Trap Bar Zercher Squats for Strength, Size, & Performance

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Trap Bar Zercher Squats For Strength, Size, and Performance

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

I know what you’re thinking; "trap bar this, trap bar that. Here goes crazy Dr. Joel once again. Is there even any point to doing Zercher Squats with a trap bar other than to show that it’s just another unique trap bar exercise?"

The answer to this is an emphatic YES!!!!! 

In fact, in today’s Muscle Morsel I want to highlight why using the trap to perform variations of the Zercher squat, Zercher hinge, and Zercher lunge are so effective.  Let’s start with the squat.

Trap Bar Zercher Squat

One of the most common problems on Zercher squats is allowing the knees to excessively drift forward rather than setting the hips back and maintaining an optimal hip hinge throughout.  Performing Zercher squats with the trap bar eliminates this almost immediately as the lifter will be unable to move the bar past their knees and thighs unless they set the hips back and drive through the heels.  Even the slightest amount of excessive anterior knee drift will make it literally impossible to descend into the squat.

The hanging nature of the bar also provides additional feedback about body positioning.  If you don’t produce perfectly vertical force vectors and instead allow your body to drift forward either by allowing the weight to shift towards your toes or by over-flexing too much at the hips the bar will drift away from you making it difficult to lock the movement in.  To keep the bar hanging straight down your mechanics will be forced to be spot on. 

Similarly the hanging nature of the bar forces the lifter to flex the daylights out of their lats and upper back.  If your upper back rounds or your shoulder flex forward the bar will also drift out away from you providing immediate feedback about your posture and spinal alignment. 

Lastly, the corners of the bar provide a very natural and comfortable position for the arms to anchor into.  In fact you may find that the trap bar feels even more natural to hold in the Zercher position than a traditional barbell.

On a final side note you’ll notice the depth is closer to 90 degrees rather than a more parallel position of 110 degrees (proper squat depth should range somewhere between 90 degrees and parallel/110 degrees).  That’s predominantly due to the closer stance you’ll be required to assume in order to fit the bar around your knees.  However this position significantly taxes the quads and vastus lateralis making it an effective hypertrophy movement for targeting the outer quad sweep. Think of it as a similar position to the trap bar deadlift squat.

Trap Bar Zercher Hinge/Good Morning

Many of the benefits listed for the Zercher squat also apply to the Zercher Hinge or good morning/RDL variation. However, one key point that many lifters will notice is that the good morning feels much more natural with the trap bar compared to a traditional barbell.  This is most likely because of the hanging nature of the bar that pulls straight down and close to the center of mass rather than feeling like it’s pulling you forward as you approach the bottom position.  

As a result, it feels significantly easier on the low back and spine due to the more central-feeling position of the load.  In fact I’ve noticed I can handle heavier weight on the Zercher good morning using the trap bar than I can with a traditional Olympic barbell.  Several of my athletes and clients have found similar results.  Here’s one of my awesome clients Leslie Petch showing how it’s done with 95 pounds which would be verging on being overly heavy for her with a straight bar.

Trap Bar Zercher Lunge and Split Squat

Performing Zercher lunges with the trap bar also has its own unique attributes not to mention similar benefits as those shown with trap bar Zercher squats and good mornings.  Most notable is the impact the trap bar has on forcing the lifter to maintain optimal hip hinge mechanics throughout rather than keeping an overly upright position.  The hip hinge is perhaps the single most important element of proper lunge mechanics as it places ideal tension across the targeted musculature and takes tension off the knees, back and hip joints. 

Maintaining an overly upright position as many lifters erroneously do, not only takes tension off the working muscles but places undue stress on the joints.  In order for the trap bar to clear the front leg and not run into the back of the calves when performed with the Zercher protocol, the lifter will be required to maintain a slight forward hip hinge and forward lean throughout.  This allows the bar to sit perfectly vertical between the front and back leg.  In addition the hanging nature of the bar provides slightly more instability thereby forcing the lifter to balance and stabilize their body to a greater extent. 

Lastly in regards to each of the trap bar Zercher variations I recommend performing them in an eccentric isometric fashion as shown in the videos to help maximize proprioceptive feedback and dial in your body mechanics even further.

If you’re looking for a training program that teaches you how to employ movements such as these trap bar Zercher variations into your training routine, check out my Complete Templates