What Is The Zercher Squat?

Squats are easily one of the best and most popular ways to get a leg workout. If your goal is to develop a bulging set of quads and glutes, you really couldn’t ask for anything better. In this article, we will be focusing on one particular variation of the squat. This version, which is called the “Zercher squat,” is a punishing exercise that lights up the muscles as few other exercises can.

Why Is It Called The Zercher Squat?

The Zercher squat is named for a famous bodybuilder by the name of Ed Zercher. Many people do not remember him today, but he was one of America’s first bodybuilding icons. Considering the victories that he attained in various bodybuilding competitions, and considering the fact that Ed Zercher set several records, it makes sense that this would be an exercise for the serious practitioner.

A Zercher squat is a weighted squat that involves the use of a barbell. Because Ed Zercher did not own a squat rack, he had to pick up the barbell from the floor in a manner similar to a deadlift. Because he was in prison at the time, Zercher didn’t have the option of acquiring a rack, either. Thus, he invented the Zercher squat as a way to properly combine a squat with a deadlift in a way that was workable for him. The Zercher squat later became an official USAWA lift, and it remains popular to this day.

How To Do A Zercher Squat

The first thing to ask yourself is this: Do I want to do this squat from the ground, or using a rack? There is no one right answer to this question. Although the original Zercher squat was done without a rack, many modern bodybuilders choose to use one.

We recommend that you stick with the original method if you are going to do this exercise. Without the floor lift, this is just a squat with the barbell resting in the crook of your arms. Ed Zercher achieved a lot of success with this exercise, and there is no reason to alter a proven formula.

That being said, it wouldn’t hurt to use a rack as long as you place the barbell at about knee level, as this person has done. If you have limited mobility and cannot do this, you probably shouldn’t be doing this exercise in the first place.

Zercher squats are a variation on the front squat (meaning that the bar is in front of you). Research shows that front squats have all the effectiveness of back squats (where the bar is behind your head) with a little less stress on the body. From this, we can surmise that the Zercher squat is perfectly safe if performed correctly.

Phase One: The Setup

Start with a loaded barbell on the ground. It should be sitting in front of your feet. Speaking of your feet, they should be a little more than shoulder-width apart, but not much. Squat down and grab the bar with both hands. You should be using an overhand grip (palms down). The motion used is very similar to a deadlift.

Pull the bar up as you squat down. When you are able, rest the bar on the tops of your upper thighs. This will allow you to slip both arms underneath the bar. When it’s done, you should have the bar resting in the crooks of your elbows.

Phase Two: The Execution

From here, you just stand up. Keep the bar held firmly in the crooks of your elbows, and try to make sure that it moves as little as possible. This exercise can easily chafe and bruise the inside bend of your elbows, but this problem can be minimized if any excess movement is prevented. Keep your core tight and your arms locked.

Stand all the way up, straightening the spine fully. Most of the weight should be absorbed by the legs, as the arms are just there to hold the bar in place. When we consider this, we can see why this exercise does a good job of lighting up the quads and glutes: It’s a semi-isolation exercise, meaning that it focuses mainly on a single muscle group. However, it also works the adductors and calves to a lesser extent.

When you come down, make sure that you do not shortchange the rep. Squat down until the bar touches your thighs. Here we can see another good thing about Zercher’s method: It gives us a clear benchmark to judge the depth of a squat. When you are finished, rest the bar on your thighs as before and reverse the movement.

Common Questions:

Does It Matter If I Lean A Little Bit While Performing Zercher Squats?
Yes, it does matter. Like any exercise, the Zercher squat depends on the proper alignment of the body, both to achieve results and to prevent injury. This alignment is compromised if you do not keep your back straight throughout the exercise. If you are having trouble, try to push your hips backward or forward to correct the misalignment.

The Bar Is Irritating My Inner Elbows. What Can I Do?
As we said earlier, you can deal with this problem by minimizing excess movement during the exercise. If that isn’t enough, you can certainly use some kind of padding to make it easier on your skin. A simple elbow wrap should be good enough.


Although the Zercher squat is not for the faint of heart, it really is one of the best leg exercises out there. After doing just a few repetitions of this exercise, we can see that Mr. Zercher did not believe in wasting time. He invented several other exercises, and most of them are just as painful as this one!

We hope that this article is helpful to you and that you are able to achieve the rock-hard physique that you have always wanted. We must caution you: Those with fragile health should avoid this exercise, or use a bar at the very least. Still, those who want to forge their blade in the hottest fire can use the Zercher squat to attain a very high temperature indeed. If you have enjoyed our work, please follow us on Facebook.

The post What Is The Zercher Squat? appeared first on Gaspari Nutrition.

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