Front Foot Elevated Zercher Split Squats Are the Ultimate Leg Pump

This exercise can help you accomplish multiple training adaptations at once!

The front foot elevated zercher split squat is an exercise that is not incredibly wide known and used yet, but we have a hunch that will soon change. 

This exercise is absolutely fantastic for building lower body strength, and it’s incredibly useful for focusing on hypertrophy, unilateral skill acquisition, and resiliency of the core. Additionally, one of the best parts about this exercise is that every level fitness enthusiast can use them, as it is easily modifiable and scalable for different fitness levels.

In this article, we’re going to cover:

For the visual learners out there, check out the video below for detailed instruction on the front foot elevated zercher split squat from Dr. Pat Davidson. 

How to Perform FFE Zercher Split Squats

The front foot elevated zercher split squat is a somewhat complex unilateral movement, so athletes should spend ample time practicing and learning the movement before trying to load them heavily. Follow the four steps below to perfect the ideal form.

1. Nail the Setup

Front Foot Elevated Zercher Split Squat Setup
Front Foot Elevated Zercher Split Squat Setup

To properly start this movement, it’s important to nail the setup. Place a 25, 45, or 55 lb plate on the ground, then assume a traditional split squat position. It’s important to place your emphasis on the inside of the foot, then grip the floor and press down into the big toe. 

2. Align the Hips

FFE Zercher Split Squat Hip Aligment
FFE Zercher Split Squat Hip Alignment

Before beginning the first rep, it’s important to ensure the hips and body are properly aligned. Dr. Davidson points out that the hip of the opened leg should be stacked and aligned with the opposing hip to ensure proper movement mechanics are achieved. 

If done properly, you should feel a natural tension in the adductors and glutes of the planted leg.

3. The Descent

FFE Zercher Split Squat Eccentric
FFE Zercher Split Squat Eccentric

Once you’ve achieved the proper alignment of the hips, now it’s time to start the descent. Dr. Davidson advises to have the knee track over the toe as far as possible, and to be weary of the alignment of the leg. Basically, have the knee track forward and avoid pushing the leg out laterally.

Similar to a split squat, you’ll lower yourself slowly controlling the eccentric loading. To ensure the torso remains in the correct position, make sure you’re keeping the elbows elevated slightly to engage the core, the torso should not be excessively flexed forward. 

4. Elevator Not Escalator, the Ascent

FFE Zercher Split Squat Ascent
FFE Zercher Split Squat Ascent

When shifting from the eccentric to concentric position, Dr. Davidson’s wants you to think, “elevator, not escalator”. Basically, keep the hips from shooting backwards and focus on promoting the same posture and hip alignment throughout the entire movement.

Drive through the big toe and reach for a flat footed posture with the elbows remaining in the same position throughout. 

Mistakes to Avoid

1. Shooting the Hips Back

FFE Zercher Split Squat Mistakes
FFE Zercher Split Squat Mistakes

The first mistake to avoid is shooting the hips backwards when shifting from the eccentric to concentric movement patterns. If this happens, then you’re losing tension in the legs and breaking form to most likely accommodate for load or you may be strengthening faulty movement patterns. 

2. Dropping the Elbows

Another mistake worth keeping an eye on is dropping the elbows throughout the movement. The elbows should be elevated and remain in a similar position throughout. Ensure you’re raising the elbows and engaging the core and not simply reaching them outwards. 

3. Moving the Knee Out Laterally

As stated in the how-to, the knee should track over the foot and not drift out laterally. If the knee is tracking out laterally, then you’ll be missing out on some of this movement’s adaptations. 

Zercher Split Squat Benefits

1. The Hips Will Feel Incredible

Since this movement entails a large stretch on the hips and has a big emphasis on control and stability of the pelvis, then often times nagging aches and pain in the knees and thoracic can subside due to owning this position and building strength in this movement pattern. 

2. Increased Range of Motion

With the front foot elevated, the hips will be forced to move through a range of motion that is otherwise unachievable when performing traditional split squats. By performing these consistently, the hips’ range of motion will increase naturally and stability will be a byproduct of this exercise’s execution.

Front Foot Elevated Zercher Split Squat Benefits
Front Foot Elevated Zercher Split Squat Benefits

3. Fitness Impacting Exercise

In addition to the two benefits above, Dr. Davidson puts this exercise in a rare category and states this movement can help you improve the following adaptations:

  • Strength
  • Hypertrophy
  • Proprioception
  • Cardiovascular Fitness

The summation of all of these can save both trainers and enthusiasts time when targeting a variety of adaptations. 

Programming the Zercher Split Squat

Beginner | Use It to Learn

For beginners, use this exercise as a learning tool. Perform them unloaded or with a light load and focus on conquering the correct movement patterns. 

Intermediate – Advanced | Use Them As An Accessory 

For intermediate and advanced athletes who have performance goals, use this exercise as an accessory. Load them and perform them with an intensity and volume that coincides with your overall fitness goals. These variables will scale based on your fitness level, sport, and overall goals that you’re seeking to accomplish. 

Wrapping Up

Dr. Davidson refers to this exercise as “finding gold” and that’s probably the best way to explain it. The front foot elevated zercher split squat can help you accomplish multiple adaptations at once, and deserves a spot in everyone’s training programs. Try them out, and let us know how you like them in the comments below!

FFE Zercher Split Squat FAQs

What muscles does the front foot elevated zercher split squat target?

The FFE zercher split squat targets multiple muscles groups including:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Core
  • Upper Back
  • Adductors

Can anyone perform front foot elevated zercher split squats?

Yes! This movement can be used by every fitness level and it should be scaled based on training age.

Beginners should use this exercise as a learning tool, and intermediate to advanced athletes can use this variation as a main accessory.

What are the benefits of the front foot elevated zercher split squat?

This exercise has a ton of benefits and these surround how many training adaptations come along with its execution.

For example, this exercise is great for targeting and training for:

  • Skill Acquisition
  • Mobility
  • Strength
  • Hypertrophy
  • Proprioception

How should I progress the front foot elevated zercher split squat?

Some great ways to progress the difficulty of this movement include:

  1. Bodyweight
  2. Sandbag
  3. Light barbell
  4. Normal barbell with weight
Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake holds a Master’s in Sports Science and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as the Fitness and Training Editor at BarBend. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand.

As of right now, Jake has published over 1,300 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake’s bread-and-butter.

4 thoughts on “Front Foot Elevated Zercher Split Squats Are the Ultimate Leg Pump”

  1. Interesting exercise …
    Having never tried any kind of Zercher squat, I would like to know, whether holding a kettlebell in the “goblet position/hold/grip” would be similar? … or does the barbell being held lower in the crook of the elbow elicit a different or more intense stimulus.
    Thanks in advance from Germany!

  2. On this elevated zercher split squat… Shouldn’t the front shin be perpendicular to the ankle, to mimic the finish of a clean & jerk?
    Thank you, Frank Zedar, Palm Coast, FL

    • No, sir! The idea that the shin has to remain in a static perpendicular position is limiting in nature to this movement’s benefits + adaptations. Pat likes to have the knee track over the toes and we have a great podcast coming out with himself and Jordan Shallow where they dive more into the rationale in why they coach the movement this way + look for this characteristic. Stay tuned!

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