Squats are a popular exercise amongst gym-goers and exercise enthusiasts. There are several familiar versions including the back squat, the front squat, the hack squat, and the dumbbell squat. But few people are aware of the Zercher squat and how to perform it.

Why do a Zercher squat

The Zercher squat has a unique loading feature which creates a subtle variation on the traditional squat technique.


This slight variation will help ease the thought that you may be able to get down, but  NOT be able to get back up, which is a common stressor for some people during the squatting process.

The Zercher squat and its opposite approach has positive effects on the body, and it can also be used in everyday activities.

How to perform

Zercher squats are named after former strong man, Ed Zercher.

These squats put an enormous emphasis on the upper back and the core muscles of the upper body, as well as the hamstrings and gluteal muscles of the lower body.

1. To perform the Zercher squat from the rack, squat down until your hips are in the proper full range of a deep squat.

2. Place arms under the bar up to the elbow, clasping your hands together with your palms toward the ceiling or toward your body.

3. Once you have obtained this position, brace your upper body, inhale a deep breath, and stand up keeping your torso upright throughout the entire range of movement. With an upright torso, return the bar to the rack and repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.

To properly perform a Zercher squat, the loaded bar can be picked up from a rack or from the ground and transitioned to the upper body (as seen in Figure 1).

zercher squat_2

The Zercher squat targets the same muscle groups as the traditional back squat, which are the hamstrings, glutes and core, with the main difference being the placement of the load on the body.

In a traditional back squat, the load is placed on the shoulders where the weight has a compressive force on the spine.

During the Zercher squat the load is placed on the anterior of the body across the arms. Putting the load in front causes the core and upper back muscles to be fired immediately.

Traditional vs. Zercher

In the traditional squat the athlete can just lean the torso forward to maintain proper bar position through the range of motion without necessarily having to fire his or her abdominals.

However, with the Zercher squat the temptation of leaning forward is taken away by forcing abdominal and upper back muscle activation.

To maintain an upright position the core must be fully engaged throughout the entirety of the movement.

Due to the anterior load and low carrying position, the trapezius muscles are fired in order to maintain retraction of the shoulder blades. This front loading carrying style can also be applied to everyday life activities and occupations.

For example, construction workers, landscapers and firefighters are all individuals who are required to carry heavy loads in front of their bodies, and therefore would benefit greatly from learning the Zercher squat in order to teach their bodies how to handle heavy anterior loads safely.

The full range of motion

Perhaps the greatest reason to perform the Zercher squat is the advocacy of the full range of motion.

Going through the full range of motion is one of the biggest issues most people have due to their lack of hip flexibility with a posterior load.

zercher squat_3When the spine is being compressed and an individual is not flexible enough to go full range, potential injury or fear of injury can be present.

The Zercher squat eliminates this problem because the individual must start at the bottom range of the squat and then stand up. This ‘opposite’ approach forces maximal engagement of the lower body muscles which can’t fire in a traditional back squat due to the lack of mobility.

Support to your spine

If you have been worried about performing a squat because of the issue of loading your spine, then fear no more!

The Zercher squat can help! This squat activates all of the same muscles of the traditional squats, without the issues.

You will get maximum core engagement, lower body engagement and upper back engagement while performing this movement, with none of the drawbacks.

There should be no more fear of going too low and not being able to stand up again.

The Zercher squat places you in the proper squatting position from the start. The only drawback to this type of squat is learning how to carry the bar across your arms. If you start slow and get used to it, this will help strengthen your traditional squats with a less than traditional technique.

As you can see, the Zercher squat has many very positive impacts on your body.

Whether you are looking to fine-tune your overall squat technique, or needing to find a way to keep your body safe and efficient at work, it’s easy to see how the Zercher squat provides a very effective way to improve your body’s strength, flexibility and trunk stability.

As long as you are observing proper loading techniques, your body will thank you in the end for adding this new squat variation to your exercise repertoire.

Connect with Expert Frank Cosenza.

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