What Are Goblet Squats Good For? Backcountry Confidence

You're out in the backcountry, miles from civilization, and you've got to hoist a heavy pack onto your shoulders or haul the meat of a downed elk. That's the moment when every squat, every drop of sweat from training pays off. Fair warning - some squats pay better dividends than others here. The goblet squat is a go-to for mountain athletes, military personnel, and first-responders for this very reason.

Goblet squats are great for strengthening the entire body; namely quads, glutes, spinal erectors, and the core. It becomes full-body with the addition of weight at the chest, forcing an upright torso. This engages the core and upper body, and the overall motion increases mobility and stability.

This exercise is as functional as they come since each goblet squat mimics field-like motions of lifting heavy loads and prepping you for the unforgiving demands of high stress environments.

By zeroing in on key muscle groups like your core, quads, and glutes, goblet squats not only ramp up your performance but also armor you against the kind of injuries that can derail your plans in the backcountry. In total, it's no wonder the goblet squat is a favorite among backcountry hunters, tactical athletes, and the team at MTNTOUGH.

MTNTOUGH was designed by and built for elite mountain athletes and former military; so functional fitness is in the DNA of every MTNTOUGH+ program, where the goblet squat is no stranger.

If you're the kind of person who finds solace or adventure in lifting with purpose, whether it's a part of your duty or just part of your passion, then it's time you integrated goblet squats into your fitness routine.

Below, we'll go through all you need to know about the goblet squat. From how it works and why it matters, to achieving proper form. So, if you're looking to elevate your backcountry game, you're in the right place.

What Is a Goblet Squat?

A goblet squat is a full-body compound exercise that involves holding a weight (typically kettlebell or dumbbell) against the chest while performing a squat. Through proper form, the squat component targets lower body muscles while holding a weight at the chest engages the core and upper body.

Holding that weight against your chest does more than just add resistance; it eliminates the back strain commonly associated with traditional squats and puts your core muscles on overdrive.

Whether you're lifting light or going for a PR with heavier weights, the goblet squat is engineered to challenge your limits safely and effectively.

But let's cut through the gym chatter - why should a backcountry hunter or a tactical athlete care?

Simply put, it's the best rehearsal for real-world action. Whether you hoisting your pack over a fallen tree or helping an injured member of your team, this squat variation prepares you for the kind of tasks that you'll actually face out there.

More than muscle groups, it's about the repetition that creates mental grit and situational readiness.

Type of Squat Use of Weight Type of Weights Muscle Groups Worked Placement of Weight Difficulty Level
Goblet Squat Yes Kettlebell, Dumbbell Quads, Glutes, Core, Upper Body In front at the chest Moderate
Bodyweight Squat (Air Squat) No N/A Quads, Glutes N/A Easy
Back Squat Yes Barbell Quads, Glutes, Lower Back Upper back Moderate to Hard
Front Squat Yes Barbell Quads, Upper Back, Glutes Front shoulders Moderate to Hard
Overhead Squat Yes Barbell, Dumbbell Quads, Glutes, Shoulders, Upper Back Above the head Hard
Bulgarian Split Squat Yes Dumbbell, Kettlebell, Barbell Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings Hand-held or upper back Moderate to Hard
Zercher Squat Yes Barbell Quads, Glutes, Forearms, Biceps In the crooks of the elbows Moderate to Hard


What's Different About Goblet Squats?

The difference between a goblet squat and other squats is how weight is positioned to the body and the type of weight used. A goblet squat holds a kettlebell or dumbbell close to the chest, whereas an air squat uses body weight, and a back squat positions a barbell on the upper back.

With a few exceptions across the many variations of squats, the general movement pattern is similar, regardless of how much weight or where weight is added.

If you're new to strength training, it's not a bad idea to build your form and feeling for a squat by going with bodyweight at the start.

Once you can roll through multiple sets without feeling like your legs are going to give out, add some lighter weights in the goblet squat position. Work your weight up from there.

The Unbeatable Benefits of Goblet Squats

You've got a full range of squat variations to choose from, so why should the goblet squat earn a spot in your fitness rotation? The answer lies in their unparalleled versatility and real-world applicability.

Whether you military, backcountry hunter, or someone who chooses to push themselves in the gym, goblet squats offer unique advantages that align perfectly with MTNTOUGH's philosophy of rugged, functional fitness. Here's why:

  • Military, Tactical, First Responders: Functional fitness is bigger than a buzzword here, it's imperative. Goblet squats are engineered to enhance your functional fitness by targeting key muscle groups like your quads, core, and glutes. This translates to improved knee stability and balance, crucial attributes when you're navigating uneven terrains or carrying heavy loads in high-stakes situations.

  • Backcountry Hunters and Mountain Athletes: Traditional gym workouts often focus on isolated muscle groups. If your training is meant for optimal performance outdoors, you'll need more than just muscle, it has to include functionality. From hauling your gear to wading through thick snow or brush, goblet squats equip you with the strength and stability to do it all more efficiently.

  • Dedicated Gym-Goer: Unlike traditional squats, goblet squats allow you to go deeper without compromising your form, targeting your quads, glutes, and core more effectively. Throw in the flexibility and minimal gear required, you're not just adding another exercise to your routine; you're optimizing your time and effort for maximum gains. 

Although each group has a different goal in mind, there are four benefits of the goblet squat that make it ideal for each.

1. Activates Deep Core Muscles

If your concept of core muscles starts and stops at a six pack, this is for you. The core muscles cover not just your stomach, but also your lower back, hips, and pelvis. This includes the abs you're thinking of, but also the area right below it, called the transverse abdominal muscles (TVA).

The collective whole of your core is your body's natural armor. Exercises like the goblet squat activate not just the superficial muscles but also the deep-seated TVA.

It's an all-important muscle group that acts like your body's natural weight belt, stabilizing and protecting your lower back and spine. An all too important role for heavy lifting and stability on uneven terrain.

What Other Muscles Are Activated in a Goblet Squat?

It takes a range of muscle groups working in unison to perform a goblet squat though. Beyond the core, you're also firing up:

  • Glutes: Essential for powerful leg drive and stability.

  • Hamstrings and Quadriceps: These muscles act as your body's shock absorbers, crucial when you're navigating rocky terrains or making that final sprint.

  • Calves: Often overlooked, but vital for balance and agility, especially on steep inclines.

  • Hip Flexors: These muscles are key for a full range of motion, whether you're climbing or taking that perfect aim.

  • Biceps, Shoulders, and Forearms: These upper body muscles kick in to help you maintain that goblet position, which is especially useful when you have to carry gear over long distances.

So, when you drop into that goblet squat, remember that you're not only working on your fitness, but that your strengthening your defense and optimizing your body for the trials at the gym and in the backcountry.

2. Flexible Equipment Options

You're no stranger to adaptability, it's one of the hallmarks of great outdoorsmen. And like you, the goblet squat is a prime example of flexibility. You don't need a fully-stocked gym to get the benefits of this powerhouse exercise.

Here's how you can adapt your equipment to fit your needs and leave the excuses behind:

  • Kettlebells: The classic choice for goblet squats, kettlebells offer a balanced weight and an easy grip. They're perfect for those who are serious about their training regimen.

  • Dumbbells: No kettlebell? No problem. A dumbbell can easily substitute for a kettlebell. Just hold it vertically by one end and keep it close to your chest. This is a great option if you're working out at home or at a less-equipped gym.

  • Medicine Balls: These can be a bit more challenging to grip but offer a different kind of resistance. They're also excellent for adding a plyometric element to your goblet squats.

  • Barbells: While not the traditional choice, you can hold a barbell in a front-rack position close to your chest. This variation is more advanced and should only be attempted by those comfortable with front squats.

  • DIY Weights: Traveling, in the field, or in a pinch? You might not have access to any of these. But a sandbag, a heavy backpack, or even a log can serve as an improvised weight. The only mandatory is to maintain proper form, no matter what you're lifting.

The goblet squat is the Swiss Army knife of squats, adaptable to your environment and needs. Whether you're in a new gym, your garage, or out in the middle of nowhere, this exercise offers a way to maintain effective functional training.

3. Mental Toughness and Focus: Mind-Muscle Connection

Wherever you are - the backcountry, the battlefield, or back in the gym - mental toughness is often the defining factor between success and failure. Physical ability is important, but someone with unmatched mental toughness will make it more often than not.

That's the reason why we put so much stock into training your mind as your body. Goblet squats can assist here, helping you gain muscle and fortitude.

Mental Edge

Holding the weight close to your chest in a goblet squat places your muscles under tension. It has the same affect on your mind too.

It requires focus and concentration to maintain good form while gravity is resisting your best efforts. This is a mental game. One where each rep is a battle of wills: your mind forcing your body to push through the pain.

Over time, this bleeds into a psychological edge that in high-stress, real-world scenarios, you can make it through.

Confidence Boost

Lifting a heavy weight in a controlled, deliberate manner is empowering. As you progress in your goblet squat training, increasing the weight and perfecting your form, you'll see your self-confidence rise at a similar rate.

Not to be confused with gym bravado; this comes from a place of functional confidence with purpose in other parts of life. From the everyday moments to the extraordinary ones, the self-assurance gained from goblet squats will make you feel invincible.

Mindfulness Element

The need to maintain proper form - keeping your back straight, your core engaged, and your feet grounded - requires a level of mental presence much like a meditative state.

This focus on the 'here and now' is a mental skill that is beneficial beyond the gym.

It teaches you to be present in high-stakes situations, helps you break seemingly impossible and lengthy tasks into smaller and achievable parts, enhancing your decision-making and situational awareness.

4. Time-Efficiency and Injury Prevention

Regardless of your background, if you're reading this, there's a solid chance that your profession or passion, the one that brought you to MTNTOUGH, carries a higher level or risk than others. Whether hobby or duty, you're a person where time is often of the essence.

The goblet squat is in a select group of time-efficient exercises that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously, allowing you to get more done in less time.

It's not just about speed though; it's also about longevity. By focusing on functional movements like goblet squats, your training helps prevent the kinds of injuries that can end your mission early. This only comes from building the kind of strength that enhances performance and fortifies your body against the wear and tear of rugged activities.

Mastering the Goblet Squat: A Step-by-Step Guide to Perfect Form

It's easy to let your form slide, especially when fatigue sets in during those final reps. But remember, the end of your set is where the real gains happen for muscle growth and endurance.

Consistency in form is there for preventing injury, but it's also meant for maximizing the effectiveness of each rep.

Nailing the correct alignment ensures you're engaging the right muscle groups, optimizing weight distribution, and minimizing the risk of injury in your goblet squats. Here's how to get it right, every single time:

The Importance of a Mirror Check

If you have the luxury of a mirror while training, use it. Rather than admiring your growing muscles, use it as a tool for self-assessment. Rotate your angles with each rep to get a comprehensive view of your form from the front, back, and sides.

Here's what to look for:

  • Head and Back: Keep them straight. Your gaze should be forward, not down, to maintain spinal alignment.

  • Feet: They should be parallel and shoulder-width apart. Make sure they're facing forward, this will even weight distribution across your knees and hips.

  • Shoulders: Roll them back and down away from your ears. This helps to engage your upper back and keeps your chest open.

  • Knees: As you lower into the squat, ensure your knees are tracking over your toes but not leaning inwards or outwards. Misaligned knees can lead to joint strain and injury.

Step-By-Step Guide to Perfect Goblet Squat Form

  • Step 1: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell close to your chest, elbows pointing downward.

  • Step 2: Before you begin the descent, tighten your core. This will help maintain a straight back throughout the squat.

  • Step 3: Lower your body by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. Keep your chest up and your back straight.

  • Step 4: Aim to go as deep as your flexibility allows, ideally getting your thighs parallel to the ground or lower. If you can, lightly tap your elbows to your quads or knees. 

  • Step 5: As you squat, make sure your knees are tracking over your toes. They shouldn't cave in or bow out.

  • Step 6: Push through your heels to return to the starting position. Make sure to fully extend your hips and knees.

  • Step 7: At the top of the movement, give your glutes a good squeeze. This ensures you're fully engaging your posterior chain. 

  • Step 8: Inhale as you lower down and exhale as you push back up. Proper breathing helps maintain intra-abdominal pressure, providing additional core stability.

  • Step 9: Before initiating the next rep, do a quick form check. Make any necessary adjustments and go for the next rep.

3 Common Goblet Squat Mistakes

With goblet squats, the devil is in the details. A slight misstep in form can lessen gains and put you at risk for injuries. You can't afford to be sidelined.

Let's make sure you stay off the IR by diving into the most common mistakes made with goblet squats and how to correct them.

Goblet Squat Mistake #1: Tilting Torso

  • The Problem: Tilting your torso forward during a goblet squat can throw off your balance and place undue stress on your knees. This is often a sign of a weak core or limited ankle flexibility.

  • The Fix: Engage your core like your life depends on it. Draw your belly button towards your spine and tighten your entire core. Limit the depth of your squat to the point just before your torso begins to tilt.

  • MTNTOUGH Takeaway: Starting small isn't admitting defeat; it's strategic. As you build core strength, you'll find yourself able to squat deeper without compromising form. This is where building mental grit can really help. Stick with it, and you'll not only develop a rock-solid core but also the mental toughness that sets MTNTOUGH athletes apart.

Goblet Squat Mistake #2: Knees Falling In or Out

  • The Problem: If your knees are caving in or bowing out as you squat, you're setting yourself up for knee injuries and instability. This is often a sign of weak hip abductors.

  • The Fix: Slap a resistance band around your legs, just below the knees. This added resistance will force your hip abductors to engage, helping to keep your knees aligned with your toes throughout the squat.

  • MTNTOUGH Takeaway: Stability is a non-negotiable in high-stress situations and environments. Strengthening your hip abductors isn't just good for your squat form; it's crucial for maintaining balance on uneven terrains and during rapid lateral movements.

Goblet Squat Mistake #3: Foot Placement

  • The Problem: Incorrect foot placement can mess with the weight distribution in your squat, leading to potential knee, hip, and quad injuries.

  • The Fix: Before you even think about descending into a squat, make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Some folks might find a hip-width stance more comfortable. Either way, don't go wider - it'll throw off your weight distribution and put unnecessary stress on your knees. Keep your feet pointed forward or slightly outward, but never more than 10°.

  • MTNTOUGH Takeaway: Whether you're hauling gear up a mountain or navigating through hostile territory, your feet are your foundation. Get your foot placement right, and you're not just improving your squat—you're enhancing your functional fitness for real-world challenges.

Goblet Squats: A Simple Way to Challenge the Whole Body

Few exercises achieve the multi-purpose functionality of goblet squats. For the MTNTOUGH community, the strength, mobility, mental resilience, and practicality make adding them to a workout a no-brainer.

It all boils down to a relatively simple movement that improves performance by working your entire body while at the same time building your defenses against injury in the field.

Filled with attributes that make draw universal appeal, we're confident that any new fitness journey will find value in adding goblet squats.

If you're unsure how to fit them in, or perhaps you want to join a program that's function first, look no further than the MTNTOUGH+ library. And if you're on the fence, don't be.

You can make the most of our 14-day free trial to explore exercises like goblet squats and every MTNTOUGH functional fitness workout and program.

That's 14 days at no cost and without any obligation.

Even if now isn't the right time for you to join the MTNTOUGH community, we hope this is at least the right time to add goblet squats into your routine, kickstarting your journey to building an unbreakable body and insurmountable confidence that comes from it.