Straight to the Bar

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The Investments, Part I : The Zercher and the Suitcase Deadlift

Bob Peoples

Bob ‘Mr Deadlift’ Peoples pulling 680 in about 1949.

This is part I of The Investments series for Straight to the Bar. These are what I label critical lifts, important drills and essential exercises. These are exercises I use regularly, and I believe you should as well. I am not selecting any particular sport or activity, because this series will use targeted movements that will be beneficial to everyone regardless of their fitness pursuits.

The first part of this series will focus on the move basic to all human movements – picking up things off the ground. Every day you are picking up stuff off the ground. Do not avoid this training. Some people mistakenly believe they will hurt their backs dead lifting, but it is the opposite which is true. Ignore your dead lift and your body will suffer. Often when people hurt themselves picking up things, it was not a heavy object. Often they used bad form, or lifted an awkward object with a rounded or twisted back.

So we will train with two drills, one which uses a slightly rounded back, and one which trains you to resist twisting as you lift.

Meet the Zercher

No one it seems in the world of strength will dispute the zercher’s effectiveness and ability to strengthen all the muscles in the body. With that said, this is one of the rarest exercises to find. Right in the category of bent press, continental clean, and two hands anyhow. Very few people train with zerchers, but the ones who do are strong. The basic zercher movement has elements of the dead lift, the good morning, and the squat. You can take it and go steps further and do multiple squats, or do low good mornings. The version I am going to demonstrate is the type of zercher I use 95% of the time.

I use a close stance because I am built to pull like that. If you deadlift Sumo, than I recommend you pull your zerchers sumo. One word on that – watch out for hip pain as you do the stand up portion. A sumo stance is much wider that a power squat stance.

Some of the fine points. Have a full belly of air before you squat to pull. I am bracing my abs and pushing the pressure up in my body. This protects my back from injury. If you want detailed information on bracing, get Pavel’s ‘Naked Warrior‘.

Once I place the bar on my leg, I fill my belly again and prepare to stand up. Now this is where it gets hairy for a lot of people. There are a few things that people get too wrapped up in.

Bar position on the arms – the bar should rest in the crook of your elbows. It is acceptable to place it on the meaty part of your forearm, but your arms will fatigue very fast this way. The upper arm should face downward, as in the elbow points down. If your arm is pointing forward, your arms will fatigue very fast. Some people complain of discomfort, but I assure you that will pass as you harden up. I do not think it’s a good idea to use a towel – here is why. If the towel shifts during the lift, you will be very uncomfortable. So just take your time and build up.

Hand position – some people like to clamp their hands together, which is acceptable. Some people like to leave them out (myself included). Let me make a suggestion – try it both ways, once you figure out a method, stick to it. Don’t get too wrapped up on who says what about it.

Doing reps – I stand all the way, and go all the way down to my legs, than place the bar on the floor. I then start from the dead lift as in step one. This is not a lift to rush through, take your time and work for maximum tension and safety. Remember we are training to build strength, and build good habits.

Meet the suitcase deadlift

The suitcase dead lift is a total body workout, and a lesson in the importance of grip, oblique, and bracing strength. If any of these three elements is weak, you will be hurting. Most people will fail in their grip long before they pull their back’s limit strength. This means this lift is very safe when done correctly. You are no where close to your real maximum on this.

The true suit case DL is pulled on a Olympic bar (7 ft bar) with one hand dead center. The bar is on the side of the body. This is NOT a side bend, it is a dead lift. The entire body must rise as one unit.

Some tips to help you out.

  1. This is a deadlift, not a side bend. Imagine you’re holding another bar in your free hand. Flex that side lat hard and make a fist.
  2. Flare the lat on the working side, and flex the tricep to ensure the arm is completely straight.
  3. Fill the belly with air before descending. Brace hard as you start to push your feet in to the floor.
  4. I know I called this a “pull” But I want you to PUSH your feet hard in to the floor. Imagine you’re trying to leg press the floor away from you.
  5. I imagine I have a bar on my shoulders, and I am pushing it up as I push the floor away.
  6. Grip is a key element. Flex the free hand very hard to give your other hand a boost.
  7. Keep your glutes cramped hard. The harder you fire the glutes the better.

This lift will make you entire body strong. It is a valuable addition to any program.
Thanks for reading, look for part II.

Editor’s Note : This is a fantastic series, cheers Adam. For everyone reading who’d love to keep going, here are the other articles :


Over to you. Drop us a line on Twitter ( @scottbird ), or add a comment below.



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  1. Monday, 25 Oct 2021 – Strength & Fitness Newsletter - […] Gem From The Vault : The Investments, Part I : The Zercher and the Suitcase Deadlift ‘Unbreakable’ Adam GlassThe…
  2. Monday, 9 Oct 2023 | Strength & Fitness Newsletter - […] Gem From The Vault : The Investments, Part I – The Zercher and the Suitcase Deadlift‘Unbreakable’ Adam GlassSqueeze more…

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