Some lifters think they don’t “need” to do the goblet squat, usually because they can load more weight onto a barbell. But the goblet squat really is one of the most efficient exercises you can do.
It’s more challenging than basic bodyweight squats, it’s more accessible than squatting with a barbell, and can usually be done by lifters with poor shoulder or back mobility, and there are many simple and effective goblet squat variations to progress over time.
Here are some of the most effective ways to get even more benefits from the classic goblet squat with a few simple adjustments.
Best Goblet Squat Variations
A cyclist goblet squat is performed very similar to a classic goblet squat, holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of your chest. This movement adds elevation under your heels, most commonly by standing on a single weight plate.
The elevated heel position lets you keep your torso more upright, so that you can sit “more into your knees” compared to sitting your hips farther back as your squat. Raising your heels also changes the ankle mobility requirements of the exercise, making it more comfortable for lifters with limited mobility. (1)
When to Do It
The cyclist squat is excellent for building quad strength and muscle because the raised heel increases activation of the quadriceps (front thigh muscle). This movement is also a great way to get more comfortable sitting “all the way down” into your squat. If you have limited ankle mobility, it’s often more effective to work specifically to improve the issue, but sometimes a heel lift can help you gain confidence in the bottom of the squat and continue training.
How to Do It
Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in the “goblet position” — with the weight supported by both hands held in front of your chest, under your chin. Set your feet in a fairly narrow stance, closer than shoulder-width, with your heels on top of a weight plate placed on the ground. Bend your legs and squat down. Focus on sitting “into your hips and knees” instead of leaning forward and pushing your hips back.
Descend as low as you can while maintaining tension in your legs and core. Keep your shoulders back and your torso upright. Don’t let the weight pull you forward. When you’re reached the bottom position, drive through your feet and come to a standing position.
Switching from a two-leg squat to a single-leg exercise makes it more challenging to your legs and core. Holding the weight in the goblet position and performing a reverse lunge, or back lunge, can be one of the best ways to get started with this movement.
This movement will be great for maintaining core strength and posture while also working on unilateral (single-leg) development. Lunges also allow reduce stress on the back compared to two-leg squats. (2)
When to Do It
A goblet reverse lunge is a great time to focus on each leg individually. You can add this exercise in as an “accessory lift,” performed after more traditional heavy work like barbell squats, or you can make the movement a priority and perform it as the first exercise of your leg workout. Pretty much everyone in the gym can benefit from more unilateral work because, along with building muscular strength, it can also help with hip strength and stabilization.
How to Do It
Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in the goblet position. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step back with one foot while hinging at your hips and lowering your back knee towards the floor. The goblet squat reverse lunge should be done with a more upright torso position compared to other squat or lunge variations. Keep your front heel down on the floor as you reach your back knee to the ground. Once you’ve reached as far as possible, drive back up by pushing through the floor with your front foot to stand up.
Most people very rarely move sideways, or laterally, in daily life. But moving in different planes and in different directions is an important way to maintain a well-rounded, fully functioning body.
The goblet lateral lunge is excellent to build hip stability, adductor (inner thigh) strength, and glute strength. Moving sideways with a weight in the goblet position will also challenge you core stabilizers in a unique way, especially your obliques on the sides of your abdominals.
When to Do It
A goblet lateral lunge is often going to have a relatively shorter range of motion at the knee compared to other lunge movements because the movement also works the leg through a lateral movement, not just knee flexion (bending).
Lifters that have a hard time sitting all the way into a deep squat can benefit from the goblet lateral lunge because you don’t need to and also sit as low. Lateral lunges are also useful when you are also tight in your hamstrings or groin, because the hamstrings and hip muscles are stretched throughout the exercise.
How to Do It
Stand with the weight in the goblet position. Step one foot out to the side and, when it’s flat on the ground, bend your knee while keeping your other leg straight. Keep your torso upright torso as you descend, don’t let the weight pull you forward. Leaning forward isn’t really wrong, but it shifts the focus to your glutes instead of focusing on your core hip strength. Take your time working through the movement and control the descent. Emphasize the eccentric component (lowering phase) to really get more mobility, strength, and muscle-building benefit. (3)
This two-for-one movement will probably end up on many peoples’ list of favorite exercises. It hits your legs, which many people expect, along with some bonus work for your arms, which many people happily accept.
It is performed exactly the same as a standard goblet squat except that you will sit low enough to push your elbows out into your thighs as you do a biceps curl before standing back up.
When to Use It
Along with being an efficient way to train your upper body and lower body together, this is amazing exercise for ingraining a deep squat position, reinforcing squat technique, and learning how to hold muscular tension through your body. If you have a hard time feeling getting your hips back in the bottom of the squat, feeling the weight and the pressure from your own body against your thighs will help to create stability and tension.
Because this is essentially a type of “pause squat,” holding the deepest position as you perform the curl, you are also getting the muscle-building benefits of increased time under tension. (4)
How to Do It
Stand with your feet roughly hip or shoulder-distance apart while holding a weight in the goblet position. The specific stance width will vary person to person. Adjust to a comfortable position. Drive your hips back and push your knees out as you squat down. As you reach the bottom of the squat, press your elbows into the sides of your inner thighs — this will help to keep your chest up, engage your back, and provide enough tension to do a biceps curl to full straight-arm extension while in the bottom position of the squat. Curl the weight back up to the goblet position, near your chest, and then drive through the floor to stand back up.
This is another simple, subtle, and effective variation of the standard goblet squat. Instead of squatting in the air, lower yourself to reach a box, bench, or step. You should be able to gently touch the box with your glutes before standing up.
The goblet box squat can be used by beginning lifters as they build confidence and get comfortable with the squatting movement pattern, and it can be used by experienced lifters who want to challenge themselves with new movements and techniques.
When to Use It
Squatting to a stable surface offers a few benefits. First, it makes sure that each repetition is performed with a consistent range of motion instead of accidentally decreasing your depth due to fatigue. It can also work to limit your range of motion, which can be useful if you’re recovering from an injury or need to train within certain restrictions. The box also forces you to move more slowly and with more control, which can increase the time under tension and build greater overall results.
How to Do It
Stand one or two steps in front of a box, bench, or step set to just-above knee-height. You can and should set the height of the box to accommodate your own range of motion depending on your mobility level. Hold a weight in the goblet position and slowly squat down with control, reaching your hips and glutes backward as you approach the box. Be careful not to lower quickly or slam onto the box. Pretend the box was just covered in a layer of glue and you don’t want to get stuck — you need to touch down gently and briefly before standing up.
Muscles Worked by the Goblet Squat
The classic goblet squat, like all squats, is a complete lower body exercise that trains all the major leg muscles.
The front-loaded goblet position also changes the stress on your core muscles compared to other squat variations, making it more accessible to many lifers with back pain unable to perform barbell squats.
The quads on the front of your thigh are the largest muscle targeted by the goblet squat. They are strongly recruited during the goblet squat, most noticeably as you rise from the bottom position and reach the standing lockout position. Squatting to a deeper position, with a more significant knee angle in the bottom position, can increase activation of the quads.
Glutes and Hamstrings
Your glutes and hamstrings work together to strongly “pull” you into a deep squat position, as well as to extend you up and out of the bottom position. When you take a relatively wide stance, with your feet beyond shoulder-width, your glutes and hamstrings are put into a position of stronger leverage and can be recruited more significantly.
Holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of your chest, in the goblet position, will force your abs and lower back (your core muscles) to work more strongly fighting against the pull of the weight. The front-loaded position also requires you to remain more upright, which helps to avoid excessive strain on your lower back.
Goblet Squat Form Tips
The goblet squat is a great tool to help teach that the squat itself is much more than just legs. Holding the weight in front of your body helps to ensure good posture, which really means it becomes an upper back and core exercise, as well.
Keep your elbows pinned to your sides throughout the movement. Your arms should stay bent, with your hands near your shoulders and chest. The weight should stay under your chin and not drift away from your body.
If you try to goblet squat without holding good positions, it is very likely that the weight will pull your upper body forward. Keep you upper back tight and your shoulders pulled back.
Lower yourself to a comfortable depth to build strength and mobility in your legs and hips. In the bottom position, your upper body should not be significantly angled forward, like a common barbell back squat.
Pick Up a Goblet
The goblet squat is an effective exercise all on its own, but when you take a closer look at these versatile variations, the potential benefits keep adding up. To keep progressing, you want to get in plenty of reps, gradually add weight, increase the total time under tension, and vary the movements slowly over time. Adding any of these goblet-position exercises to your lower body training will deliver new strength gains, more muscle, improved mobility, and better all-around performance.
- Lu, Z., Li, X., Xuan, R., Song, Y., Bíró, I., Liang, M., & Gu, Y. (2022). Effect of Heel Lift Insoles on Lower Extremity Muscle Activation and Joint Work during Barbell Squats. Bioengineering (Basel, Switzerland), 9(7), 301. https://doi.org/10.3390/bioengineering9070301
- Eliassen, W., Saeterbakken, A. H., & van den Tillaar, R. (2018). COMPARISON OF BILATERAL AND UNILATERAL SQUAT EXERCISES ON BARBELL KINEMATICS AND MUSCLE ACTIVATION. International journal of sports physical therapy, 13(5), 871–881.
- Roig, M., O’Brien, K., Kirk, G., Murray, R., McKinnon, P., Shadgan, B., & Reid, W. D. (2009). The effects of eccentric versus concentric resistance training on muscle strength and mass in healthy adults: a systematic review with meta-analysis. British journal of sports medicine, 43(8), 556–568. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.2008.051417
- Burd, N. A., Andrews, R. J., West, D. W., Little, J. P., Cochran, A. J., Hector, A. J., Cashaback, J. G., Gibala, M. J., Potvin, J. R., Baker, S. K., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates differential muscle protein sub-fractional synthetic responses in men. The Journal of physiology, 590(2), 351–362. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2011.221200
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