Make Goblet Squats & Front Racked Squats Better
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
The front rack kettlebell squat and goblet squat are both amazing lower body exercises. However, they both have their limitations.
Here my awesome figure athlete Leslie Petch and I are demonstrating 6 unique ways to load goblet squats to overcome 3 common issues.
1. Most gyms rarely have dumbbells that go past 100-120 lbs. For stronger athletes this can represent a limitation to overloading goblet squats. Each of these variations overcomes that issue. For instance in most of the videos the dumbbell I use ranges from 100-120 lbs yet I’m receiving 50-65 additional pounds of added tension from the bands and chains making the goblet squat well over 150 lbs. For most athletes this will provide ample tension and overload.
2. As effective as goblet squats and front loaded squats are, the upper body oftentimes ends up being the limiting factor due to fatigue as there is only so much the arms and upper torso can hold. As a result the lower body doesn’t always get taxed as heavily as it should especially if ample growth and strength gains are desired. The last 4 variations shown in the video resolve that as the added tension is directly applied to the lower body without placing any additional tension on the upper body or arms.
3. Accommodating resistance is oftentimes only applied to barbell squats and deadlifts when it comes to primary lower body movements. However, goblet squats and front rack squats are also quite conducive for applying accommodating resistance to as the bottom tends to be exponentially more challenging than the top. Several of these variations provide ample accommodating resistance in the form of band tension thereby overloading the stronger top position and deloading the weaker bottom position
Front Rack Kettlebell Squat
Similar to the goblet squat, the front rack kettlebell squat poses similar problems as the upper body oftentimes ends up being the limiting factor as there is only so much the arms and upper torso can hold. As a result the lower body doesn’t always get taxed as heavily as it should especially if ample growth and strength gains are desired. So what’s the solution? Combine the belt squat (with either a weight belt or Exxentric Kbox) with these anterior loaded squat variations. Here I have Leslie demonstrating the traditional belt squat version while I'm performing the Kbox flywheel version.
There are several benefits to these front rack kettlebell belt squats.
1. Front rack kettlebell squats and goblet squats tend to place the lifter into a more upright position than traditional squats. The heavier you go the more upright it makes the lifter. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, a more upright torso takes stress off the posterior chain such as the glutes. By combining the hanging belt squat with these anterior loaded squats it balances out the load and keeps the lifter’s torso in a similar angle as a barbell squat thereby placing equal stress on the quads, glutes, and hamstrings
2. One of the most common problems on both front rack kettlebell squats and goblet squats is collapsing in the bottom position rather than sticking the optimal parallel or 90 degree position. With that said, the belt squat is one of the most effective squat variations I’ve used to teach people not to collapse and use excessive range of motion for squats in general. In fact, going below parallel on these feels very unnatural and awkward. As a result the lifter is forced to use ideal squat mechanics that involve parallel limbs and 90-degree joint angles. Besides teaching proper squat mechanics this also takes significant stress off the joints while crushing the entire lower body. Applying the belt squat to anterior loaded squats helps reinforce proper depth during the kettlebell squat variation thereby eliminating the all-too common collapsing issue.
3. This specific squat combination is very low back friendly as all of the weight is kept very close to the center of mass. For individuals who have a difficult time finding squat variations they can load with heavier weights while still taking stress of the joints, this combination of anterior loading mixed with the belt squat is perfect.
4. There’s a significant balance component involved with these squats as the load is positioned in two different locations of the body. In addition, having much of the weight hanging below the body forces the lifter to use strict form as the load can swing and oscillate unless the lifter controls their mechanics and uses strict form.
5. If you’re looking for the ultimate full body squat this is it. The overload to the upper body and core produced by either the front rack kettlebell squat or goblet squat protocol is quite significant. Combined with the weight belt the legs get equally taxed. Don’t be surprised if you find your whole body gets blasted from these including the shoulders, upper back, lats, traps, abs, and entire lower body.
Front Rack Squats with AccomModating Resistance
The front rack kettlebell squat is one of my favorite squat variations not only for crushing the legs and core but also for taxing the upper back, shoulders, traps, and upper body stabilizers. In fact, the stimulus is quite similar to a traditional front squat in that the anterior loading targets the quads to a greater extent due to the slightly more vertical torso position. As a result it’s also quite low back friendly.
Unfortunately most gyms don’t have pairs of kettlebells that go past 50’s making it tough to implement as a true strength and hypertrophy exercise especially for stronger athletes such as football players or powerlifters. However by applying band resistance as I demonstrate here not only can you add additional resistance but you also can apply accommodating resistance using band tension.
This deloads the weaker bottom position and overloads the stronger top position. For instance in this video I’m using 50 pound kettlebells with medium bands that provide 40-50 pounds each in the top position and 20-25 pounds each in the bottom position. As a result the total load is 150-200 pounds rather than just 100 lbs.
The one downside here is that the clean can be a bit awkward as is noticeable in the beginning of the video. However once you get the kettlebells in the proper position it actually feels quite comfortable and user friendly. Don’t be surprised if your whole body from head to toe gets torched from these.
Also notice how I incorporate the eccentric isometric protocol to enhance proprioceptive feedback as a means of improving motor control, technique and overall body mechanics. Read more about eccentric isometrics in my new book Movement Redefined.
Band-Resisted Variations with Direct leg Tension
If upper body strength is a limting factor, you can produce a similar effect on the legs by simply adding a band around your feet and upper shoulders.
This produces tension to the legs without adding any additional loading to the upper body. Similar to the above, this direct band resistance can be used on either the front racked kettlebell squat or the goblet squat.
If you really want to crush your core while also blasting your legs you can also apply the belt squat or direct band resistance to single arm goblet squat variations.
Here's one of my awesome clients, Matt Jordan, demonstrating it with a single arm goblet squat variation. This can also be done with a single arm front rack kettlebell squat.
Single Leg Squats Made Better
The front rack squat is an incredible squat variation however there are 7 primary downsides.
1. The upper body and core can fatigue and fail before the legs do
2. Heavy weight in the front rack position can feel awkward on the wrists, shoulders, and elbows.
3. Most gyms don’t have heavy pairs of kettlebells making this a difficult exercise to overload.
4. The bottom is exponentially more difficult than the top both in terms of how heavy and how awkward the movement feels.
5. The kettlebell clean is oftentimes a tricky move for many folks to nail particularly with heavy enough weight to maximize the squat stimulus.
6. Because of the semi-awkward nature of the lift not to mention the fact that most pairs of kettlebells go up by 5-10 lbs, the front rack squat is a difficult move to gradually progress and improve on. In other words it’s tough to apply principles of progressive overload to it.
7. It’s difficult to really overload the legs with this position particularly when it comes to producing a true hypertrophy stimulus.
So what’s the solution? Single leg front rack kettlebell squats with accommodating resistance as my amazing client Leslie Petch shows here.
These are incredibly challenging but truly provide the optimal stimulus for overloading the entire lower body including the quads, glutes, and hamstrings while simultaneously overcoming the 7 aforementioned issues previously discussed. As an added bonus the level of motor control, balance, stability, mobility, and full body tension make these one brutal variation that tax the entire body from head to toe not to mention the cardiorespiratory system.
Zercher Squats and Belt Squat Combos
Lets face it, Zercher squats tend to be one of the more comfortable, safe, and natural squatting variations. That is of course until you start using substantially heavier loads in which case a movement that previously felt therapeutic and natural on the body ends up feeling horribly uncomfortable. This is something I frequently experience with my athletes as well as myself.
As they begin warming up the Zercher squats and progressing their loads, the first few sets tend to feel rock solid to the point the client feels as though they can overload the daylights out of the movement. However, all this love for the Zercher squat quickly changes once they start approaching loads closer to 70% of their max. Much of this has to do with the upper body and core giving out before the legs not to mention the discomfort of holding a heavy load lodged between your forearms and biceps tendon. Also, the inability to breath making you feel like you’re going to pass out due to the unique nature of the loading protocol may also have something to do with this effect.
Fortunately combining Zercher squats with belt squats (using either an Exxentric KBox or more traditional belt squat setup) can help resolve this issue as shown here by my awesome client Leslie Petch. That’s because you can use a substantially lighter barbell load for the Zercher position while simultaneously loading the lower body with the belt squat. As a result the legs fatigue before the upper body and core making the movement a full body strength and hypertrophy exercise that’s sure to kick start newfound levels of growth in the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.