“I like my weights heavy and my squats down low.”—Anonymous
The kettlebell goblet squat is THE “squat for the people.”
The prying goblet squat from our Kettlebell Simple & Sinister curriculum is a great mobility drill that will unlock your hips and pelvis.
A regular goblet squat (without prying) is an excellent foundation for the single and double kettlebell front squat, barbell front squat, Zercher squat, and back squat. Dr. John Rusin writes:
How do you earn the right to successfully train hard and heavy with the barbell? It’s as simple as passing this simple, but sinister relative strength test using 50% of your bodyweight in your hands for 25 unbroken reps.
Not an easy task for some, and not necessarily for your legs. HEAVY goblet squats? Same thing. Read on.
The goblet squat allows better alignment than bodyweight squats. The kettlebell provides a nice counterweight—you simply hold the kettlebell in front of you, push it forward when squatting, use it as a counterweight, and voila—you can immediately squat deeper.
A good, solid strategy, but what if you want to do sets of goblet squats with a heavier weight? Pavel writes in Kettlebell Simple & Sinister (2nd revised edition):
If you have achieved perfect joint mobility for the squat, pry only during your first set of five reps. For the second and third sets, go heavier—ideally in line with your one-arm swing weight. Pause briefly on the bottom, but do not pry.
The training wheels of pushing the kettlebell forward away from the body for counterbalance, helpful at times—will eventually become a liability. Your arms will get tired much sooner than your legs.
The Hard Style Kettlebell
Let us discuss the anatomy of the hard style kettlebell first:
- The bottom of the kettlebell = base
- The kettlebell itself (cannon-ball-shaped weight) = belly
- The curvature where the handle meets the belly = horns
- The widest part of the handle = corners
- The top of the handle = handle itself
In contrast to the competition kettlebell’s “Batman-ear” handle, the hard style kettlebell handle resembles a “Mickey Mouse-ear.” Although, I am undoubtedly more of a Dark Knight fan, for general strength training and, in our case, heavy goblet squats—the hard style kettlebell is the recommended tool of choice.
Pavel writes in S&S:
To paraphrase an ad for a Swiss watch, “You never really own a kettlebell. You merely look after it for the next generation.” If you get quality bells and take care of them, they will outlive you. You might as well get good ones.
Various Ways to Hold the Kettlebell (with Two Hands)
The origin of the exercise’s name—the goblet squat—provides a hint on how to hold the kettlebell. A goblet is not your average aperitif glass. It is a “bowl-shaped drinking vessel without handles.” A big cup that you hold/support from below using both hands. The kettlebell does have a handle—but where do we hold it? There are a couple of options.
- By the horns—bottom up: This is the way we hold the kettlebell for the halos. To save time in your S&S mobility drills, you can do a halo in one direction, halo in the other direction, and squat. Good for mobility drills, but not necessarily appropriate for heavier weights.
- By the belly: In one of Pavel’s programs, he recommends doing a goblet squat with a kettlebell that is about 50% of your bodyweight in ladders of 2-3-5 reps. To avoid the premature fatigue of your hands, he recommends cupping the belly of the kettlebell with your hands just like a goblet. Imagine the kettlebell is shaped like a figure 8 with the bottom, larger circle being the round belly of the kettlebell and the upper, smaller circle the handle. Hold the belly and squat.
- By the horns—bottom down: The phrase “by the horns” is key here. This is where the top circle of the figure 8 (the handle) meets the bottom circle (the belly).
Heavy Goblet Squats
When I reached the Timeless “Sinister,” I decided to work on “strength reserve” in my one-arm swings and started to incorporate a 56kg kettlebell into my training. This meant I used the same weight for my heavier goblet squats. 56kg is slightly above 80% of my bodyweight and to complete a good set of 5, I noticed I started to do some things naturally. Below are some tips and tricks from my practice, which allowed me to comfortably squat heavier kettlebells and perform a bodyweight goblet squat: a 68kg kettlebell at a 68kg bodyweight.
- Sniff in twice and brace hard before the hike pass.
- When getting the kettlebell into the goblet rack, pull it upwards and keep it close to your body. If the kettlebell is heavy, you may get onto your toes, i.e., into triple extension and even dip under the kettlebell. Using our StrongFirst O-Lifting terminology, the first pull is from the ground, using your hips and legs, the second pull is with your arms, and the third pull is pulling yourself under the kettlebell. In summary, if the kettlebell is heavy, you need the elevate the kettlebell higher (hence getting on your toes) and dip under the kettlebell lower.
- Use the unique design of the hard style kettlebell handle to your advantage: Wedge the bottom of your palms upwards against the spot where the horns meet the belly and grab the bull, I mean the BELL “by the horns.” Coming back to our image of the kettlebell being the figure 8, you don’t grab the top circle from the side (the corners) or the top (the very top of the handle), but from the bottom, where the horns meet the belly.
- Keep the kettlebell close to your body and anti-shrug your shoulders—wedge yourself between the kettlebell and the deck. Pulling the elbows down and keeping them (relatively) close to your body helps to engage your lats which will help you to keep your spine neutral and avoid the butt-wink. Become one with the kettlebell.
- Sniff in, hold your breath, and squat down. Pull yourself into the hole using your hip flexors (active negative). Keep the kettlebell close to your body. Ladies, be careful—because of health reasons, you may not apply pressure to your breasts.
- Listen to Geoff Neupert’s excellent advice from Kettlebell STRONG!:
My good friend Jeff O’Connor likes the cue ‘make your femurs longer.’ The sensation should be your butt going backwards and your knees going forwards – like you are pushing the two apart. This will keep your weight centered over each foot. This will also appropriately distribute the load between your lower legs and your upper legs and hips.
- Initiate the ascend with a grunt (with a heavy weight, you will, trust me). Keep your shoulders down and imagine you are pushing the kettlebell upwards with your chest.
- Exhale (power breath) during the last third of the movement. Extend your knees and hips at the top, sniff in, and repeat four more times. You are welcome.
Mark Rippetoe writes:
A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong. This reality is offensive to some people who would like the intellectual or spiritual to take precedence. It is instructive to see what happens to these very people as their squat strength goes up.
With heavy goblet squats, S&S becomes a three-lift program: A pull, a (static) press, and a squat. A simple and very powerful triad of mobility, power, strength, and an excellent foundation for any subsequent lifting program. Learn them in the newly released Kettlebell Simple & Sinister Online Course.
Squat heavy. Be happy.