Enter the Zercher: Why this exercise variation should be a part of your program

Sometimes to really get something you’ve never had with your goals in the gym (and in life) you must do something you’ve never done.
MuscleTech Strength Coach John Porter Jr.
MuscleTech Strength Coach John Porter Jr.
muscletech zercher rack

From a workout perspective, as great as Back Squats, Lunges, and other strength exercises are, performing them the same way can get lead to stagnating results. In times like this, it’s time to switch things up and introduce a variance that could be very thing to get us over the hump in the gym as well as improve our quality of life.

Enter the Zercher.

Brief History:

In the 1930s, a strongman and powerlifter by the name of Ed Zercher was at an impasse and needed to discover a method that would allow him to make gains relevant to his sport but without the resources of a typical gym. Considering his home gym was more junkyard than gym, he had to get creative. After all, he didn’t have a squat rack, and anvils, big construction parts and various forms of machinery can only get a person so far. His solution? Zercher simply decided to deadlift the bar into his mid-section then by supporting the bar in the crook of his elbows began squatting that way. And like all awesome discoveries, word spread (no social media back then!), made the rounds within gyms around the country and then the world. Within the sports of powerlifting and strongman, it is one of the best methods to help a person continue their path to get strong.

Zercher Benefits:

Here are a few of the most important benefits of adding the Zercher to your routine:

  1. Lower Body Strength – Depending on the exercise, and if enough mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscular damage, Zercher variations yield great strength/power/athletic improvements.

  2. Hypertrophic Enhancement – Assuming your training program is designed properly and you nutrition is relevant, your muscles WILL grow. Biceps will POP; Your traps will look like someone blew them up with air. But it won’t be air…it’ll be rock hard muscle.

  3. Strengthens Back – I currently train clients that have back issues. Implementing Zercher variation has greatly improved not only the strength of their back, but we’ve also produced a high level of resilience. They are less prone to lower back injury by safely adding this variation to their routine.
  4. Trunk/Core Strength – One ability to maintain proper posture and position as well as defend it against external stimuli is essential. This is not only reserved for athletes. The general population needs a stronger trunk as well.

The Exercises:

To note: Even though It’s ideal to have a squat/power rack when performing any Zercher movement, it’s not the only way to establish proper setup. You can perform a conventional deadlift to get going. Rest barbell on your knees, scoop it up at the elbow crease and perform exercise as prescribed.

Zercher Squat (using a squat rack):

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 sides

4. Squeeze hands together or have palms facing the ceiling

5. Get hips under the bar, brace your trunk and squat it up from the rack

6. Take a couple steps back and settle the bar.

7. Before performing your first rep, feet should be shoulder width apart, Trunk should be braced, posture should be “tall & pretty,” your gaze should be either straight ahead and chin should be tucked.

8. While maintaining proper posture and position, begin the downward movement by bending your hips, knees, and ankles.

9. Begin your decent into the lowest position you can that allows you to still maintain postural control. For some it may be until legs are parallel or slightly below/above parallel to the floor.

9. Pause for a second at the bottom position.

10. To begin the upward movement, push your feet into the ground to initiate standing up. Emphasize pushing through your mid foot & forefoot.

11. As you begin to stand, keep your chest high, squeeze your glutes, and allow your knees to straighten and your hips to travel forward.

Zercher Reverse Lunge:

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 sides

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 and settle the bar.

7. Before performing your first rep, feet should be fist width apart, Trunk should be braced, posture should be “tall & pretty,” your gaze should be either straight ahead and your chin should be tucked.

8. While maintaining proper posture and position, begin the downward movement by bending your Stepping backward with your right leg around two feet or so from the left foot and lower your upper body down, while keeping the torso upright and maintaining balance.

9. Descent into the lowest position you can that allows you to still maintain postural control.

10. To begin the upward movement, push your feet into the ground to initiate standing up driving yourself forward. Emphasize pushing through your mid foot & forefoot until your starting position is re-established  

11. As you begin to stand, keep your chest high, squeeze your glutes, and allow your knees to straighten and your hips to travel forward.

Zercher Loaded Carry:

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 sides

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 and settle the bar.

7. Before performing this exercise, feet should be fist width apart, Trunk should be braced, posture should be “tall & pretty,” your gaze should be either straight ahead and your chin should be tucked.

8. Begin walking prescribed distance while maintaining good posture/position; trunk engagement.