Zercher Squat – Hidden Gem of Leg Exercises

Zercher squat

Jarrod Free

People find themselves spoiled for choice when it comes to leg exercises. You’ve got your all time classics like the back squat and deadlift, single leg favourites such as lunges and step up, and even some excellent exercises using resistance bands that are becoming more common every years, such as monster walks. But with all those great exercises available, there is one obscure exercise that is consistently neglected by most lifters and coaches. The reason is that most don’t even know it exists!

 This exercise is the Zercher Squat.

 A Zercher squat is essentially a barbell front squat with the bar sitting in the crook of the elbows instead of up on the shoulders.  This can be a bit uncomfortable on the forearms initially, but after a few sessions of incorporating the Zercher squat into your workouts it will begin to feel more comfortable, and you can add a bar pad if you feel you need it (it won’t negatively effect the squat, as it does for the back squat).

 The safest way to set up this exercise is to have the bar in a rack between the hips and the shoulders, wherever you feel most comfortable.  You’ll then need to approach the bar, curling your arms around the bar and clasping your hands together, pulling the bar in close to your body.  You will then squat in a similar manner to your back and front squats (you may need to have a slightly wider stand to achieve a complete range of motion), with your chest remaining upright, hips leading the squat, knees pushing out through the squat, and feet turned out slightly.  Have an experienced strength coach watch over you the first time you perform this lift (they will need to be experienced, as many coaches don’t even know of this squat variation!).

 The list of benefits that this squat boasts is quite impressive.

 Simple Mechanics

Despite looking rather strange, it is actually a very good squat variation for beginners, especially those struggling with the mechanics of squatting.  During this lift, the torso is forced to remain upright, the knees push out correctly, the hips are forced to lead the squat (preventing the knees from coming forward too far), and a greater depth is more easily achieved than in any other squat variation.

 Core/Back Activation

The core and back muscles work very hard to stabilise the torso during this squat, more so than in other squat variations.  This will improve your other squats, your posture, and your technique in other compound exercises.

 Less Load on Spine

Occasionally people will voice concerns that the biceps or back are placed under dangerous loads during this squat, so let me dispel this ridiculous notion right now.


The positioning of the bar means that the load on the spine during a Zercher squat is far lower than back or front squats, and the biceps are perfectly safe during this exercise.  These concerns only ever seem to come from people who have not performed the Zercher squat.  Never have I, or any experienced lifters I have spoken to who perform this life regularly, experienced even the slightest hint of bicep pain during this squat.

 Greater Depth = Greater Quad/Glute/Hamstring Activation

This squat allows you to hit a greater depth than any other squat variation.  Doing so will increase the load on your legs and, combined with the lower load on the spine, this puts your legs under a huge load and will lead to incredible strength gains.

 Now you know why to add the Zercher squat to your routine, but you also need to know how.  To begin with you should try performing three or four sets of ten reps at the beginning of your workout or after your first compound lift is completed, twice per week (you should be working your legs at least twice per week, and you know it!).  Once you are comfortable with the movement, feel free to treat it like any other squat variation in terms of your programming (though you should have your programming written by a professional if you are at all unsure).

 So there you have it!  One of the best, and somehow most obscure, exercises you can perform to build strength, power, stability, and technique.  If you have any questions, contact freefitness@outlook.com and be sure to visit our Facebook Page and Twitter feed (@Free_FitnessAUS).

 Jarrod Free

Strength & Conditioning Coach


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *