(Not to be confused with the Buff Dudes’ Goblet of Gains or Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.)
The squat is hailed the “king” of all exercises for its leg-strengthening and core-stabilizing benefits. But “squatting” doesn’t always have to mean the traditional back squat, with a heavy barbell balanced on your shoulders and uncomfortable pressure on your knees and spine.
It’s time for new blood in the kingdom of squat royalty — the front-loaded goblet squat.
Learn more about the goblet squat below, including its history, benefits, muscles worked, and a step-by-step guide.
What Are Goblet Squats?
Strength coach and All-American discus thrower Dan John invented what we now know as the “goblet squat” sometime in the 1990s. Tasked with teaching 400+ athletes how to back squat (to no avail), John swung a kettlebell in front of his body and had his “lightbulb” moment.
With a kettlebell grasped in front of him as if he were holding the “Holy Grail” (his words), the goblet squat was officially born.
(We’re talking about 13th-century goblets and not modern goblet wine glasses. If you hold one of those like this, you’re probably well past the point of being hammered.)
Goblet squats are a lightweight squat variation that — unlike back squats — front-load the weight at chest level with a dumbbell, kettlebell, or weight plate.
This squat variation mimics perfect squat form by regularly “checking” knee alignment with each rep (a common technique to avoid the knees collapsing). It also relieves the tension on the spine typical of back squats and allows you to sink deeper to activate the glutes and hips better.
How to Do Goblet Squats
The goblet squat has since evolved into a handful of variations and form tweaks since the 90s. But here’s how goblet squat inventor Dan John explains the original exercise:
Getting Into the Starting Position
- Start with your feet somewhat wider than shoulder-width apart and a lightweight kettlebell on the floor in front of you.
- Sink down into a partial squat and use your elbows to flare your knees outward, leaving your elbows resting along the inside of your knees.
- Grab the kettlebell by its handle with both hands. (You should now be sitting in a deep squat position with a kettlebell’s handles grasped in your hands.)
- With your elbows still braced on your inner knees, bring the kettlebell toward your chest — the goblet position.
Performing the Goblet Squat
- Drive your feet into the ground and engage your core as you push yourself into an upright, standing position.
- Keep your upper body stiff and the kettlebell clenched at your chest as you sink your hips back down into the starting position.
- Stop the movement when your elbows return to their original position inside the knees. Intentionally push them outward if you notice they’re caving inward.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
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Watch For These Common Form Mistakes
Mastering the goblet squat form can help you perfect your squat technique and lower your risk of injury. Now, here’s a look at what not to do when
sipping from the Holy Grail goblet-squatting:
Knocking knees — or knee valgus — is when the knees cave inward during a squat (a common newbie mistake that increases the risk of injury). Make sure that you really emphasize your elbows pushing your knees outward at the bottom of the squat to make the positioning feel natural and keep the knees aligned over the toes.
Leaning Forward Onto Your Toes
Since you’re carrying the kettlebell or dumbbell at your chest, the weight will naturally pull your upper body forward, which might redistribute your weight to your toes. Pull your shoulders back to put the force on your entire foot to avoid losing your balance and falling forward.
Turning It Into an Upper-Body Exercise
While the goblet squat recruits the back and biceps as stabilizing muscles, the primary focus should always be on the quads and glutes. Keeping the weight hugged toward your chest — instead of outstretched in front of you — will help you maintain your balance.
Not Going Deep Enough
Most of us naturally stop at 90 degrees while squatting, though a few degrees deeper with a lightweight isn’t necessarily a bad thing for athletic folks. Continue sinking into the goblet squat until your elbows tap your inner knees, push them outward, and then finish the rep.
Choosing Too Heavy Of a Weight
Unlike the back or front squat, the goblet squat is about tweaking your squat form to prevent injury and strengthen the muscles needed for perfect technique. Select a lighter weight that allows you to complete each rep with a controlled motion, and increase the weight when you hit your rep goal.
Goblet Squat Equipment Variations
While there is a “right” way to perform the goblet squat motion, there’s little flexibility in equipment choice. Besides a light kettlebell, you can also use:
The dumbbell version actually looks more goblet-y (or goblet-ier?) than the original and is the best equipment alternative. With this variation, support one end of the dumbbell with the edges of both palms and grasp your fingers around the rest of the weight.
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A weight plate is a less popular goblet squat alternative, but it’s still an option if you don’t have traditional strength-training equipment. This time, you’ll balance a weight plate horizontally on your palms in front of you with your fingers clenched over the top on both sides.
Don’t forget that 25 and 45-pound plates are a bit wider than 5s and 10s, which can mangle the elbow-to-knee connection at the bottom of the movement. (It essentially loses its “squat practice” perk when you can no longer use your elbows to monitor knee alignment.)
If all you have is a set of resistance bands, you have two options:
Band Under the Feet
With this version of the banded goblet squat, step onto a resistance band with both feet slightly wider than hip-width. Next, grab the other end of the loop band with both hands, bend your elbows, and brace the band at chest level so the band is taut.
The key difference — compared to the original — is the “ascending variable resistance” iconic of resistance bands. The movement will become tougher as the tension in the band increases (i.e., the upright position) versus the slack in the band at the bottom of the movement.
Band Around the Knees
The alternative (to the alternative) requires a looped mini band hooked around both legs at mid-thigh level. While the other variations were simply equipment swaps, this version of the goblet squat has a distinct purpose: preventing knee valgus and targeting the glutes.
As you lower yourself into a deep squat, you’ll intentionally force your knees outward, activating the outer upper legs. You can also combine the mini band version with the more traditional kettlebell, dumbbell, or weight plate variations.
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What Muscles Do Goblet Squats Work?
While the goblet squat mostly targets the leg muscles, namely the quadriceps and the glutes, it’s technically a full-body movement that recruits muscle fibers in the:
Primary Muscles Worked
The goblet squat primarily activates the muscles in the legs as you sink your upper body into a seated position and drive your feet into the ground to return upright.
During the goblet squat, you’ll also need to flex and stabilize your core to maintain a neutral back position without allowing the front-loaded weight to lean you forward.
- Erector spinae
- Rectus abdominis
Other Muscles Worked
The goblet squat also activates the upper-body muscles needed to keep your upper back flat and clench the kettlebell at your chest with bent elbows.
- Latissimus dorsi
- Biceps brachii
Benefits of Goblet Squats
Goblet squats will never (ever, ever) replace barbell back squats as the so-called “king” of exercises. But if you’re not convinced goblets are at least a prince, think again.
The top four reasons to add goblet squats to your routine are:
Train Your Body to Squat With Proper Form
Now more than two decades later, the goblet squat is still one of the best ways to perfect your squat technique. Front-loading the kettlebell encourages you to brace your core, avoid hinging forward at the hips, stop knocking knees, and maintain a flat back (with shoulders pulled back).
Less Stress & Tension on the Spine & Back
Goblet squats reduce the pressure and pull on the lower back and spine, at least compared to regular back squats. By flexing your core in a neutral position and clenching a lighter weight at your chest, you can strengthen your core muscles to prepare for even heavier back squats.
Lower Risk of Squat-Related Injury
The old-school back squat is actually the most injury-prone of all the three powerlifting disciplines, causing 42% of all powerlifting injuries during training (and 3% in competition).
If you fail during a traditional squat, all hell breaks loose. The saga could include falling backward with the weight, rounding the back, knocking the knees, and more. Failing the goblet squat is as simple as dropping the weight in front of you.
Something Different On Leg Day
The goblet squat also brings a little variety to leg day, especially if you want to hyper-focus on glute and quad development. The lighter-weight goblet squat is also safer for deeper squats to increase the range of motion during the traditional movement.
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