Zercher Squats For Strength, Size, & Performance

Zercher Squats For Strength, Size, and Performance

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

Let’s face it, Zercher squats don’t always get the love they deserve.  Perhaps it’s simply because you can’t load the bar with nearly as much weight as traditional barbell squats. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that they’re not the most comfortable on the arms.  Regardless, Zercher squats deserve more love, as many lifters, athletes, and trainees, would benefit greatly from consistently incorporating them into their routine.

Besides taxing the legs in a similar fashion as a front squat or goblet squat they also intensely activate the core, upper back, lats, and biceps as you lock the weight in your arms throughout the movement.  Not only does this provide a unique lower body stimulus but it provides an intense method for targeting the quads, glutes, and hamstrings while simultaneously providing a joint-friendly squat variation that tends to be much easier on the low back, knees, hips, and shoulders.

Zercher squats are unique in that they provide a quad dominant squat that simultaneously reinforces hip extension and glute activation. 

Zercher squats also are quite unique in that they provide a quad dominant squat that simultaneously reinforces hip extension and glute activation.  That’s because driving through into the top position and finishing with the glutes feels very natural and comfortable due to the weight being held close to the center of mass.  Simply put, if you’re looking for a squat variation that reinforces a more upright torso position yet also teaches ample hip extension, the Zercher squat is difficult to beat. 

In addition, the Zercher squat is excellent for improving postural alignment and spinal positioning.  That’s because you’ll be resisting t-spine flexion forces throughout as you focus on trying to pin your shoulders back and flex your lats throughout.

Zercher Squats with Accommodating Resistance

With that said the Zercher squat can be modified to provide even greater results by simply incorporating accommodating resistance in the form of bands or chains.  In this video you’ll notice three forms of accommodating resistance as I perform them with band resistance and my awesome clients Ben Lai and Michael Horner perform them with chains and band assistance respectively.  While each of these methods provides its own subtle difference, the effect is similar.  In essence it allows the lifter to overload the stronger top portion of the movement while also deloading the weaker bottom position.  Purchase bands at Dr. John Rusin's Website

Besides providing more constant tension throughout the movement, this turns the Zercher squat into one of the single best full body squat variations as you can substantially overload the top position and absolutely pummel the upper back, lats, biceps, rear delts, and core.  For instance, When performing Zercher squat’s I rarely go past 225 pounds.  However with the use of accommodating resistance I’m able to handle 300 pounds in the top position while deloading the bottom so that it’s closer to 200 pounds.  Yes the effect is brutal but the stimulus it creates in terms of functional hypertrophy and strength is well worth it.

This same protocol can also be applied to lunges and split squats as demonstrated by one of my awesome clients and national figure competitor Leslie Petch.  Just be prepared for a serious burn in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings not to mention your core and upper body.

You’ll also notice the use of dead stop repetitions in several of the previous clips which showed my clients setting the barbell back to the safety pins each rep.  Although this decreases the constant tension effect it’s excellent for improving explosive power as it teaches the athlete to overcome inertia and move the weight from a dead stop position.

Regardless of whether you’re a powerlifter, bodybuilder, pro athlete, or simply a fitness enthusiast looking for unique and effective lower body exercise, try incorporating these Zercher squats and lunges periodically into your routine.  I suggest starting with several sets of 5 reps on squats before venturing into more unorthodox protocols. 

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