The Squat Variation You Must Try After Sitting All Day

If you’re looking for a functional and effective way to seriously fire up your lower body, might we recommend the dumbbell goblet squat?

This underrated exercise isn’t on every gym-goer’s radar, but it really has a lot to offer—especially to folks who struggle with barbell squats (also called back squats) due to limited mobility in their upper body, Katie Pierson, CPT, a Montana-based certified personal trainer, spinning instructor, and contributor at Girl Bike Love, tells SELF. A lot of people actually fall into that camp, Pierson explains, since today’s common work culture involves lots of time slouched forward at a desk, which can tighten chest muscles and round the back. That can make it challenging (or even painful) to set up under a barbell and move with it.

Enter the goblet squat: Because you’ll be holding a dumbbell in front of your body at chest-level—like you would cup the old-school drinking glass that gave the move its name—this can be a lot more comfortable, says Pierson. Plus, it adds more upper-body and core activation to a traditional lower-body exercise. Sold? Here’s everything you need to know before you give it a shot.

What muscles does a dumbbell goblet squat work?

The goblet squat works pretty much all of your lower body, including your quadriceps (quads), calves, glutes, and hamstrings, says Pierson. In fact, this squat variation hits your quads a little more than the back squat does. That’s because holding the weight in front of your chest places extra load on those frontside leg muscles.

But the goblet squat isn’t just for your lower half. It incorporates some upper-body work too, since your back needs to fire to keep the weight steady, says Pierson. Holding the dumbbell also challenges your core muscles as well as your arms and grip strength, she adds. So while exercisers typically consider a squat a lower-body strength move, the goblet variation brings on some bonus strengthening in other places too.

What are the benefits of the goblet squat?

One of the major perks is that it can help strengthen a ton of different muscle groups in your body. Do the exercise regularly, and with enough weight to really challenge yourself, and you’ll notice your lower body—as well as your core, arms, and upper-back—get stronger.

Another plus of the goblet squat exercise: The upper-body aspect helps improve your posture, says Pierson. To perform the move correctly, you have to stand upright with a straight back and chest lifted—two hallmarks of proper alignment. And if you’re regularly practicing that position when you’re squatting, it can become more second nature in your day-to-day as well, says Pierson—this increases your chances of holding it in daily life. What’s more, this variation is great for beginners, since it can help you master good squat form and increase your range of motion, as SELF previously.

What are some common goblet squat mistakes people make?

There are a few biggies. One is flaring your elbows out away from your body as you hold the weight, which can stress your wrists, says Pierson. Instead, think about tucking your elbows in close to your sides, she says. Another no-no is letting your chest fall forward as you lower down in the squat position, which can naturally happen since you’re holding a weight in front of you. But that can place extra strain on your lower back, says Pierson.

So to nail proper squat form, think about this: Engage your core, keep your back straight, and make sure your chest stays lifted throughout the entire movement. You can squat in front of a mirror, film yourself, or have a training buddy watch you to make sure you’ve got this squat movement down. Once you do, the more effective (and safer) the exercise will be, says Pierson.

Another mistake? Choosing a light weight that’s too easy for you. If you feel like you’re effortlessly able to bust out all your reps with minimal effort, then that’s a sign you could stand to use a heavier weight, says Pierson. Pick something that’s hefty enough that you feel really fatigued by the last few reps, but not so intense that your form slips.

How can you include the goblet squat into your workout?

The move works great as part of leg day or in a full-body routine, says Pierson. (Just be sure you do a warm-up first so your body is properly primed.) Another option: Slot it as a finisher at the end of a cardio workout to really burn out your muscles.

Weightlifting beginners can ease into the move by starting with minimal load or even just holding a light object (like a can or empty water bottle) in their hands to get more comfortable with the motion, says Pierson. More advanced exercisers can make it harder by super-setting the goblet squat with another lower-body centric move (like Romanian deadlifts or sumo squats), says Pierson. Or they can modify the exercise itself by doing a Bulgarian split squat—a single-leg exercise that increases the balance challenge—while holding a weight in the goblet position.

Aim to complete three sets per workout, the standard recommendation for resistance training. As for the number of reps, well, that depends on your goals, says Pierson. If you want to boost strength, shoot for six reps or fewer per set. If you want to grow your muscles (hypertrophy), target 8 to 12. And if you’re after muscular endurance, bust out 12 or more.

How to do a dumbbell goblet squat:

Katie Thompson

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes slightly turned out, holding a dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest so it hangs vertically. (You can also do this with a kettlebell if you prefer.)
  • Engage your core and keep your chest lifted and back flat as you shift your weight into your heels, push your hips back, and bend your knees to lower into a squat.
  • Drive through your heels to stand and squeeze your glutes at the top. This is one rep.

Demoing the moves is April Nicole Henry, a strength athlete based in New York City.


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