Squatting is hands down the most effective exercise you can do for reaching your fitness goals. Whether you’re a woman looking to be slim with a smoking ass, or a guy looking to pack on ripped muscle or set some powerlifting records, the squat is the king of exercises. I can’t say much more than that in praise of a movement.
Unfortunately, it’s also the most butchered exercise I see in the gym (I’m definitely not alone in stating that), and many people are so turned off by injuries or poor results from their mutilated version of squatting that they’ll never try it again. Seeing this often makes me cry myself to sleep since it’s leaving so much on the table. This post is about forgetting everything you think you know about squatting and starting at the beginning.
The root of the problem for many people is not understanding how the body moves when you squat. What I mean is most people doing that-thing-they-call-squatting-but-definitely-isn’t-even-close view the movement in their head as a hinging and folding movement, where it’s as simple as folding at the hips the same way you fold at the knees. The fact is though, your legs are not stuck like stilts under your torso. Rather, the torso is slung between the legs. It helps me to visualize a G.I.JOE action figure’s hip joint in picturing this (Barbie works too if you need to glam the visualization up a little).
The correct movement involves the torso sinking BETWEEN the legs. You don’t fold and unfold like an accordion; you sink between your legs when you squat. The knees go out to the sides, along with the transfer of force from the ground, and the torso hinges forward at the hip joint by sinking down between the legs. All of the weight is on your heels, to the extent that you could lift your toes without shifting balance at all.
Enter the Goblet Squat
This is a genius creation of an exercise, popularized by Dan John. I still use these myself sometimes, even after constantly working on my form and practicing squatting heavy as much as twice daily, along with coaching from world-class, record holding powerlifters. It just might be a good enough exercise for you too.
The beautiful thing about the goblet squat is you almost can’t do it wrong. The movement corrects your form as you do it, and when you do move on to other variations of the squat, including back squats, the movement pattern is ingrained.
You don’t need to do this movement thousands of times before moving on to other variations, but a month of using these and then beginning to incorporate the Front Squat and then finally Back Squat, all the while still using Goblet Squats as a warm up and movement refresher, will completely change for the better how you squat.
Because the load is positioned at the chest on the front side of the body, there is a natural tendency to correctly stay back on the heels and go deeper into the squat when using the goblet variation. You also have the added benefit of being forced to keep the knees out at the bottom of the squat and prevent knee caving. A well-executed Goblet Squat teaches you to open up the groin and push the knees out. It also teaches you to stay tall and lengthen your thoracic
spine when squatting.
How To Goblet Squat
I won’t try to rewrite Dan’s creation. Here are his words on performing the Goblet Squat edited down from an article he wrote:
“Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it against your chest. With a kettlebell, hold the horns, but with a dumbbell just hold it vertical by the one end, like you’re holding a goblet against your chest. Hence the name, ‘goblet squats.’
[Now] imagine being on a California beach when a swimsuit model walks by. When an athlete does this, he immediately puffs up the chest, which tightens the lower back and locks the whole upper body. The lats naturally spread a bit and the shoulders come back a little.
Lower yourself down with the weight cradled against your chest, with the goal of having your elbows – which are pointed downward because you’re cradling the bell [close to your chest] – slide past the inside of your knees. It’s okay to have the elbows push the knees out as you descend. Let the body teach the body what to do. Try to keep your brain out of it! Over-thinking a movement often leads to problems. Allow the elbows to glide down by touching the inner knees and good things will happen.
Where do you place your feet? Do three consecutive vertical jumps, then look down. This is roughly where you want to place your feet every time you squat. The toes should be out a little. You don’t want to go east and west, but you want some toe-out.
The mistake most trainees make is that they try to move too quickly for complex movements before getting the form down. But greatness resides in those who have the patience to master the patterns first, then add complexity later.” 
Watch this video for a quick demonstration and explanation by Dan from his “Everything’s Over My Head” DVD:
Note in the video above the application Dan makes to one of the most difficult squat variations, the overhead squat. The same principal of movement pattern programming applies to all of the more technical squat variations.
Here are the bullet points to note:
- Begin the movement by hinging your hips back and sitting back into the squat
- Keep your weight balanced on your heels
- Keep your chest up and your head facing forward
- Don’t let your knees ride forward past your toes
- Keep the dumbbell clenched and tight to your chest
I intend to devote a good many blogs to the details of squatting and it’s variations. I always feel like I can improve my form on my Squat, and at my current 500 lb max, I still know I have a long way to go before I can say I have anything close to perfect form in the squat. That’s not a bad thing. It means I have a lot of room to grow and a lot of effort to put in, which to me just means I have a lot of rewards to look forward towards in progress. Good luck in your own progress! I know you’ll see huge returns on your effort.