The squat is seen by many as the primary exercise to develop the lower legs. However, even the most ardent squat devotees cannot get around the fact that the traditional barbell back squat places a lot of stress on the lower back. Fortunately, there are a number of squat alternatives that overcome this problem. Today we focus on the dumbbell goblet squat. We’ll find out just how to do it, the correct squatting form, and check whether it’s worth adding to your lower-body exercise routine.
What is the Dumbbell Goblet Squat?
The dumbbell goblet squat is a squat variation that has you holding a single dumbbell in front of your torso in a clasped grip vertical position. You keep the dumbbell close to your chest as you perform the squat movement. It is important to avoid the common goblet squat mistakes by following the correct goblet squat form to avoid injury and target the relevant muscles.
How to Do the Dumbbell Goblet Squat
- While standing have your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointing slightly outward. Then with your hands cupped under the top end, hold the dumbbell vertically. The weight should be resting against your chest.
- Breathe in as you hinge at the hips to descend into a squat. Maintain a neutral spine and keep your upper body upright.
- Stop when your elbows touch your knees and push through the heels to return to the upright position.
Benefits of the Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is a compound leg exercise with a range of versatile uses. It allows you to improve your fitness level using a functional movement pattern. Let’s take a look at the other benefits below:
Relieves Spinal Load
Because you are holding the weight in front of your body rather than on your back, you are relieving the pressure on your spine from heavy loads. That means that the compression of vertebrae in the spine will not happen when you choose to do this version of the squat. In addition, the back rounding that many people, even experienced lifters, employ when performing the back squat doesn’t happen with this exercise. That takes more pressure off the spine.
Works the Core
The placement of the weight at the front of your body will make you engage your core – the rectus abdominis, intercostals, external obliques and erector spinae – work more to hold and balance the weight.
The goblet dumbbell squat is a safer exercise than the traditional barbell back squat. We have already spoken about how much safer it is for your spine. The more upright position is, in fact, better for your entire body. You are essentially assuming the basic sports defensive stance, putting you in a very powerful position.
The goblet dumbbell squat also puts you in a more advantageous position than the back squat if you fail on a rep. Rather than crashing to the floor with a huge weight on your back, all you have to do is to drop the weight!
The dumbbell goblet squat is a more natural, not to mention a more comfortable, movement than the back squat. Many people have an inherent fear of having a heavy weight on their back. In addition, it is difficult for most people to learn the proper back squat movement.
A big problem with the back squat is that most people do not squat down low enough. In fact, many people only move an embarrassingly pitiful amount of the way down. Unless they put a bench under their butt, they will not have any cues to alert them to the proper squat depth. However, when you perform the dumbbell goblet version of the exercise, you will know exactly where to descend to on every rep.
As we described in the How To section above, descend down until your elbows touch your knees at the bottom of the squat. If you use this cue, your depth will be exactly the same on every rep of every set!
A goblet squat is a great exercise that works the quadriceps and more. It’s a compound movement that uses both upper and lower body strength to perform it correctly. Let’s take a look at the muscles worked in more detail:
Your quads are made up of four muscles that sit at the front of your leg. Squats are a knee-dominant movement meaning your quads need to flex and extend your knees as you move up and down in a squat position. As your feet get closer together your quads become more dominant.
Your hamstrings are a group of three muscles that sit at the back of your legs behind your quads. Whilst not as involved as the quads, they work as antagonist movers which means they have less of a role but still need to function as you go through the goblet squat. As your stance gets wider the degree of hamstring activation increases.
Your glutes are situated above your hamstrings and quads and play a central role in any squat movement including the goblet squat. They comprise three muscles and function to extend your hips. These are the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. As you push out of the bottom squat position, your glutes are maximally activated to help you back to the starting position.
Your core consists of a group of trunk and hip muscles that help you to maintain an upright body position. These include your stomach, pelvis, lower back, and hip muscles.
During a kettlebell goblet squat, your core muscles need to work together to keep your chest up, head facing forwards, and back neutral whilst you move against a load. This is also the same when using a dumbbell or other weight. This helps with correct muscle activation and injury prevention so you take most of the pressure off your lumbar spine region.
A goblet squat involves holding a weight in front of the body whether its a dumbbell, kettlebell, or something else. To keep the weight held in the same position, your traps, rhomboids, and lats muscle contract throughout.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
A goblet squat is relatively easy to use the proper form as far as compound gym movements go but not without the possibility of making mistakes, Here’s what to avoid if you want to get the most out of this full-body exercise:
Holding the Weight Out Too Far
During a goblet squat, the weight should be held at the front of your chest close to your body. Your elbows should be bent allowing the kettlebell to sit close against you. During the movement, you shouldn’t feel like you are struggling to keep the weight held in the same position at chest height. Your legs and core should be doing all the work, not your arms and shoulders.
Holding the weight too far from your body means that you’ll need to use your arms to keep the weight from lowering, putting you off balance and shifting the focus away from the correct movement pattern and muscle activation. This makes goblet squats harder to perform, decreasing the amount of weight you can use.
After all, your leg muscles can lift a far larger amount of weight than your arms can. Focus on keeping the weight close to your chest with your elbows bent for each rep you perform to prevent this from happening.
This is another common mistake seen alongside holding the weight too far out. During the goblet squat, you should keep your chest up, shoulder blades back, and head facing forward at all times. If you deviate from a stable lifting position such as leaning forward when using a heavier weight, you place more stress on your lumbar spine region and lose balance as the weight starts to pull you further forward.
If you think you’re not keeping your torso upright, set up in front of a mirror or ask a friend to watch whilst you squat so you or they can see your lifting position. Focus on the correct lifting cues and look to correct any slight deviations as you lift. If you find yourself deviating from an upright posture, lower the weight slightly or take the weight away and practice the correct technique.
It’s likely you’ll find the movement harder to perform as you correct the movement pattern. This is normal and shows you that you’re correctly repositioning your body. Use a lighter weight and work back up progressively without compromising your form.
The problems I’ve discussed above can all cause you to lose balance. Alongside this, you need to keep your feet flat against the floor as you push against the ground keeping the correct squat position.
Placing too much weight on your toes can cause your heels to lift off the ground and make you lose balance. This compromises your stable lifting position and reduces the amount of force you can generate.
When performing the goblet squat, you can allow your toes to wriggle slightly but make sure your weight stays evenly distributed across your feet.
Inward caving of the knees also known as ‘knee valgus’ is a common problem seen when performing traditional squats that the goblet squat can help to alleviate. As I’ve discussed above, you want to try to get your elbows to touch the inside of your knees as you reach the bottom squat position.
This in itself is training you to keep your knees correctly aligned throughout the squat movement, reducing the incidence of knee cave when you perform other squat movements.
As you squat down, make sure your knees align with your toes throughout. If they don’t, focus on engaging your hips and glutes to pull your knees outwards. Use a light weight whilst practicing the correct technique cues if you need.
Dumbbell Goblet Squat vs Dumbbell Squat
Even though they are both dumbbell versions of the squat there is a lot of difference between these two exercises. The dumbbell squat is performed with a pair of dumbbells. You hold one dumbbell in each hand at your side. When you squat down, the weights travel directly down to the floor.
With the goblet version of the exercise, you have a single dumbbell in front of your torso at chest level.
You will generally find that you are not able to squat as deeply when you are doing a dumbbell squat. That is because your extended arms, with the added width of the dumbbell, hits the floor before you have gotten all the way down.
Obviously, with the goblet squat you will only be using half the weight that you would with the dumbbell squat. This can present a bit of a challenge. In order to achieve the same weight load challenge as you would have on a dumbbell squat, you will have to use a pretty heavy dumbbell, which can be tricky to get into position for the start position of the exercise. To approximate the weight you would have on your back when doing a barbell back squat, you would need even more weight. Not only will it be difficult to get the dumbbell into the start position, you will also have difficulty holding it in front of your torso as you are squatting.
Best Sets and Reps
The dumbbell goblet squat has many advantages over the barbell squat. However, it is not the best choice when you are wanting to go heavy. I recommend using the dumbbell goblet version of this exercise for light to moderate weights with higher reps.
Here is a 5 set rep scheme that many people have found beneficial:
- Set One – 20 reps
- Set Two – 15 reps
- Set Three – 15 reps
- Set Four – 12 reps
- Set Five – 20 reps
Here is an example of how you can add the goblet dumbbell squat into a leg workout. Note that I have replaced the barbell back squat with barbell front squat. This exercise places far less pressure on your lower back while also allowing for a relatively heavy amount of weight to be lifted. On each succeeding set, increase the weights as the rep count goes down.
- Front Squat – 4 x 15/12/10/8/8
- Dumbbell Goblet Squats – 20/15/15/12/20
- Leg Extension – 30/15/10/8/6
- Leg Curl – 30/15/10/8/6
The dumbbell goblet squat is a squat alternative that overcomes many of the problems associated with the traditional barbell back squat. However, you won’t be able to go heavy on this exercise. Use it as part of a well rounded lower body workout for a rep range between 12 and 20 reps.
Do you want to build great quads ? then read our article the best quad exercises.
How deep should I squat ?
When deciding how deep to go, your workout goals and mobility will ultimately decide the best squat depth. For normal goblet squats, aim to squat down so your legs are parallel to the floor and your elbows touch your knees.
If you are doing more bodybuilding-style training, utilizing half reps instead of full range of motion deep squats may be a training approach that you can use alongside other compound movements. If you notice your heels lifting off the floor, stop at that range of motion and work on your mobility before going deeper.
Can I build muscle with goblet squats ?
Muscle building requires the manipulation of different variables causing your muscles to break down and build back bigger in order to adapt to the new stimulus. Performing goblet squats as high repetition sets, as part of a super-set, and as a drop set are all great ways to elicit a big enough stimulus to lead to muscle growth, This needs to be tailored to your ability and individual goals.