Zercher Squats for Improved Front Squats, Increased Quads & Glutes Activation, Stronger Traps, and Abs

The Zercher squat is a variation that’s not for namby-pamby. If you’re a squat lover or love leg days, then this squat variation is something you should give a try. The Zercher squat is one of the kings of all squat variations that build stronger traps, strengthen your abs, improves your front squat, even biceps, and increases activation of quads and glutes. It’s the rare punishing exercise that helps to light up your muscles compared to a few other exercises.

Those who haven’t heard about the Zercher squat or questioning what is a Zercher squat, why you should do it, and how to do Zercher squats,  are Zercher squats good, Zercher squat benefits. Wait, hold on, here we’re going to do a thoughtful discussion about the same. It’ll help you understand why this underrated squat variation should be in your workout arsenal and how it gives you a better gorilla look physique and makes you the gym’s badass.

How To Do Zercher Squats Featured

The Zercher Squat – Killer Squat Variation That Hardly Anyone Does

The Zercher squat is a weighted squat variation that builds better quads than front squats, jack your traps better than shrugs, helps build bigger biceps, and gives the core of steel faster than any ab workout.

But, there’s a high chance you aren’t doing it because,

  • It’s one of the punishing exercises, especially for the crook of your elbow.
  • You aren’t aware of the Zercher squat benefits.
  • You haven’t seen anyone doing it.

However, if you can go through this grueling uncomfortable pain this Zercher squat gives, then be ready to see your physique transforming to a whole new level.

For those who aren’t aware of this Zercher squat, “Zercher” means the bar’s placement. You hold the barbell in your elbow crook while holding it on your torso. While keeping the barbell in such a position, you can perform various Zercher lifts like:

  • Zercher Squats by squatting down.
  • Zercher Carry
  • Zercher Good Morning.
  • Zercher Hold.
Zercher Squat Barbell In Elbow Crook

What Is a Zercher Squat? Why It’s Known As the Zercher Squats?

The Zercher Squat is named after a known bodybuilder named Ed Zercher. Many don’t know about him these days, but he was one of America’s first iconic bodybuilder who has won many bodybuilding competitions while setting various records.

The Zercher squat is a weighted squat that’s done using the barbell. Invented by Ed Zercher, he didn’t have a squat rack and was out of choice. He had to pick the barbell from the ground in the same fashion as a deadlift. He was in prison, and due to that, he didn’t even have an option to get a squat rack. Henceforth, the Zercher squat gets invented as a combination of squat and deadlift that helped him in his workouts. Now, the Zercher squat is even an official USAWA lift and popular to date.

Zercher Squat Down

Here’s How to Do Zercher Squats

The very first question you should answer yourself is, do you want to do these Zercher squats. The answer depends upon your experience, especially with squats. If you’re doing leg exercises, specifically squats regularly, this variation is something you should try.  On the other hand, if you have limited mobility, then this exercise is not something you should consider.

Those who aren’t used to squats should first master squats then look into other variations, including this Zercher squats.

Setting Up the Zercher Squat Position

Go to the squat rack and place the barbell at elbow crook height. Stand slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and get the barbell out of the squat rack with your elbow crook. Be sure your core is tight, you’ve placed the barbell correctly in the elbow crooks, your elbow is in between, not too high and not too low, and your lats are locked down and strong.

Setting Up the Zercher Squat Position

Go to the squat rack and place the barbell at elbow crook height. Stand slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and get the barbell out of the squat rack with your elbow crook. Be sure your core is tight, you’ve placed the barbell correctly in the elbow crooks, your elbow is in between, not too high and not too low, and your lats are locked down and strong.

If you feel pain in your elbow tendons due to barbell, it’s recommended you wear long sleeve shirt or use elbow sleeves for Zercher squat. That being said, this Zercher squat also helps to build biceps and forearms indirectly.

Get Down to Business – Perform Zercher Squats

Now, with your feet set slightly shoulder-width apart and your torso upright, push your hips back and squat down as you perform squats while allowing your elbows to travel inside your knees.

Be sure to avoid ego lifting, as throughout the exercise, it’s mandatory to keep your chest tall, and load does the opposite. As the load increases, your torso moves forwards.

Get Up & Perform Another Rep

Once you reach an optimal depth in Zercher squat, which is usually below parallel, push hard through the floor, similar to any other squat variation you perform. Secondly, keep your chest upwards and keep your arms firm while standing up.

Lastly, if you aren’t comfortable with the Zercher squats using a barbell, there’s an alternative Zercher squat sandbag. Yes, you similarly use sandbag and perform the rep.

3 Things to Be Aware of Before Performing Zercher Squats

  • It places a lot of load on your biceps, upper back, traps, and anterior legs.
  • The high amount of stress can do damage to smaller muscles such as the biceps.
  • Limit the weight you lift because barbell positioning often limits your upper back, biceps, and elbow strength.

Zercher Squat Benefits

The Zercher squat is among those forgotten exercises that offer front-loaded strength and realistic movement applications for an athlete’s power and strength. The Zercher squat is an exercise that’s usually done using low to moderate exercise due to the limiting factors of upper body strength and position in which it’s performed.

However, if you’re questioning what is the point of a Zercher squat, then here are some benefits of including it in your routine workouts:

Increased Hypertrophy & Strength for Quadriceps

The Zercher squats increase quadriceps development and engagement due to a higher degree of knee flexion once you reach the squat’s bottom. Sometimes, it’s more than the usual front squat variation. The loading mechanics on the lower body by the Zercher squats is similar to that of front squats. Lastly, these Zercher squats also give better results if done under conscious controlled and slow movement allowing you to achieve quadriceps hypertrophy.

Improves Squat Mechanics – Make It Easier to Train Deep Squats

Correctly done Zercher squats help to develop appropriate knee and hip movement integrity. It forces an upright position, which is needed for a higher degree of knee flexion. A little wider than shoulder-width squat stance increases the hip range of motion, resulting in greater depth.

Improves Postural Strength

In the Zercher squats, upper back and postural strength are tested at their highest degree as the barbell is placed in the elbow crooks. If you fail to keep an upright torso, it’ll force you to flex your biceps and elbows harder than earlier, resulting in weak upright positioning.

The Zercher squats help you identify whether you’ve weak upper back and postural strength because it requires you to keep your torso upright throughout the execution of this Zercher squat.

Zercher Squat Drawbacks

  • Performing with a heavy bar loaded in your elbow crooks makes it a bit uncomfortable. You can ease it out by wearing a long sleeve shirt or even considering neoprene knee sleeves to cover elbows.
  • During performing the Zercher squats, you may experience difficulty in breathing. First, it’s quite similar to front squats, due to which you can’t expand your ribcage resulting in difficulty in pulling oxygen. So, if you’re planning to do the Zercher squats with higher reps, then it can become difficult.
  • It’s an advanced movement, so if you don’t have good experience with squats, front squats, and conventional deadlifts, then you may encounter difficulty performing this exercise, or at worse, you may even injure yourself.

Zercher Squats – Muscles Worked

The Zercher squat is quite different from other squat variations, especially due to the barbell placement within the elbow crooks. The Zercher squats loads not only loads in front of your quads but also forces you to activate back and upper body muscles throughout the movement.

Muscles targeted by the Zercher squats are:

Upper BackAbdominals

Sets, Reps & Weight Recommendations for the Zercher Squats

Below are the recommendations for selecting weights, sets, reps to integrate the Zercher Squats into your training regime properly:


For Increasing Squat Performance

  • Sets 3 to 4
  • Repetitions – 8 to 10
  • Weight – Light to Moderate
  • Can include pause and tempos for further enhancement.

For Powerlifting & Strongman Athletes

  • Sets – 3 to 5
  • Repetitions – 3 to 5
  • Weights – Heavy
  • Can include bands, chains, and other Zercher squat variations

For Muscle Hypertrophy

  • Sets – 3 to 5 or 2 to 4 
  • Repetitions – 6 to 10 or 12 to 15 
  • Weight – Moderate loads till failure

Muscle Endurance

  • Sets – 2 to 4
  • Repetitions – 12 to 20
  • Weights – Light to Moderate

Two Common Mistakes of the Zercher Squats to Avoid

The Zercher squat is among those fBelow are the two common mistakes that many makes while performing the Zercher Squats are: 

Forward Leaning

At the time of squatting, especially in the bottom position, many tend to allow the barbell weight to pull them forward. It compromises not only your proper Zercher squat form but also increases your chance of hurting yourself.

It’s recommended you keep your biceps and core tight and use reasonable weights, so you can prevent leaning forward during squatting.

Moving Up Too Fast

During back squats, it’s right to move upward fast from the bottom of the same rep. However, you should avoid doing the same in the Zercher squats because bouncing back from the bottom places stress on your elbow tendons that can compromise your form and even leave you open to elbow tendons injury. Instead, it’s best to control the motion and focus on mastering your form.

The Zercher Squats for You – Yea or Nay?

If you’re questioning whether to do the Zercher squats or not, I would recommend first master basics: the conventional deadlift and the front squats. If you’ve, then there’s no issue, and you should give at least one try.

Nevertheless, the Zercher Squats don’t need to be done regularly like other exercises in your training regime throughout the year. But, you should give it a try to get a better understanding of how this exercise is performed, and if you like, you can use it whenever you wish, or else you have an option of other variations.

That being said, if you’re a Strongman athlete, we would recommend programming the Zercher squats regularly, as it can prove helpful in demands of your sport such as lifting atlas ball. Other than that, Zercher Squats may prove beneficial for regular people, too, especially laborers or firefighters.

Variations of the Zercher Squats

Some commonly seen variations of the Zercher squats: help build muscle mass, strength, movement, and technique: Zercher Carry, Bottoms up Zercher squats, and Tempo Zercher squats. In all three variations, the way you set the barbell remains the same as you hold through your elbow crook in traditional Zercher squats.

  • For Zercher lifts, you walk through the gym, similar to a farmer’s walk. But, the difference is you carry the loaded barbell in between your elbow crook.
  • As the name implies, bottom-up Zercher squats start from the bottom position. It’s done without using the rack, and it’s quite beneficial for lifters who lack contractile strength or have poor postural.
  • Tempo Zercher squats are usual Zercher squats, but you lower your speed while squatting down.

Zercher Squat vs Front Squat – What’s the Difference Between the Two

Zercher squats & front squats both use a barbell, and both are ultimately leg exercise that’s squat. But, there’s much difference between the two. Let’s understand each by having a side by side comparison.

 Zercher SquatsFront Squats
Barbell PlacementThe bar is held in your elbow crooks by half bicep curl position.In an entire movement, a bar is kept on the front of your shoulders – front deltoids to be more precise.
Foot StanceKeep your foot slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and even wide stance.Keep your foot between hip and shoulder-width apart with toes slightly pointing outwards.
Mobility Zercher squats are manageable even if you struggle with your mobility. As barbell is held in your elbow crook using a half bicep curl.Front squats can be challenging for you as it demands more mobility, especially in your wrists, lats, and triceps.
Muscles WorkedBack Muscles (traps, rhomboids, erector spinae), Biceps, Abdominals, Hamstring, Quadriceps, Glutes, and Calves.Traps (upper, middle, and lower), Erector Spinae, Abdominals, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, and Calves.
Who Should PerformStrongman athletes, and nowadays it’s even popular with Cross fitters, Bodybuilders, and Powerlifters.All who can perform the Zercher squats, Olympic weightlifters, and even normal gym-goer whose main concern is only fitness.
VariationsZercher Deadlift, Zecher Carry, Zercher Good Morning, Zercher Hold.Band Resisted Front Squats, Front Squats Lockouts, Bottom Half Front Squats, Double Pause Front Squats, and Offset Loaded Front Squats.

Wrapping Up

You might be wondering you’re already doing regular squats in your legs day. So, what’s a big deal, and why you should add Zercher squats if you’re getting benefits from front and back squats. But, if you look deeper, you’ll reap the hidden benefits of Zercher squats.

It helps you strengthen your entire upper body that also helps to strengthen your front squats. Looking at Zercher squats only as a leg exercise would be a bit dull because it strengthens your traps, back, arms and abs. It’s among the monstrous exercise that puts you in an uncomfortable position and helps you grow in many other lifts.


Is There Any Special Zercher Squat Bar?

No. The Zercher squat is performed using the regular barbell. However, the Zercher squat harness is available in the market, helping with Zercher squats and front squats. But, if your gym doesn’t have a Zercher squat harness, it’s best to go with thick bars, making it less uncomfortable.

Is the Zercher Squat Dangerous Exercise?

It does look dangerous as you lift the barbell through your elbow crook. But, as long as you’re performing with proper form, keeping your torso upright, maintaining barbell in your elbow crook, and keeping proper stance, it doesn’t make any difference.

When I Sit Down While Doing Zercher Squats, Will the Barbell Pull Away From Me?

When the weight starts loading, it becomes difficult to sit. But, with the right amount of weight, it’ll allow a full range of motion without compromising with your form.

Satinder Chowdhry Avatar

Satinder Chowdhry