The Zercher Squat

The bottom position

The Zercher squat is one of the most undervalued and underused exercises going. The exercise is named after its creator, an old-time powerlifter and strongman from St. Louis called Ed Zercher. It’s pretty much a regular squat only with bar positioned in the crook of the elbows instead of on the traps or upper back. It’s a fantastic exercise to use regardless of who you are and why you train.

Execution:

  • Set the bar up in a power rack at waist height, dip slightly under the bar and position it in the crook of the elbows. Elbows should be about shoulder width apart.
  • Clasp one of your fists with the opposite hand; this will help stop the bar rolling out of your forearms.
  • Stand up with the bar and step back from the rack. Keep the bar tucked in against your torso and maintain this at all times.
  • Position your feet a few inches wider than shoulder width apart and with your toes slightly turned out.
  • Start the squat by pushing the hips back first and then bending the knees. Push your hips back as far as possible throughout the descent.
  • Keep your chest pushed out and as high as possible.
  • Squat down until your elbows touch the inside of your thighs.
  • Come back up by driving your heels into the floor and pushing your knees apart.
  • Finish the movement with a strong squeeze of the glutes but be careful to avoid over-arching the back.

 Benefits:

  • The Zercher squat is great exercise for squatting mechanics, especially for beginners. It reinforces a hip dominant action, it is much easier to maintain an upright posture and allows a greater depth to be achieved in the majority of individuals.
  • Heavy Zerchers are insanely tough on the core. As the weight is loaded anteriorly, and you are therefore forced to maintain a more upright posture, much greater emphasis is placed on the anterior stabilisers. Think you’ve got pretty strong abs? Try Zerchers and find out!
  • Zerchers are brilliant for glute and hamstring development; they achieve far greater levels of activity in the posterior chain than regular and front squats.
  • Taking the load off the back takes all but eliminates the compressive forces acting on the spine. It’s a great exercise to substitute in for the back squat on deloading weeks/cycles to allow your spine a bit of a recovery.

 Tips:

  • The position of the bar can be extremely uncomfortable when lifting heavy so this is one of the very rare occasions when I will let you use the barbell (or sissy) pad. You can wrap a towel or shirt around the bar if you don’t have a pad available but be sure that they are secured in a manner so that bar will not roll out. Using a thick bar or Fat Gripz will also make the exercise more comfortable.
  • Perform Zerchers in a power rack or on a platform where you can drop the weight if you fail or if the bar slips from your elbows.
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2 comments


  1. Ted

    Very good article!

    The zercher squat is actually my favorite squat variation for the simple reason that here I find it easiest to keep the back arched. On other squatting variations I tend to lose my arch once I break parallel.

    Ted

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