Ed Zercher was one of the strongest men in history. From 1930 to 1940, he was the strongest man in the world.
Now, though, he is better known for how he changed popular exercises like the Zercher squat.
The Zercher squat is designed to put the most stress on the quads. This is done by squeezing the barbell into your elbows, which changes your centre of gravity and lets you move more.
Recently, this version of the squat has become more popular because it has been shown to make quads stronger and more powerful, which can help athletes perform much better.
Benefits Of The Zercher Squat
#1 Quad Development For Hypertrophy And Strength
Zercher squats make you stand up straighter, which raises your centre of gravity and puts more stress on your quads.
The quads have to work harder the more they bend. The Zercher squat gives the knee a better range of motion than a regular squat because the hips don’t have to bend as much.
So, add more weight to the quads instead of the glutes, hamstrings, and back chain.
#2 Upper Body Development
In the Zercher squat, the muscles that keep the body stable are mostly in the upper body. These are the lats, traps, erectors, biceps, and core. These muscles work very hard to keep your body upright and keep you from falling forward or backward.
These muscles are often forgotten, but they are important for daily life because they are always working to fight gravity and keep us standing, as well as to do any other hard work we ask of them.
So using the Zercher squat to work these muscles more will only improve your quality of life and make you live longer.
#3 Develops Functional Strength For The Real-World
We all know what it’s like to be strong in the gym, but not all exercises are useful and helpful in the real world.
For example, the tricep pushdown is a great way to build up your triceps, but you would rarely use that range of motion in real life.
But the Zercher squat is useful in the real world. Every person does the simple act of carrying something in front of their body, whether it’s a backpack, groceries, or a lot of work at their job.
#4 Core Stability Development
Because of how the Zercher squat works, if you stand up, your core has to work very hard. This is done to avoid:
- Tilt of the pelvis
- Excessive Lumbar Spine Extention
- To fall forward or backward
From personal experience, I can say that Zercher squats will make your core tired and sore, especially after the first couple of times you do them.
Check out our list of the top 30 core exercises to strengthen your core even more.
#5 Carry Over Into Strength Sports
Athletes who do strength sports like strongman, powerlifting, and crossfit would benefit a lot from adding the Zercher squat to their routines.
All of these sports involve holding a weight in front of you, whether it’s a
- Strongman’s yoke carries
- In powerlifting, a heavy front squat
- In CrossFit, you clean and jerk.
So the Zercher squat can easily help improve many different movements in each of these sports.
Zercher Squat Drawbacks
#1 It’s Not Beginner Friendly
Even though the Zercher squat looks easy and simple, it shouldn’t be the first exercise you learn.
Your main goals should be the barbell back squat and front squat, as well as regular deadlifts. Your body learns how to move with weight on a barbell by doing these exercises. This is important because the Zercher squat requires a lot of balance and motor control.
Once you’re good at these exercises, you might want to try the Zercher squat.
#2 Very Uncomfortable
The Zercher squat can be a very hard and painful move to do.
Due to the fact that the barbell is placed in the crease of your elbow, which isn’t meant to take a lot of weight but can with training, even though it hurts a lot at first,
There is always a chance that the barbell will roll forward out of your hands, which can cause cuts or bruises.
How To Do The Zercher Squat?
Note: Before trying this exercise, you should be good at the barbell deadlift and the back squat.
Step #1 Deadlift The Bar To Your Thighs
Pull the bar to about the middle of your thigh.
Step #2 Rest The Bar On Your Thighs
Sit back and bring the bar up so that it rests on the bend of your elbow.
If resting the bar in the crease of your elbow is uncomfortable at first, use a pad. You can let each arm rest on its own, or you can put one hand on the other for more balance.
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Step #3 Proceed To Squat The Bar Up
Putting your core muscles to work and pushing through your heels Repeat.
Try to keep your back straight while you squat. If you can’t, lower the weight or start the squat part of the exercise in a safety or power rack.
Squat as low as you can; the bar should touch your thighs at the end of this movement.
Before you start the squat, make sure your feet are just outside shoulder width. This is done so that the elbows don’t hit the thighs or knees at the end of the move.
Step #4 Once Done With Your Repetitions, Rest The Bar On Your Thighs
Unhinge your arms safely, grab the bar like you’re going to do a deadlift, and put it back on the ground.
If the weight is too much, you can just let go of the bar by unhinging your arms quickly and sharply at the top of the move. Even though this will make a lot of noise and might cause some minor damage to the equipment, you should ask your gym if this is okay.
Muscles Worked By The Zercher Squat
The same muscles are used in the Zercher squat as in a regular squat. But because it is upright and the load is mostly in the frontal plane, it works the hips, glutes, quads, upper back, biceps, core adductors, and erectors.
In this move, the quads get a lot of work because they are the main movers. They mostly involve bending and extending the knees, which lets you move your knees forward and drop your hips into a squat position.
The glutes are also a main mover in this movement. They are worked harder at the bottom of the movement, which lets you explode out of the “hole” and back to the starting position.
In this movement, your abs help keep you steady. They get a lot of work in the bracing and holding position, which gives them an isometric contraction that builds a strong, rigid core.
The erectors also help with this movement in a secondary way. They allow you to bend and straighten your back, which is also important for staying upright out of the hole.
Because the range of motion is greater, the hamstrings are used more than they would be in a regular barbell squat. They help keep your quadriceps and torso stable during the lowering part of the movement (lowering yourself into the hole).
During the eccentric part of the movement, the adductors work hard. They are more stimulating than regular squats because they move further. They are a big part of the feeling of drive you get when you’re trying to get out of the hole.
Surprisingly, this movement also works your biceps because the barbell is wedged in the crease of your elbow. The biceps work isometrically to keep the barbell from moving out of place in your elbow.
Who Should & Shouldn’t Do The Zercher Squat?
The Zercher squat is an advanced lift that even the most experienced lifters find difficult because of how technical it is.
I think you should start with basic barbell moves like the deadlift and squat. As a general rule, you shouldn’t let the barbell control you. Instead, you should control the barbell. This is so you can gain confidence and learn the right way to move in order to do the Zercher squat safely.
The Zercher squat doesn’t have to be in your training program all year. You can use it occasionally to change up your leg training when you’ve hit a plateau or aren’t seeing as much leg growth. Or, you can just use it to meet your training goals.
The Zercher squat is different and a new challenge, but you won’t miss out on anything if you only try it once.
Many successful strength athletes have never even tried a Zercher squat, but they still won at their sport. In all the years I’ve been coaching, I’ve brought a lot of athletes to a high level without ever telling them to do a Zercher squat or including it in their workout plans.
Strongman athletes should do the Zercher squat on a regular basis because it helps them do better in the sport.
Sets, Reps, And Programming Recommendations Zercher Squat
The Zercher squat can be done to get a lot of different training results.
As an experienced personal trainer and sports scientist, I’ll tell you how to program the Zercher squat. However, take everything I say with a grain of salt because there’s no one way to do anything in fitness.
Some words and phrases you should know are:
- Reps, also called repetitions, are a fixed number that shows how many times you do an exercise in a row.
- Sets are groups of a certain number of reps that are done one after the other.
The Zercher squat is a great exercise that works many muscles at once. It is very different from most other exercises because it works so many different muscle groups at once.
With the right plan for muscle hypertrophy, the Zercher squat can help you build a lot of muscle.
- 2-4 sets with 10-15 reps and a moderate amount of weight Between each set, take a 1–2 minute break.
Once you’ve learned the technique and feel comfortable with the move, go on to:
- 3–5 sets of 6–8 reps with a weight that is a little bit heavier than moderate Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.
The Zercher squat is a great way to get stronger in the quads and back muscles. Lifters who like to lift heavier weights can set up the Zercher squat to do that.
Some people say that it’s easier to overload the Zercher squat than the regular barbell squat because it’s easier to drop the weight if you can’t do a rep.
For example, if you’re going for a one-rep max, you can just drop the weight in front of you and be safe. However, many lifters find it harder to bail on a barbell back squat safely, and I agree. Cycle through both of these to get stronger:
- With heavy weight, you do 5 sets of 5 reps. Rest between sets for 4-5 minutes, or longer if you need to.
- Three sets of three reps with more weight Rest between sets for 4-5 minutes, or longer if you need to.
Zercher Squat Alternatives And Variations
Zercher Tempo Squats
Time under tension is one of the most important parts of building muscle, and tempo squats are a great way to increase it. This can also help people get used to moving a certain way and feel more confident about it. A good place to start is:
- 3–4-second eccentric (lowering part) and 1-2-second concentric (driving portion upward).
Zercher Pause Squats
When you stop at the bottom of the movement, your muscles contract in an isometric way, making them stronger and better able to handle the load. This also stops the hole from moving, which will help you work your glutes and abductors and build them.
Note: You’ll need a safety rack or power rack for this.
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The front squat is similar to the Zercher squat in that most of the weight is on the front of the body, and the same muscles and movement patterns are used, but there are some differences.
Dumbell Goblet Squat
The load is mostly in front of the body, like in the front and zercher squats. A dumbbell is a much easier and beginner-friendly alternative to the Zercher squat because it is easier to get into position and do reps.
Zercher Squat Frequently Asked Questions
Is The Zercher Squat A Dangerous Exercise?
No, when done right, the Zercher squat is not dangerous. If you follow these tips, you can stay as safe as possible:
- Keep the torso upright by bracing the core.
- To start with, if available, perform the exercise in a squat rack or power rack.
- Ensure the barbel is sitting firmly in the creases of your elbows.
- Take a wider stance to ensure your elbows don’t collide with your knees.
- Keep the weight over mid-foot to maintain balance.
Do Zercher Squats Replace Back Squats?
Yes and no. If barbell squats have caused you pain or discomfort in the past, Zercher squats may be a better choice for you. However, both exercises work the same muscles in the same places, so I would recommend doing both from time to time.
Zercher Squats Are Causing Discomfort In My Arms. What Can I Do?
When you first start out, you can expect this to happen. A long-sleeved shirt or, if necessary, elbow-length sleeves can help.
You can also use a gym pad, as was already mentioned, or a thicker barbell may make it less painful.
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I think that experienced lifters should try the Zercher squat at least once, but how long you do it depends on what you want to get out of your training.
Before trying, people who are just starting out should learn how to do back and front squats and the regular deadlift.
If you want to build up your lower body, you can choose any squat that feels good and helps you get stronger. The Zercher squat is highly recommended.
If you don’t have access to equipment but still want to build bigger, stronger quads, check out my guide to building bigger legs with just your body weight.