Troubleshooting the Goblet Squat

The squat is the one of the two essential lower body patterns for strength exercises.  The other is the “hinge” family, of which we touch on here in Troubleshooting the Deadlift.  

The squat is not only an immensely useful movement in activities of life, but is an excellent way to build a more useful and visually appealing lower body.  Appropriately executed, the squat trains the entire lower body, as well as good posture and a strong core.  These muscles are trained while also developing the hip mobility and lower body flexibility to keep a healthy back and knees.

Sadly, the squat has an unjustified connotation with knee pain and degeneration.  When performed well, squats are not only safe, but can actually help prevent knee injuries. So, we recommend that anyone looking for a stronger, more functional body learn to squat well.  

Our favorite version of the squat for most people is the Goblet Squat.  This variation of the squat was developed by Dan John.  Dan is one of the brightest strength coaches in the world, and regularly teaches large groups of all kinds of people to move better.  Here, we try to do Dan’s efforts justice and pass the knowledge on to you clearly.  The name comes from the way the weight is supported as it appears as one might be ready to take a drink out of a large “goblet” held close to the chest.

Included here are examples of a goblet squat done with good form and the four most common mistakes we see while training people.  Use these reference videos to compare your squat to what you see.  We’d love to have you send us a video so we can help you get the more out of one of the most “functional” exercises on earth!

 

Here is an example of two different body types executing a safe and effective goblet squat:

As you can see, the body is lowered between the legs, the torso stays in good posture, the hips move to support a “neutral spine” and knees move to support a good connection of the feet to the floor.  The weight is held against the chest and between the forearms.  We like kettlebells for this movement, but a dumbbell is also a fine option.  

The descent is smooth and controlled to as low as is safe and pain free.  A single repetition finishes with a full return to standing before continuing.  

 

Here are some of the common “faults” we correct when coaching the goblet squat:

#1. Excessive forward lean

In the background, I demonstrate an excessive forward lean in the goblet squat while Marcela demonstrates an appropriate amount of forward lean.  Often, this is a result of hips or ankles that aren’t moving enough, or a lack of strength and stability in the trunk.  

As you can see in the background the trunk “pitches” forward a great deal while the hips do not travelling far enough down.  This version of the squat can place undue strain on the knees and back.  

To correct this, we work primarily on hip mobility or ankle mobility to allow for adequate depth and support a more upright posture in the squat.

 

2. Heels come off the floor

In this case,  the feet do not remain in solid contact with the floor.  This is not how we recommend squatting, as it can place too much stress on the knees for most individuals.   This type of variation often occurs due to lack of mobility in the ankle or simply lack of awareness of the connection to the floor.

We help alleviate this problem by encouraging one to focus on maintaining a “solid connection to the floor with the whole foot”.  If you are unable to maintain a “flat foot” position, we’ll limit the depth of the squat for a time as the mobility of the ankle improves.

 

3. Rounded back squat:

When adequate hip mobility or trunk stability are missing, we often see a “rounding” of the back during the descent of a squat.  This is not a safe manner in which to add load to the movement.  The loss of a “neutral” position of the spine can result in an uneven loading of the joints between vertebrae.  

In this case, we recommend working both hip mobility and trunk stability while limiting the depth of the squat until better position can be maintained during the descent.   

4.  Knees collapse inward:

In the training world, we call this a “valgus collapse”.  The primary danger in this happening during a squat is to the health of the knees.  The knees coming inward, and the hips rotating inward result in uneven loading of the joint surfaces in the knee.   This can cause both short term and long term problems.  

We work to improve this by strengthening the muscles of the outer hip and by verbally encouraging the person to become more aware of when the knees are coming in.   Once the inward collapse of the knees is corrected, the squat can be a great way to strengthen the glute muscles and who doesn’t want that?

So here you have a reference to compare what your squat looks like to what we fitness nerds find to be safe and effective.  If you record yourself trying a squat, we’d be delighted to offer any feedback that would be helpful.  Send your video to me and keep up the good work!

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About Mark

I am a busy guy; husband, father, coach, mentor, gardener, outdoors man and cook are the primary hats I wear. To be the best of these I can be, I need to stay in shape for all those pursuits, and feed myself in a way that allows me to keep up the pace. I can help you to take the next manageable step in fitness and wellness to get you closer to your ideal self.