Kettlebell Simple & Sinister: Tips for Heavy Goblet Squats

“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.

The bottom position of the goblet squat

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.

Excerpt from Kettlebell Simple & Sinister Online Course, Module 8: Sample Session

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
Competion and Hard Style Kettlebells

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.

Get them here.

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 kettlebell goblet squat

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.

A Bodyweight Kettlebell Goblet Squat 
  • 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.
The triple extension to get a heavy kettlebell into the goblet rack
  • 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.

Kettlebell Simple & Sinister Online Course
Introducing “Kettlebell Simple & Sinister—now on video
Pavel Macek
Pavel Macek, StrongFirst Certified Master Instructor, founder and chief instructor KB5 Gym, is a pioneer of kettlebells in Czechia, Central Europe. He began training Chinese combatives in the Hung Kyun style in 1991, studying in the USA, Hong Kong, and China.

Pavel was the first StrongFirst Certified Instructor in Czechia. He is also an FMS/CK-FMS specialist. In 2008, he opened the first kettlebell gym in the Czech Republic, KB5 Gym Prague. He currently teaches Chinese combatives and MMA (Practical Hung Kyun), strength training (KB5 Gym Prague), and tactical self-defense for various private and government agencies.

Please check out his official page Pavel Macek, English blog SIMPLEXSTRONG, his Repeat Until Strong training log on the StrongFirst forum, and his StrongFirst articles.
Pavel Macek on FacebookPavel Macek on InstagramPavel Macek on LinkedinPavel Macek on TwitterPavel Macek on Youtube

15 thoughts on “Kettlebell Simple & Sinister: Tips for Heavy Goblet Squats

  • Pavel,

    Great article. Currently, I’m doing Goblet Squats with 32k (heaviest bell available in my garage as of now) for 25 reps with as least amount of sets as possible. Once I get my heavier bells in JAN, I’ll increase weight. I’m running this 5-6 AMs out of the week as my AM wake up routine.

    I train S&S in the afternoons after work.

    Please advise on your wisdom.

    Thanks you!

    Jon B

    • Jon, I suggest to stick to regular S&S program (3 sets of 5), and once you get heavier bells, continue to do so. 25 reps is just a test to run before you start barbell squats. You may – or may not – do some extra squats (e.g. double kettlebell front squats) on your variety days – 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps.

  • Dear Pavel,
    Thank you for this and past articles. Would you please expand upon the rationale of Dr. John Rusin’s recommending a test of 25 reps @ 50% BW as being a requisite for BB training?
    Thank you in advance for your reply. tjw

    • Tom, my guess is to make sure that not only your muscles and bones are ready for it, but also your joints and ligaments, plus, textbook technique (i.e., no butt wink) and strong abs.

  • Pavel do you think there are unique benefits in heavy goblet over double front squat? Lets narrow it to the same format – prying goblet 1*5, then 2*5 DFS for warm up almost every day.
    Thank you.

    • Thank you Fred. I am a huge fan of S&S – once you conquer the “Timed Simple”, you are ready for all the other drills, skills, and program in the Iron Game.

  • “… the cue ‘make your femurs longer.’..”

    Wow… this is a great piece of advice! I grabbed my Kettlebell and mentally visualized this cue as written and after three or four reps, I “got” it. My angle of decent changed in a good way and everything felt good.

    Thanks to Geoff and Jeff for the offering and thank you Pavel for relaying it to us.

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