Dan John Goblet Squat
by Dan John
Excerpted from Intervention, pages 135-138
The greatest impact I’ve had on strength and conditioning starts with a story.
Years ago, faced with 400 athletes who couldn’t squat correctly, I attempted to teach the squat, move after move, lift after lift.
I failed each and every time.
I saw glimmers of hope from teaching one kid the Zercher squat (weight held in the crooks of the elbows…enjoy!), and a few picked up the pattern when we lifted kettlebells off the ground by the ball, called potato sack squats since they look like picking up a sack of potatoes off the ground. But nothing was working.
Somewhere between a Zercher and a potato squat was the answer.
It came to me when I was resting between swings with the weight held in front of me like I was holding the Holy Grail. I squatted down from there, pushed my knees out with my elbows and, behold, the goblet squat!
Yes, the squat is that easy. It’s a basic human movement and you just have to be reminded how to do it.
Squats can do more for total mass and body strength than probably all the other lifts combined. Doing them wrong can do more damage than probably all the other moves, too.
Let’s start simple. Find a place where no one is watching and squat down. At the bottom, the deepest you can go, push your knees out with your elbows. Relax…and go a bit deeper. Your feet should be flat on the floor. For the bulk of the population, this small movement—driving your knees out with your elbows—will simplify squatting forever.
Now you’re ready to learn the single best lifting movement of all time—the goblet squat. Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it against your chest. With a kettlebell, hold at the horns or with a dumbbell, just hold it at one end, vertical, like you’re holding a goblet against your chest.
You see—goblet squats.
How to Do a Goblet Squat
With the weight cradled against your chest, squat down with the goal of having your elbows slide past the inside of your knees. Your elbows are pointed down, and it’s okay to have them push against your knees, pushing your knees out as you descend.
There is the big-money key to learning movements in the gym—let the body teach the body what to do. Listen to this: Try to stay out of it! Thinking through a movement often leads to problems; let the elbows glide down by touching the inner knees and good things will happen.
The more an athlete thinks, the more we can find ways to screw things up. Don’t believe me? Join a basketball team and get into a crucial situation. Shoot a one-and-one with three seconds to go, down by two points, and get back to me later if you decided thinking was a good idea.
I’m not sure I should tell you this, but here it is: I think goblet squats are all the squatting most people need. If the bar hurts in back squats (I won’t comment), your wrists hurt in front squats (swallowing my tongue here) and the aerobics instructor has banned you from using the step boxes for your one-leg squat variations, try the goblet squat. Seriously, once you grab a kettlebell over 100 pounds and do a few sets of 10 in the goblet squat, you might wonder how the toilet got so low the next morning.
Foot Placement in the Goblet Squat
As a simple guide for foot placement, do three consecutive vertical jumps, then look down. This is roughly where to place your feet every time you squat. You know the toes should be out a little, and most people look down and see the toes magically out. You don’t want to go east and west here, but you want some toe-out.
There is an important coaching point to be made. The goblet squat and all the drills I’ve described teach patterning. Unless you have the pattern, you shouldn’t move into heavier work. I am to the point where I even hold off front and back squats until a person can prove the stability, flexibility and, most importantly, the patterning of the squat.
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