Jan 17, 2018
Squat Variation

Athletes can get bored doing the same thing day in and day out. Switching up the weightroom routine can not only increase their motivation, but also bring more gains. As a coach, you can do this by implementing the Zercher squat.

While it has a funny name, the Zercher squat is no joke and the benefits are seemingly endless. In a blog for Train Heroic, Ryan Leibreich, MS, ATC, CSCS, writes that due to the bars placement in the crook of the elbow, the Zercher squat causes athletes to contract their muscles and produce tension. Being able to brace and squeeze muscles, especially in the core, is essential for most sports. In a blog for Stack.com, Justin Ochoa, strength coach and owner of PACE Fitness Academy in Indianapolis, echoes this sentiment.

“Keeping the weight in front of your body is going to force you to brace your core to stay in a good position,” writes Ochoa. “Lose core tension and you’ll likely see the bar roll right out of your elbows shortly after. This is one major benefit of the lift. You have to keep an active brace. Carryover from this is not hypothetical. It’s absolutely real and noticeable.”

Another benefit of the Zercher squat is it builds strength in the upper back. According to a blog for T-Nation by Strength Coach Christian Thibaudeau, this squat involves every part of the upper back musculature. This not only develops overall strength, but can also serve to correct rounding of the back during the front squat and help athletes who struggle to deadlift past knee level.

Ochoa also explains that the Zercher squat strengthens the hamstrings, glutes, and quads, as well as smaller stabilizing muscles of the hips, adductors, and abductor groups. In order to have good range of motion, athletes need to activate the hips and knees and work to stabilize their feet on the ground. This will help strengthen less dominant leg muscles and increase their overall performance. And along with these benefits, the Zercher squat also builds toughness.

“I’m not going to lie – this movement does not always feel so good,” writes Leibreich. “With many athletes, you are going to have to allow them to wrap some form of padding around the bar for a while. That is just the cost of admission though. The mental fortitude you need to have to perform the exercise will pay off. Athletes really dial in and focus.”

As with any exercise, correct technique is important for reducing the chance of injury. Here are the steps to the Zercher squat, laid out by Leibreich:

  1. Set the rack up just below your elbow.
  2. Put the bar in the crease of your elbows.
  3. Keep elbows tight to your side.
  4. Squeeze hands together or have palms facing the ceiling.
  5. Get hips under the bar, grab a big belly breath, and squat it up from the rack.
  6. Take a couple steps back, settle the bar, and grab more air if you can.
  7. Squat down until elbows touch thighs or fall in between.
  8. Stand up, and repeat.

How and when should your athletes use the Zercher squat? In his blog, Thibaudeau explains that there are many applications to choose from. One is to focus on building the quads. For this benefit, athletes would do the Zercher squat on leg day for six to 10 repetitions, making sure to pause briefly at the bottom of the exercise.

Another way to use them is to focus on strengthening the upper back. These should be done after front squats for sets of four to six repetitions. Thibaudeau also recommends using a slow eccentric tempo, about four seconds going down, and moving all the way into a full squat.

“On the way up, not only should you try to keep a solid torso, but you should attempt to raise the arms/elbows – imagine throwing an uppercut with both arms – while lifting the chest up,” writes Thibaudeau.

To see the Zercher squat in action, check out this video from Thibaudeau.

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