Heels Elevated Goblet Squats – Muscles Worked, How-To, Benefits, and Alternatives

Heels Elevated Goblet Squats

If you want strong, muscular legs, squats are hard to beat. In fact, it’d be hard to develop an impressive lower body without squats. They’re not called the king of exercises for nothing! That said, you can have too much of a good thing. Even squats can start to lose their effect if that’s all you ever do for your legs.

That’s not to say you should give up squats – that would be sacrilegious! However, it’s probably a good idea to supplement squats with other exercises to ensure that you continue to make progress toward your strength or bodybuilding goals.

The Heels elevated goblet squat deserves a place on your list of leg-building exercises. Also known as the cyclist squat, this quad-dominant move will have your thighs begging for mercy.

Take your quads development to the next level with heels elevated goblet squats!

Heels Elevated Goblet Squats – Muscles Worked

Kettlebell Goblet Squat

The heels elevated goblet squat is a compound exercise, meaning it involves multiple muscles and joints working together. The main muscles trained by this exercise are:

Quadriceps – the heels elevated goblet squat is a very quad-dominant exercise. The quads are the four muscles on the front of your thighs: the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. Of these four, the vastus medialis, also known as your teardrop quad, is most active. The quadriceps extend your knee joints.

Hamstrings – doing goblet squats with your heels raised emphasizes your quads, but, to a lesser degree, your hamstrings are involved, too. Located on the back of your thigh, the three hamstring muscles are the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. The hamstrings flex your knees and extend your hips.

Gluteus maximus – also known as your glutes, this muscle works with your hamstrings to extend your hips. While not as active in heels elevated goblet squats as many other lower body exercises, this is still a beneficial butt exercise.

Abductors and adductors – located on the outside and inside of your thighs respectively, the abductors and adductors help stabilize your hips during heels elevated goblet squat. They are responsible for preventing your knees from dropping in or out of proper alignment.

Core – you’ll need to brace your midsection to stabilize your lumbar spine when doing heels elevated goblet squats. The core muscles are the rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis, and erector spinae. These muscles work together to create intra-abdominal pressure, supporting your spine from within.

How to Do Heels Elevated Goblet Squats

Get more from the heels elevated goblet squat while keeping your risk of injury to a minimum by following these guidelines:

  1. Place two bumper weight plates on the floor about hip-width apart. Alternatively, use a length of wooden plank. Stand with your heels raised and the balls of your feet on the floor.
  2. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of your chest and just below your chin. Pull your shoulders down and back, brace your core. Look straight ahead.
  3. Keeping your torso upright, bend your knees, and squat as deeply as you can without rounding your lower back.
  4. Stand up, stopping just short of locking your knees to keep the tension on your muscles.
  5. Descend again and repeat for the required number of repetitions.

Heels Elevated Goblet Squat Benefits and Drawbacks

Not sure if heels elevated goblet squats are the right squat variation for you? Consider these benefits:

Very quad-centric – most leg exercises involve your quads and hamstrings working together. In many cases, these muscles are engaged relatively equally. But, with heels elevated goblet squats, your quads are much more active. Unlike leg extensions, you won’t be isolating your quads. However, the quadriceps are definitely the star of the show!

Use less weight – if heavy squats and leg presses have left you with banged-up knees or a sore lower back, you’ll probably appreciate training your quads with less weight. The heels elevated goblet squat doesn’t need much weight to be effective. The large range of motion and knee-dominant movement means even a modest weight will soon have your quads burning.

Train to failure safely – unless you’ve got a properly set up power rack, front or back squatting to failure is generally a bad idea. Getting pinned under a heavy bar can cause serious injuries. With the heels elevated goblet squat, if you cannot complete a rep, you can just lower the weight to the floor in front of you.

Ideal for home exercisers – with minimal equipment required, this exercise is perfect for anyone who trains at home. All you need is a dumbbell or kettlebell and something to raise your heels. You could even do this exercise with your heels resting on a couple of books. It’s the perfect excuse-free leg exercise!

While heels elevated goblet squats are a mostly beneficial exercise, there are also a couple of drawbacks to consider:

Not so good for building strength – while the heels elevated goblet squat is undoubtedly a good exercise for muscular hypertrophy, it’s less practical for strength. There is a limit to how much weight you can hold in the goblet position, and many gyms only have dumbbells and kettlebells up to around 100-125lbs. In contrast, you will probably be able to back squat much more than this.

Knee issues – heels elevated goblet squats could cause knee pain in some exercisers. The combination of raised heels and a large range of motion could be problematic if you have existing knee issues. That said, you don’t have to squat “ass to grass” for this exercise to be beneficial. Adjust your range of movement based on your knee health and flexibility.

Read more about optimal squat depth in our article How Deep Should You Squat?

Heels Elevated Goblet Squat Alternatives & Variations

Heels elevated goblet squats are a highly effective lower body exercise, but that doesn’t mean you need to do them all the time.

There are several variations and alternatives you can use to keep your workouts productive and interesting:

1. Narrow stance Smith machine squats

A lot of people avoid the Smith machine, believing that it’s ineffective or even unsafe. However, it’s just another machine that could help you build muscle and get stronger. With no need to worry about balancing, you’re free to rep out to failure in relative safety. You can also engage the weight locks to prevent the bar from descending too far.

Using a narrow stance really hammers your quads. Stop just short of lockout to keep the tension on your thighs and get a massive pump.

Learn how to do this quad-burning exercise here.

2. Sissy squats

Sissy squats are an old-school leg exercise from the golden era of bodybuilding. This exercise is often challenging enough just using your body weight for resistance, especially if you use it as a finisher at the end of your regular leg workout. It can also be done using dumbbells if you’ve got mighty quads or you’re doing sissy squats as your main leg exercise. Sissy squats work your entire quads but, like heels elevated goblet squats, primarily target the vastus medialis.

Check out our guide to doing sissy squats here.

3. Hack squat machine

The hack squat machine provides plenty of back support and guides your movements, so you are free to train your quads to failure. You can use a regular shoulder-width stance but, if you want to replicate the demands of heels elevated goblet squats, move your feet in and back on the footplate.

Read more about hack squats here.

4. 1 ½ rep leg extensions

Leg extensions isolate your quadriceps even more than heels elevated goblet squats. However, they’re a pretty standard exercise that you’re probably already familiar with. Reignite your quad growth by using the 1 ½ rep method for leg extensions. By the end of your set, your thighs will be screaming for mercy.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the leg extension machine so your knees are in line with the lever arm pivot point and the leg pad is across your lower shins.
  2. Extend your legs until your knees are straight.
  3. Lower the weight halfway down.
  4. Extend your knees again.
  5. Lower the weight all the way down, stopping just short of touching the plates together.
  6. That’s one rep; keep going.
  7. Finish your set with some “burn reps.” Extend your legs and then lift and lower the weight just a few inches until you are unable to continue. Yes, this is SUPPOSED to hurt!

5. Short step walking lunges

Lunges are an excellent semi-unilateral leg exercise. They’re semi-unilateral because you’re still using both legs, but more weight is on your front limb. Using a shorter than usual step increases quadriceps engagement. You can do this exercise on the spot using an alternating leg action or as walking lunges, as per the video and following description.

How to do it:

  1. With or without dumbbells, stand with your feet together, arms by your sides. Brace your core.
  2. Take a small step forward with one leg, and then bend your knees. Keeping your torso upright, lower your rear knee down to within an inch of the floor.
  3. Push off your back leg and step through and into another rep.
  4. Continue alternating legs for the required number of reps.

6. Narrow stance leg presses

The leg press is one of the most popular machines in the gym. With plenty of back support and the weight guided by rods, you’re free to train hard and heavy, taking your sets to failure if you wish. Leg presses involve all your major leg muscles. Still, you can make them more quads-centric by moving your feet closer together and moving your feet a little further down the footplate.

How to do:

  1. Sit on the leg press and slide your butt down and into the bottom of the seat. Place your feet on the footplates so they are about hip-width apart.
  2. Extend your legs and press the weight up. Flip the safety catches out to the side, so the weight carriage is free to move. Grip the support handles and brace your abs.
  3. Bend your knees and descend as far as your flexibility and knee health allows. Do not let your lower back round. Instead, keep it pressed into the backrest.
  4. Without bouncing, drive the weight back up, stopping just short of full knee extension.

7. Barbell hack squat

Before the hack squat machine was invented, this was how lifters did hack squats. It’s named after wrestler and strongman George Hackenschmidt, who was famed for his muscular legs. This exercise is a lot like heels elevated goblet squats, but the weight is behind your legs instead of in front of your chest. While you don’t have to raise your heels to do hack squats, doing so will increase quads engagement.

Learn how to do barbell hack squats here.  

8. Backward sled drags

Most people view weighted sled training as a conditioning workout. While pushing or pulling a sled will definitely pump up your heart rate and burn a ton of calories, it’s also effective for strength training and muscle-building.

Dragging a weighted sled backward is a very knee-friendly way to work your quads. If heels elevated goblet squats bother your knees or lower back, this is a very viable alternative.

How to do it:

  1. Stand facing your sled with a handle in each hand. Bend your knees into a quarter-depth squat and walk backward until your arms are straight and the straps are tight.
  2. Without bending your arms, walk backward while dragging the sled. Push your heels into the floor to maximize quadriceps recruitment.
  3. You can also do this exercise hands-free by fixing the straps to a belt around your waist.

9. Landmine lumberjack squat

If you’re using heavy weights, the most challenging part of heels elevated goblet squats is probably getting your dumbbell or kettlebell up to your chest.

The landmine lumberjack squat starts with the weight in the bottom position, making it easier to use heavy weights. You can do this exercise with or without your heels raised.

How to do it:

  1. Load your landmine bar and rest the weights on an exercise bench.
  2. Stand at the end of the bar with your feet between shoulder and hip-width apart, toes turned slightly out.
  3. Squat down and grip the underside of the bar with your palms uppermost. Brace your core, pull your shoulders down and back, and look straight ahead.
  4. Without rounding your lower back, extend your legs and stand up, stopping just short of full lockout to keep the tension on your muscles.
  5. Squat back down and repeat.

10. Wall sit

Most exercises are isotonic. That means they involve a lifting or concentric phase and a lowering or eccentric phase. However, your muscles can also generate force statically or isometrically. So, while the wall squat is not the best mass builder, it is very knee-friendly, and if you push as hard as you can, it’s also a decent strength exercise.

How to do it:

  1. Find a smooth, sturdy wall to do this exercise against. Ensure the floor is not slippery, or your feet may slide out from under you.
  2. Stand with your back to the wall, feet about 24 inches from the baseboard. Your feet should be between hip to shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lean your back against the wall and slide down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Your shins should be vertical. Maintain good posture throughout.
  4. Without resting your hands on your thighs, use your legs to push your back against the wall. Do not hold your breath, as doing so will cause your blood pressure to rise.
  5. Push as hard as you can for a short time (10-20 seconds), or simply try and stay in position for as long as you can.
  6. On completion, either slide down the wall and sit on the floor to rest or use your hands on the wall to help you stand up.


Heels Elevated Goblet Squat – Wrapping Up

If you want legs like the Quadfather Tom Platz, you need to pay your dues in the squat rack. While it IS possible to develop an impressive lower body without squats, the odds are stacked against you. Squats are called the king of exercises for a reason!

That said, you don’t have to limit your workouts to the same old front and back squats. In fact, there are lots of squat variations you can use that are every bit as effective.

Heels elevated goblet squats are very quad-centric, and you don’t need a lot of weight to do them. They’re ideal for home exercisers and as a finisher after your regular workout. All in all, this exercise deserves a place in your lower body workouts.


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