The first question you will probably ask is, “What the heck is a Zercher squat?” The second question that typically follows is, “Why do I need to do it?”
Unlike when your dad simply said, “Because I said so,” it is better to provide information to answer both those questions.
Ed Zercher was an old-school strongman from the 1930’s. Now back at that time a lot of strange lifts were being created as people tried and learn the best way to train themselves. In this case, Zercher actually came up with a pretty good concept that has been since copied by a few people in the strength industry except they used a kettlebell or single dumbbell instead of a barbell.
Doing a Zercher Squat
For this squat the barbell is cradled in the crook of the elbows. How do you get the barbell there easily? Well without some sort of rack it is not very easy. You can clean the weight to your shoulders and then let it slide down or kind of jerk it into position. Honestly strongmen did everything the hard way so they probably didn’t care.
Now for this squat style you use a wider-than shoulder width stance. The reason is because as you squat down you want to keep your elbows between your knees. Other than that this is a basic squat with eyes at chest level, back flat, and then you drop the hips back and down as you squat down to parallel. It is like squatting while holding a barrel.
The advantages to this squatting style is saving wear and tear on the neck and shoulders as well as working on hip flexibility and better squat form because you can’t use as much weight and the weight placement is so different at first.
Other strength coaches use similar squats except holding a dumbbell at the chest using a similar wide stance and keeping the elbows between the knees. The slight variation in position and weight placement truly makes this a whole new exercise and a great one to have in your toolbox. It works the core a bit more than squats and avoids that compression on the spine.
You can do this at the gym and it is a great option at home well especially if you don’t have a squat rack. The nice thing is that if you have too, much like a front squat, it is easy to bail out on the weight.
That is not to say that this exercise can’t be done with heavy weight for power. Some lifters have done these Z Squats with 600 pounds. However an important note should be made with this exercise or any exercise; the manner in which you use it dictates results. Going hard and super heavy is great for powerlifters. Bodybuilders want to be firmly in the muscle hypertrophy zone at 7 to 12 reps. Athletes are looking for endurance and explosion are going to want higher reps or even to use a dumbbell, although the barbell helps with instability training as well.
The bottom line is that the Zercher Squat is a great addition to the arsenal for leg training. It can be utilized easily and will provide a great workout to your core, legs, and even arms for holding the weight.