The Zercher Squat

Superb exercise.

Tom Black performing a Zercher Squat
Tom Black performing a Zercher Squat.
This is the first in a series of Timeless Exercises; a collaboration with Run to Win's Blaine Moore. The Zercher Squat.

What is the Zercher Squat?

To the uninitiated, the Zercher Squat is a strange beast. Instead of the bar being held across the shoulders (slightly higher or lower for Olympic Weightlifters, Bodybuilders and Powerlifters); it's held in the crook of your arms. The inside of your elbows, if you like.

This is somewhat painful (although you do get used to it a little), however it's an extremely effective exercise. As Louie Simmons notes in Dead Lift Secrets :

It teaches you exactly how to squat. It teaches you to push your knees apart. Push your chest up. Push your buttocks out. The whole nine yards.


The Zercher Squat was one of the many cruel and unusual exercises created by St Louis strongman Ed Zercher (1902 - 1995). Zercher's own home gym resembled a junkyard more than a basement, and was filled with such toys as anvils, wrecking balls and assorted pieces of machinery. Sounds perfect.


This is one of the rare exercises where using a thick bar actually makes it more comfortable. A strongman yoke with an adjustable crossbar is great; a thick (2.5" - 3") barbell is also a good choice.

The lift comprises two stages, although it is common to see only the second one being performed in gyms.

The weighted bar begins on the floor, and is deadlifted (using a conventional, or shoulder-width stance) to a point a little above the knee. Aim for the lower quad muscles, rather than your kneecaps.

Slowly squat down; balancing the bar at this point on your lower thighs. Slide your arms under the bar until it reaches your elbows. Now stand up.

Simply reverse the process to complete the exercise. That's one rep.

NB : You may notice that this movement resembles the action of lifting a heavy stone, and it can be a great way to help train for such an event.

How to hold the bar

Regardless of how you hold the bar, there'll be some pain involved. Whilst you can probably ignore it when there's 50kg on the bar, it's a different story when the bar weighs 200kg.

There are three things to consider here. Experiment with them and find the combination that feels right to you. They are :

How your hands are -

How your forearms are -

What the bar is resting against -

The videos below show a variety of these combinations.

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And if you've already got one - or are looking for another type of device - swing by the Straight to the Bar Store. It's all in there.


The following videos will give you an idea of the various techniques that people are using for this wonderful exercise :

Power Circuit Training
Josh Henkin and Keats Sniderman
(partial Zercher Squat shown)

Zippy Videos
(130kg partial Zercher Squat shown)

Exercises You've Never Tried #18
T-Nation staff

425lb x 2 partial Zercher Squat [streaming, 1.3mb .flv download]

Old training clips compilation
from Chub

Other 'Zercher' exercises

There are several other exercises which use the same method of holding the bar. Try a few of these :

Of course, the original Zercher Squat is still a personal favourite. Definitely a keeper.


The Zercher Lift

A truly uplifting experience


Wally's Place

Finnish Power
(thanks Kris)

Scott Andrew Bird

Scott Andrew Bird is a writer, photographer and a guy who just loves this stuff. He's been at home in front of a computer for more years than he cares to remember (OK, 37) and is now making amends for years of many mistakes noted in the De-constructing Computer Guy articles (part 2) on T-Nation.

Find out what he's up to via Twitter, Facebook, the Daily 'Paper'; and of course his online home. Enjoy.

Like this? Check out :

From the Archives : The Zercher Squat.

The first in a series of Timeless Exercises.

Westside Dead Lift Secrets.

The importance of the fundamentals.

70 of the Best : 7 Years of Straight to the Bar.

This site - Straight to the Bar - has been around for an incredible 7 years (the first post was on Jan 17th, 2004), and to say I'm grateful is a gross understatement.

Thank you.

The Forgotten Squat.

Hack your way to massive thighs.

Of course, if you enjoyed these, I'd highly recommend grabbing the Strength & Fitness Newsletter. Delivered weekly, and absolutely free.

(there's also a Daily Update, if you're looking for an even larger dose of training-related goodness.)

NB : If you'd like to write a guest post for Straight to the Bar, or if you'd like to join the team of Moderators here (I love hearing about everyone's training approaches) - get in touch. And if you've got a fitness competition or seminar coming up, add it to the calendar.

Look forward to hearing from you.

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