5 Zercher Exercise Variations for Stronger Legs and Core
- DAN NORTH
- Exercise Technique Muscle Build Squat Strength Training Tips
The Zercher squat has been described as one of the most difficult squat variations due to the intense demand put on the entire body throughout the movement.
Named after Ed Zercher, a strongman competitor from St. Louis during the 30’s-40’s, the Zercher squat requires full body engagement. With the bar resting on your forearms, the weight is in front of the body and requires a strong core to support the weight. There is no point of rest during this movement as your arms are working just as hard as your legs (if not harder).
Any time you load weight in front of the torso, whether it is a Zercher or goblet position, you are making the exercise require more support from the core and quads. This includes posterior chain exercises with Zercher or goblet positions as well, such as good mornings.
Here’s why you should include Zercher exercises in your routine:
- CORE ENGAGEMENT
- QUAD DEVELOPMENT
- LOWER BACK DEVELOPMENT
- UPPER BACK DEVELOPMENT
Zercher exercises are a good choice if you:
- HAVE TROUBLE GETTING INTO A BACK RACK OR FRONT RACK POSITION DUE TO LIMITED SHOULDER/UPPER BACK MOBILITY
- ARE LOOKING TO STRENGTHEN YOUR QUADS DURING SQUATS
- WANT TO INCORPORATE FULL BODY RESISTANCE EXERCISES INTO YOUR TRAINING
Here are five Zercher exercise variations to add to your routine.
1. PAUSED ZERCHER SQUATS
The main objective in the Zercher squat is to keep an upright torso with a strong support system from the arms. With your shoulders set back and down, keep the arms flexed at about 90 degrees with your elbows glued to your sides. You want to maintain strict tension in the arms throughout the entire movement. Set your hips back into the squat position and hold for two seconds at the bottom, with your core and arms tight. Drive back up to the standing position while pulling the bar into your body as to not let the weight drift forward and away from you.
2. ZERCHER BULGARIAN SPLIT SQUATS
Bulgarian split squats suck enough as they are, but when you add a Zercher variation to it, it completely lights your quads up. Front loaded weight in an elevated stance challenges your core, quads, and stabilizers. In a single leg stance like the split squat, you’re going to have to work harder to stabilize the barbell from moving during both eccentric and concentric phases.
3. ZERCHER BOX SQUATS WITH CHAINS
Another way to completely wreck your quads is adding chains to the mix. As the chains lengthen when you stand up from the squat, the resistance increases. This helps you develop better lockout strength during the squat. In a Zercher position with chains, the tension you feel in the quads is constant throughout the entire movement, especially as you sit down into the squat. For maximal results in the Zercher box squat, focus on slowing the eccentric phase and sitting back fully onto the bench for glute and hamstring activation.
4. ZERCHER GOOD MORNINGS
Even though the good morning is a posterior chain exercise, you can still add Zercher positions to strengthen the supportive anterior chain muscle groups. As you hinge forward, your upper back and core muscles engage to maintain spinal alignment. Naturally, the bar is going to drag you down and force your upper back to round forward if you are not keeping constant tension in the arms and core.
5. SINGLE LEG ZERCHER GOOD MORNINGS
Pretty much any time you take an exercise and make it a single leg variation, you are going to put more demand on the hamstrings. This is one of my favourite exercises as it challenges your entire body and provides functional benefit. Your hamstrings, lower back, glutes, core, arms, and upper back work together to stabilize the barbell and perform the movement. Stay heavy on the lead foot and keep your hips set high for hamstring activation and maximal results.