Zercher Squats. Sound weird? Maybe you’ve heard the term before, or maybe you haven’t, but it’s time to start incorporating them into your workout routine.
What Is A Zercher Squat?
First, what on earth is a Zercher squat? It’s essentially just a regular squat, except instead of the bar being positioned on your traps for a back squat, or clavicles for a front squat, the bar is placed in the crook of your elbows. Now I won’t lie – I’ve seen people do these before and I’ve wondered what possible benefit they are getting from doing this odd-looking squat, but with research under my belt, I’m here to inform you that they are in fact very beneficial!
Why The 'Zercher Squat'?!
It's named Zercher after Ed Zercher, the powerlifter who invented this style of squat in the 1930s. Zercher's gym was pretty DIY, with things like anvils and wrecking balls being used as equipment so you can imagine the squat was devised out of necessity, then the benefits were realized.
Zercher Squat Benefits
You know the point in a front squat where you come out of the hole and on the ascent your back loses tightness, your shoulders buckle forwards a bit and you risk having to drop the bar onto the floor to avoid getting injured? Zercher squats can help with that. The Zercher squat strengthens the entire upper back – traps, rhomboids, lats, rear delts, you name it. This strength will transfer to your front squats, and even your back squats when the infamous “squat-morning” occurs on the ascent of a heavy squat rep.
Do you lack core strength and lose tightness in your core area descending into or coming out of the hole? Zercher squats can help with that. Holding the weight so close to the core means that the core and surrounding stabilizing muscles and joints are responsible for keeping the bar in its position. The core strength that you will gain from Zercher squats will transfer to other compound lifts (such as squats [especially pause squats] and deadlifts)
Activation and Mobility
Do you need to work on your quad activation or your ankle mobility? Zercher squats can help with that. Zercher squats allow you to go the deepest of all the squats, which is going to test your ankle mobility if it’s not the best and strengthen your ankle mobility if you’re able to take advantage of the potential depth. Moreover, increased depth means increased quad activation, so your quads will also benefit from this exercise.
Does your spine need a break from heavy back squats? Zercher squats can help with that. The way the bar is loaded across the arms and not on the upper back greatly relieves the spine of the usual pressure it receives from back squats.
Zercher Squat Tips, Tricks, and Technique
This is an uncomfortable exercise, but if you can get past that, you will reap the benefits of it. Perform this exercise inside of a squat rack for safety reasons - start the exercise with the bar sitting on the safety racks at a height appropriate for you (anywhere between your waist and chest). Lock your hands together. Do NOT leave them unlocked.
Start the lift by squatting down and sliding your arms under the bar so the bar sits on your forearms in the crook of your elbows. Make sure you keep your elbows at shoulder width. This is most optimal because this is the plane in which your elbows naturally sit, so bringing them in any closer or wider will most likely put unnecessary strain on your elbows, especially if your elbow mobility isn’t the best. Ultimately you want to look as if you’re crossing your arms, but you just casually have a loaded barbell across them.
Position yourself in a stance of your choice – my go-to for any type of front squat is always slightly bigger than shoulder width with my toes pointed out. From here, you squat. Commence the descent by breaking with the hips, bending the knees and traveling downwards, making sure to keep your back straight and your head up.
If your head drops, it’s likely that your shoulders and upper back will too, and the lift will be inefficient and potentially dangerous, so be sure to keep your posture straight and upright. Once you’re at the depth of your choice, drive upwards with your feet back up to your starting position, and go again!