Zercher Squat: How to Perform, Benefits & Expert Tips 

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The Zercher squat is a favourite among fitness enthusiasts, and there is a good reason why.  

This squat variation comes with a myriad of advantages, so much so that it might even have an edge over other popular squat alternatives.  

Let’s dive right into it and take a look at how to perform the Zercher squat, the benefits that come from performing the Zercher squat, and some expert tips to optimise muscle and strength gains.  

What Is The Zercher Squat? 

Get ready to meet the Zercher squat—a challenging yet highly effective squat variation that can take your leg training to a whole new level.  

This exercise was created by ED Zercher, a weightlifter and strongman from the USA in the 30s and 40s.  

This unique exercise gets its name from its unconventional grip, where the barbell is cradled in the crease of your elbows.  

If you’re looking to switch things up and target your quads, glutes, and core in a different way, the Zercher squat is here to deliver. 

How To Set Up The Zercher Squat Properly 

Step 1:  Place The Barbell In The Crease Of The Elbow 

Position the barbell in the crook of your elbows, creating a secure and stable grip. 

Step 2:  Set Your Feet 

Take a shoulder-width stance or slightly wider, with your toes pointing slightly outward. 

Step 3: Squat Deep & Keep Upright Torso 

Initiate the squat by bending at your hips and knees, aiming to reach a deep squat position while maintaining an upright torso. 

Step 4: Let The Elbows Fall Inside The Legs 

As you descend, allow your elbows to naturally fall inside your legs, keeping your chest lifted and core engaged. 

Step 5:  Stand Up & Repeat 

Drive through your heels and extend your hips and knees to stand up, returning to the starting position. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions. 

7 Zercher Squat Benefits 

1.  Increases Quad Strength & Hypertrophy 

The Zercher squat places significant emphasis on your quadriceps, helping to develop strength and size in this crucial muscle group. 

2.  Easier To Train Deeper Squats 

With the barbell positioned in front of your body, the Zercher squat allows for greater depth compared to other squat variations, enabling you to target your leg muscles through a wider range of motion. 

3.  Reinforces Upright Torso 

The unique positioning of the barbell challenges your core and upper back muscles to maintain an upright torso throughout the movement, enhancing your postural strength. 

4.  High Strength Transfer To Strongman Events 

If you participate in strongman events, the Zercher squat can translate well to movements such as lifting stones or carrying heavy objects, as it mimics the positioning and demands placed on your body during these activities. 

5.  Improves Everyday Strength For Real-World Activities 

The Zercher squat develops functional strength that can benefit your everyday life, making tasks like lifting heavy objects or performing physically demanding activities easier and more manageable. 

6.  A Solid Alternative To The Front Squat 

If you struggle with wrist or shoulder mobility that hinders your ability to perform front squats, the Zercher squat offers a suitable alternative by placing the load in a different position. 

7.  Increases Core Stability 

With the barbell positioned in the crook of your elbows, the Zercher squat requires your core muscles to engage and stabilize your torso, leading to improved core strength and stability. 

3 Zercher Squat Drawbacks 

1.  It’s an Advanced Exercise 

Due to the unique grip and positioning, the Zercher squat may be more challenging for beginners or those with limited strength and mobility.  

It’s recommended to master basic squat variations before attempting the Zercher squat. 

2.  There May Be Other Squat Variations That Are Better 

Depending on your goals and individual circumstances, other squat variations may better suit your needs.  

It’s essential to assess your specific training objectives and consult with a fitness professional to determine the most suitable exercises for you. 

3.  It’s Very Uncomfortable 

Let’s face it—the Zercher squat is not the most comfortable exercise. The barbell can place significant pressure on the elbows and upper arms, which can be uncomfortable for some individuals.  

Padding or using a Zercher harness may help alleviate discomfort. 

Should You Do The Zercher Squat? 

In the arms race of leg training, this exercise can be your secret weapon. 

The Zercher squat can be a valuable addition to your leg training repertoire, particularly if you’re seeking variety and challenging your muscles in new ways. 

However, it’s crucial to ensure that you have the necessary strength, mobility, and technique to perform the exercise safely and effectively.  

As with any exercise, it’s recommended to start with lighter loads and gradually increase the weight as your proficiency improves. 

Muscles Worked by the Zercher Squat 

Quadriceps 

The front of your thighs, responsible for knee extension and overall leg strength. 

Glutes 

The muscles of your buttocks, crucial for hip extension and overall lower body power. 

Abdominals and Obliques 

Your core muscles, responsible for stabilizing your spine and maintaining proper posture. 

Lats and Upper Back 

The muscles of your upper back contribute to maintaining an upright torso during the exercise. 

Biceps 

As the barbell is held in the crook of your elbows, your biceps are engaged isometrically to stabilize the load. 

Who Should Do the Zercher Squat 

The Zercher squat is a versatile exercise that can benefit a variety of individuals, from strength and power athletes to fitness enthusiasts. Let’s take a closer look at who can benefit most from incorporating the Zercher squat into their training routine. 

Strength and Power Athletes 

For strength and power athletes, such as powerlifters and strongman competitors, the Zercher squat and Zercher deadlift can be valuable additions to their arsenal of exercises.  

By targeting the quads, glutes, and core, the Zercher squat helps to develop explosive leg strength and enhance overall power output.  

It also mimics the positioning and demands of various strongman events, making it a great exercise for building functional strength specific to these competitions. 

Powerlifting and Strongman Athletes 

Powerlifters can benefit from the Zercher squat as an accessory exercise to strengthen their squat and deadlift.  

It can help reinforce an upright torso, improve leg drive, and enhance overall squat mechanics.

Similarly, strongman athletes can use the Zercher squat to improve their squatting strength, which carries over to events like lifting stones or carrying heavy objects. 

Olympic Weightlifting 

While the Zercher squat is not a primary exercise for Olympic weightlifters, it can be a useful variation for improving leg strength, enhancing core stability, and addressing any weaknesses in the squatting pattern.  

It can complement the traditional back squat and front squat variations commonly used in Olympic weightlifting training. 

Fitness and Everyday Athletes 

Fitness enthusiasts and individuals looking to enhance their overall strength and functional fitness can also benefit from the Zercher squat.  

It offers a unique challenge that engages multiple muscle groups and improves core stability.  

Additionally, the Zercher squat can be an effective alternative for individuals with wrist or shoulder mobility limitations that hinder their ability to perform traditional squats. 

Zercher Squat Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations 

To Improve Squat Patterning 

Focus on lighter loads and higher reps, aiming for 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. This will help reinforce proper squat mechanics and enhance neuromuscular coordination. 

To Increase Muscle 

Utilize moderate to heavy loads and moderate rep ranges. Aim for 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions to promote muscle hypertrophy and strength gains. 

To Gain Strength 

Employ heavier loads and lower rep ranges. Perform 4-5 sets of 4-6 repetitions with near-maximal weights to develop strength and power. 

Zercher Squat Variations 

Zercher Carry 

Once you’re comfortable with the Zercher squat, try performing a Zercher carry. Hold the barbell in the crook of your elbows and walk for a certain distance or time, challenging your grip strength, core stability, and leg endurance. 

Front-Foot Elevated Zercher Split Squat 

Elevate your front foot on a step or platform to increase the range of motion and emphasize single-leg strength and stability. 

Tempo Zercher Squat 

Incorporate tempo variations, such as slowing down the eccentric (lowering) phase or pausing at the bottom, to enhance muscle control, stability, and time under tension. 

Zercher Squat Alternatives 

Double Kettlebell Front Squat 

Hold two kettlebells in the front rack position, similar to the Zercher grip, and perform squats. This is one of the best alternatives to barbell squats and provides a similar stimulus to the Zercher squat while reducing discomfort in the elbows.  

Medicine Ball or Sandbag Squat 

Hold a medicine ball or sandbag in the crook of your elbows, replicating the Zercher position, and perform squats. This variation is useful when a barbell is unavailable or if you prefer a different feel.  

It might not be one of the most common alternatives to squats, but it’s definitely one that you will want to consider.  

Front Squat 

The front squat, with the barbell resting on the front of your shoulders, is another one of the best barbell squat variations that targets similar muscle groups and enhances core stability. 

When Should You Use The Zercher Squat? 

The Zercher squat can be utilized as a primary exercise in your leg training routine or as an accessory exercise to complement other squat variations.  

Consider incorporating the Zercher squat when you want to add variety to your workouts, challenge your muscles in new ways, or target specific areas of weakness in your squatting pattern. 

Final Word 

The Zercher squat offers unique benefits and challenges for athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike.  

Whether you’re a strength athlete aiming to enhance your performance or an everyday individual looking to strengthen your legs and core, the Zercher squat can be a valuable addition to your training regimen.  

Remember to start with lighter loads, focus on proper technique, and gradually increase the weight as your strength and proficiency improve.  

Enjoy the rewards of this dynamic exercise and explore its variations to keep your training engaging and effective. 

Zercher Squat – FAQs 


What Are Zercher Squats Good For? 

Zercher squats are good for growing back while also targeting quads and legs.  

If you don’t already have a back exercise in your routine or are looking to simplify your workouts, the Zercher squat is going to be your best friend.  

Is Zercher Squat Worth It? 

Yes, the Zercher squat is worth it. 

Zercher movements are compound exercises that target a ton of different muscle groups more than traditional squats, and including them in your routine may help you target muscles that you would have otherwise ignored.  

Why Is Zercher Squat So Hard? 

Zercher squats are so hard because it takes a ton of upper body strength just to complete the movement.  

In almost all cases, your back or arms will give out before your legs when performing Zercher squats.  

Are Zercher Squats Harder Than Normal Squats? 

Yes, Zercher squats are harder than normal squats. 

Zercher squats require your upper body to work much harder than traditional squats, making them recruit more muscles and require more energy.  

How Much Should You Zercher Squat?  

You should lift around 15% less than your front squat for the Zercher squat.  

Is The Zercher Squat Dangerous?  

Yes, the Zercher squat can be dangerous when performed incorrectly.  

There is a huge risk of injury if you do not practise good form when doing this exercise.  

Can Zercher Squats Replace Back Squats? 

Yes, Zercher squats can replace back squats. 

Zercher squats still target the glutes and quads to a significant degree, meaning you could replace traditional squats entirely if you are willing to sacrifice a little efficiency.  

Zercher Squats Really Hurt My Arms. What Can I Do?  

If Zercher squats really hurt your arms, you should reduce the weight. 

Your arms play a significant role in the Zercher squat, and if you are lifting too much weight, you could end up injuring yourself.  

How Do I Keep My Hips In Place During The Movement To Avoid Tipping Forward? 

To keep your hips in place when doing Zercher squats you should use a weight that allows you to perform Zercher squats correctly and ensure that you maintain an upright posture at all times.  

We hope we have been able to give you a better insight into the Zercher squat. 

There is a good reason why the Zercher squat is the unsung hero of the fitness world, and if you decide to include it in your routine, you won’t regret it.  

For more fitness guidance, head over to MovingForwards.