The Best Exercise You aren’t doing: Zercher Squats

If you’re looking for an accessory lift that will completely change your life (and possibly increase your credit score), then look no further than the Zercher squat. Now, these squats catch some flak from folks who think that it will harm your biceps, forearms, or back, and that is understandable from looking at the Zercher, but nothing could be further from the truth. In this article, I will outline how Zercher squats can increase your leg strength and mental fortitude, while also explaining how Zercher squats can be useful for those who are recovering from back injuries.

The greatest benefit I have garnered from Zerchers is the fact that I can load the bar up as heavy as I can, and perform some squats with little to no load on my back. Due to the positioning of the bar, specifically its position on the body, nearly the entire load will be on my hips, quads, glutes, and calves. This is great for those who get tightness in the neck, traps, or erectors from front and back squats. Another benefit to the lowered bar positioning is that the quads will be getting an increased load put on them, much more than front squats. This means one thing for you: bigger and stronger quads. Can you imagine the horror?

I find the concern about bicep tears and Zercher squats to be nothing short of silly. Some claim that stressing the bicep or joint leads to degeneration. Stress is how our muscles grow, stress doesn’t lead to degeneration, repeated injuries and a lack of personal care lead to degeneration. I can comfortable say I have experienced ZERO bicep pain when performing Zercher squats, and I was doing them every single week for a couple months at one point. 

Now, let’s get into the How-To.

There are a couple ways to perform Zercher Squats, first I will discuss how I do them, then how Matt Falk and Nick Best do them.

When I do Zerchers, I like to make hook grip fists (firmly grasp thumb with other fingers in each hand) and think about shoving them into the ceiling the whole time. I don’t grab one hand in the other like Matt and Nick (this will be discussed further down the article) for two reasons: 

1. I am not a wide squatter. With my knock knees, doing anything with wide feet is very bad, if not dangerous, for me.  2. I want to squat as deep as possible. I normally just advocate squatting you whatever competition depth you compete at, but I want Zerchers to make my stone loads stronger, so I go all the way down, most of the time.

By keeping my hands as fists and not grasping each other, my elbows don’t flare out to the sides, which lets me sit as deep as  I can, by letting my elbows descend between my knees. Now by doing this, there is a chance that the bar can roll down your forearm when coming out of the bottom, due to the angle your back will take. My best advice for this is to just tough it out. You have done more difficult things in your life than a Zercher squat, so this should be a cakewalk.

Before I started doing Zercher squats, I could load a 350lb stone to 52″, four times in a minute. By the time I finished my Zercher cycle, I was able to load a 350lb stone to 52″ SIX times in a minute, and that was at a competition. I won the event, I did double the reps that second place got in that event, and I thank Zerchers for it. After that competition, I was able to load a 375lb stone to 52″, 5 times in 80 seconds. 

Now THAT is what I call progress.

The other way to hit Zerchers, like the way my training partner Matt Falk does, is to spread the feet wide, and grasp one hand on the other. This will make the elbows flare out, which will definitely decrease the depth you’re hitting, but this is an assistance lift, not a competition lift, so leave your $1000 judge’s shirt at home. The wider stance will hit the hips more than the narrower stance, but it won’t hit the quads as hard. I would suggest trying both ways, to see which helps you reach your goals the most.

One thing that we both do is use an axle for Zerchers. This has a benefit, but also a drawback if you aren’t careful. An axle will increase the surface area of the weight in your elbow crook, so there isn’t as much direct pressure. The potential drawback is that if you have shorter arms, the axle is more likely to slip out of your elbow crook, so watch out for that one. For me, the most difficult part of the lift is the descent: You have to unrack it with a bit of hyperextension and soft knees, and drop somewhat slowly so you aren’t fighting heavy momentum when you start ascending. 

Nick Best does his in a similar way to Matt, check it out below:

Now, Nick has some of the healthiest biceps in the game, and at 45, is still lifting more than most elite lifters. He has been doing Zercher squats for at least the past five years that I have seen his stuff, and he seems to be doing just fine with them. Nick uses a barbell, and I tip my cap to that. I will probably keep using an axle, but that is just my personal preference.

In closing, I would recommend that you grab a bar or axle, and get to working on your Zercher squats. Just start with an empty bar, work up to a heavy weight with safe jumps, and then once you hit a good weight, try to do it for three sets of eight. You might be pleasantly surprised by how great they make you feel.

What do you think of Zercher squats? Let us know in the Facebook comments.

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