How To Zercher Squat

Whatever your fitness goal is, you’ll get there faster if squats are part of your workout. Squats are arguably the best way to train your legs for increased muscle size, strength, tone, power, and conditioning.

Not only are squats a fantastic exercise, but they’re also a functional movement pattern that most people do many times a day. Sitting down and standing up again, getting in and out of your car, and even walking up and downstairs are all examples of squats in everyday life.

If you lose your ability to squat, you’ll lose your ability to perform these activities, affecting your capacity to live a full, independent life. So, whether you are a bodybuilder, powerlifter, runner, cyclist, or just want to control your weight and stay active and healthy, squats can help.

When it comes to squats, most people choose barbell back squats for their workouts. This makes a lot of sense as this exercise is comfortable to perfect and allows you to lift the most weight.

However, other types of squats are equally beneficial, including front squats, overhead squats, dumbbell squats, and goblet squats.

In this article, we examine yet another squatting exercise – the Zercher squat, including a step-by-step guide to doing this fantastic exercise.

What Is a Zercher Squat?

man doing zercher squatZercher squats are a compound leg exercise normally done using a barbell.

Unlike regular barbell squats, where the weight rests on the back or front of your shoulders, with Zerchers, you hold the bar in the crooks of your elbows.

This exercise was invented in the 1930s by St. Louis powerlifter Ed Zercher. He had no squat rack available and used this method to continue training despite the lack of equipment.

Like all types of squats, Zercher squats involve all of your major lower-body muscles and several upper-body muscles too.

The main muscles trained during Zercher squats are:

Quadriceps – located on the front of your thighs, these are the muscles you’ll probably feel working the most during Zerchers. Their primary function is the extension of your knees.

Hamstrings – your hamstrings oppose your quads and are responsible for knee flexion and hip extension. The deeper you squat, the more active these muscles will be.

Gluteus maximus – basically your butt, the glutes work with your hamstrings to extend your hips. With the weight in front of you during Zerchers, the glutes have to step up and work extra hard.

Abductors and adductors – your outer and inner thighs, respectively, these muscles work as stabilizers to make sure your knees don’t cave in or fall out during Zercher squats.

Erector spinae – these are the muscles of your lower back. Running up both sides of your spine, the erector spinae muscles help keep your torso upright.

Core – this is the collective term for the muscles of your midsection, including rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis. These muscles contract inward to create intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) to stabilize your spine during Zercher squats.

Biceps – unlike almost every other type of squat, Zerchers also give your arms a good workout. You’ll need to use your biceps to keep the weight in the crook of your elbows.

Middle trapezius and rhomboids – holding a weight in the crook of your elbows means you’ll need to actively pull your shoulders down and back to keep the weight stable. This is the job of your mid-traps and rhomboids, which are the muscles between your shoulder blades.

How to Perform Zercher Squats

Zercher squats are pretty challenging, so don’t be tempted to go too heavy too soon. Make sure you master them using an empty bar before adding weight.

This exercise puts a lot of pressure on the crooks of your elbows, which can be uncomfortable. If Zerchers hurt your elbows, use a foam squat pad, or wrap the bar in a towel or gym mat.

  1. Rest your barbell in the crooks of your arms. Clasp your hands and bring them up to your shoulders to create a solid shelf for the weight. Pull your shoulders down and back and brace your core.
  2. Step out and into a shoulder-width stance. Turn your feet out slightly.
  3. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Descend a little lower if your flexibility allows, but do not round your lower back.
  4. Stand back up and repeat.

Which Is Better: Front Squats, Back squats, or Zercher Squats?

zercher squatsEvery type of squat is beneficial, and all of them deserve to be part of your workouts.

That said, you should choose the type of squat that’s best for your training goal.

If you want to lift get as strong as possible, back squats are probably the best choice because they allow you to lift the heaviest weights. That’s why they’re part of powerlifting and strongman competitions.

Front squats are very popular with athletes as they tend to have the greatest carry-over to things like running and jumping.

They’re also best for building big, strong quadriceps, so bodybuilders like them, too.

Zercher squats fall somewhere in-between back squats and front squats. They allow you to lift moderately heavy weights and are also helpful for building muscle mass.

As an added benefit, Zerchers provide a good upper body workout while working your legs. They’re also somewhat safer than back squats because if you cannot complete a rep, you can just dump the bar on the floor.

If nothing else, Zercher squats are handy for adding variety to your workouts and saving you from doing the same exercises over and over again.

Bottom Line

Squats are arguably one of the most critical parts of any lower body workout. In fact, if you only did squats, you’d probably end up with pretty well-develop legs. You can use squats to build muscle, increase strength, improve athleticism, or even lose weight; they’re a very versatile exercise.

However, while all types of squats can be beneficial, it would be a mistake to choose one and do it all the time. Even the best exercises lose their potency if you do them too often, and you could become bored if you don’t vary your workouts from time to time.

Zercher squats can be great addition to your leg workouts. They are challenging but also easy to learn. And, if you don’t have a squat rack, they’re arguably safer than back squats, too. As an added benefit, Zerchers provide an upper body workout, especially for your biceps and back muscles.

The main disadvantage of Zercher squats is that they can hurt your arms, especially if you use heavy weights. However, that problem can be remedied by padding the bar with a towel or folded gym mat.

Are Zercher squats right for you? Try them and see; they could soon become your favorite compound leg exercise! Visit the Fitness Equipment Reviews homepage for more expert fitness guidance!


Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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