The Zercher Squat: How, When, and Why It Should Be In You Training

The Zercher Squat is a movement-based exercise that nearly every athlete, regardless of sport goal, can benefit from. This unique squat variation can increase upper mock strength and posture, core stabilization, and potentially develop the biceps. (Important to note that the inherent risk of increased bicep tension via loading of the barbell in the crooks of the elbows.) Although this squat variation does not find it’s way into the competitive lifts of powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and many functional fitness competitions, I feel that all the above sport athletes would find it beneficial to incorporate the Zercher squat into a well-balanced training regimen.

zercher-squat
In this article, we will discuss the Zercher Squat in detail to make the case why all athletes can benefit from this unique squat variation.

The History of the Zercher Squat

The Zerchers Squat was named after Ed Zercher, an American lifter in the 1930s. Ed Zercher was a 156lb lifter who trained a variety of movements we often don’t see today, such as the barbell leg press, one hand clean & jerk, and the Zercher Squat.

When

Zercher Squats can be performed throughout most training regimens at various times depending on the goal and emphasis. Like any squat, tempos, rep ranges, and loading can be manipulated to better address the needs of the lifter. Higher repetitions, tempos, and pauses can help to increase hypertrophy, positional stability in the upper back and torso, and increase range of motion. To increase back and hip strength, heavier loads can be used to transfer over to deadlifting and heavier front loaded movements. 

Why

The Zercher Squat is an excellent variation lift for strongman/strongwoman, fighters, powerlifters, functional fitness athletes, and potentially weightlifters (if there is room in one’s training regiment to do varied training, such as in GPP phases or off-season assistance work). The Zercher Squat can be adapted to highlight postural and core strength, increased range of motion, and target specific weaknesses in an athlete’s movement, such as; weak posterior in squatting, poor quadricep strength, or increase emphasis on upper back strength. Furthermore, the Zercher Squat is highly specific for combat and functional athletes who have to pick up and carry objects in the front loaded positions, often with a slightly rounded back, such as in strongman competitions and/or wrestling/martial arts events. Lastly, it is improtant to note the addiitonal stress and strain placed upon the biceps during the Zercher Squat. For athletes who have had arm injuries, such as bicep strains, precaution should be taken when performing these squats, especially because of the increased involvement of the biceps to help fix the elbow in a bent position under load. Many lifters find it beneficial to perform them with a fat bar and/or pad around the barbell as well for comfort. 

Strongman/Strongwoman

Atlas stones, loaded carries, and the various objects and positions needed throughout strongman competitions make the Zercher squat a viable training exercise to develop well-rounded, functional strength and movement. Whether from the rack, lifted off the floor, and/or using flat or rounded backs, this exercise is highly adaptable to suit the specific needs of strength athletes. While squats, front squats, and various pulls should all be foundational aspects of most training regimens, including movement-based strength work can positively impact one’s mental and physical performance.

Functional Fitness Athletes

Aside from the recently discussed benefits above, the Zercher Squat is a great way to diversify one’s fitness. While similar to front squats and goblet squats, the Zercher Squat allows for athletes to train new groups of muscles that are highly vital to optimal performance in “more common” movements. Increased spinal stability, core activation, lat and erector strength, range of motion, and upper body strength will all have direct payoffs in one’s general physical preparedness. Coaches and athletes can input Zercher Squats into assistance exercise blocks, use with clients/athletes with high/low bar squat limitation, and/or to stimulate new growth in proprioception and muscular activity.

Powerlifters

Powerlifters must be able to squat, bench press, and deadlift in competition. While the Zercher Squat is not a competition lift, it can and should be part of assistance training and/or varied throughout one’s program to bulletproof movement patterns, increase strength specific to an athlete’s weaknesses, and improve the overall fitness of an athlete (flexibility, core stabilization, lower and upper back strength, etc). Many powerlifters can integrate strongman like movements to better diversify training to stimulate systemic neuromuscular adatiopantion and strength potentials.

Weightlifters

While there are no substitutes for high bar squats, front squats, snatches, cleans, and jerk in a weightlifter’s formal training regimen, I do feel that weightlifters can benefit from diversifying their overall fitness and movement patterning. As a weightlifter myself, it is easy to perform the same movements with varied loads, pauses, and tempos, only to stall out and be left wondering how to improve your lifts. Turing to more unconventional methods, like loaded carries, pulls, and strongman/powerlifting movements can help to injury proof an athlete, increase muscle mass, and stimulate new neuromuscular development; all vital for increased strength and performance. Additionally, by manipulating the Zercher Squat, as discussed thoroughly above, coaches and athletes can use the Zercher Squat as a positional and movement based strength accessory lift, similar to the common practice of incorporating pistol squats, Cossack Squats, and even bodyweight training within GPP focused training cycles.

How

Take a look at Strength Camp’s video breakdown below on how to perform and implement the Zurcher Squat.

Final Thoughts

Zercher squats offer athletes, regardless of their individual goals, a unique pathway to stimulating new neuromuscular and muscular growth. Increased strength, core and spinal stabilization, and range of motion are all viable outcomes for coaches and athletes to expect when implementing these into a sound, balance, strength and conditioning program. While front squats, back squats, and deadlifts are at the root of foundational strength, coaches and athletes can diversify their fitness to improve injury resilience, enhance muscular development, and potentially improve mental and physical performance.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @thej2fit on Instagram

About the author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Masters in Exercise Physiology from Columbia University in NYC, USA. Mike is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Club Coach (USAW2), and Performance Nutrition Coach. Mike is a sponsored ReebokONE Ambassador specializing in weightlifting, barbell and powerlifting training, and sport-specific strength and conditioning. Additionally, Mike is an Assistant Coach of Strength and Conditioning at NYU and the Co-Founder at J2FIT Human Performance in NYC, USA. Mike is the Founder of The Barbell CEO, a lifestyle brand devoted to the strongest coaches, entrepreneurs, and minds. Additionally, Mike is a co-host on The Fittest League Podcast.