zercher squat
Fitness

The Ultimate Zercher Squat Exercise Guide

The squat is, undoubtedly, one of the most popular exercises to target your lower body. It works the major muscle groups in your legs and helps build strength in your core and posterior chain.

So, it’s no surprise that there are numerous variations on the traditional squat, all of which are effective exercises for different reasons. One of the lesser-known versions is the Zercher squat, which gets its name from Ed Zercher, a legendary weightlifter who rose to prominence in the 1930s.

The Zercher squat, when properly implemented into your workout regime, can help you gain some serious muscle mass and aid your body in performing real-world activities more efficiently.

In this guide, we’ll run through how to perform the Zercher squat, what muscles it works, what equipment is needed, and more.

Muscles Worked by the Zercher Squat

The Zercher squat is different from other squat variations like the overhead squat in that it is a front-loaded exercise, meaning the weight of the bar is on the front of your body, rather than the back. This means your quad muscles are doing a lot more work, but also that your back muscles and arms are engaged too, allowing you to build upper back strength. So, this isn’t just a leg exercise; it’s a stellar way of improving upper body strength too.

The main muscles worked in this exercise are:

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Traps
  • Biceps
  • Abdominals
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There will be many other muscles involved in performing this movement, but these are the main areas that do the most work and will see the biggest benefits.

How To Perform A Zercher Squat Properly

  1. First, have a loaded barbell sitting in a squat rack. The rack position should be lower than it would be for a traditional squat, with the bar running across the lower part of your chest.
  2. Take the bar into the crooks of your elbows and clasp your hands together in front of you, as this helps with wrist mobility. If you find the bar is uncomfortable on your arms, consider wearing a long sleeve shirt for a bit of extra padding. Your feet should be in line with your shoulders, toes pointed forward.
  3. Ensure the bar is off of the rack so you have taken its full weight. Engage your core and keep your torso in an upright position. Sit your hips backward and bend at the knees to squat down, maintaining an upright posture throughout the full range of motion.
  4. At the bottom of the movement, your thighs should be at least parallel with the floor though you can perform a deeper squat if you’re able. 
  5. Drive-up through your feet and push your hips forward again to return to the starting position. Repeat for the desired amount of reps. Aim for three sets of 10-12 reps.

Equipment Used

  • Barbell
  • Squat rack

Pro tips

  • This is quite an advanced exercise, so make sure you’ve mastered the traditional squat first so that you’re familiar with the ranges of motion.
  • Avoid using heavy loads at first; the important thing is to perform the movement correctly and safely. From there, you can build up. 
  • Don’t let your torso lean forward when squatting down. The weight of the bar will drag your body forward slightly, so resist against this using your upper back muscles and core.
  • Follow the exercise steps carefully and don’t let your knees cave in toward each other. 
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Benefits of the Zercher Squat

As mentioned, not only is this an excellent exercise for building quad strength, it’s also a great full-body exercise. Couple this with your favorite biceps-building exercise, and you’ve got a great lower and upper body workout.

Though this is one of the more complex exercises, its benefits are huge. As a leg exercise, it helps build significant leg strength and mobility and additional core strength. The challenge of holding the bar in front of you helps develop arm strength, which is why this is such a popular exercise among strongman athletes and functional fitness athletes.

If you are using heavy loads, you’ll see significant gains with this exercise but it can also be used to burn calories quickly, as it’s engaging so many different muscle groups at once. As such, this will always help muscular development. 

If you’re looking for a full-body exercise, then this is the squat variation for you.

Conclusion

The Zercher squat can be tricky to get the hang of at first, but it’s a highly useful tool to have in your arsenal. Not only does it provide an excellent workout for your quads and glutes, but it also engages some important muscles in your upper body as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Zercher squats bad for your elbows?

In theory, no. If you’re performing the movement correctly and using a weight that is suitable for you, your elbows should be fine. However, if you do feel pain in your elbow joints, stop the exercise immediately and address the problem. 

How many Zercher squats should I do?

This also depends on your goals. A good place to start is aiming for three sets of 10-12 reps. However, if you’re looking to build strength and muscle size, then try a heavier weight with fewer reps, between 5 and 8.

George Gigney

George is a Level 3 Personal Trainer and qualified Behavior Change Specialist. He has been training clients for several years and writing for over a decade, focusing on sport, wellbeing, and fitness.

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