Learning to squat is hard for a lot of folks. Most do some kind of ass drop that shoots them forward onto their toes. They follow that up with an ass pop like they should be covered in glitter and surrounded by the scent of lavender.
“Everyone make some noise and welcome Cinnamon to the stage!”
Legendary strength coach Dan John made learning, and teaching, the squat easy when he invented the goblet squat. (And not a moment too soon. Stripper squats were motivating spontaneous career changes from coast to coast.) The movement is so simple that people can’t help but do it right.
If you’re looking for a squatting variation that teaches good form while building strength and muscle, goblet squats are your kind of party.
What Is a Goblet Squat?
The goblet squat is a squatting variation that employs a dumbbell or kettlebell instead of a barbell. Instead of placing the weight across the front or back of the shoulders, it’s held against the chest and under the chin.
Holding the weight in the “goblet” position reflexively teaches the torso to remain upright while the core is rigid; this solves two of the biggest squatting problems at once. In turn, balance and hip movement dial themselves in.
Goblet Squat Setup
All squat setups start with foot alignment. Begin with your feet somewhere between hip- and shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outward. Everyone’s foot alignment is different, but these guidelines offer a good starting point. You’ll know that your foot alignment is correct when your weight is distributed evenly front to back and side to side in the bottom position. The second indicator of correct positioning is that your knees are aligned with the middle of your foot.
Once you have your feet sorted out, it’s time to hoist the weight to the goblet position. When using a kettlebell, place it between your feet and set up as though you’re going to deadlift it. Grab the horns of the handle and then pop it up with a cleaning motion. Goblet squats can also be performed using a dumbbell; do the same thing, just set the dumbbell vertically on the ground and grab the top of the bell. If the kettlebell is too heavy to hold by the horns, flip it upside down and cradle the bell between your hands. For examples of each goblet setup, check this out.
Here’s a pivotal part of the setup that most people miss: Squeeze the absolute bejesus out of the bell. Upper-body tension sets tension throughout the rest of your body, which helps you maintain a solid position and generate force.
Performing Goblet Squats
Once you’re set up, the next crucial step is finding your bottom position. The emphasis on “your” is important. Just as each person has a different foot position while squatting, each person has a different bottom position that they should squat to. Anyone who tells you to just drop it like it’s hot and go ass-to-grass is a fool to be disregarded.
Instead, find a position in which you can create tension in your hips by spreading the floor (driving your knees outward) while also maintaining balance in the middle of your feet. Additionally, your hips should not tuck under into a buttwink while your torso remains tall and rigid. The final piece of the bottom-position puzzle is leg and foot alignment. Your knees should align with your midfoot at the bottom of your squat.
At my gym, we teach folks to find their bottom position by using a simple mantra: reach, spread, drive.
To reach, just push your butt back a little bit, but not too much. You want your weight balanced on the middle of your foot, not your heel. Push your butt back just enough so that your hips are in a good position to descend.
Here’s how to spread: Pretend you’re standing on a piece of paper and you’re trying to rip it in half with your feet. Your feet don’t actually move. But the act creates tension in the outside of your hips. That tension aligns your legs and feet into a good position.
Drive your feet into the floor to leave the bottom position and return to the starting position. Driving coordinates your hip and knee movement while giving you a performance focus.
Goblet Squats in a Training Program
If you’re new to squatting or are working to clean up your form, goblet squats are a great main strength exercise. Do them for sets of 6 to 8 reps. That rep range ensures you are using enough weight to get stronger while also giving yourself enough squatting practice.
They’re also a great assistance exercise, in which case, you should do them after your main strength movement on a lower-body training day. The rep range is wide open. Hit sets of 6 to 25 reps, depending on how many sets you plan. For example, you could do up to 6 sets of 6 reps. But if you’re doing reps with higher weight, cut back to 2 to 4 sets.
Goblet Squat Modifications
If you continue to struggle with form, you likely need to modify your goblet squat.
The simplest way to do that is by elevating your heels. Grab a set of 5- or 10-pound plates and put them flat on the ground so they line up with your feet in the squat position. Put just your heels on top of the plates, then do a few reps.
You’ll probably find that it’s easier to gain depth and keep your torso upright. That’s because elevating your heels puts your hips in a better position while also relatively improving your ankle mobility. If it works for you, continue elevating your heels while squatting. It’s not a demerit; it’s putting your body in the best position to be successful.