The Kettlebell Goblet Squat: The Holy Grail of Improving Squat Mobility
Squatting is a fundamental natural movement that we’ve relied on throughout all of human history. So why is it that we modern humans have so much trouble with poor squat mechanics?
If you look at a small child playing outside, it’s almost unbelievable how well they can squat down to pick something up with their feet flat on the ground and with perfect form. And when you see their parents squat down beside them, they’re perched up on their toes. Shifting their weight back onto their heels would send them tumbling over backward.
This article explores the common issue of improper squat mobility and how the kettlebell goblet squat has found itself to be a powerful ally in improving your biomechanics.
- The Plague of Bad Squat Form
- The Origin of the Goblet Squat: The Antidote for Poor Squat Mechanics
- Physics of the Goblet Squat
- Using the Kettlebell Goblet Squat as a Squat Mobility Test
- Improving Your Biomechanics With the Goblet Squat
- Adding Some Kettlebells to Your Home Gym
The Plague of Bad Squat Form
If you’ve ever walked into the gym and casually watched the squat rack for a while, you wouldn’t be surprised to encounter more improper squat form than proper squat form.
You might come across everything from wobbling knees, straining backs, and heels off the ground to issues stemming from restricted mobility and range of motion. For a powerful movement that allows you to move a lot of weight, sometimes the focus on “how much weight can I move” can get in the way of “how well can I move it.”
When done correctly, the barbell back squat is a fantastic development tool. But when your form goes sideways, you introduce the possibility of all kinds of common injuries.
A lot is going on during a proper squat motion. The glutes and quadriceps get most of the attention, but the stabilizers in the lower back, calves, and abdominals are just as critical in keeping your form in check.
Suppose your stabilizing muscle groups are underdeveloped compared to how much weight your quads and glutes can toss around. In that case, it will be your limiting factor in how much weight you can squat while still maintaining correct body mechanics.
When you combine that with the all-too-common issue of tight hips and decreased range of motion for modern athletes stuck in a chair most of the day, it’s understandable why proper squat form is such a challenge.
The Origin of the Goblet Squat: The Antidote for Poor Squat Mechanics
Tasked with perfecting the squat form of nearly 400 athletes, renowned strength coach Dan John was faced with one of the most interesting challenges of his career.
He tried every different combination of movements to find the best method to turn around the group’s squat mechanics quickly. But it wasn’t until he was resting between swings in a kettlebell routine that he noticed something interesting.
He stood there holding the kettlebell in front of his body like it was an iron grail. Then he noticed something, the weight of the kettlebell had shifted his center of gravity. Curiously, he squatted down, locked into an ideal natural squat form the entire motion. He had found the exercise he was searching for to be the perfect tool in training squat mechanics.
It may not have been the first time someone used a kettlebell to do a goblet squat, but its effectiveness in training proper squat form and its fitting name caused it to long be considered the origin of the exercise.
Benefits of the Goblet Squat
- Improves Squat Technique
- Strengthens Core and Stabilizing Muscles
- Improves Mobility
- Improves Posture
- Excellent Tool for Injury Prevention
- Simple and Accessible
Physics of the Goblet Squat
The goblet squat shifts your center of gravity by changing the location of the load that you’re lifting. Because of this, it promotes a more upright position, and gravity pulls your body downward in a natural path without compressing the spine.
This squat variation follows many of the same principles as the front squat. And just like a front squat, you’re likely to see a significant reduction in the amount of weight you can push. Aside from the changes in center of gravity, this is due to the extra range of motion and added engagement of your core and upper back to maintain posture.
The lighter weight also allows you to focus on a full range of motion that strengthens the supporting muscles required for any squat variation and improves your full range of motion for tight muscle groups.
Using the Kettlebell Goblet Squat as a Squat Mobility Test
You can do two exercises to serve as a simple self-assessment in your squat mobility: The bodyweight doorway test and a test using a weighted kettlebell goblet squat.
The Doorway Test
- Stand in an open doorway with your feet shoulder-length apart, your body centered with one leg on each side of the frame.
- Keep your weight on your heels for the entire motion.
- With one hand gently on each side of the frame, begin slowly squatting down for a full range of motion.
- If you feel your weight shifting backward like you’re going to fall over, use your hands on the door frame to provide as much assistance needed to keep you in a proper form over your heels.
- Once you settle into the lowest point of the squat – slowly let go of the door frame and see if you remain in the squat position or if you begin to fall backward.
The doorway test is an excellent way to distinguish between mobility and patterning or stability issues in your squat form. If you can’t maintain the weight on your heels or begin to topple over, there’s a good chance you have some work to do on improving your mobility.
The lowest point of the doorway test also makes for an excellent stretching exercise to improve mobility. Or it may be a great time to begin looking into self-myofascial release.
The Kettlebell Goblet Squat Test
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the kettlebell against your chest either by the horns or upside down by the bell of the weight.
- With your weight on your heels and feet flat on the ground, squat down in a full range of motion. Keep your elbows inside the line of your knees.
- Hold the lowest point of the squat for a moment while keeping your heels and feet flat on the ground.
- When you come back up, press through the heels and keep your core engaged.
Like the doorway test, if you feel that you can’t remain in the correct form at the low point of the squat, you likely have some mobility work to do.
Suppose you failed the doorway test but had no issues with the goblet squat test. In that case, the addition of weight and center of gravity change could indicate that your problem is less with mobility than it is with movement patterning and stability issues.
In that case, it’s a great idea to begin strengthening the stabilizing muscle groups required for proper squat mechanics. And the kettlebell goblet squat is an excellent tool at achieving that.
Improving Your Biomechanics With the Goblet Squat
The power of the kettlebell goblet squat to assist you into proper squat form makes it an excellent tool for improving your squat mechanics.
When you shift the load slightly in front of your center of gravity, the muscles along your spine have to activate to keep it in the correct position. The goblet squat places additional focus on the stabilizing muscles you need for a proper back squat. Incorporating it into your training program allows for balanced muscle development that will ultimately improve all of your lower body movements.
Additionally, you allow your body the opportunity to extend your range of motion and overall mobility. This is because the goblet squat forces you to squat between your legs instead of behind them, opening up the hips. The more time you spend practicing this squat variation, the more flexibility and mobility you will gain for the entire range of motion.
Enhanced mobility leads to enhanced total athleticism. Your athletic ability is, simply put, how well you can move your body through time and space. Any restrictions in your mobility put a limiting factor on your full athletic potential. If you’re looking to further improve the biomechanics of your squat form, check out our article on how to improve ankle dorsiflexion to further improve your overall mobility.
Adding Some Kettlebells to Your Home Gym
By far, the best feature of the kettlebell goblet squat is its simplicity. All you need is a kettlebell, your body, and some discipline.
Although you can use any weight for the goblet squat, the advantage of adding some kettlebells to your home gym setup is the sheer variety that you can get out of kettlebell work.
We’ll list a few options for great kettlebells you can have delivered right to your door at the end of this article. We’ll also throw in a phenomenal book by Pavel Tsatsouline, the Godfather of kettlebell training, to give you a launching pad for incredible general athletic development with kettlebells alone.
If you’re interested in adding some kettlebells to your home gym or a new book to your library, if you use one of our links from this post, we get a small commission from Amazon (at no additional cost to you!) So if you appreciate the work we do and the information we provide in articles like this, it helps us keep the lights on. Thanks for your support!