Ed Zercher was a St Louis Strongman (pictured here performing an unsupported leg press), who famously trained using equipment looking more at home in a junkyard than a gym. His basement was filled with pieces of old machinery, anvils, wrecking balls and assorted odd-shaped heavy objects. Clearly strength was a passion.
The name Zercher is survived by a couple of lifts, primarily the Zercher Squat. Deadlifts are also occasionally performed, holding the bar in the same unusual way.
For both the Zercher squat and deadlift the bar is rested in the crook of the elbows. This shifts the body’s centre of mass much further forward than in the case of a front squat or traditional deadlift. The hands are then crossed, made into fists, clasped together or held in whatever way feels most comfortable to the lifter.
In the case of the squat, these were originally performed free-standing. The bar was deadlifted from the ground (using traditional methods) and rested on the upper thighs whilst the lifter carefully squatted down. The lifter would then proceed to hook their arms beneath the bar and stand up again, before reversing the process and returning the bar to the ground. These days the lift is often started with the bar already raised (via the pins of a rack, blocks or anything else at a convenient height), and only the squatting motion is performed.
For the Zercher deadlift the bar begins much lower – on the ground if possible, or at the very least on the lowest pins of a rack. Taking a wide stance, the lifter’s arms are hooked beneath the bar in the same way as in the squat. The hips are lowered, and then the lifter raises the back and straightens the legs simultaneously. As the body’s centre of mass has been shifted forward by holding the bar in this unusual way, much more stress is placed on the hamstrings than in a traditional deadlift; which focusses on the spinal erectors.
The Zercher lift
Wally’s Place: The man behind the Zercher lift
ABC Bodybuilding forum: The Zercher Deadlift