A Goblet Squat Variation For Every Training Goal

By Dr. John Rusin

goblet squat

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Introducing Functional Strength Training: 
The Monthly Membership Training Solution For People Who Want To Look, Feel And Function Their Very Best, Forever.

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The Best Squat You Aren’t Doing: The Goblet Squat

If you’re struggling with the barbell squat, chances are you never earned the right to throw the bar on your back and squat with it. Too many people are quickly jumping into barbell squat variations and neglecting one of the most powerful types of squats out there for solidifying sound movement patterns and cleaning up weak links, the goblet squat.

But not all goblet squats are created equally, and not all variations are used for the same goal. That’s why I’ve broken down my exact sequential progression of the goblet squat from the ground up that provides the foundation of proper squat mechanics and technique that I use with my athletes and clients.

You’ll quickly see that programming the goblet squat in a step by step progression will allow you to intelligently program this staple movement for any type of goal or training focus. From rehabbing injuries to developing power and strength for the platform, there’s a goblet squat variation for every goal out there! Here how to intelligently implement some of my favorites.

#1 Learn or RE-Learn To Properly Squat With The Landmine Goblet Squat

For novices in the strength game or athletes coming off of an injury in a return to training program, the first place to start when re-implementing the bilateral squat pattern is the landmine goblet squat. With it’s unique benefits, this variation is as good of a teaching tool as it is a training tool.

Why This Goblet Variation Is Effective

This variation provides the full body stability benefits of placing a load into the anteriorly loaded goblet position, but also aids in the balance and coordination requirements of the squat pattern by increasing the ground contact between the barbell and your hands. Instead of just having your feet in contact with the ground, the barbell is in contact as well.

The unilateral position of the barbell also alters the strength curve, pushing you back into your hips further and further as you ascend deeper into the squat pattern. This characteristic is what makes this variation of the goblet squat the logical starting point for rebuilding the movement pattern from the ground up.

Many novice squatters struggle to create tension and stability from their posterior chain, mainly the glutes and hamstrings working to stabilize the hips, pelvis and spine. By forcing the movement pattern back into a more posteriorly dominant shift, lifters can learn what it is to create stability at the bottom aspect of this movement pattern.

Who Should Use This Goblet Squat Variation

If your goal is grooving your authentic squat pattern to enhance stability while also correcting some glaring weak points on setup and execution, the landmine squat is the variation for you. Use it in the dynamic warm up or as a primer to the heavier barbell squats for the day. The corrective programming possibilities with this variation are endless.

And if you are new to strength and conditioning and want to build a solid foundation, the landmine is a great place to start in order to ingrain sound movement patterns from the very beginning. Implement this squat variation into your training as the main indicator squat exercise of a training block with the goal of improving your execution while also seeing the load you are able to proficiently move sky rocket in the process.


#2 Build Strength & Power With The Banded Landmine Goblet Squat

While the foundational setup of the landmine goblet squat stays the same, this foundational squat variation can be safely challenged early on by adding accommodating resistance into the mix. With the simple addition of a band to the landmine goblet squat setup, we can effectively start loading the squat pattern for a more challenging execution and a stronger, safer training effect.

Why This Goblet Variation Is Effective

Banded accommodating resistance has been a staple in pain-free training for decades. Why? It allows lifters to more safely load movements due to the changes in resistance through a movements varying degrees of range of motion.

The banded landmine goblet squat is the perfect example of overloading the strongest portions of the movement pattern, the top, with the most band tension, and allowing the bands to slacken and reduce the amount of resistance in the bottom aspect of the squat where most lifters are likely to deviate away from a neutral-ish spine and pelvic position.

The other marquee characteristic that the banded landmine goblet squat offers is the ability to learn how to accelerate a movement pattern through a full range of motion. As the lifter comes out of the bottom of the squat, we want to ingrain the skill of being powerful and explosive while maintaining full tension and stability.

Due to the building resistance as the range of motion comes closer to the top, the lifter can learn how to accelerate into a closer to full range of motion, which would otherwise need to be naturally decelerated by the body in order to preserve tension and stiffness along with not throwing the bar forward and losing contact.

Who Should Use This Goblet Squat Variation

For more seasoned lifters who are looking for a way to deload their secondary squat sessions later on in the week or in the middle of a deloading phase of training, this variation can be a key player in order to clean up some weak links and reduce the amount of joint stress in the squat movement itself. If a key barbell squat variation was trained hard and heavy early on in the week, a secondary squat session that is more focused on technique, form and bar speed can be accomplished with the banded landmine goblet squat variation.

This more advanced landmine setup with the addition of bands is a great intermediary step between landmine and dumbbell/kettlebell loaded goblet squat variations. For those who are learning to build strength, power and resilience in the squat pattern, the addition of the band can provide huge amounts of benefits that can safely teach bar acceleration that will transfer back into more normalized loading. As loading does increase, be cognizant of proper setup as demonstrated in the video. Get the assistance of a training partner to reduce the chance of a subpar setup.


#3 Develop Your Squat Depth With The Dumbbell Goblet Box Squat

Once you’ve mastered your posterior chain stability dominant squat pattern on the landmine setups, the next step in the progression will implement the dumbbell or kettlebell as the loading apparatus. But before implementing the traditional free standing goblet squats, the goblet box squat variation offers some unique benefits to solidify your squat pattern and earn the right to progress sequentially.

Why This Goblet Variation Is Effective

The bottom aspect of the squat usually presents as the most challenging portion of the range of motion to maintain pristine form and stability with. From my experience, many lifters, especially novices try to produce artificial depth by compensating into a spinal flexed position. While slight amounts of relative movement at the lumbar spine into both flexion and extension is normal in a loaded squat pattern, the lack of control and stability around that position can potentially present with some problems.

Placing a box under the squat pattern at a height based off of ones ability to maintain and stabilize a neutral-ish spinal position can not only support the bottom of the squat, but can actually enhance the explosiveness by simply adding in a plyometric component to the movement pattern.

Control a strong and stabilized descent down into the squat leading your glutes into contact with the box. At that point, full tension is maintained and approximately 50% of the athlete’s bodyweight is deloaded into the box. With a slight rock back (a few degrees of relative hip extension/flexion) the athlete will drive up explosively off the box. The contact of the butt on the box will store kinetic energy and help the athlete be more explosive off of a stiff base, exactly what we want.

Who Should Use This Goblet Squat Variation

The goblet box squat biomechanics and movement pattern should mirror the landmine variations from above, and the variations that will be implemented later on in the progression. But many times lifters alter their mechanics as soon as the box is introduced. Build the movement pattern with uniform technique, and this variation will become a powerful way for athletes to explore authentic squat depth while keeping a check on form and stability.

For lifters who struggle with optimizing the relationship between posterior chain stability and an optimal torso angle, this goblet squat variation presents as a go-to teaching tool for both dynamic warm ups and corrective exercise strategies. Place this variation into your foundational movement pattern development block of pre-training preparation, or as a practice block on an off day for more advanced athletes.

As for the novice squatter, this variation is a stepping stone into free squats. The goal here is to habituate this squat variation with a load in the hands and a strong and explosive ability to create force through the floor before moving into the next step which is squatting without the box. When the previous steps have been mastered, this variation should be a quick teaching tool that will lead directly into free standing goblet squats.


#4 Perfect Setup With The Pain-Free Goblet Squat From Box Setup

The traditional goblet squat is one powerful training tool for both performance and resilience, but many times lifters and athletes are too quick to jump into it. Before you implement the free standing dumbbell goblet squat, ensure you have mastered the previous squat variations in order to streamline the trainability and effectiveness of this movement right away.

Why This Goblet Variation Is Effective

This squat variation truly provides the best of both worlds; it aids in the correction and maintenance of authentic full body squat patterns while also producing a notable training effect. But many times, this movement is limited to only light loading that never truly allows an athlete to explore challenging situations to build resiliency around.

One of the main reasons for chronically under loading the goblet squat is due to the awkward setup of picking the dumbbell or kettlebell up off the floor and getting it into a goblet position. The setup from the floor is less than ideal, and doesn’t fit our goal of training the squat as a full body movement pattern. Would you ever have a novice athlete or client coming off of an injury pick up a barbell off the floor and put it into a front racked position? Didn’t think so, the goblet squat is no different.

The safest and most effective way to setup for a heavier loaded goblet squat is by taking the dumbbell off of a rack or box and stepping back into your squat stance just as you would with a barbell. Give the goblet squat the respect it deserves if you want to get the most out of this squat variation.

By stabilizing the dumbbell in the goblet position before you ever pick it up off the rack, we can simplify the upper body stability component in this squat variation that many struggle with. First step is to co-contract the pecs and lats and grab the dumbbell hard with the hands. From there, pick up the dumbbell and walk it back as with a barbell squat variation. From there, pre-tension the hips and take in a breathe to brace.

This setup is very simple, but it will be a game changer in your shoulder and thoracic spine position and stiffness, and will even allow athletes to squat more proficiently with the variation under heavier loading.

Who Should Use This Goblet Squat Variation

This squat variation can very well be an athlete or lifters main lift of the day. In high performance athletics, especially in-season strength and conditioning programming, the dumbbell goblet squat offers a huge benefit to cost ratio in terms of mechanical and central fatigue on the body and the benefits of keeping the squat movement pattern in one’s movement library.

Programming this squat variation into the main lift for the day in set and rep schemes in the upper strength and hypertrophy ranges will allow your athletes to train the squat in a more self-limiting way while minimizing the undue stress on the body through training.

For novice lifters who are working their way up the squat ladder, this variation should be implemented and perfected in programming based off of the weak points that will be able to be identified in the sections to come. Remember, setups and movement patterns are skills, so practicing each and every rep and set like you are demonstrating perfect form is a requirement to ingrain new movement patterns into your central nervous system in attempt to set a stronger, more resiliency default movement pattern when things get challenging.


#5 Test Your Squat With The High Rep Dumbbell Goblet Squat

How do you know if you’ve mastered the goblet squat? Human movement is one of the single hardest things to objectify due to the huge amounts of individual subjectivity. But using relative strength tests to assess performance, and more importantly, weak points is one of the best ways to structure a training focus while also objectifying gains made in training.

Why This Goblet Variation Is Effective

We commonly use the goblet squat relative strength test with our athletes in the intake process, but also periodically throughout a cycle to assess the effectiveness of the training. For both male and female athletes of all ages, we test with 50% of bodyweight held in a goblet position for maximal unbroken reps. To maintain reliability and safety on the test, we require each squat is to approximately parallel depth and the spinal, shoulder and hip position does not shift or change during testing.

From the thousands of athletes that I’ve put through this test over the course of my career, I’ve seen that athletes that truly show a mastery level on their squat patterns (and not dealing with body composition issues) are not only able to pristinely execute 25+ reps on this test. This is low hanging fruit for many in the testing scenario, and it is not out of the ordinary for athletes to execute over 50 reps unbroken, again at 50% of bodyweight as the load.

But passing or failing this test is NOT the point. It’s the data that is derived from this test that we are after. Sure, we want to assess relative mechanics of the squat and ensure deviation or compensation patterns aren’t happening, but the big secret is this… They will happen, it’s just a matter of time. And when compensations do present, it’s our job as coaches to identify what was the first line of dysfunctional defense aka the weakest link in the chain that altered the mechanics of the global movement pattern.

Whether an athlete could not hold the weight for long enough to knock out 25 reps, or the athlete lost their spinal position through only a few reps, this is all data that we can use to create weak link busting programs not only in the squat variations that we choose to load, but throughout all aspects of a well rounded program. How do you get stronger and more resilient in the king of all movements? You strengthen red flag weak links, it’s that simple.

Who Should Use This Goblet Squat Variation

This relative strength goblet squat test is appropriate for almost every type of athlete or client that you work with. Again, we are not looking at this assessment as a pass of fail, but as a competitive test that allows an athlete’s true motor patterns and capabilities to shine through.

The common weak points I tend to see are in shoulder stability, spinal stability or lower extremity weakness (usually indicative of a power to mass ratio discrepancy). For those athletes struggling to hold the weight, ensure proper setup off a box as showcased in the goblet squat variation in #4. If they still cannot hold and stabilize the weight with control through their goal number of reps, your training focus should be placed on shoulder and upper quadrant strength and stability.

For core stability problems (usually presenting as lumbar flexion and posterior pelvic tilting aka butt wink) an emphasis should be placed on pre-tensioning the hips and core and proper bracing before the squat test starts. If this does not quickly correct the problem, placing a training emphasis on the development of pillar stability and strength is your go-to coaching move.

As for lower extremity weakness, aka they just aren’t strong enough pound for pound to execute up to 25 reps with 50% of bodyweight, your highest yielding move is placing an emphasis on the enhancement of the power to mass ratio. This is best accomplished by reducing body-fat percentage while maintaining or enhancing full body strength in the process.


#6 Get Strong With The Heavy Dumbbell Goblet Squat

The goblet squat isn’t just a tool that is used in rehab or metabolic stress inducing extended sets with lighter weight. It’s a squat variation that can be loaded hard and heavy to elicit a strengthening training effect throughout the entire body working synergistically as a functional unit. If you’ve progressed up the goblet squat ladder, made your way through the landmine setup and dominated the relative strength test, it’s time to load the goblet squat as heavy as possible… literally.

Why This Goblet Variation Is Effective

The self-limiting nature of the goblet squat allows more advanced athletes to load this movement pattern as heavy as possible with full body emphasis placed on the execution. Simply put, you can only goblet squat what you can hold, or what you have available to you in your gym in the form of dumbbells or kettlebells.

Most facilities have dumbbells that go up to 100 pounds, and more hardcore performance centers will have dumbbells reaching 150-200 pounds. That right there places a glass ceiling on the external load that you’ll be able to use in this movement. As for kettlebells, if you have a 203 pound beast available, congrats. And yes, I’m jealous. You can also implement a double front racked KB position to increase absolute loading on this movement as well.

So why is loading a goblet squat so effective? It’s a challenge that is out of the ordinary and presents with a novelty effect that is great for both movement pattern maintenance and mental fortitude. If you’re goblet squatting the 150 pound dumbbell, chances are you are probably one hell of a barbell front and back squatter as well, so this squat variation can be a great tool for adding a challenge, or just loading intelligently for the same reasons we talked about previously in #4.

Who Should Use This Goblet Squat Variation

From what I’ve seen, maximally loading the goblet squat is more mind over matter. Why? Most people simply haven’t given thought to grabbing the heaviest dumbbell in the gym, hoisting it up into a goblet position and squatting for it in the strength rep scheme. But let me tell you, it’s humbling and liberating all at time same time and will truly test your squat pattern to the core.

Those who predominantly squat with barbell variations will do extremely well with this variation placed into a secondary squat day in the week, during in-season strength training, or during times of deloading for recovery purposes. But remember, as with any movement, as loading creeps near maximal, the focus needs to remain on proper execution of the movement pattern itself. Make sure the heavy goblet squat is working for you, and not against you.

Now… go out and challenge yourself with the goblet squat and it’s many variations for each and every type of goal or training focus. Earn the right to squat like a boss, and the king of all movement patterns will continue to provide massive benefits in your strength, physique and physical longevity.


About The Author

Dr. John Rusin

Dr. John Rusin is an internationally recognized coach, physical therapist, speaker, and sports performance expert. Dr. John has coached some of the world’s most elite athletes, including multiple Gold Medalist Olympians, NFL All-Pros, MLB All-Stars, Professional Bodybuilders, World-Record Holding Powerlifters, National Level Olympic Lifters and All-World IronMan Triathletes.

Dr. Rusin is the leading pioneer in the fitness and sports performance industries in smart pain-free performance programming that achieves world class results while preventing injuries in the process. Dr. John’s methods are showcased in his 12-Week Functional Hypertrophy Training Program that combines the very best from athletic performance training, powerlifting, bodybuilding and preventative physical therapy to produce world-class results without pain and injuries.

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One Comment

  1. Casey Collins February 7, 2018 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    Always appreciate the great content!! Please keep it coming!!

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