When it comes to squat variations, there are plenty of options that you can perform in the gym. Two of the most popular front-loaded squat variations are the goblet squat and front squat. If you’re invested in leg strength, you have probably done both. But which variation is better?
The front squat — typically performed by intermediate and advanced lifters — is a barbell lift that requires mobility, stability, and core strength. Front squats are great for building strength and mass. In contrast, goblet squats are great for teaching beginners squat mechanics. However, make no mistake: a solid goblet squat is also an excellent tool for advanced athletes.
While both squats are a fundamental squat pattern, they are not always interchangeable in a training program. The front and goblet squat offer different stimuli, forms, and applications. To help you decide which variant is best for you, we’ll explain everything you need to know about the front squat versus goblet squat debate.
Front Squat Vs. Goblet Squat — Form Differences
The goblet squat and front squat are closely related exercises. They both target the same large muscle groups — quads, glutes, erector spinae, core, and upper back.
However, there are enough differences between the two exercises to warrant further exploration. Just because they target the same muscles doesn’t mean they should be interchangeable in your program. Here’s how the setup for these movements differs.
Shoulder Mobility Requirements
There are stark differences in the upper body mobility requirements between the front squat and the goblet squat. The front squat requires lifters to maintain a front-rack position with a barbell. This involves keeping your elbows up and out in front of you — almost perpendicular to your torso — and securing your fingers underneath the bar at your shoulders.
A front-rack position with a barbell grip requires external rotation of the shoulders, flexibility in the latissimus dorsi, and mobility in the thoracic spine. This can be highly challenging for newcomers and advanced lifters alike and may present significant obstacles to advancing in the front squat.
The alternative to the front-racked hook grip is the cross-arm grip or Genie grip. This grip allows more mobility in the upper body and a more prominent base from which to support the loaded barbell. Your shoulders will internally rotate, and your upper back may round forward, making it challenging to create that upright torso under heavier loads.
In contrast, with a goblet squat, you hold the dumbbell between your palms — like a goblet — and keep your elbows tucked down and underneath the weight. This position generally feels more natural for many lifters, perhaps especially those with less shoulder and thoracic mobility.
Wrist Mobility Requirements
Many lifters struggle with the front rack position due to wrist and forearm positioning and mobility. With the front squat, these problems might arise as follows:
You’ll need to keep the bar secure on your shoulders while also keeping your fingertips steady under the bar. Lifters can approach this in a variety of ways. Many opt for a hook grip or clean grip. Still, others may slip their fingers out almost entirely and simply rest the bar on their shoulders. When they re-rack the weight, they’ll rely on their raised shoulders, pointed elbows, and the squat rack itself to take some of the weight off their fingers.
But each of these front squat approaches requires a lot of wrist flexibility and mobility through your shoulders. Even if you sneak your fingers out from under the bar, your fingers and hands will need to bend significantly back and down toward your body.
With the goblet squat, you’re unlikely to run into quite so many struggles with your positioning. It might become complicated — especially as the weights get heavier or if you have smaller hands — to hold the dumbbell because your wrists will bend back. But because of the shape of the dumbbell, this wrist bend will generally be a lot less extreme than with a barbell front rack.
To help with the goblet squat, consider strengthening your wrists and shifting your grip to find the sweet spot between holding the dumbbell securely and putting too much pressure on your palms. You should be able to address this issue relatively easily, whereas developing the requisite wrist flexibility for a barbell front rack requires a lot more specific mobility training.
Squats are a great example of complex movements. Complex movements generate greater muscular activation and greater athleticism, challenging a lifter’s motor control and balance.
Understanding this, the front squat is more complex than the goblet squat because there’s less room for error. Any change in position during the front squat could result in dropping the bar from its front racked position. Lifters should learn how to bail on a lift safely when learning how to front squat.
Dumbbell or kettlebell goblet squats have a lower risk factor. As long as your hands are secure on the dumbbell, you can move your weight more freely without as much risk of dropping the weight or having to bail out of it. This makes the exercise much safer for those who are not technically sound with the squat pattern. And if you do need to drop the weight, letting go of a dumbbell is easier than bailing on a loaded barbell.
That said, lifters who are scaling up the weight or who are less certain of their grip might want to perform a goblet squat just in front of a weight bench. This can allow the lifter to shift forward and let the weight set down on the bench instead of risking dumping it onto the ground — which isn’t a good situation for your toes.
The goblet squat is a fairly accessible exercise. It can be performed anywhere as long as you have a heavy object to hold.
The front squat requires equipment. You need weight plates (metal or bumper plates), a barbell, and a sturdy squat rack (unless you want to build your own). This makes the front rack less accessible for those who do not have a gym or at-home garage space.
Weight and Equipment Used
Due to the goblet squat using only one implement (a dumbbell, or sometimes a kettlebell) there is a max threshold to how heavy you can load. You can continue to progress the goblet squat by manipulating your lifting tempo, sets, and reps to great effect.
However, the max load for a goblet squat will be lower than what is possible for a front squat. Using a barbell and the assistance of a squat rack or power rack for racking and unracking the weight, you can progress for as long as you want. You’ll be able to progressively overload this lift with heavier weight throughout your lifting career.
You can technically perform a front squat with dumbbells and kettlebells, too. You’ll need a matching set, though, as opposed to only one implement. Just rack the weights on your shoulders instead of in a goblet position. This increases the total amount of weight you can lift — again giving the front squat the advantage in this arena.
How to Do the Goblet Squat
Squatting is a fundamental movement pattern. It’s used to build strength, power, and mobility. When teaching the squat pattern to a beginner, the best exercise to start with is often the goblet squat.
Goblet squats refer to a weight — either a dumbbell or kettlebell — being held at chest level. Let’s dive into the setup of the goblet squat.
- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes slightly turned outward.
- Hold the dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands at chest height.
- Keep your core braced with your shoulders back and chest up.
- Descend into a squat by pushing your hips back and bending at your knees.
- Keep descending until your hips sit below your knees, referred to as breaking parallel.
- Push yourself back up to a standing position.
- Repeat for reps.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your chest up throughout the entire movement by engaging your core and pulling your shoulders back and down.
How to Do a Front Squat
The front squat may feel awkward and uncomfortable for a beginner. Learning proper front squat form will make the exercise less intimidating than it might seem at first.
Once you have the front squat technique down, the bar, arm, and wrist positions become more comfortable. The movement will become simple and smooth — but incredibly challenging to your muscles.
- Standing at a squat rack, position the bar at the height of your collarbone.
- Grip the bar. There are a few grips that you can use with the front squat. The two most common are wrapping all four fingers around the bar with the thumb tucked (hook grip). You might also opt to have one, two, or three fingers around the bar (partial grip). If you struggle with wrist mobility, you can also cross your arms and hold the bar using a hook grip.
- Step close to the bar so it presses against the fronts of your shoulders. For most people, it will sit the bar right at the base of the throat. It’s okay if it feels uncomfortable, but stop if there’s pain.
- Push your elbows up and raise them out in front of the bar.
- Lift the bar out of the rack. Take two or three steps back. Position your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly outward.
- Take a deep breath into your abdomen and brace your core.
- Push your hips back and push your knees out in the same direction as your toes. Sit downward.
- Keep descending until your hips sit below your knees, breaking parallel.
- Keeping your elbows up, back straight, and core tight, stand up to return to your starting position.
- Repeat for reps.
Coach’s Tip: One of the biggest mistakes that lifters make is dropping their elbows in the descent. A good cue is imagining your elbows trying to touch the ceiling.
Similarities Between the Front Squat and Goblet Squat
Most everyday lifting-related tasks require you to pick something up and put something down with a load in front of your body. A majority of these tasks benefit most from your torso remaining upright. The goblet squat and front squats are great examples of squat patterns that emulate the tasks of daily life.
Like all squat movements, the front squat and goblet squat both work all the muscles in your lower body. The front-loading of the weights in both exercises put a strong emphasis on your quads.
In addition to the lower body, the front squat and goblet squat both place a strong emphasis on your core and lower back. The abdominals and upper back act as stabilizers to maintain a safe and upright position in the movements. Compared to a back squat, you’ll likely feel both of these front-loaded variations more deeply in your core.
Both the goblet squat and front squat havesimilar mobility requirements in the lower body. Mobility in the ankles, knees, and hips is of absolute importance for maximum squat depth. This is ideal for developing ultimate strength in your quads, glutes, and hip abductors.
Front Squat Vs. Goblet Squat Performance Differences
Just because the front squat and goblet squat look similar and target the same muscle groups doesn’t mean they’re the same lift. Not only are these exercises different themselves, but even their popular variations offer differing performance benefits to athletes. These variations make a huge difference in the effects of these exercises and how they are executed.
Lower Body Strength
Front squats are more helpful for gaining maximum strength due to their greater load potential. These heavier loads can stimulate tremendous strength improvements in the legs, while also adding a tremendous amount of strength in the upper back versus the goblet squat.
Because you can heft heavier weights, the front squat wins out in the overall strength game. But you can still get a lot stronger using goblet squats. Especially as a beginner, you can achieve incredible strength increases with just one dumbbell. Still, the more advanced you get, the more you’ll benefit from the heavier loads offered by the front squat.
Lower Body Hypertrophy
Both the goblet squat and front squat can be powerhouses in the realm of muscle growth across your lower body. But the increased technical demands of the front squat — and its relatively greater potential for increasing max strength — might make the goblet squat more desirable for stimulating muscle growth.
Especially for more seasoned lifters, the goblet squat can help achieve high volumes of work in the quads and glutes. It helps engage the core, muscles of the lower legs, shoulders, and back. Considering the mobility advantages of the goblet squat versus the front squat, this means you are getting a better eccentric contraction, particularly from the quads and glutes.
All of this translates into a large muscle-building potential for the goblet squat, giving it a user-friendly advantage in this arena.
Both the front squat and goblet squat require specific skills to perform. The front squat is a more technical lift, testing mobility and balance across your entire body. It should be at the forefront of all of your squatting patterns and big lifts.
Since the front squat typically uses a barbell, you’ll be better able to translate front squat skills into even more advanced, skill-oriented barbell lifts like cleans and thrusters.
The goblet squat, on the other hand, is often used as a precursor to the front squat. That’s because it’s simpler to perform on a technical level. The skills you need for the goblet squat are more specific to this lift itself and won’t carry over to barbell lifts as well as its front squat cousin.
Dumbbell Front Squat Vs. Dumbbell Goblet Squat
If an athlete were to remove the barbell from the front squat and replace it with two dumbbells, does it change the exercise? A little, yes.
Now that you are holding two dumbbells instead of a barbell, the exercise becomes a core and full-body workout more similar to the goblet squat. Dumbbell front squats use two dumbbells to counterbalance the movement whereas dumbbell goblet squats use just one.
This means that the dumbbell front squat can help you load up more weight overall than the dumbbell goblet squat. That’s similar to the advantage provided by the barbell front squat.
The dumbbell front squat may be easier on the wrists and hands than the typical dumbbell goblet squat, especially when you want to move more weight.
As long as you can heft your shoulders into position, the more forgiving shape of the dumbbells — and being able to rest them on your front delts — may be easier than supporting a very heavy dumbbell with your wrists directly underneath it.
However, the dumbbell front squat also requires greater shoulder mobility than the goblet squat, which may still provide a barrier to entry.
Kettlebell Front Squat Vs. Kettlebell Goblet Squat
What about if you use kettlebells for both movements? Although very similar in base stance setup and anterior loading, the kettlebell front squat and the kettlebell goblet squat still require unique adjustments to your form.
The kettlebell front squat is a good progression from the kettlebell goblet squat and an intermediate option for those who may not feel comfortable moving onto the barbell.
A more advanced variation of the kettlebell double-racked front squat is the kettlebell single-racked front squat, which emphasizes anti-rotational core strength and shoulder stability.
One drawback when using the kettlebell front squat is that it still requires the front-rack position. You need to be able to clean the kettlebells onto your shoulders to perform the movement.
The kettlebell goblet squat, on the other hand, still uses just one weight in front of the body. But this may be easier on the wrists than the dumbbell goblet squat. You can hold the kettlebell by the horns if you don’t want your wrists to have to bend much at all.
Even if you hold the kettlebell by squeezing the body and supporting the weight with your palms slightly under the bell, the pressure on your wrists will be less intense than when you’re supporting the less forgiving shape of a dumbbell.
How to Program Goblet Squats Vs. Front Squats
Depending on your training intensity, the front squat can be programmed for strength, power, endurance, and hypertrophy. Whereas, the goblet squat is highly suited for work on volume and speed. Both are great on any leg day, but need not be programmed on the same day.
Warming up before your squat session can help make your joints and muscles more resilient against injury. A good warm-up also activates the muscles for that specific pattern and allows for more mobility during your lifting session.
Since goblet squats require less technical precision than front squats, they’re generally a better choice for your general warm-up. Perform three sets of eight 10 reps with a light weight toward the end of the muscle activation component of your warm-up.
However, you’ll also need to warm up for front squats. While goblet squats may be more helpful to get your blood pumping and awaken the squat pattern during your general warm-up, you’ll need to do ramp-up sets for your front squats, too. Always start with an empty barbell and perform several warm-up sets immediately before performing your working sets of front squats.
Set and Reps
When programming for the goblet squat versus front squat, you’ll use different methods of measuring your training volume. If you’re comfortable with both movements, think about your goals. Depending on your goals, your set and rep scheme will look different.
Training for hypertrophy (muscle growth) involves using moderately heavy weights, slightly higher reps, and more sets with limited rest time. You will program six to 12 reps for three to four sets at an intensity of 65 to 85 percent of your one-rep max.
If you’re very experienced and/or are working on the lighter end of the spectrum, you may be able to do more reps with front squats. However, goblet squats may be a better choice for hypertrophy. They’re very challenging but less technically demanding than front squats. With front squats, higher rep sets will put your form at risk.
When training for maximum strength, you’ll generally focus on lifting heavier weights, lowering reps, and executing fewer sets with full rest in between. Training for max strength is best suited to front squats, where you can lift significantly more weight. Stick to performing between two and six sets for two to six reps, with an intensity of 80 percent or more of your one-rep max.
For any level of lifter looking to program more muscular endurance, both front squats versus goblet squats are harder to do. Your wrists, shoulders, and upper back may become a limiting factor well before your legs have had enough action.
However, goblet squats are useful for endurance training if you get creative. Since they require less skill than front squats, exhaust your legs by supersetting them with other lower body-focused lifts. Perform 10 to 15 reps at an intensity of 60 percent of your one-rep max to toast your leg muscles.
Programming for Athletes
Strength athletes of all disciplines will benefit from using both lifts at different points in their programs. The front squat variation that works best for you at any given time is based on what you’re looking to get from it.
Olympic lifters and CrossFitters need sports-specific carryover from front squats — which closely mirror the form needed in cleans and thrusters. These athletes may therefore choose to prioritize front squats over goblet squats.
However, powerlifters who need a break from the intense demands of the barbell might opt for goblet squats. This allows them to get in higher volume work with less intense loads. Goblet squats may also be a welcome way to build up any deficiencies in quad and core strength without requiring too much technical skill and physical overload.
If you’re a less experienced athlete — no matter which strength sport you might have your eye on — start with the goblet squat. It’s less technically demanding than the front squat and therefore a lot easier to master. Once you gain more experience and practice in the front rack position, it might be time to start integrating the barbell front squat into your program.
Who Wins — Front Squats or Goblet Squats?
Overall, the front squat versus goblet squat debate is an easy one to settle — they’re both winners. It all depends on the context.
The goblet squat is the precursor to the front squat. It is used as a developmental tool to establish the necessary muscle groups and mobility to progress to the front squat. The great thing about the goblet squat is that at any fitness level, you can gain strength and muscle mass from this workhouse of a lift.
The front squat is the more technically challenging of the two. It stimulates all the same muscle groups but demands a lot more mobility and skill than the goblet squat. Since you’ll be using a barbell, you can heft significantly more weight than you can with a goblet squat. Plus, this move has a more direct carryover to moves like the thruster and cleans.
If you’re looking to be a well-rounded athlete, both of these lifts should eventually find their way into your leg day. Consider integrating goblet squats into your warm-ups and hypertrophy sessions and front squats into your skill development and strength sessions. No matter which move you choose, prepare yourself for big leg gains.
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