wall. Anyway, back to the biceps here, this isometric load can add up to quite a bit of time under tension for your bicep, especially the heavier weight you use or the large of a set you complete. Just think how tired your biceps might feel after holding a weight in a place like this to do a set of 15 or 20 goblet squats. So while I wouldn’t always suggest using this as the only exercise to train the bicep group, the goblet squat can provide some excellent accessory work, truly making it a full body exercise.

Legs and booty squats 

Lastly, we can talk about the stuff we all know and love our squats for, the legs and booty. Goblet squats, just like all of its cousins, are excellent for building leg and glute strength. This is the largest muscle group in the body and easily gives you some of the highest bang for your buck from a general strength and a calorie burn perspective. If you’re short on time but still want to fit in a few sets of something that’s made even more comprehensive from the postural and accessory muscle benefits we just talked about, goblet squats could be your new best friend.

I’m sure there will be a few out there who will be asking if the goblet squat can really be that good of a strength builder past a certain point. The amount of absolute weight you can hold this way or have access to (200lb kettlebells are tough to come by) could be a limiting factor but there are other ways to add intensity to your goblet squats. Let’s check some of these out briefly so you know all your options, but if you want a deeper dive down the rabbit hole here you can contact any of us at the living.fit team or request some content specific to it!

First is just plain jane. A goblet squat at a weight that is challenging at an average 1 count tempo, meaning you take a single count to lower down into the squat and rise back up. Now we can start getting a little fancier. The next thing you might try is playing with your tempo. By tempo we mean the speed at which you complete the different phases of the exercise. So you could perform the descent into the squat at a slow 3-5 count pace and rise back up in a single count, you could slow down the ascent in the same manner or you could do both and perform very slow reps all around. It doesn’t sound like much but doing this increases your time under the weight (aka time under tension) and I promise you’ll feel it. The other thing you can do is add a pause in the bottom position before pushing back up to a standing position. This eliminates any chance that you’re using what’s called a stretch reflex to help you bounce out of the bottom position. The pause doesn’t need to be long, 2-3 seconds would do it, but this is another great way to increase the intensity of your goblet squat if you’re limited by weight or not ready to make a weight increase.

Why to add goblet squat in workout routine

Overall the goblet squat is definitely something you want to include in any kettlebell or dumbbell strength program. It works a multitude of muscles over the entire body and has a vast array of functional applications to daily activity and is the most accessible way to add load to squats for almost any client or participant. With all that in mind, let’s wrap up where we started with a video example of the goblet squat form for all my visual learners out there:

Goblet squats

In the video you can see my feet are about shoulder width apart with a slight toe out position. My shoulders stay down and away from the ears (no scrunching!). Throughout the movement path my knees track the same direction as my middle toes and I maintain enough tension through her trunk, scapular muscles and posterior chain to maintain her posture and not allow my trunk to flex or buckle under the weight. I keep the kettlebell close to I chest with her elbows bent. Not bad if I do say so myself.

Our last examples here are to demonstrate a tempo version and a pause version of the goblet squat. As I mentioned above you can use tempos and pauses to increase the intensity of the exercise without changing the weight. Here’s a good examples of each:

Tempo goblet squat

Paused goblet squat

You can see that while my general form is the same as the first video, you can see how slowly I drop into  the bottom position of my squat on the tempo version compared to the single count  use to push back up to standing. In the pause you can see I sit in the bottom position for a good 2 seconds before rising back up really forcing me to have good control over the low position rather than using a ballistic or bouncing movement to help propel me out of the bottom.

So, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, the goblet squat is something you want to make sure you’re including in any good strength program for a MULTITUDE of reasons! Now go practice the newest tool in your arsenal and if you have questions or need guidance don’t be shy, we want you to get as much out of your strength training as possible!

Helpful Resources:

  • Be alerted when we publish more like this to our blog here
  • Free weekly kettlebell written workouts here
  • Daily workout plans here
  • Fitness Equipment like kettlebells here
  • Follow along with $1 video workouts here

Author 

Christin Thompson,

PT, CSCS,

Reach at thediypt@gmail.com

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