How to Do the Zercher Squat for Lower Body Size and Power – Breaking Muscle

A easy barbell in a squat rack might not look like a chunk of modern-day expertise, nevertheless it kinda is. Up till a number of many years in the past, lifters have been both making their very own racks by hand from scrap steel and wooden, or they have been determining learn how to get the bar lifted by any means vital.

One standard methodology was created by Ed Zercher, a St. Louis-based weightlifter from the Thirties. Reasonably than get the bar onto his again, he developed a method to get the bar from the ground into the criminal of his arms so he may squat whereas clutching the load to his torso.

The sort of squat was dubbed “the Zercher squat.” Even for those who’re a full-fledged Twenty first-century lifter, you’ll be able to profit from this old-school train.

Tips on how to Do the Zercher Squat

Whereas the Zercher squat was initially supposed as an answer for lifters with out a squat rack, this strategy does require the bar to start both in a rack or set on benches, blockers, or one other elevated floor. A Zercher motion for the rack-less lifter will probably be defined later within the Variations part.

Step 1 — Unrack the Bar

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Set a barbell between your stomach button and your chest, both in a rack or supported on benches, steps, or blocks. Stand as shut as doable, along with your toes straight underneath the bar at shoulder-width. Preserve your shoulders again. Squat down simply low sufficient to get your elbows underneath the bar.

Cradle the bar in your elbows, between your forearms and biceps, and curl each palms as near your shoulders as doable. The palms of your palms ought to be pointed in direction of your face and your elbows ought to be tight to your ribs. Raise the load by standing up. Lock your legs and stabilize your complete physique. Take one full step backwards. The first step foot sideways to set your stance outdoors of shoulder-width.

Kind Tip: For a lot of lifters, bodily discomfort from holding the bar in place is the most important problem. Wrapping the bar in a towel or bar pad (usually meant to cushion the neck throughout again squats) is an answer as your physique adapts to the stress. Preserving your palms palms-up, not thumbs-up, will even assist to disperse stress onto the muscle groups of the forearm as a substitute of the bones of the forearm.

Step 2 — Squat Down

Men performing squat holding barbell in arms
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Preserve a steady and large stance, past shoulder-width. Take a breath into your stomach and tense your abs. Shift your hips backwards to squat down till your elbows or the barbell (relying on arm size) barely contact your thighs. Preserve your torso as upright as doable all through the motion.

Don’t permit the load to drag your elbows ahead or your arms to straighten. Your palms ought to stay close to your shoulders or your chin in the course of the motion. Pause very briefly within the backside place.

Kind Tip: Preserve full-body stress within the backside place. Don’t chill out your legs, core, or arms. Don’t permit the load to “unload” onto your legs, which decreases muscular stress and will increase general joint pressure.

Step 3 — Stand As much as Lockout

Man in gym standing while holding barbell in arms
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From the underside place, hold your toes flat whereas urgent upwards to a standing place. Preserve your shoulders again and squeeze your elbows into your sides to encourage higher physique stress. As your legs lockout, squeeze your glutes to extend stress and guarantee a robust standing place.

Kind Tip: Pause very briefly within the locked out place to make sure total-body tightness. Don’t rise explosively to forestall the bar from bouncing in your arms; transfer with regular energy and management.

Zercher Squat Errors to Keep away from

As a result of the Zercher squat includes a singular and sometimes unfamiliar bar place, there are a number of frequent errors many lifters might make which may cut back effectiveness and improve the chance of harm.

Leaning Ahead

Very similar to the front squat, the Zercher squat supports the barbell in front of the body. This requires an upright torso position during the entire movement. Leaning forward shifts your center of gravity and pulls your upper body into a weakened position.

Man performing squat with poor technique
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When the upper body falls forward, either the bar will roll out of your arms or you’ll manage to keep control of the weight while grinding out a rep with a serious leverage disadvantage, exposing your lower back to potential injury.

Avoid It: Maintain a vertical torso by keeping your shoulder blades pinched back and, even more importantly, by keeping the bar as close to your body as possible. Create tension through your arms, abs, shoulders, and back to hold the bar in position.

Short Range of Motion

The lower one descends into a squat position, the more glute and hamstring muscles are recruited. (1) Squatting to a comparatively increased place might supply particular advantages, equivalent to aggressive powerlifters who solely want to achieve a parallel-thigh place and never any decrease.

Man in gym squatting with barbell in arms
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Nevertheless, when a lifter unknowingly squats excessive or intentionally squats excessive as an “simpler” possibility, they shortchange their general outcomes. Partial rep squatting may also improve stress on the knee and hip joints in comparison with squatting to decrease depths. (2)

Keep away from it: As a result of the bar is held comparatively low on the physique in the course of the Zercher squat, the barbell acts as a built-in boundary, providing an unwavering goal for depth. Be certain that the bar reaches your thighs on the backside of every rep.

Bouncing Off Your Legs

Sustaining management of the load throughout an train is important for creating muscle and energy. Uncontrolled, explosive actions additionally open the door for surprising accidents.

Man performing deep squat holding barbell in arms
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Whereas a tenet for correct Zercher squat method is to achieve the bar to the tops of your legs, some lifters descend so rapidly that the bar impacts their legs and rebounds upwards. Clearly, smashing your thighs with 100-plus kilos at a reasonably excessive fee of velocity isn’t the most effective thought.

Keep away from it: Decrease your self underneath management, don’t free fall. Think about your telephone resting in your legs and contact the bar as softly as doable with out breaking it.

Advantages of the Zercher Squat

The Zercher squat is extra taxing, and barely extra difficult, than different squat variations. That extra effort can pay dividends with increased muscle recruitment and more overall strength gains.

Leg Strength

The Zercher squat allows the legs to move significantly heavy weight with a stable and engaged core, reducing potential lower back strain (compared to other squat variations). Power output is optimized due to overall leverage, making the legs the primary mover and the most significantly recruited muscle group.

Leg Size

The Zercher squat has been shown to activate the quadriceps comparable to several popular squat variations, while also activating the glutes and hamstrings to a higher degree. (3) This elevated muscle activation can straight result in extra muscle progress.

Higher Again Energy

Whereas the higher again isn’t labored by a big vary of movement, it’s closely activated to maintain your shoulders again whereas sustaining a steady higher physique place. This fixed work, resisting the barbell’s ahead and downward pull, results in a stronger higher again.

Core Energy

The abs and decrease again are important for stopping your higher physique from collapsing ahead underneath the stress of the load. Coordinating the abs and decrease again in one of these supportive position is important for constructing complete core energy.

Sport-Particular Coaching

The front-loaded barbell place of the Zercher squat can supply direct carryover for energy athletes who compete in comparable front-loaded occasions. In strongman/strongwoman contests, this would come with atlas stones, stone carries, and, most particularly, the “Conan’s Wheel” occasion.

Coaching Round Decrease Again Ache

All varieties of squats may help to construct decrease physique energy, however many squat variations require intensive decrease again stress which generally is a limiting issue for some lifters. As a result of distinctive bar place and elevated general core recruitment, the Zercher squat doesn’t considerably pressure the decrease again, permitting lifters to focus on their legs with decreased again ache.

Muscle mass Labored by Zercher Squat

The Zercher squat is predominantly a decrease physique train, nevertheless it includes a number of giant muscle groups within the higher physique as properly.


The quads are considerably recruited throughout any squat, significantly as you attain the underside place of the Zercher squat. The quads are accountable for straightening the leg and increasing the knee, which helps you rise from the underside place and get to a standing place.


The glute muscle groups play a key position to “lengthen” the hips and produce the legs straight underneath the higher physique. Performing an entire lockout within the high place permits the glutes to maximally contract.


The hamstrings encompass a number of totally different muscle groups heads, every of which coordinate to flex or bend the knee. The hamstrings are recruited and act as “brakes” whereas reducing your self into the underside of the squat place.

Higher Again

The higher again (consisting of the trapezius, rhomboids, rear deltoids, and different smaller muscle groups) is extremely activated from the second you unrack the barbell till the set is accomplished. The higher again works to maintain your shoulder blades retracted (pinched collectively) and prevents your higher physique from rounding ahead right into a harmful place.

Spinal Erectors

The spinal erectors, or technically “erector spinae”, are extra generally known as the “decrease again” though they’re a pair of muscle groups which run the complete size of the backbone. They work primarily to forestall the rounding of the again and to take care of a straight higher physique posture.


The stomach muscle groups are accountable for extra than simply flexing or “crunching” the higher physique. They management all primary motion from the hips up, together with rotation, bending to both facet, and to forestall bending backwards.


The biceps, just like the higher again, aren’t labored by any important vary of movement throughout a Zercher squat however they’re extremely activated to take care of a static place whereas holding the bar in place. It’s not unusual for a lifter to really feel muscular fatigue of their biceps after a set of laborious Zercher squats.

Who Ought to Do the Zercher Squat

The Zercher squat can supply particular advantages for any lifter who can overcome or acclimate to the preliminary bodily discomfort of the bar place.

Energy Athletes

Aggressive energy athletes who carry out front-loaded occasions can profit straight from the Zercher squat. Athletes in any energy sport can profit from the Zercher squat’s carryover to general energy and core stability. Due to its important higher again recruitment, it’s well-suited as an adjunct train for both the squat or deadlift.

Coaching for Muscle

The Zercher squat isn’t a typical train for muscle-building functions, however it will probably function an efficient squat variation to focus on the legs with out extreme pressure on the again.

Tips on how to Program the Zercher Squat

The Zercher squat might be programmed according to a number of objectives, however decrease rep ranges are usually most well-liked to forestall fatigue as a limiting issue.

Heavy Weight, Low Repetition

The traditional set and rep scheme of three to 5 units of three to 5 reps is a dependable strategy to construct energy in any large raise, just like the Zercher squat. The important thing to shifting heavy weights is taking the time to regulate to the bodily stress on the elbows within the help place.

Average Weight, Low Repetition

Barely decreasing the load whereas sustaining a decrease rep vary can shift the main target from leg energy to energy within the core and higher again. Two to 4 units of 4 to 6 reps is an environment friendly solution to prepare these total-body stabilizer muscle groups.

Zercher Squat Variations

Lifters might progressively work in direction of a full Zercher squat whereas adjusting to the bar place. Listed here are essentially the most comparable choices.

Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is an identical front-loaded squat variation, holding a dumbbell or kettlebell within the palms close to chest-level. It affords decreased decrease again stress, making it splendid for any lifter with again points.

The goblet squat additionally permits for an entire vary of movement, letting the lifter squat as deep as their hip and ankle mobility will permit. Whereas the goblet squat is typically utilized by newbie lifters, it may be progressed closely and might profit even essentially the most superior lifter.

Sandbag Zercher Squat

Coaching with a sandbag affords numerous advantages starting from elevated core stability to general calorie-burning. It’s also an excellent callback to homemade training equipment, in the true spirit of Ed Zercher.

Using a sandbag instead of a barbell does compromise on potential load, since you don’t often find 300-pound sandbags, but the thicker diameter makes the support position extremely more comfortable, which allows you to focus on basic exercise technique and intensity.

Zercher Carry

The Zercher carry removes the squat portion and swaps it for a nice, long walk. Anytime you move while carrying a load, your core activation will light up. Zercher carries, in particular, will also involve your upper back (specifically the traps) to a very high degree.

A word of warning: Be sure to pay attention to your surroundings when Zercher carrying a barbell. You’ll be moving a wide load and the last thing you need is to have the seven-foot long barbell clip an object on one side and throw yourself into a spin.

Zercher Deadlift

The literal granddaddy of all Zercher lifts, the Zercher deadlift starts with the barbell on the floor rather than a rack, just the way Ed did them.

Sometimes called a “full cycle Zercher,” this movement is a multi-step process requiring you to deadlift the weight, hold the bar in position while squatting your body down, rest the bar on your legs, take the bar into the crooks of your arms, and then squat up.

This drawn-out technique involves so many moving parts, literally, that many lifters may not find it efficient for their goals. It is, however, a purebred piece of weightlifting history and is worth an experience, if only with an empty barbell.

Zercher Squat Alternatives

Not all lifters may need to incorporate the Zercher squat into their routine. There are several exercises which can offer similar benefits.

Front Squat

The front squat may appear to be a “Zercher squat while holding the bar higher on your body.” That’s a fair assessment. By using a “rack position,” the front squat keeps the weight in front of the body, supported across the front of the shoulders.

This allows the legs to be trained with drastically reduced lower back stress. The wrist and shoulder mobility needed to achieve a strong rack position can be relatively quickly trained with minimal direct attention.

High-Bar Squat

A simple variation of the basic back squat, placing the bar high on the shoulders and traps allows the lifter to maintain a more vertical torso, which reduces lower back strain.

This squat variation also offers much more direct carryover to competitive powerlifters, compared to the Zercher squat, because the bar is placed nearly identical to their contest lift. (Though, many competitive powerlifters opt to use a low-bar squat position, which places the bar more on the middle traps.)

Safety Bar Squat

The key benefit of the safety bar squat is the hand position, which accommodates lifters whose shoulder problems prevent holding a bar across their back.

A significant secondary benefit of the safety bar squat is increased upper back recruitment, due to the way the specialized handle offsets the barbell from your center of gravity. This upper back recruitment can offer comparable benefits to Zerchers.


The bar hurts my arms. What’s the solution?

Probably the single most common issue with Zercher squats is the initial discomfort of holding the barbell in the elbow-supported position. There are a number of very effective workarounds that allow you to gradually adapt to the feeling while working on the exercise.

You can cushion yourself by wearing long-sleeve shirts and/or elbow sleeves (some lifters wear knee sleeves on their arms because the knee sleeves are larger and more comfortable). You can also cushion the bar with a bad pad typically used when the bar’s on your neck, or by wrapping a towel around the barbell.

Increasing the diameter of the bar also reduces the direct pressure. If your gym has thick barbells or axles, those work very well. Attaching removable thick-grip handles can also work.

Lastly, if you don’t feel that adapting to the movement is a good investment of your time in the gym, and presuming you’re not a competitive athlete performing Zercher-type movements in competition, it’s entirely acceptable to simply choose a different exercise.

Will the barbell crush the tendons in my elbows?

No, it won’t. Biceps tendon injuries at the elbow are relatively rare in the gym and, even then, they most often occur at the shoulder, not at the elbow. (4)(5)

Whereas the biceps tendon does connect to the elbow joint, it’s not being strained within the Zercher place as a result of it’s underneath a static contraction. Biceps tendon accidents usually happen when the tendon is “overstretched” with an excessive amount of weight, an excessive amount of velocity, or an excessive amount of vary of movement. Throughout a Zercher squat, the tendon isn’t put by any of these circumstances.

Nevertheless, you probably have pre-existing elbow ache or irritation points, the train turns into a unique situation. In that case, as with all train, you must select actions which don’t worsen your situation or have an effect on restoration.


  1. Kubo, Ok., Ikebukuro, T., & Yata, H. (2019). Results of squat coaching with totally different depths on decrease limb muscle volumes. European journal of utilized physiology, 119(9), 1933–1942.
  2. Hartmann H, Wirth Ok, Klusemann M. Evaluation of the load on the knee joint and vertebral column with modifications in squatting depth and weight load. Sports activities Med. 2013 Oct;43(10):993-1008. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0073-6. PMID: 23821469.
  3. Erdağ, Deniz & Yavuz, Hasan. (2020). Analysis of Muscle Actions Throughout Completely different Squat Variations Utilizing Electromyography Alerts. 10.1007/978-3-030-35249-3_114.
  4. Golshani Ok, Cinque ME, O’Halloran P, Softness Ok, Keeling L, Macdonell JR. Higher extremity weightlifting accidents: Analysis and administration. J Orthop. 2017;15(1):24-27. Printed 2017 Nov 7. doi:10.1016/j.jor.2017.11.005
  5. Lavallee ME, Balam T. An summary of energy coaching accidents: acute and continual. Curr Sports activities Med Rep. 2010 Sep-Oct;9(5):307-13. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e3181f3ed6d. PMID: 20827099.

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