Zercher Squat Basics: Features and Difficulties

Zercher Squat

Ed Zercher is an American strongman of the 30s, one of the most powerful men of his time. Legend has it that he did not have squat racks and therefore had to lift the bar off the floor. Want to see the main Zercher squat benefits? Let’s proceed!

Features of Zercher Squat

In Zercher squats, the bar rests on the bends of the elbows. At first glance, this method of holding the bar may seem rather strange, however, it has certain advantages: the center of gravity shifts forward, ➡️ therefore the back muscles and the abs must actively work to maintain the vertical position of the body.

Long-legged athletes find it easier to squat deeper and without rounding the lower back in this exercise.

Of course, there are other squatting options that support the correct position of the lumbar spine:

  1. front squats (with a barbell on the chest);
  2. goblet squats (with dumbbells/kettlebells on the chest). 

However, front squats require significant ankle and shoulder mobility, and not everyone has it. In addition, when performing front squats, athletes with long hips find it very difficult to maintain an upright position of the body.

Goblet squats are great in all respects, but they also have limitations – you cannot work with large weights.

Find more squat variations here!

The Zercher squat successfully solves both of these problems. Firstly, they do not require prohibitive flexibility, and secondly, the barbell allows you to take significantly more weight – compared to dumbbells or kettlebells.

You may be wondering, “If Zercher’s squats are so great, why they aren’t so popular?”

The answer is simple: this is not a very comfortable exercise. A barbell lying on the bend of the elbow gives a lot of unpleasant sensations. In addition, regular squats with a barbell on the shoulders allow you to lift more weight, and most athletes prefer them over the Zercher squat.

However, if you can handle your egos and put up with some (bearable) discomfort, Zercher squats are a great choice. They are technically simpler and can be a great support exercise for the front and back squat.

How to Perform Zercher Squat?

zercher squat benefits

Clothes

Wear a long-sleeved shirt or a pair of elbow-length or knee-length sleeves around the elbows. This makes the stance position much more bearable. If you have access to a thick or axial bar, again, this is much more comfortable than a standard Olympic or power bar.

Starting point

In the classic version of the exercise, the bar is supposed to be lifted from the floor, however, we recommend taking it from the racks. The racks need to be adjusted in height so that they are just below the elbows (if you are standing upright with your arms pressed to your body). It is easiest to remove the barbell from this height. The hands can be interlocked or not interlocked – at your discretion.

Correct form

The stance should be the same as for the front or back squat. The downward movement in Zercher squats should be smooth, controlled – it is extremely undesirable to rise from the bottom of the amplitude due to inertia.

The main thing in this exercise is to maintain a stable, strong position, and this is achieved primarily by the controlled execution of the entire movement. Straining the muscles of the torso, as if pushing the floor with your feet, gently lower yourself down. When moving up, the chest and pelvis should rise at the same time.

Performing the Zercher Squat

Weight

You need to start with such a weight that you can handle without problems – which, in principle, is relevant for any new exercise, nevertheless, it will not be superfluous to remind you about this one more time. First, you need to master the movement of a new exercise, then you can increase the working weights.

Feel like there are problems with choosing the working weight? Check out How to Choose Weights for Workout Correctly!

Add Zercher Squat to Your Training

Novice athletes are better off focusing on just one squat variation. Attempts in the first 6 months of training to simultaneously master squats with a barbell on the shoulders, front squats, and Zercher squats will not lead to anything good. Yes, all of these exercises belong to the squat category, but still, they are quite different from each other.

Such guys should better learn the differences between Back Squats vs Front Squats.

But if a novice athlete fails to succeed in correctly performing traditional squats, they can be replaced with Zercher squats. Zercher squats, firstly, are technically easier, and secondly, they allow you to work out the muscles with lower weights (this alone makes them an excellent option for beginners).

zercher squat muscles worked

Advanced athletes can use the Zercher squat as an auxiliary exercise. They can be done on squat day (after the main squat, of course) or any other day if desired. However, when adding a new exercise, it is important to consider changes in load volume.

Another way to add to the Zercher squat for experienced athletes is during the unloading block or the transition block of the workout. If you are struggling to make progress on your squats and are feeling very tired, you may need to deload. You can simply lift less weight during back squats, but adding a new variation is generally much nicer and still challenging during workouts.

References:

  1. Max Gedge. “Zercher Squat Basics “
  2. Braidot, A. A., M. H. Brusa, F. E. Lestussi, and G. P. Parera. “Biomechanics of Front and Back Squat Exercises“, Journal of Physics: Conference Series90 (2007): 012009. doi:10.1088/1742-6596/90/1/012009.
  3. Gullett, Jonathan C., Mark D. Tillman, Gregory M. Gutierrez, and John W. Chow. “A Biomechanical Comparison of Back and Front Squats in Healthy Trained Individuals“, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research23, no. 1 (2009): 284-92.
  4. Russell, Pamela J., and Sally J. Phillips. “A Preliminary Comparison of Front and Back Squat Exercises“, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport60, no. 3 (1989): 201-08.
  5. Ochoa, Justin. “3 Reasons Why Athletes Should Try Zercher Squats“, STACK. October 11, 2017. Accessed July 02, 2018.
  6. Leibreich, Ryan. “How To Zercher Squat: One Exercise To Rule Them All“, TrainHeroic Blog – Applied Science For Coaches. Accessed July 02, 2018.

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