As you’re thirsting for stronger legs, you may be busy watching the barbell back squat duke it out with the deadlift for the title of King of the Lifts. But there’s a humble heir to the throne that can shower you with muscle growth if you let it into your program. If you’re ready to drink up those leg gains and have never tried the goblet squat, we have the recipe for you.
The goblet squat is an advanced version of the bodyweight squat, but its simplicity doesn’t render it ineffective. This lift only requires a dumbbell — or, if you’re feeling creative, a kettlebell — and a lot of grit. By adding the goblet squat to your routine, you’re setting yourself up for massive leg day success (and massive legs).
But this lift won’t just help you build muscle. The goblet squat is a powerhouse of a lift, helping you with everything from your hip mobility to your upper back strength and posture. Read on to find out what other goblet squat benefits you can add to your proverbial arsenal and how to program them for maximum effectiveness.
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.
Benefits of the Goblet Squat
- Build Muscle
- Get Stronger
- Functional Warm-Up
- Improve Hip Mobility
- More Accessible to Beginners
- Promotes Upright Posture
- Alternative to Barbell Squats
- Increased Upper Back Strength
- Boost Core Strength
- Improve Mental Discipline
One of the primary reasons lifters come back to the squat time and time again is its muscle-building potential. And that doesn’t just apply to back squats. The goblet squat is particularly good at stimulating your quadriceps. (1) The more quality volume you can give the fronts of your thighs, the better chance you stand of building hefty tree trunks.
The goblet squat allows you to add high-quality volume to your leg day without over-taxing your lower back — or the rest of your body, for that matter. Even though you can go quite heavy with the goblet squat if you want to, the overall load will typically be much lighter than the load of a barbell back squat.
It may not be as glamorous as its barbell cousin, but the goblet squat can get you plenty strong. Although by nature, the goblet squat is lower body-focused, you’ll be holding the weight with your hands rather than resting or pinning it to your back.
This means that your upper body will be actively engaged in supporting the weight. Your core will also be firing on all cylinders to keep you stable over your center of gravity. With your entire body engaged so heavily, you’re bound to get stronger.
Although we love heavy weights, we’re not in the business of disrespecting bodyweight exercises. The bodyweight squat is an excellent overall exercise, and it’s an honorable addition to any dynamic warm-up. But the goblet squat allows you to take your warm-up just one step — or rather, one squat — farther.
With the goblet squat, you can start transitioning out of your bodyweight warm-up into functionally loaded movements. This can help you grease the groove of your lift and signal to your body that you’re about to lift heavy. By the time you step under the barbell, your joints and muscles really will be ready to go.
Front-loading a dumbbell is often more intuitive for people than front-racking a barbell. This increased comfort is why the goblet squat is often referred to as a beginner exercise — and it’s also why it can be so good for lifters’ hip mobility.
When you’re more comfortable with your starting position, it’s often easier to sink into a deeper range of motion. Practicing the goblet squat can help you reach a fuller depth than you might be used to with a barbell squat. In doing so, you’ll be able to improve your hip mobility under load. This can make for much more effective — and even heavier — squats.
Let’s be clear — the goblet squat is not just for beginners. All of these benefits apply to a wide range of lifters at all levels of experience. That said, there’s a reason the goblet squat is often touted as a beginner squat exercise.
It’s functionally very similar to a bodyweight squat. The movement pattern is nearly identical, especially if you practice performing bodyweight squats with your elbows bent and your hands close to your chest. These important similarities make the goblet squat a useful exercise to help beginning lifters learn how to squat under load — even if they’re not ready for the barbell.
If you want to do what your parents were always telling you to do and hunch a little less over your phone, get goblet squatting. Yes, it’s a leg exercise, but it will give you a lot of vertical loading pressure to contend with. (1)
The goblet squat will have you battling to keep your vertical position the whole time. You’ll be getting a lot of high-quality, high-pressure practice at keeping an upright posture.
Maybe you’re a beginner who isn’t yet ready to tackle the barbell squat. Or maybe you’re working out from home where it’s just you and your dumbbell — no squat rack in sight. It might also be that you’re looking for an alternative to barbell squats because you’ve found that the back squat just doesn’t feel good for your lower back.
Enter the goblet squat. This move can stimulate a whole lot of lower body strength and muscle growth without putting so much pressure on your spine. You can add a lot of lower leg volume without adding all that much stress to your lower back — a real win-win combination.
Like the barbell front squat, the goblet squat has you front-loading your weight. However, with a barbell squat, a hefty majority of the actual weight is resting on your delts. This is often just not the case with goblet squat.
Depending on the shape of your chest, you might rest the weight to a greater or less degree on your upper chest. You can do so by bringing your elbows farther forward and upward than you might normally expect them during a goblet squat.
However, goblet squats often call for you to keep your elbows down and relatively tucked in. If that’s a configuration that your body allows, you’ll be resting the weight primarily in your hands. Either way, your upper back will have to remain extremely engaged throughout the lift to keep the dumbbell in place. This high level of upper back recruitment means that it’s not just your legs that are in for a workout.
The goblet squat requires you to maintain a fairly upright stance throughout the lift. Not only does this mean that your upper back receives a lot of stimulation from holding the dumbbell. It also means that your core will be working overtime to counterbalance against the downward pull of the front-loaded weight.
Get enough goblet squats in, and you’ll likely start feeling the burn in your abs as much as your legs. That’s to be expected — and it’s also one of the most appealing strength benefits of the move. By teaching your core to remain strong and tight during a dynamic lower body movement, you’re developing a habit that will translate well into barbell squats and deadlifts alike.
For lifters who may be used to lifting very heavy barbells, it can be both humbling and surprisingly demanding to transition into using lighter dumbbells. All things being equal, even the heaviest of goblet squats will generally be lighter than what you squat using a barbell. In terms of your program, that generally means working in a higher rep range than you may be used to.
Working in the higher rep ranges — especially if the weight is light enough for you to technically slack off on your form — can demand a pretty high degree of focus. You might not get the same adrenaline rush as you may from loading up more than your bodyweight on your back.
Instead of relying on that rush, you will likely have to rely on good old-fashioned mental discipline and tempo control during your goblet squats. That ability to focus will pay off in spades when you get back under the barbell.
How to Do the Goblet Squat
Just because the goblet squat is accessible to many beginners doesn’t mean you can shirk the basics. Get your form locked down to maximize your gains.
- Set a dumbbell vertically on a weight bench to make it easier to scoop up. Cup your hands around the top end of the bell like you’re holding a goblet with both hands. Raise the dumbbell to chest level. Keep your elbows close to your body.
- If needed, you can also position the dumbbell horizontally so that your chest has more room underneath than it would if it’s positioned vertically.
- If your chest does not allow for you to comfortably set the weight at that height, raise the weight a little closer to your chin. Raise your elbows out in front of you similar to how you would with a barbell front squat.
- Once you’ve found a comfortable starting position, set your squat stance. Many people’s feet will naturally fall somewhere between hip- and shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your chest tall and exhale all your air. Tighten your core — including squeezing your oblique muscles at the sides of your torso — and take a big inhale while holding all that tension.
- Squat down as low as feels comfortable for you. Let your elbows and/or your stomach sink down between your thighs.
- Press through your feet into the ground to come back to standing. Repeat for reps.
What “proper” form looks and feels like will differ for everyone. In general, make sure that you’re engaging your core and maintaining an upright torso throughout the lift.
Goblet Squat Variations
There’s more than one way to goblet squat. If you need some variety, check out these variations on the goblet squat theme.
Kettlebell Goblet Squat
This is the same move as the dumbbell goblet squat, except — as you probably guessed — you’ll be using a kettlebell. Some athletes hold the bell around the horns. Others prefer to “cup” it around the body of the bell itself.
Find a grip that feels most secure and comfortable for you. Maintain an emphasis on squatting to as much depth as you can achieve while keeping an upright torso.
Front-Rack Bulgarian Split Squat
This variation will essentially have you performing a Bulgarian split squat while holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in the goblet squat position. Set the weight up just as you would for a goblet squat but stand a foot or two in front of a weight bench or plyo box.
Carefully place your back foot laces down on top of the box or bench. Perform a split squat with your rear foot elevated. Maintain that goblet squat hold on your weight. Keep the reps even on both sides.
A front squat is almost like a goblet squat, except it’s with a barbell. Because the two pieces of equipment have such a different shape, your form will also be slightly different. With a front squat, you will generally rest the bar on your delts with your elbows pointing up and away from you.
This will generally allow you to load the lift a lot heavier than you can with a regular goblet squat. You can expect the same benefits, such as an increased emphasis on your core and potentially less stress on your lower back.
Goblet Squat Form Tips
Avoiding rookie lifting mistakes can be surprisingly tough, even when you’re no longer a newbie. Use these tips to make sure your goblet squat form is on point.
Use Your Elbows
If your body shape allows, try to keep your elbows tucked down and into your rib cage. This way, you’ll be able to use your elbows to guide your knees into a sound position. By tracking them just inside your knees, you can help yourself find a solid squat stance.
In the event that you don’t have the clearance to do that with your body type, use your elbows to make the move more accessible for you. Instead of tucking them down and in, lift them up and out. Have the point of your elbows face the front of the room. Doing so can help you accommodate the dumbbell and your body more smoothly.
Keep Your Shoulders Back and Down
Regardless of how your elbows are positioned, you’ll generally want to aim to keep your shoulder blades back and down. If it helps, think about keeping them away from your ears.
When you’re supporting a heavy weight — or even a light weight for a longer period of time — your body tends to want to compensate. In many cases, you might unconsciously do this by shrugging your shoulders upward.
In addition to potentially increasing your chance of injury, doing so here may negate the upper back strength and posture benefits of the goblet squat. Work to keep your shoulders back and down for maximum muscle engagement.
Maintain a Neutral Chin Position
It can be tempting to stare at the ceiling while you squat, especially after seeing so many athletes on Instagram checking out the sky while lifting heavy. By keeping your chin between neutral and tucked a little bit down, you’ll be maintaining a helpful amount of tension in your posterior chain.
Tilting your head upward can take away this tension, almost like deflating a balloon or snapping a rubber band. Combat leaking force — that could otherwise go into helping you lift the weight — by keeping your chin in neutral or even slightly tucked.
Programming the Goblet Squat
Unless you’re avoiding or can’t access barbell work, you might not be using the goblet squat as your main strength-building leg lift. But if you are, the good news is that you can program this move fairly heavily to increase strength.
- For Strength: Perform three to four sets of five to eight heavy reps.
- For Muscle Growth: Do three to four sets of eight to 12 moderately heavy reps.
- For Endurance: Use the goblet squat as a finisher by performing two to three sets of 15 to 20 reps.
Regardless of your goal, remember that your upper body will likely be limited by what it can hold before your lower body is limited by what it can squat. Respect your literal upper limits. Make sure all parts of your body are able to handle the load you’re presenting it with.
Drink From the Keg of Gains
The barbell squat might be king, but the goblet squat is certainly no slacker. Even if you only have access to one weight, this mighty single dumbbell exercise can bring your legs from zero to hero in no time. The goblet squat is versatile enough to challenge your upper body and core, all the while helping you build some hefty leg muscles. Drink up the gains.
- Collins KS, Klawitter LA, Waldera RW, Mahoney SJ, Christensen BK. Differences in Muscle Activity and Kinetics Between the Goblet Squat and Landmine Squat in Men and Women. J Strength Cond Res. 2021 Oct 1;35(10):2661-2668.
Featured Image: In The Light Photography / Shutterstock