There are no shortages of squat variations that you can do in the gym. Two of the most common front-loaded squat variations are the goblet squat and front squat. As the Head Coach for Team Canada powerlifting, I use both variations at different times and for different reasons with my athletes.
So, what are the differences between a goblet squat vs front squat? Goblet squats use a dumbbell while front squats use a barbell. Goblet squats are an easier variation and used as a precursor to advance to the front squat. Goblet squats are best used with slow-to-moderate tempos and higher reps to build muscle. Front squats are best used to develop max strength.
Before deciding to do one squat variation over the other, let’s discuss the differences between them in more detail, how to perform each movement properly, and the benefits. I’ll also share some tips for each exercise if you struggle with the technique and some common mistakes to avoid.
What’s The Difference Between a Goblet Squat and Front Squat
While the goblet squat and front squat are closely related exercises, there are enough differences between them that you should understand if you want to get the most out of your workouts.
I don’t believe one exercise can be used as a substitute for the other. Both are front-loaded squat exercises, but they should be implemented into a training program for different reasons.
Read my full guide to the front squat.
There are 7 main differences between the goblet squat vs front squat:
The goblet squat only requires a single dumbbell, while the front squat requires a squat cage, barbell, and plates.
For this reason, the goblet squat is a more accessible exercise if you only have access to limited equipment.
Both the goblet squat and front require a high amount of mobility in the hips, knees, and ankles in order to perform a full, below-parallel squat.
However, the front squat requires additional mobility in the wrists and shoulders as you need to grip the barbell while it sits on the front deltoid with the back of your arms parallel to the floor.
The goblet squat has more leeway in how you position your wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Typically the palms are facing each other and the elbows are pointed toward the ground, which doesn’t require as much mobility.
Read my guide on how to warm up for squats properly, which includes dynamic stretching exercises, mobility drills, and activation exercises.
3. Level of Skill
Any squat variation can be considered a complex movement pattern because it requires the coordination of multiple muscle groups and joints. As such, someone attempting squats needs to have superior motor control and balance.
With that said, the front squat is a more complex exercise compared with the goblet squat. This is because the front squat has less margin for error as any change in position might result in the barbell dropping from the shoulders to the floor.
The goblet squat does not have this level of risk because you can move the load and your body position more freely without having to worry about the weight dropping from your shoulders like in the front squat. Therefore, if you’re not as technically skilled in the squat yet, the goblet squat is a safer movement.
4. Muscles Worked
Both the goblet squat and front squat primarily load the quadriceps muscles, with the glutes, hamstrings, adductor magnus (inner thigh) working to support the overall movement.
However, the front squat will require significantly greater core, mid-back, and upper back strength in order to maintain the torso angle while squatting.
This is because the torso angle during the front squat needs to be upright in order to keep the barbell positioned on the shoulders properly without risking falling off.
In the goblet squat, you can generate slightly more forward torso lean without as much consequence of the weight shifting.
As such, your core and back muscles aren’t as challenged when compared with the front squat.
To understand how each of these muscles contribute to squatting, and how to identify muscular weaknesses throughout the range of motion, check out my guide on the Muscles Used In The Squat.
5. Weight Used
Due to the goblet squat being a dumbbell variation, there is a max threshold for how heavy you can load this movement.
At a certain point, you’ll be able to progress to the heaviest dumbbell in your gym and you won’t be able to load any heavier. While you can add more sets and reps to continue progressing, not being able to also progress the load is a big limiting factor to the goblet squat.
As the front squat is loaded with the barbell, you can continue to add weight progressions for your entire lifting career without being limited.
6. Exercise Purpose
Mostly due to the mobility differences (point #2), the skill level required for each movement (point #3), and the loads used (point #5), the goblet squat and front squat are programmed for different purposes.
The goblet squat is usually the first front-loaded squat variation you learn in order to progress to more advanced variations, like the front squat, zercher squat, and front-loaded split squat. This is because there is a lower risk for dropping the load from the shoulders to the floor, and it doesn’t require as much mobility as some of these other movements.
The front squat is used as a primary squat variation to build both muscle and strength depending on the rep ranges used. However, because you can lift more weight using the front squat compared with the goblet squat, many lifters choose to do the front squat as a strength exercise in the 1-5 rep range.
7. Sport Requirements
The goblet squat is used as a teaching tool in most strength-based sports in order for athletes to learn how to front-load exercises properly while stabilizing through the core and maintaining an upright torso.
It’s also a common exercise in bodybuilding in order to ‘burn out’ the quads at the end of a leg day. If used for this reason, it’s usually performed with a slower tempo (3-4 seconds eccentric), higher reps (15+), and with the heels raised on a small surface to put even greater loading demand on the quads.
The front squat is used in sports such as Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and Strongman.
You’ll see it programmed in Olympic weightlifting programs more frequently because learning how to front squat is imperative to catching and squatting a clean & jerk.
Powerlifters and Strongman athletes will use front squats to build up the strength of their quads if they deem them to be a limiting muscle group. But the front squat is likely not programmed year-round as it would be for an Olympic weightlifter.
If you’re curious about some of the differences between bodybuilding vs powerlifting, check out my complete guide.
How To Do a Goblet Squat
Here’s how to set up a goblet squat:
- Grab a single dumbbell with two hands
- The handle should be vertical (not parallel to the floor)
- Place your hands underneath of the top of the dumbbell with your palms facing each other
- Hold the dumbbell close to your chest with your elbows tucked into your side
- Engage your core by taking a big breath, holding it, and then forcefully exhaling without letting out an air
- Start by cracking at the hips and knees at the same time
- Your knees should track forward, but not cave inward
- Bring your hips below parallel without bouncing or losing tension in your quads
- Your centre of mass should be right over the mid-part of the foot throughout the entire squat
- To initiate the upward phase think about ‘pushing the floor away’ and driving as fast as you can
- Avoid letting your chest collapse forward as you begin your ascent
- Return to your starting position with your hips and knees locked
Technique Tips For a Goblet Squat
Successful goblet squat technique relies on:
- Ensuring your elbows stay tucked to your body. This will allow you to hold the dumbbell without fatiguing your upper back, shoulders, and biceps.
- Keeping your weight distributed over the mid-part of the foot. You need to be aware that the front-loaded dumbbell will want to pull you forward. Gain a sense of balance over your centre of mass (mid-foot)
- Maintaining an upright chest position. Keep your chest tall throughout the movement. The chest will want to collapse when you think about driving out of the bottom of the squat.
- Set up a box behind you. If you’re worried about failing, then a box can be a safety measure in case you need to ‘drop onto the box’ rather than fall on the floor. You can also lightly touch the box with your hips every rep to ensure you’re getting deep enough in the squat.
- Placing your heels on small plates while squatting. You can do this if you find that you have trouble squatting to the proper depth. A raised heel will allow your ankle to travel more freely through deeper ranges of motion.
Common Faults When Doing a Goblet Squat
The most common faults of the goblet squat are:
- Not holding the dumbbell correctly. The dumbbell should be vertical (not horizontal to the floor) and be held in the base of your palm with your elbows tucked to the side. The dumbbell should also be ‘on your body’, and not held away from it.
- Forgetting to ‘reset’ at the top of each rep. Lifters will cycle through reps too quickly and fail to get their balance again at the top of each rep or re-engage their core to ensure they have an upright torso throughout the squat.
- Heels rising from the floor. This is either because you fail to keep your balance over the mid-part of the foot, or because you lack mobility in your ankles. If you’re losing your balance, trying ‘sitting back more’. If you lack ankle mobility, try placing your heels on small plates while squatting.
- Not going deep enough. The purpose of the goblet squat is to challenge your quadriceps. If you don’t squat deep enough, your quads won’t be taken through their full range of motion, which will limit its activation.
Muscles Used: Goblet Squat
The muscles used in the goblet squat are:
- Adductor Magnus (inner thigh)
- Abdominals and obliques
Due to the front-loaded nature of the goblet squat, and the requirement of the knees to push forward to a greater extent versus other squatting variations, the goblet squat primarily uses the quadriceps muscles.
However, this is only the case if you squat below parallel, when the loading demand for the quads will be at their greatest.
Related article: 9 Highly Effective Belt Squat Alternatives
Benefits of The Goblet Squat
Some of the benefits of the goblet squat are:
- The goblet squat can be used as a precursor to more advanced barbell squat variations such as the front squat and back squat.
- The goblet squat has been shown to be an effective exercise to teach proper ‘hip hinge’ movement patterns (John & Liebenson, 2013), which is important for people with pre-existing knee and back conditions.
- The goblet squat is often used as part of a general squat warm-up to activate the quads and glutes effectively (Kirkpatrick, 2019)
- The goblet squat doesn’t require as much mobility in the wrist, shoulders, and elbows compared with exercises like the front squat.
- The goblet squat is a safer exercise because there’s little risk of dropping the weight on the floor if the technique of the movement begins to breakdown.
How To Do a Front Squat
Here’s how to set up a goblet squat:
- Set the rack and barbell to the appropriate height, which should be at shoulder-level
- Place the barbell on the front deltoid
- Select a grip with your hands outside shoulder-width and the barbell resting between the first and second knuckle
- Push your elbows up and forward so that the back of your arm is parallel to the floor
- Walk the barbell back from the rack with as minimal distance as possible
- Set your squat stance, which should be feet slightly outside shoulder-width and your toes flared.
- Take a deep breathe in and brace your core strong before squatting down
- Crack at your hips and knees simultaneously to start the movement
- The tempo of the movement should allow you to maintain maximum tightness and control
- Keep your knees over your toes and avoid any internal rotation
- Maintain an upright torso
- Squat so that your hips drop below parallel
- Drive your feet through the floor and use your quads to stand up
- Ensure you continue keeping your elbows up to prevent the bar from falling down
- Accelerate through the entire range of motion to standing
Make sure to check out my article on squat cues, which will help you focus on the most important parts of the squat.
Technique Tips For a Front Squat
Here are some front squat tips to help you with your technique:
- Work on your wrist and shoulder mobility. If you don’t have good wrist flexion then holding the bar with a ‘bent wrist’ position is going to feel extremely uncomfortable. It will be made worse if you lack external shoulder rotation as well, which is when your chest and lats are tight. Click HERE for my favorite wrist mobility drills.
- Brace your core to maximally stabilize your torso position. If you fail to engage your core at the top of each rep, you will find your torso position start to shift more forward as you squat. You need to keep a strong core to ensure your erectors and obliques keep you upright.
- Experiment with your grip style. There are several different ways you can grip the barbell from having 2-4 fingers on the bar, or using a ‘strap assisted grip’. Click HERE to read about the different ways you can set your hands on the barbell while front squatting.
- Practice gripping the floor with your feet. It’s easy to feel like you’re falling forward in the front squat. Staying balanced starts with how your feet connect with the floor. Practice gripping or clawing the floor with your toes while you squat.
- Keep your eyes up and forward. The body will naturally follow where you look. So if you are looking down, you may feel like your falling forward. Keep your gaze up and forward while you front squat.
Common Faults When Doing a Front Squat
The most common faults of the front squat are:
- Not selecting a grip that’s comfortable. The biggest reason why people give up on front squatting is because they haven’t found a grip that is comfortable on their wrists. You need to experiment with different grips to find what will work for you.
- Elbows dropping down. It’s absolutely imperative that you keep your elbows ‘up’ and ‘forward’ while fronts squatting. As soon as the elbows drop down, you risk the barbell dropping from your shoulders onto the floor.
- Knees caving inward. With the increased loading on an exercise like the front squat, the knees will have a harder time tracking in the right position. If the knees start caving inward, you may need to drop the weight.
- Hips rising too fast out of the bottom position. As you initiate upward out of the bottom, your hips should rise at the same tempo as the barbell. If the hips shoot up too quickly, the torso will lean forward, and you’ll have a hard time preventing the barbell from falling off the shoulders.
Muscles Used: Front Squat
The muscles used in the goblet squat are:
- Adductor Magnus (Inner Thigh)
- Upper Back and Lats
While both the goblet squat and front squat work the quadricep muscles similarly, the front squat will use greater erector and mid/upper back strength because of the additional loading to keep the torso in an upright position.
Benefits of The Front Squat
Some of the benefits of the front squat are:
- The front squat has been called a ‘total core movement’ by Bird (2012), who said that it recruits every part of the core musculature, including the erectors, quadratus lumborum, obliques, rectus, and transverse abdominals.
- In a study by Clarke et al. (2012), they showed that under heavier loads (70% of 1RM and above) that the front squat demands greater knee extension than other squat variations, making it an excellent exercise for quad development.
- In a study by Gullett et al. (2009), they showed that the upright position of the front squat leads to a decreased stress at the level of the knee compared with a back squat. As such, the front squat is an effective exercise for developing the quad muscles without straining the knees.
- The front squat can improve your performance on other squat variations, such as the back squat, by strengthening the knee extensors, core, and erector muscles. This is particularly useful if you find yourself failing in the bottom end of a squat as these muscle groups will help you overcome this weakness.
Goblet Squat vs Front Squat: Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions that lifters have asked me over the years when comparing the goblet squat vs front squat:
Do You Need To Do Both Goblet Squats and Barbell Squats?
You do not need to do both the goblet squat and barbell squat in the same program. You can choose to do one or the other and work on progressing the sets, reps, and load for one exercise. However, many lifters use the goblet squat to warm-up for the barbell squat. In this case, the goblet squat is not part of the main work for the training session.
Are Goblet Squats As Effective as Barbell Squats?
The goblet squat can be just as effective as the barbell squat for producing hypertrophy adaptations (muscle gain) in beginner lifters. However, the goblet squat cannot be loaded as heavily as a barbell squat. Therefore, at some point, you will run out of progression on the goblet squat and will need to switch to the barbell squat for continued strength adaptation.
How Heavy Should a Goblet Squat Be?
You should use a load for goblet squats where by the end of the set you feel like you only have 1 or 2 reps left in the tank. However, the more important aspect of goblet squats is using a slow and controlled tempo, ensuring your maintaining constant tension on your quads throughout the full range of motion.
Do Goblet Squats Work Abs?
Goblet squats will use some core activation in order to keep your torso in an upright position. However, the goblet squat is not used as a primary core exercise. As such, you should implement additional abdominal exercises to build strength in each part of your core.
Do Goblet Squats Build Muscle?
You can build muscle in the goblet squat if the stimulus is great enough to force adaptation. This requires you to use a rep range between 8-15 reps with a load that gets you close to your fatigue limit by the end of the set. You typically want to finish a set and only feel like you could do 1 or 2 more reps (at the most). Another great way to build muscle in the goblet squat is to focus on a 4-5 second slow eccentric tempo (on the way down).
Whether you choose to do goblet squats or front squats will depend on your training goal.
Use goblet squats to teach you proper squatting mechanics, as a warm-up for other squat variations, or to build additional volume for your quadricep muscles.
Use front squats if you want to maximize your strength potential, build muscle, improve your back squat, or if you have specific sport requirements.
Neither the goblet squat or front squat is inherently better. It’s simply a matter of which exercise will help you serve your overall training goal.
One other article you should check out is: 10 Highly Effective Front Squat Alternatives. In this article, I cover other front-loaded exercises such as the front rack barbell split squat, front foot elevated dumbbell split squat, and the zercher squat.