Dumbbell Goblet Squat

The squat is considered by many to be the best exercise for developing the lower body. The barbell back squat is the most common form of the exercise. For some people, however, the load on the back can be excessive. Fortunately, there are other ways to squat that don’t put as much compressive pressure on the lower back.

One of the best barbell squat alternatives is the dumbbell goblet squat. This version relieves spinal load, increases core involvement, and allows you to maintain a more upright torso.

This guide provides detailed instructions on the proper goblet squat technique. We’ll also offer insights on sets and reps, along with expert tips on correct form.

How To Do

  1. Place a dumbbell to stand vertically on the end of a bench. 
  2. Stand in front of the bench with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend down to place your palms under the head of the dumbbell. Bring the weight up to your chest as you rise to stand.
  3. Hinge at the hips to lower into a squat position and stop when your elbows touch your knees.
  4. Push through your heels to drive back to the start position.

Tips From Expert

  • Keep the weight close to your body throughout the exercise.
  • Focus on a controlled and fluid movement.
  • Inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up.
  • Keep your core muscles engaged throughout the movement.
  • Maintain a neutral spine position with your torso upright.

Optimal Sets and Reps

Here’s a guide to the ideal set and rep scheme for the dumbbell goblet squat based on five training goals:

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 4–6 4–6
Hypertrophy 3–5 8–12
Endurance Training 2–4 15–20+
Power Training 3–5 3–5

How to Put in Your Workout Split

The dumbbell goblet squat is a compound lower-body exercise, which means it works several muscles at once. The barbell back squat variation allows you to load your quads, glutes, and hamstrings without putting compressive pressure on the spine.

If you are following a split routine workout program, the dumbbell goblet squat should be done on leg day. It can be programmed along with other compound movements like lunges and deadlifts.

On a full-body workout plan, the dumbbell goblet squat should be one of the key compound exercises early on.

If you’re following a push/pull/legs program, the dumbbell goblet squat should be performed on leg day. It can be used as a stand-alone exercise, or in a superset with a quadriceps-specific exercise, like the leg extension.

Use a weight that allows you to perform the movement with proper form so that your torso remains upright. The last 2–3 reps of the exercise should be challenging but still manageable with good technique.

Primary Muscle Groups

Gluteus

Large, superficial muscles located at your buttocks just below your lower back area.

Quadriceps

Muscles located at the front portion of your upper legs, below your pelvis and above your knees. Consists of four parts.

Gluteus

The gluteus, or buttocks muscles extend the hip joint. This movement is crucial in the standing-up motion. Three muscles make up the gluteals:

  1.   Gluteus maximus.
  2.   Gluteus medius.
  3.   Gluteus minimus.

The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body. In addition to straightening the hip, it also turns the upper leg bone outward (external rotation). The gluteus maximus pushes the femur down and backward (extension), moving the upper body upward from a seated or squat position.

The gluteus medius and minimus are much smaller muscles that lie beneath the gluteus maximus. They assist in stabilizing the pelvis and ensure proper alignment during the squat. They are also involved in hip abduction, which is the movement of the leg away from the body's midline. This helps maintain lower body balance.

The glutes are part of the posterior chain, which is the group of muscles along the backside of the body, including the hamstrings, lower back muscles, and calves. They work along with other muscles like the hamstrings and erector spinae to generate force during the upward squat push.

In the goblet squat variation, holding a dumbbell close to your chest shifts your center of gravity forward slightly, which can emphasize the engagement of the glutes as you squat down and stand back up. Proper form ensures that these muscles are effectively targeted and strengthened.

The gluteus maximus muscle activation rate is very high during the upward pushing phase of the goblet squat. Studies have shown that during front squats, which is a variant of the goblet squat, gluteus maximus activation is 37%–44% during this movement.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Hamstrings

Muscles located at the back of your upper leg, below your glutes and above your calves. Consists of three muscles.

Gastrocnemius

Muscles located at the back of your lower leg and consists of your calf. Starts just behind your knee and extends to your ankle.

Soleus

Muscles located behind your gastrocnemius sitting slightly deeper. Runs down your leg and connects with the gastrocnemius to make your Achilles tendon.

Erector Spinae

Muscles that span the entire length of your spine on either side.

Hamstrings

The hamstrings are a muscle group with three different parts:

  1. Biceps femoris.
  2. Semitendinosus.
  3. Semimembranosus.

The hamstring muscles run along the back of the thigh. Their main functions are bending the knee and extending the hip. They are the antagonists or opposing forces to the quadriceps.  Therefore, as one muscle group contracts, the other muscle group relaxes or lengthens. 

When you descend into the goblet squat, the hamstrings control this movement by lengthening under tension. This helps maintain balance and stability during the eccentric phase of the exercise.

The hamstrings assist with hip extension as you come out of the bottom squat position. They also help to stabilize the knee joint throughout the squat movement. This counterbalances the forward movement of the knee, helping to maintain proper alignment.

The hamstrings also support the lower back to maintain a neutral spine position. In a goblet squat, the hamstrings’ main role is to stabilize and support the movement, especially during the lowering phase. 

The exact muscle activation rate can vary, but it's typically lower compared to exercises that directly target the hamstrings. As an example, a study found that the biceps femoris muscle (the most lateral part of the hamstring), had an activation rate of 12%–16% during a squat. This was a squat where the center of gravity was over the feet, which resembles the goblet squat variation.

Erector Spinae

The erector spinae is a dual band of muscle that runs along either side of the spine. It keeps the spine erect and stable during the dumbbell goblet squat. This helps maintain a neutral spine and prevent back rounding, which can cause lower back pain.

The erector spinae muscles support overall core stability during the squat. They work with the abdominal muscles to create a solid base as you come out of the squat.

A natural forward pull may result when you hold a dumbbell in the goblet position. The erector spinae counteract this by keeping the torso upright to offset forward lean. This also helps evenly distribute the load across the lower body.

The erector spinae muscles also work synergistically with the back's latissimus dorsi and rhomboid muscles to keep you stable during the squat movement. 

Gastrocnemius

The gastrocnemius is the large, meaty part of the calf muscle. Its main role is plantarflexion of the foot, which is when you point your toes down. During the goblet squat, the gastrocnemius helps to stabilize the ankle joint. This helps to maintain balance and form.

The gastrocnemius's stability helps prevent excessive forward lean. Because it crosses the knee joint, the gastrocnemius also assists with knee flexion during the squat exercise.

The gastrocnemius’s role in plantar flexion also helps keep the heels down and the feet flat on the floor during the goblet squat. It also plays a part in the upward force generation as you drive your body out of the bottom squat position. 

Soleus

The soleus is the smaller of the two calf muscles, lying underneath the gastrocnemius. It assists with plantarflexion of the foot and keeps the lower leg stable.

The soleus provides support and stability during the dumbbell goblet squat. It stabilizes the ankle joint as you come in and out of the squat. This helps maintain balance throughout the movement. It also helps to evenly distribute the weight across the feet.

The soleus works synergistically with the gastrocnemius to produce upward force as you push out of the bottom squat position.

Equipment

Dumbbells

Dumbbells

You can use these for a wide range of unilateral and bilateral exercises. Avoid using momentum to lift. Ensure a secure grip to prevent drops.

Alternatives

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the different equipment.

Bodyweight Squats

Squat to Jumping Jack

Goblet Squats

Chair Pose

Who Should Do?

Beginners

The dumbbell goblet squat is a good option for beginners due to its simplicity and safety. Because you’re holding the weight in front of your body, this helps to keep your torso upright. This exercise also provides you with a natural depth cue: descend until your elbows touch your knees.

The dumbbell goblet squat’s front-loaded position helps teach proper squat mechanics, including keeping the core engaged and the knees aligned with the toes.

Athletes

The dumbbell goblet squat benefits athletes by increasing their lower body strength, stability, and mobility. During the exercise, you are in an athletic stance with added resistance. This builds explosive power for pushing against an opponent and vertical jumping movements. It also increases balance and agility, along with coordination and functional strength. 

People With Lower Back Problems

People who have pre-existing lower back problems may find the dumbbell goblet squat to be a good squatting option. This exercise does not place as much of a compressive load on the spine, as the barbell back squat does.

The front-loaded position of the dumbbell goblet squat also supports a more uptight torso than the back squat. This reduces compressive force on the spine, lowering the risk of back injury. In addition, holding the weight at chest level engages the core muscles, offering extra support for the lower back.

Who Should Not Do?

People With Shoulder Injuries

People with shoulder injuries or limited shoulder mobility should not do the dumbbell goblet squat. When you hold the dumbbell in front of your chest, you place stress on the shoulder joints. This can worsen an existing shoulder condition.

For people with shoulder injuries, alternatives to the goblet squat include bodyweight squats, leg presses, and leg extensions.

People With Severe Knee Problems

People with chronic knee pain should avoid or modify the dumbbell goblet squat. The deep squatting action can put extra strain on the knee joints, which may cause some discomfort.

People with knee pain or injuries might want to consider squatting in a more shallow range, between 0–50 degrees of knee flexion. Working within this range of motion has been shown to put very little strain on the knee joint.  

Other alternatives that place less strain on the knees include partial leg presses and leg extensions that finish just short of full knee extension (lockout). 

People With Balance Issues

People with limited balance should avoid the dumbbell goblet squat. When you hold a weight in front of your body, you place extra demands on your balance. This may increase the risk of falling.

If you have balance problems, you can do a modified goblet squat, in which you use stable support, such as a bench, chair, or wall, to provide extra balance support. 

Benefits Of The Dumbbell Goblet Squat

Build Muscle

The dumbbell goblet squat is an effective way to do dumbbell squats to increase lower body muscle mass. It targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. By progressively increasing the resistance used, you will promote hypertrophy and strength development with this exercise.

Get Stronger

Dumbbell goblet squats can build strength through the lower body, emphasizing the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. By gradually increasing the dumbbell’s weight, you will constantly challenge your muscles to grow stronger. 

The dumbbell goblet squat also improves functional strength making everyday tasks that promote lifting and pushing easier.

Improve Mental Discipline

Proper execution of the dumbbell goblet squat requires focus and concentration. Mental discipline is needed to maintain stability and perform each rep correctly. This enhanced discipline translates to other parts of life.

Increased Upper Back Strength

The dumbbell goblet squat is primarily a lower-body exercise. However, the front-loading position also requires support from the upper back muscles. The trapezius and rhomboids work to stabilize the upper back and maintain an upright posture.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a dumbbell goblet squat?

 A dumbbell goblet squat is a lower-body exercise where you hold a dumbbell close to your chest and perform a squat.

How to hold the dumbbell for the goblet squat?

Hold the dumbbell vertically with both hands, cupping the top end close to your chest.

Why are goblet squats so much harder?

Goblet squats are more challenging because they engage the core for stability and place a load in front of the body. This increases demand on the lower body muscles.

Are dumbbell goblet squats effective?

Yes, dumbbell goblet squats are effective for building lower body strength, improving core stability, and improving overall squat technique.

Resources

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  3. Rodgers, C.D. and Raja, A. (2023). Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Hamstring Muscle. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546688/ [Accessed 4 Jul. 2024].
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  5. Henson, B., Kadiyala, B. and Mary Ann Edens (2023). Anatomy, Back, Muscles. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537074/ [Accessed 4 Jul. 2024].
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  7. Lenhart, R.L., Francis, C.A., Lenz, A.L. and Thelen, D.G. (2014). Empirical evaluation of gastrocnemius and soleus function during walking. Journal of biomechanics, [online] 47(12), pp.2969–2974. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiomech.2014.07.007.
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