What do you know about Zercher squats? If you’re like most, you may not know much at all. We’re here to change that. Read this and find out all the info you could ever need on the Zercher squat.
Squat, squat, squat! It’s likely the favorite leg building exercise that never goes out of style. There are also many variants of this ageless exercise. That includes front squats, overhead squats, plie squats and the list goes on. Maybe one of the most rarely seen forms is the Zercher squat.front squats, overhead squats, plie squats and the list goes on. Maybe one of the most rarely seen forms is the Zercher squat.
Have you ever performed a Zercher squat?
Have you ever even seen anyone in the gym smashing sets of these?
Odds are that you haven’t. Have no fear!
After reading this article you will know everything you need to know about the Zercher squat. This way you can add variety to your next leg workout, more strength to your body and an all-out physical challenge to your gym routine.
Here Is The Zercher Name Explained
Are you assuming this is someone’s last name?
If so, you nailed it. Want a quick history lesson?
You came to the right place.
Ed Zercher was an Olympic weightlifter in the 1930s. Back in the 1930s, they had many more Olympic lifts than a traditional Olympic game does today. Zercher, a 156-pound man, completed the following lifts at the Fifth Annual Western AAU Weight Lifting Championships:
One Hand Snatch at 120 lbs.
One Hand Clean & Jerk at 130 lbs.
Two Hand Military Press at 170 lbs.
Two Hand Snatch at 145 lbs.
Two Hand Clean & Jerk at 200 lbs.
Needless to say, Zercher was an admired man for his impressive presses and lifts before weightlifting was a truly organized sport. He was known as the “keeper of the odd lift records.” In fact, he performed an unusual squat where he held the bar in the crook of his arms in front of him. That style of squat became known as the Zercher squat.
How Did He Come Up With This Lift?
A rumor circulated that Ed Zercher did not have a squat rack to help him perform squats. Squats were equally important back then as they are today for building strength and endurance and lifting like an ox. He knew that to have explosive power he must train his legs with some form of a squat. He solved the problem.
What he ended up doing was racking the weight while it was on the ground. Instead of trying to load the weight across his back, which would have been impossible to safely get over his head and onto his back, he kept the weight in front of him. He found a way to hug the bar to his chest and complete almost the same movement as a traditional squat. The Zercher squat was born. In the process, he may have accidentally stumbled onto a way to become stronger than his competitors by using his own form of squatting.
Digging Deeper Into The Zercher Squat
What about the Zercher squat could have given him an athletic edge over his competitors?
The advantages include:
- Spine Relief – First of all, you are not holding the bar across your back like you would in a traditional squat. How does this help? It alleviates any spinal compression that heavy squatting puts you in danger of.
- Proper Mechanics Carryover – Torrius Morman, NPC Bodybuilder, says, “Zercher squats help improve the form of your traditional and front squats because they force you to keep your torso upright.” Many trainers agree that this is the perfect squat for beginners. It promotes correct mechanics like proper hip movement and forces you to maintain perfect upright posture. If you learn to do a Zercher squat first, your form will be better when doing traditional squats and other variations.
- Calls On Other Muscles- The Zercher squat also aids in developing a strong torso and upper back. Why? Simple, because the weight has to be held in front of you and balanced at the top of your body. This forces your core to stabilize the bar. Plus, you must rely on your arm strength to stabilize the bar (unlike when the bar rests across the width of your back). To complete this exercise, your traps, rear delts and rhomboids are also called into action. This becomes a nearly full-body exercise.
- An Effective Combo Move – The Zercher squat could be likened to a deadlift. The reason is because of the way you execute the lift. You could consider it a combo of a squat and a deadlift. However, the Zercher squat is more effective for glutes and hamstring training than back squats, front squats, and deadlifts. Why? The reason is because it engages the muscles more. You can also get much deeper than traditional squats and must work harder to get out of the deep lift creating greater strength.
- Biceps Work – Your biceps are not the main target of this exercise, but they will surely get a bit of attention. They are the stabilizing factor for the bar, and they’re getting some insane isometric action.
- Next Level Training – If you are truly trying to take your power, performance and muscular development to the next level, then you need to start Zercher squatting. It is one of the most underrated exercises and is actually one of the most effective forms of the squat that you can do.
Morman says, “The pro to this exercise is that it relieves spine compression that you receive from other squats. The con is that you can’t go as heavy because the weight is held by your elbow joints and biceps. All in all, it hits all the major muscle groups in your legs when done correctly. I would use this exercise as a finisher with high reps of 15 to 20 after squats and front squats.”
This Is Proper Zercher Form And Execution
Want to know how to perform a traditional Zercher squat?
Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
Place a barbell on a rack just above waist height. Squat down slightly and hook it in your arms so you are holding it in the bend of your elbow. Your elbows should be shoulder-width apart. Either grab one of your hands with the opposite hand or arm and hold tightly to your chest or keep your hands positioned as upward curled fists. Both way works. You want to keep the weight close to your body.
Stand up and step back from the weight rack. Your feet should be placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Pull your abs in and slightly arch your lower back as you squat down. When your elbows and your knees meet, you have gone down far enough. Push through your legs back into the starting position moving slowly.
If you are like Ed Zercher and do not have a rack, then you can still perform this exercise. You are just going to have to go about getting into position in a very tedious way.
How To Do A Zercher Swat Without A Rack
Load your bar with weights while it is on the floor. Move up to the bar as if you are going to do a deadlift and position your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Complete a deadlift to full standing position. On the way down, bring the bar to rest across your lap in the squat position. You have become the rack.
Now that your hands are free, hook the bar in your arms so you are holding it in the bend of your elbow. Your elbows should be shoulder-width apart. Either grab one of your hands with the opposite hand or arm and hold tightly to your chest or keep your hands positioned as upward curled fists. Both ways work. You want to keep the weight close to your body.
Stand up into position to begin your set. Pull your abs in and slightly arch your lower back as you squat down. When your knees and your elbows meet, you have gone down far enough. Push through your legs back into the starting position. Do not forget that at this point you should be moving slowly. You are going to really blast some fat starting out each set this way!
This Is A Dumbbell Zercher Squat
Select a dumbbell and grab it between prayer position hands where the edges of the dumbbell rest in your palms and your fingers grip the top of the weight. Keep your elbows close together and your hands just under your chin.
Stand up and position your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Squat down, keeping your elbows between your knees. Push through your heels back into standing position. Repeat this for three sets of 10 to 12.
Here Are A Few More Things To Consider
Do not rack the weights too heavy the first time. You are basically holding the bar in the crack of your elbows. Chances are, this is something you have likely never done before. People are already going to be watching because you will be performing something that looks weird. Do not end up on a lifting gone wrong viral video your first time out!
The further away your elbows are from your body as you squat, the more pressure you will be placing on your lower back. With that said, this also causes your core to engage more and work harder.
Many will claim that they do not perform this exercise because they are worried about biceps tears.
Your biceps will be under stress, but tears?
No. Stress, however, is one of the major contributors to muscle growth. If you are looking for growth, let Zercher squats produce growth all over your body.
Wear long sleeves and use neoprene sleeves when doing this exercise. Your arms will thank you because this is not a comfortable exercise. In fact, it is very uncomfortable. Why is that? Simple, because of the way you are holding the bar and where you are holding it. The motion of the bar in your arms can cause bruising where it rolls along your forearm and digs into your skin.
Wondering About A Zercher Squat Device With CR Collar?
If you want to complete Zercher squats without tearing up your arms, there is a machine you can find on Amazon called the Zercher Squat Device. Basically, it is built like a plate weight rack with a foam padded place to hook your arms into at the top. It is sized for Olympic weights and can hold up to 270 pounds.
It is perfect for Zercher squats, strongman walking, and torso twists. Talk about multipurpose! This device can also help make balancing a non-issue, and it makes performing with the proper form easy. Eliminate the learning process and start off lifting heavy.
If your job or hobby requires real world strength and endurance, such as firefighting, manual labor, pro athletes, CrossFit or strongman competitions, the Zercher squat is the perfect exercise.
The reason is because it will help you to increase power and gain real-world strength.
The Zercher squat is more than meets the eye. It takes a true athletic beast to complete them. So, if you want to really test your strength and grow, as most Gym Junkies do, then add Zercher squats to your workout routine. Of course, if you are content with your regular squats, do not worry about doing these. Chances are you are not the type of person with the goods to take on the challenge of the Zercher squat.
Which camp do you fall into?
By Sarah Chadwell, CPT