Squats are one of the most popular and effective compound strength training movements that can help you stack some serious gains. Zercher squats are one of many squat variations that are very different than a traditional barbell back squat, targeting the upper back, arms, and posterior chain. We’re going to talk more about Zercher squats, the benefits, and how this exercise can add more variety to your training program and improve athletic performance.
The Zercher squat was first created by legendary powerlifter and strongman Ed Zercher during the height of his lifting career in the 1930’s. Zercher squats are characterized by sliding the forearms beneath the barbell and holding the bar with the crooks of the arms, descending into squat position as opposed to the top of the back or in the front rack position in a back or front squat.
Zercher squats activate the same muscle groups as a back squat or front squat mainly the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and posterior chain muscles. With the loaded point being different on the forearms, the core is front loaded more than a back squat, pushing force in front of you, therefore, requiring more anterior core strength.
An electromyography (EMG) study investigating the muscle activation of squat variations examined differences and compared the vastus medialis, rectus femoris, vastus laterlis (quads), gluteus maximus, semitendinosus (hamstrings), biceps femoris, and erector spinae of the front squat, back squat, hack squat, sumo squat, and Zercher squat. The highest rectus femoris, vastus lateralis and vastus medialis EMG activities were observed during front squat with a significant difference with Zercher squat [R]. This study suggests that front loaded squats such as the Zercher squat, focus more on the quadriceps than other squat variations.
If you want to build bigger, stronger quadriceps the Zecher squat could in fact be a great squt variation to add into your training program. Studies suggest that anterior loaded squat variations, such as Zercher squats emphasize the quadriceps more so than the traditional barbell back squat.
Front loaded movements like Zercher squats force your body to recruit and heavily activate your core to maintain postural stability. Adding Zercher squats to your programming or leg day training split, will build more core strength and midline stability.
Slamming weight on your forearms doesn’t feel good, especially since your forearms are not a traditional area that carries heavy loads like the top of the back. However, when you perform Zercher squats for volume, you can exercise a greater range of motion, allowing you to go deeper in the bottom of your squat. This can greatly help hip and ankle mobility allowing for greater range of motion in other strength movements.
- Set the barbell in the squat rack slightly below your elbow height
- Step forward and slide your arms beneath the bar so that the metal touches the crease of your elbows
- Bring your forearms and hands upwards so the weight rests in your arms. Make sure you do not load the barbell with to much weight. Zercher squats should be performed for volume.
- Keep your elbows locked in place and walk your hips under the barbell
- Inhale, brace your midline and lift the bar upwards and away from the support of the rack
- Break at the hips and squat pushing your hips back and descend until your elbows touch your quads
- Squat the weight back up and ascend into starting position
- Repeat for the prescribed number of reps
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