Zercher Squats (How To, Muscles Worked, Benefits)
If you’re looking for a challenging and effective lower-body exercise, you’ve come to the right place. Zercher Squats are a unique variation of the traditional squat that involves holding the barbell in the crease of your elbows, rather than on your shoulders.
This positioning of the barbell places greater emphasis on the back and core, making Zercher Squats an excellent choice for athletes, powerlifters, and any lifter that wants a unique challenge.
In this guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about Zercher Squats, including their benefits, proper technique, coaching tips and a couple of alternatives as well.
How To Do Zercher Squats
- Squat Rack
Zercher Squats are really close to complete total body exercise. The lower body – quads, hamstrings and glutes – are the primary emphasis, but because of how the bar is held Zercher Squats also heavily work the back and shoulders as well.
- Place the bar on the squat rack just above waist height.
- Slide the forearms under the bar, placing the bar right at the crease of the elbow. You can grab your opposite wrist, clasp your hands or keep them side-by-side, whichever you find more comfortable.
- After setting up properly, the athlete un-racks the bar and walks it out of the uprights, takes a big breath in, braces their core, and initiates the eccentric portion of their squat.
- While maintaining a tight brace in their core and tension in their upper back, the athlete initiates downward motion of the bar via simultaneous hip and knee flexion until the crease of their hip goes below the knee.
- The especially important part of the range of motion is taking the muscle to its full eccentric length, demonstrating that athletes further benefit by taking their squats to the deepest depth that their mobility allows. Once the athlete reaches their lowest position in the squat, they transition from the eccentric to the concentric portion.
- The concentric portion of the squat involves the athlete rising out of the hole via a combination of knee and hip extension.
- In rising out of the hole, athletes commonly experience sticking points either in the hole or when they are just above parallel. These can vary based on each athlete’s relative strengths and weaknesses, or some technical errors to be addressed later.
- Once the athlete completes the rep, they exhale, and either initiate the next rep or re-rack the bar.
If it’s your first time doing Zercher Squats, you’ll quickly realize just how uncomfortable having a barbell laying across your forearms can be. And, it only gets worse the heavier you get. Use a towel or pad if need be to cushion the bar against your arms.
It cannot be understated how important it is to keep the core braced while doing Zercher Squats.
Benefits of Zercher Squats
Like other barbell squat variations, Zercher Squats do a tremendous job of developing lower body strength.
Because of the way in which the bar is held, Zercher Squats really challenge both the upper and lower back. You can some of the benefits you would expect from a Deadlift with a Squat movement.
Zercher Squat Alternatives
Need an alternative to Zercher Squat? Here are a couple of exercises you may be able to try out as a replacement.
The closest alternative for Zercher Squats is probably the Front Squat. Front Squats are another front-loaded barbell squat and will produce many of the same benefits as a Zercher Squat.
The biggest difference is the obvious one – where the bar is held. Zercher Squats are held by the forearms and Front Squats are held on the front of the shoulders in a front rack position.
Goblets Squats are a more beginner-friendly front-loaded squat variation.
I love using Goblet Squats as a teaching tool for young athletes (or any beginner) to learn proper body positions and movement patterns. Then, once technique is sound, moving on to some of the more complex barbell squat variations.
More Links and Info
Need a training program? The Horton Barbell Shop contains a wide variety of programs from Sports Performance Programs to Beach Ready Programs. So, whether you’re looking to improve in your sport, just want to look good at the beach or anything in between – we have a program for you!
If you’d like to check out more lower body exercises, then head over to the Lower Body Lifts section of our Exercise Library. There you’ll find dozens of movements, all with complete detailed instructions.