JUST ABOUT EVERYONE who walks into a gym will have big time goals. Unfortunately, too many of those eager exercisers will choose to go about their training just one way: as hard and as heavy as possible, putting their focus on only the big time lifts they feel are worth their time and effort. You might have seen this before—think about the guy who spends all of his training time at the bench station, pull platform, and squat rack hitting nothing but compound lifts. He’s limiting himself, and he probably doesn’t move all that well, either. He’d be in much better shape if he dedicated some time to the basics of the most important movement patterns, like the squat, with a more accessible variation. That’s where goblet squats can be extremely valuable.
Goblet squats allow you to train the squat movement in its most fundamental form without loading up your spine with a heavy barbell as you do with the barbell back squat. You’ll shift the placement of the load to the front of the body, which forces you to immediately assume an upright torso position to keep yourself from tipping forward. This helps to solve some of the most common mechanical issues typically seen in barbell back squatters, from rounded backs to inadequate depth.
You’ll also have some more variety to choose from when it comes to the types of load you’re using. Yes, the barbell front squat exists too—but you’ll have an easier time with the gripping a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of your torso, allowing you to focus on form, mobility, and depth.
Benefits of the Goblet Squat
●Great for beginners
●Builds lower body strength and size
●Front-oriented load and variety of implements make it more accessible than other variations
●Works through a larger range of motion than other variations (depending on mobility)
Goblet squats require you to hold the load in front of your body, allowing you to use just about anything that you can grip in your two hands (dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, etc.) as a weight. This makes the movement much more accessible than other squat variations, while still offering a challenge to even the most seasoned trainee. You’ll train your glutes, hamstrings, and quads; meanwhile, the position of the load will force you to engage your core to keep from tipping forward. You’ll also be able to squat through a larger range of motion than other variations of the movement, if your mobility allows.
Muscles Targeted By the Goblet Squat
How to Do the Goblet Squat
●Stand with your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart. Turn your toes out slightly to start; as you progress, find the most comfortable stance for your own mobility.
●Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell with both at chest-height, elbows high. Crate mid-back tension to pull your shoulders back. Brace your core to keep your balance; you’ll need to maintain this tension throughout the movement.
●Push your butt back, then bend your knees to descend down into the squat. Lower down to a depth just below parallel (i.e., your thighs are parallel to the floor) or to the most comfortable position given your personal mobility.
●Press your knees apart to prevent them from caving in. Maintain tension in your core and shoulders; don’t rest your elbows on your knees.
●Push off the floor and squeeze your glutes to stand back up.
The Origins of the Goblet Squat
The goblet squat as we know it was created by legendary strength coach, weightlifter, and writer Dan John. Here, John shares his thoughts about the exercise, including a detailed training plan that you can use to master the goblet squat, both to level up to different squat variations and build a baseline of lower body strength to improve every aspect of your life.
Dan John on the Goblet Squat
A young man doing leg exercises once told me that squats hurt his knees. So I asked him to demonstrate a squat. He tucked his head into his chest like a turtle, brought his knees toward each other, and bowed forward. I told him, “Squats don’t hurt your knees; what you’re doing hurts your knees.”
As a national masters champion weight lifter and someone who’s been doing this leg exercise since the Johnson administration, I’ve heard all the arguments against squats, such as how they’re bad for your knees and back.
And I’ve seen many men prove those accusations right by butchering the move.
Any properly executed squat, however, may be a more effective muscle builder than all other exercises combined. It requires the synchronized recruitment of muscle fibers throughout your body.
And because squatting is one of the most natural human movements, like walking or using the remote, it’s perfectly safe. Research shows that squats burn up to three times as many calories as previously thought. So this type of leg exercise is a powerful fat-burning tool as well.
The Goblet Squat Progression Plan
Ready to carve rock-solid muscle and harness whole-body strength, power, and athleticism? Use the plan that follows. It’s simple, and I’ve used it with thousands of athletes—so I know that it works.
1. Squat with Your Elbows
●First, do three consecutive vertical jumps, then look down. This is roughly where you want to place your feet every time you squat.
●Set your feet and bend your hips and knees to lower your body as far as you can. Then, when you’re in your deepest position, push your knees out with your elbows. Try to keep your feet flat on the floor and allow your butt to sink below knee height.
●Relax in this position for two or three seconds, then descend a bit deeper and drive your knees out with your elbows once more.
For most men, this small elbow maneuver will simplify squatting forever, because it makes you drop your torso between your thighs rather than fold at the waist.
Stand up, and go to step two.
2. Do the Doorknob Drill
You may think of the squat as a lower-body exercise, but proper upper-body alignment is essential. Perfect your posture with this drill.
●Stand an arm’s length away from a doorknob and grab the handle with both hands. Set your feet as you did in step one.
●Now lift your chest, which in turn will tighten your lower back. Your latissimus dorsi muscles will naturally spread a bit and your shoulders will move back slightly.
●Holding the doorknob, and keeping your chest up and arms straight, bend your hips and knees to lower your body, and lean back. Then stand up.
By staying tight through your chest, shoulders, and core muscles, you distribute weight more evenly throughout your body. As a result, you’ll be able to handle greater loads with less risk of injury.
3. Behold the Goblet Squat
Named for the way in which you hold the weight—in front of your chest, with your hands cupped—the goblet squat may in fact be the only squat you need in your workout. Let’s go back to the basics:
●Start with a light dumbbell, between 25 and 50 pounds, and hold it vertically by one end. Hug it tight against your chest.
●With your elbows pointing down, lower your body into a squat.
●Allow your elbows to brush past the insides of your knees as you descend. It’s okay to push your knees out.
●Return to a standing position. Your upper body should hardly move if you’re using your legs, hips, and lower back as a unit.
Don’t worry if this isn’t perfect the first time. Most men mess up when they think about the move. Just let your elbows glide down by rubbing past your knees, and good things will happen.
The Triple Digit Goblet Squat Workout Plan
Throw down a 100-pound goblet squat in just six weeks using this plan.
Once you’re able to bang out a few sets of 10 with triple-digit weight, you’ll realize the full-body benefits of squats.
Weeks 1 and 2
Hone your technique.
●Five days a week, perform two to three sets of five to 20 repetitions of goblet squats.
Use a light dumbbell, or even a heavy book.
●Do squats three days a week, resting for at least a day between sessions.
You’ll improve your technique and increase strength and muscle endurance.
● Perform a “rack walk-up.” Grab the lightest dumbbell you can find and do a set of five goblet squats. Return the weight to the rack and grab the next heaviest dumbbell.
The exchange should take you no more than 20 seconds. Do another set, then continue moving up the rack until you find a dumbbell that’s challenging to lift but still allows perfect technique.
● Do the reverse of Day 1: a “rack walk-down.” Start with your second-heaviest dumbbell from Day 1, and complete a set of five reps.
Move down the rack, lifting a lighter weight for each set of five. Aim for a total of 10 to 12 sets, resting for no more than 20 seconds between sets.
●Combine your workouts from Day 1 and Day 2. You’ll start by moving up in weight, performing sets of five repetitions.
When you reach your heaviest weight, work back down the rack. Rest for two days before your next squat workout.
●Same as Week 3, but perform three reps with each dumbbell, using heavier weights than in your last workout.
By now you should feel comfortable performing the goblet squat. You’ll focus on building muscle and strength. Again, rest for at least a day between workouts.
● Do two sets of 20 repetitions using a dumbbell that challenges you in the last five reps. Rest for two minutes between sets.
● Choose a weight that makes it difficult to complete 10 reps. Do three sets of eight reps, resting 60 seconds between sets.
● Perform a rack walk-up. Do three reps with each weight, and stop when you feel your technique beginning to falter.
This week’s theme is simple: If you can pick it up, you can squat it.
●Do the regular rack walk-down, performing three reps per set with a heavy weight. Then do it again, this time starting with a slightly heavier dumbbell. Rest for no more than 20 seconds between sets and for 30 seconds between walk-downs.
●Do a couple of light warm-up sets of goblet squats, then do the rack walk-up twice. Do three reps per set and rest for up to 30 seconds between sets.
●Do a few easy sets to warm up. Then find the heaviest dumbbell you can lift–aim for three digits—and perform the goblet squat.
Dan John has coached for more than 30 years. He’s helped hundreds of athletes pack on double-digit pounds of rock-solid muscle. As an athlete, John broke the American record in the Weight Pentathlon. He is the author of several books, including Intervention.
Read Dan’s most recent Men’s Health stories.
Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.