Kettlebell Goblet Squat – reclaim your natural mobility
The kettlebell goblet squat restores a basic movement pattern that’s essential to your long-term health. The flat-footed, deep squat. It’s an instinctive behaviour you were born with and should be as natural as walking. But living in a world of chairs, restrictive shoes and tight clothing we lose our innate ability to squat. Restoring your capacity to deep squat is good for your strength, mobility, joints and back. Simply put – it keeps you young.
A flat-footed, deep squat is natural
For nearly all of human history our ancestors rested, cooked, worked and socialised in a relaxed deep squat. Our foraging ancestors squatted low to examine game tracks, plants and roots. They squatted to go to the bathroom and they squatted to give birth. And in many societies across the world, it’s still the normal way to spend time near the floor.
Toddlers instinctively drop into a deep squat to investigate anything and everything at ground level. Then we stick them in shoes and send them to school and ask them to sit in a chair 6 hours a day. And very quickly they assimilate into our culture of 90º angles and forget how to squat.
“only about 20% of the population has a respectable deep squat”
And my experience coaching echoes Gray Cook’s estimate. Almost every person that has started one of my kettlebell or Taekwondo classes has benefited from improving their squat. Teenagers to seniors and everyone in between.
A flat-footed, deep squat isn’t only a natural human movement pattern, it’s essential to your long-term health and mobility.
Getting on eye level with a small child. Giving your dog a hug. Picking up Lego or dog chews from the floor. Reaching into the cupboard under the sink. Even climbing stairs. Squatting makes life less effort. The proverb “you’re only as young as your legs” could have been invented to encourage us to squat.
“you’re only as young as your legs”
Squats make you stronger
The squat is a compound movement that uses all your big muscles. Your glutes, quads, hamstrings and back all work hard. Any strength coach will tell you that squats do more for your overall strength than any other single lift. Yes, a resting, deep squat and heavy squats in the gym are two very different things. But even a simple bodyweight squat challenges the coordination and works the legs and core. Make a deep squat an everyday movement and you’ll strengthen your major muscle groups, ligaments and tendons without even trying.
The squat is good for your joints and improves your mobility
Squatting through the full range of motion maintains your ankle, knee and hip mobility. Movement and compression encourage the production and circulation of synovial fluid throughout your joints. Synovial fluid is your joints lubricating oil. And it doesn’t just lubricate. It supplies the oxygen and nutrients your cartilage and tendons need and clears out the metabolic waste products. If you’re not used to squatting low, that stiffness you feel is your joints demanding an oil change.
Squats don’t hurt the knees
“Squats hurts my knees.” – Nobody addresses this more clearly than Dan John.
“Squats don’t hurt your knees, what YOU are doing hurts your knees.”
Yes, squat wrong and you risk hurting your knees, especially lifting something heavy. But you don’t have to be in the gym to injure yourself. Doing something as every day as picking up your shoes in a poorly executed squat has the potential to hurt you. Time spent restoring your natural squatting technique will protect your knees in the gym and in life.
Squats are good for your back
“Squatting hurts my back.” Yes, you could tweak your back if – like the majority folks – you relax your back and fold at the hips as you squat. Squat correctly and your torso drops between your legs as you sink down. This creates little-to-no compression in the spine. When your femur (thigh bone) moves past 90° and closer to your rib cage it reduces compression on the lower spine. In a flat-footed, deep squat the lumbar spine is extended and the muscles of the lower back are gently stretched. The perfect antidote to too much sitting.
Deep squatting is active rest
When you sit in a chair, its seat and back take the strain. Critical muscles switch off and your posture deteriorates as your body flops into the chair. This degraded position quickly becomes normal. Sitting breaks are essential to switch your dormant muscles back on.
In a deep squat, the muscles of your legs, hips and core work together to maintain a stable position. If you’re not used to it, it’s tiring. But it’s what your body was designed to do and it quickly remembers. There is no need to throw all your chairs away. Try breaking your sitting routine with a handful of seconds in a deep squat a few times a day. It’ll do wonders for your back and your posture.
Remembering how to squat
Your body knows how to squat – it just needs to remember.
- Find a solid object to hang on to
- A door handle, stair banister or the hands of someone you trust. Doesn’t matter which, as long as it’ll support your weight without getting in the way as you squat.
- Take your shoes off
- Stand barefoot with your feet about shoulder width apart toes pointing slightly out
- Keep your feet flat on the floor
- Push your knees out and slowly sit – aim slightly back and down
- Use the support for balance and to control your descent
- Keep your shoulders down and chest high – think “grandstanding peacock”
- Your knees should point in the same direction as your feet the whole time.
- When you’ve reached as low as you can go without pain, relax
- Try adjusting your foot position. A little wider, a little narrower, pointing a bit more to the outside or inside. Find your most comfortable position.
- Relax and sink a little lower
- When you’re ready, stand back up. Aim to mimic the descent in reverse. Use the support as a help or guide you if you need it
- It doesn’t matter how low you get. Try to repeat multiple single supported squats throughout the day as often as you can. In no time you’ll be squatting down to the deck.
The kettlebell goblet squat
The kettlebell goblet squat is the genius of Dan John and the natural progression from the supported squat. The weight of the kettlebell in front helps your balance and teaches you to keep your body tight as you go up and down. An everyday deep squat is an active resting position. The goblet squat reminds your body that a floppy spine and midsection isn’t safe or comfortable. And if you want to start squatting in the gym, a tight midsection is essential to protect your back.
Doing the kettlebell goblet squat
- Pick up a light kettlebell
- Hold it by the horns in front of your chest with both hands, elbows at your side
- Place your feet in the now familiar and comfortable position you found for the supported squat
- Slowly sit back and down, “grandstanding peacock” chest
- Your elbows will naturally descend between your knees
- Adjust the horizontal distance between the kettlebell as necessary to improve your balance as you descend
- If you’ve been practicing the supported squat, apart from the new demands on your balance, you should have no problem reaching the bottom of the squat
- At the bottom, relax a little, but don’t let your back or shoulders round. Sit tall. Your midsection will maintain some tension. This is the active resting position
- Use your elbows to push your knees wider without letting your feet lift from the ground. As your knees go wider adjust your feet to mirror the new knee angle. You’ll feel yourself sink lower into the squat
- Wiggle your hips around in the bottom position. Adjust your stance to make space in your pelvis. Pavel Tsatsouline calls this “prying”, a technique to help get more depth in any hip stretch
- Another way of prying is to keep the elbows wedged inside the knees and arm curl the kettlebell. This shifts your centre of gravity back and forward increasing movement in your hip joint.
- Tighten your mid-section and stand up with a grunt. Don’t lead with your butt, keep your “peacock chest” as you come up.
- The first few times you might struggle to stand up with good form. Instead, put the kettlebell on the ground and take a seat on the floor.
And now squat with confidence in the gym and in life
The beauty of the kettlebell goblet squat is it reminds your body how a natural flat-footed, deep squat should feel. And very quickly you begin to instinctively squat with good form.
Then we can make it harder. Start doing sets of goblet squats with a heavy kettlebell and you’ll challenge your legs, back, midsection, arms and grip. There really isn’t a need to do any other squat variation. But with your newfound squatting confidence, you may want to. Kettlebell rack squat, double kettlebell rack squat, barbell front squat, back squat. The foundation you have established with your goblet squat will serve you well.
And it’s not all about the gym. Once you start training the goblet squat you’ll catch yourself dropping into a deep, flat-footed squat to do tasks close the ground. Not on purpose, but because it feels easy and natural. And for health and mobility that’s what really matters. Restoring the natural movement you were born with.
Hi, I’m Ralph. I’ve been training with kettlebells for over 12 years.
In 2015, I certified as a kettlebell instructor with StrongFirst. And I’ve been teaching kettlebells ever since.