The Goblet Squat by Jimmi Stanton
When it comes to exercise movements the Goblet Squat is an All-Star, Pro Bowl, Hall of Fame Legend! It’s one of the best ways to train one of the most basic and fundamental human movement patterns in a safe and effective manner. Practicing and developing a good Goblet Squat while maintaining position, posture, and focus can do wonders towards increasing your flexibility, mobility, strength, and conditioning. As a result, the Goblet Squat is arguably one of the most important exercises to include when beginning a strength and conditioning program.
And, while many will progress in their training to warrant the need to include more advanced squat patterning exercises, the goblet squat will always remain a fundamental and productive exercise in any training program.
(Side note: As with all exercise instruction it is advised to seek out a qualified coach to teach proper form and technique. That said, keep reading for some of my preferred Goblet Squat basics.)
In a pinch Goblet Squats can be performed with medicine balls, dumbbells, or kettlebells using various grips. However, for the sake of optimal training, an iron kettlebell with a flared handle using a “steering wheel” grip (e.g. grabbing the bell by the horns) is preferred due to several biomechanical advantages. We’ll talk about some of those in a bit. But first...
At its heart, the Goblet Squat is simple. From the standing position (while holding the kettlebell using the aforementioned grip) squat down until your elbows are touching your legs just inside your kneecaps. And then return back to the standing position. As you do this let’s refer to a cue from Dan John…
(Side note: Dan John has done so much to popularize the Goblet Squat that it’s often referred to “Dan John’s Goblet Squat”)
Squatting is NOT folding your torso and thighs together like an accordion. This is a sign of weakness, instability, inflexibility, and overall flawed movement patterning. Rather, it is lowering your torso into a position between your legs.
Start by maintaining an erect/upright posture with an elongated spine. Keep your gaze pointed forward fixing on a point at eye level or slightly higher. Grip the kettlebell tightly with all fingers if possible, especially the ring and pinky fingers on each hand. The top of the handle can gently brush the bottom of your chin. Now think about pulling the handle apart -- this will help you retract your scapulae (e.g. squeeze your shoulder blades together) to stabilize your shoulders and upper back. Now expand your ribcage and flare your lats (imagine a teenage boy puffing up to impress a group of cute girls as he’s walking past them). Finish building tension in your core by engaging your lower abdominals (imagine bracing as if preparing for someone to punch you right below your belly button).
Let’s talk foot positioning for a moment. Jump straight up into the air three times in a row then look at your foot position after you land the third jump. This should put you in a good starting point for a Goblet Squat standing with your heels at roughly shoulder width apart, or slightly narrower, with your toes slightly outward. Turning the toes outward will facilitate your knees tracking over your toes as you lower into the squat. Contrary to “broscience”, deep squats are not bad for your knees – if performed properly – and by ensuring your knees track over your toes you’re taking a huge step toward making sure you’re squatting well.
(Side note: I see a lot of people doing partial squats. This is fine in certain instances where range of motion is limited or when rehabbing from injury. However it can create an imbalance in the flexibility, mobility, and strength of the muscles and joints in your lower body. Squatting deeply ensures that you engage of all the muscle groups and joints you want to train with squatting pattern exercises through their full range of motion.)
Think of the starting position as standing plank while actively holding the kettlebell. And, now that we’re in position, let’s squat!
Maintain an upright posture and slowly lower your torso between your legs. Your shoulders and hips should be moving in sync with each other at the same pace. Think slow, controlled movement. You own this! Your knees will be tracking over your toes as you descend. Do not let them cave inward or flare outward (you may need to play with your starting foot position to maintain good knee/toe alignment through the entire movement). You want to aim your elbows so they slide in and touch the teardrop shaped muscles of the inner quadriceps just inside the front of your knee (called the Vastus Medialis Obliquus, or “VMO”). As you approach the lower end of the squat use control to decelerate into a slight pause at the very bottom.
Your feet are flat on the ground, weight centered in the front of your heels. Your elbows are touching the very front interior edge of your knees (maybe slightly expanding the knees outward). Your torso is still in a good upright position, and you’ve maintained intrathoracic pressure. Your chin is flat to the floor, gaze still fixed forward. And now you’re ready to come back up.
It’s a good idea to “gather” your lower abdominals to initiate the upward phase of the Goblet Squat. You can do this by engaging the muscles as if you were grunting. This can be an actual audible grunt, but it’s easy enough to get all of the muscles involved without too much noise. Once your lower abdominals are actively engaged, drive your heels into the ground and rise back up to the top position. Just as in the lowering phase your shoulders and hips should be moving in sync with each other at the same pace. Ascend all the way back into the standing plank that you started in.
Congratulations! You just did the legendary Goblet Squat!