Zercher Squat vs Goblet Squat: Which One Is Right for You?

Front loaded squatting movements are highly effective ways to increase overall leg strength, enhance core stabilization, and target specific motor skills and muscle tissues needed for most movements in athletics and daily life.

The Zercher squat, which was discussed in depth in this previous article, is an amazing front loaded exercise to challenge strength, posture, and stimulate new muscle growth. Similarity, goblet squats can offer all levels of athletes and lifters many benefits necessary for long-term growth and movement skill.

In this article, we will discuss what coaches and athletes need to consider when deciding what movement (Zercher squat or goblet squat) they will program into training sessions, and what are the expected outcomes of each.

The Zercher Squat

This isn’t the first time we have taken a deeper look into the pros and cons of the Zercher squat, as it has stacked up quite well against the front squat.

[Read the full article here comparing Zercher squats and front squats.]

In short, the Zercher squat (named after Ed Zercher) is when a lifter is to perform a squatting movement while holding a barbell, often picked up from the floor, in the crooks of their elbows. This movement is highly taxing on the quads, hips, postural muscles, and arms. Additionally, it has been a common strength and functional movement exercise for many strongman and fitness athletes looking for higher degrees of loading and real-world movement patterning.

The Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is a foundational movement that is often performed with a kettlebell, dumbbell, or loaded object; here, an athlete/lifter holds the weight in the front loaded position near the chest, supported by the hands.

This movement requires core stabilization, proper ankle, knee, and hip alignment and tracking, and is often a great way to teach beginner lifters and trainees the finer points on squatting mechanics.

Zercher Squat or Goblet Squat: Which Is Best for You?

An exercise can be justified as “the best” option for programming and implementation within most training programs in numerous ways, and is often dependent upon a magnitude of variables affecting the overall decision. Nonetheless, coaches and athletes should consider the following factors when deciding which move is best for them based upon their goals, situations, and ability levels.

Ability Level

The goblet squat is one of the most fundamental and straight-forward squatting movements out there. Many novice lifters (as well as more intermediate and advanced) can use the goblet squat to program proper squat mechanics as a workout, within warm-up sets, or during higher volume sets.

The Zercher squat, however, requires a greater deal of strength and ability to withstand some discomfort, as this exercise can be slightly uncomfortable (due to the barbell placement) for many new lifters, regardless of strength. That said, if you have the option to introduce the Zercher squat to beginner lifters and athletes, you may find it easier to then transition to other worthwhile movements and exercises, such as stones, front squats, and loaded carries.

Functional Movement

Both of these movements are highly “functional”, meaning that they have a direct application to most human movements and daily life activities (squatting down, grabbing a child or bag, and standing up).

The goblet squat allows us to use light to moderate loading to teach and restore sound squatting mechanics in most lifters, whereas the Zercher squat can be then used to load the patterning, inspire new muscular growth and development, and take one’s mental and physical fitness to the next stage.

Strength Performance

Generally speaking, the Zercher squat can be trained at much higher loading intensities relative to an athlete’s strength than the goblet squat. Due to the ability to load a barbell with hundreds of pounds, athletes can challenge their overall strength to a much higher degree when they progress into their Zercher squat training. While the goblet squat can surely increase strength for less advanced and strength-gifted athletes, the Zercher squat allows for greater loading on the barbell.

Muscular Development

Similarly to the reasoning behind strength performance, increased loading and stress placed upon a lifter and his/her muscles has the potential to be much higher with the Zercher squat vs the goblet squat. Many athletes will be able to use both movements to increase muscular hypertrophy, however stronger and more advanced athletes may need to simply use more loading and may find it difficult to get the adequate amounts of loading with a single kettlebell or dumbbell.

Posture

Both of these movements are challenging on postural stability and awareness throughout the squat. With that said, the Zercher squat does require more strength and awareness due to the increase loading and placement of the barbell, making the Zercher squat a good training option for intermediate and up lifters.

Application to Sport

Both of these movements have a high correlation with increased vertical torso angles while squatting, which is beneficial for most functional fitness athletes and weightlifters. Additionally, both movements can be used as movement primers to prepare athletes for more strenuous squat and movement based sessions.

Final Words

When determining what exercise is best for an athlete/lifter, coaches need to access the above factors before programming either lift into a training session. Additionally, I recommend that coaches and athletes familiarize themselves with each lift and ultimately make their own ruling based upon their personal preferences and needs, as both of these exercises are viable options to attain your any of the goals above.

Featured Image: @ignasty3438 on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.