How to Goblet Squat: Muscles Worked & Proper Form

Goblet Squat exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Goblet Squats

Muscles worked in goblet squats

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Goblet Squat with Proper Form

  1. Grab a kettlebell in the sides of the handle, and hold the kettlebell against your chest.
  2. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and your toes pointing slightly outward.
  3. Inhale, lightly brace your core, and squat down as deep as possible.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position. Exhale on the way up.

Text and graphics from the StrengthLog app.

What is the Goblet Squat?

The goblet squat is a squat exercise where you hold a weight (usually a kettlebell) in front of your chest.

The goblet squat was popularized (or invented, even?) by coach Dan John. Below is an old picture, taken at a seminar in Stockholm, where Dan John gives instructions for the kettlebell goblet squat with me as the model.

Dan John (left) and me (right) in Stockholm, 2013.

Goblet Squat vs Barbell Squat

The main difference between the goblet squat and the barbell squat is, of course, the tool you use.

  • Goblet squats are usually done with a kettlebell, but other common tools are dumbbells and weight plates (and small children and rocks).
  • Barbell squats are done with … well, yeah.
Goblet Squat
Goblet Squat
Barbell Squat Exercise
Barbell Squat

In goblet squats, you hold the weight close to or against your chest, and in the most common barbell squat you place the bar on your upper back.

In terms of the effect this has on the exercise, the main differences are:

  • It’s usually much easier to squat down deep in the goblet squat.
  • You can usually lift much more weight in the barbell squat.

We’ll delve into these differences more later on.

Goblet Squat Form Details

The goblet squat really isn’t harder than “hold a weight against your chest, squat down, get back up, and repeat until tired”.

But, I know some of you would like more details than that (I’m the same), so here we go!

Grip on the Weight

The point of the exercise is to work your legs, glutes, and core – not your arms or grip. Therefore, try to find a way to hold the weight that is as comfortable and easy as possible.

The better grip you can get, the more weight you can use, which means that your lower body is going to get a better workout.

If you’re using a kettlebell, grasp it by the “horns” close to the ball. Point your forearms up and keep the kettlebell close to your chest, even leaning it against your chest if comfortable.

Goblet squat top

If you’re using something else for weight, like a dumbbell or a weight plate, the same principle still applies: try to make holding the weight as easy as possible. The whole point is to train your lower body and core, not your arms.

Foot Position

Move around a bit and try to find a stance that suits you and your body. We all look a little different in terms of leg length, pelvis, and hip joints, and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you.

A stance around shoulder-width or slightly wider than hip-width is a good place to start testing, but experiment with a wider or narrower stance if it doesn’t feel good.

Your toes should point in roughly the same direction that your knees travel when you squat down. That is probably not going to be 100% straight forward, but rather slightly outwards.

Once again, move around a bit and experiment.

As a rule of thumb, the wider your stance, the more your toes will point outward.

Goblet squat bottom
My bottom position in the goblet squat. For me, it feels best to have my toes pointing fairly straight forward.

Goblet Squat Depth

How low should you go in the goblet squat? Squat depth is one of the most important factors for what results you get from squatting, and generally, deeper is better.

Deep squats lead to greater muscle growth in the quads, glutes, and adductors than shallow or half squats.1 2

Squat depth

Additionally, deep squats increase your leg strength in a full range of motion, as opposed to half squats that mostly increase your leg strength in the top range of motion.3 4

But isn’t deep squatting dangerous?

Au contraire!

A meta-analysis found that lower knee joint stress can be expected in deep squats compared to half and quarter squats, and that the deep squat presents an effective exercise for protection against injuries and strengthening of the legs.5

Just increase the weight and training volume gradually, and you’ll strengthen your knees with deep squats.

Goblet Squat Benefits

So except for building strong and healthy knees and big thighs and glutes – what are the benefits of the goblet squat?

(As if you needed more)

Here are five reasons for why I often recommend or have people do goblet squats.

  1. Easy to learn
  2. Practice the squat movement
  3. Works major muscle groups
  4. Real world core strength
  5. Back friendly

Let’s go over them, quick as a bunny.

1. Easy to Learn

Most people learn to goblet squat the very first time they try it.

My small children can, and my 65 year old mother-in-law can.

Because the kettlebell (or whatever) works as a counterweight, most people can squat down deep without any mobility issues.

Want to restrict the range of motion for some reason? Squat down to a box or bench set at the desired height.

2. Practice the Squat Movement

For some, the traditional squat performed with a barbell can be tricky to learn. Be it because of balance, hip mobility, or something else.

The goblet squat can act as a great stepping stone towards the barbell back squat, giving you a chance to practice the movement pattern, find your preferred stance, and develop some strength and flexibility in the right structures.

Here’s a simple squat progression:

Goblet squat -> barbell front squat -> barbell back squat

You could also add in box squats at the third step, if you want to.

3. Works Major Muscle Groups

We kind of went over this earlier, but it’s worth to reiterate: the goblet squat works some of your largest muscle groups, and if all you ever did was goble squats, you’d still do well.

The primary muscles worked in the goblet squat are your quads, glutes, and adductors.

Secondarily, your calves and lower back are in on the work, as well as some of your deep core muscles.

4. Real World Core Strength

A disadvantage of the goblet squat is that holding the weight against your chest limits how much you can lift.

This limits how hard you can work your legs, compared to the barbell back squat, for example, in which you can easily use much heavier weight.

This is not only a disadvantage, though.

A lot of the times that you have to use your strength in a real world setting, you will find yourself in something very similar to the goblet squat.

Be it a sofa or a small child that needs carrying, or a small bear that need wrestling, the “feel” and demand on your core muscles is very similar to the goblet squat.

As such, goblet squats offer a way to tie together your strong leg muscles with a strong core, that makes you better at lifting more than just gym weights.

5. Back Friendly

Got low back issues when barbell squatting? Give the goblet squat a shot.

Because of how the weight acts as a counterweight and let’s you keep your torso upright, the lower back typically likes the goblet squat.

If you’re trying to rehab some back issues, start them light and progress gradually to build up your lower back robustness again.

Goblet Squat Variations

Here are some ways you can vary your goblet squatting, for different purposes.

  • Paused goblet squat. Squat down and pause in the bottom position. By pausing, you slow things down and get a better opportunity to find a comfortable position. You also prolong the stretch in the bottom, which might further improve your flexibility and mobility in the squat position.
  • Goblet squat with a biceps curl. Use a light weight for this exercise. Squat down, put your elbows inside your knees, and lower the weight and lift it up again by doing a biceps curl. The point of this exercise is not to work your biceps, but rather to sneak in a pause at the bottom of the movement, and distract you in order to make you relax in your lower body. Use this as a warm-up drill to prepare your lower body for squats.
  • Goblet squat to box. Sometimes you want to restrict your range of motion, or just make sure that you are hitting a certain depth. I use goblet squats to a box or bench when I need to avoid a certain range of motion due to injury, or prescribe it to old or frail clients that don’t have the leg strength for a deep goblet squat, but still want to hold onto a light weight for counter-balance.

Goblet Squat Alternatives

Don’t want to or can’t train the goblet squat, but want to train a similar movement? Here are some goblet squat alternatives.

  • Barbell front squat. The barbell front squat is similar to the goblet squat in that the weight is in front of your body. However, in the front squat you rest a barbell against the front of your shoulders, and don’t hold the weight in your arms like you do in the goblet squat. The front squat generally enables you to use much heavier weights, but with the drawback that it is far more uncomfortable and that wrist mobility might be an issue.
  • Zercher squat. Another squat variation that let’s you use more weight but is also more uncomfortable. In the zercher squat, you hold the barbell in the crease of your elbows. This means the weight is still in front of your body, often letting you squat deep without issues. The only problem is that it’s painful.
  • Bear hug squat. Find a sandbag, heavy ball, or something similar. Hug it in front of your body, and start squatting. Obviously, this will severely limit how much weight you can use because of the disadvantageous position, but it might be a useful exercise for anyone interested in getting better at precisely that: lifting a heavy weight in disadvantageous positions. Strongmen and martial artists, come to mind.

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  1. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013 Aug;113(8):2133-42. doi: 10.1007/s00421-013-2642-7. Epub 2013 Apr 20. Effect of range of motion in heavy load squatting on muscle and tendon adaptations.
  2. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2019 Sep;119(9):1933-1942. Effects of squat training with different depths on lower limb muscle volumes.
  3. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Dec;26(12):3243-61. Influence of squatting depth on jumping performance.
  4. Human Movement. 17. 10.1515/humo-2016-0006. (2016) Joint-Angle Specific Strength Adaptations Influence Improvements in Power in Highly Trained Athletes.
  5. Sports Med. 2013 Oct;43(10):993-1008. Analysis of the load on the knee joint and vertebral column with changes in squatting depth and weight load.