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Heading to the gym is only half the battle. Once there, every man or woman needs to work out what they need to do to get the gains they desire and how best to go about their exercises.
There’s an underused series of exercises that lots of folks don’t know about. But they should since these exercises can improve anyone’s workout dramatically after a little practice and determination.
Zercher exercises were first started in the 1930s. They are named after Ed Zercher, a strong man who competed in professional tournaments of the time.
Despite their professional origin, Zercher exercises are simple to incorporate into your existing routine and provide plenty of additional benefits to even the most basic exercises.
The standard Zercher augment is the Zercher Squat, which is a well-known strength training exercise that can also improve posture and mental discipline.
What Are Zercher Exercises?
Zercher exercises are relatively unheard of, even among frequent gym-goers. But these types of exercises bring a lot to the table.
For any exercise to be “Zercher”, it must have a barbell locked into position at the front of your body and nestled in the crooks of your elbows. Done correctly, the bar will be just barely touching your ribs and your hands will be up toward your collarbone.
Therefore, any regular exercise that incorporates a barbell indisposition counts as a Zercher exercise.
The Zercher position is versatile and effective for conditioning training while allowing you to perform many of the staple exercises you might use to improve strength in specific areas of your body.
Since it’s so versatile, incorporating the Zercher position into your workouts is an excellent method to boost your overall performance and caloric burn during your time at the gym.
How to Set Up the Zercher Position
Safety is important during any workout, and especially when you’re carrying a barbell in the crooks of your elbows.
Let’s go over the proper Zercher technique before you attempt any specific exercises.
- In a standing position, place the barbell into the crooks of your elbows while the barbell is still supported by the rack or a friend.
- Clench your fists and arms to create body tension.
- Brace yourself as you unwrap the barbell and keep your hands separated at around the shoulder width.
- This will maintain overall body tension and work your core as well as your arms.
- Raise your arms and fists until your hands are near your collarbone or neck depending on your torso length.
- Maintain a solid trunk and spine during this process to prevent your back muscles from being pulled too far.
It’s easy to accidentally load too much weight on to the barbell during your first Zercher attempt. This is a difficult position, which is part of the reason why you don’t see it among many frequent gym-goers.
You have to maintain excellent posture and positioning. Keep your arms locked for the duration of the exercise. It also has a slight risk of injury due to the emphasis of body tension in places on your core and trunk.
When starting out, it’s recommended that you practice with just an empty barbell to perfect the positioning and locking method before adding on any weight.
Remember that the Zercher position is supposed to be used in tandem with other exercises so you don’t need to load the barbell with a ton of weight to give your body a great workout.
How is Zercher Effective?
Zercher exercises are excellent for your body since they stress more muscles than a regular focused exercise.
It improves your conditioning by forcing muscles across your body to put in an effort during any motion or physical routine.
In addition, Zercher exercises train mental fortitude. You have to maintain a good presence of mind and excellent discipline to keep the position upright for the duration of any exercise.
Many of the most important battles in the gym are thought in the mind, so learning to use the Zercher position will make you a better athlete and improved fitness.
After nailing down proper Zercher positioning and technique, you’ll want to move on to specific exercises.
Let’s discuss some of the best exercises to combine with the Zercher position.
Perhaps the most well-known Zercher exercise, the Zercher Squat benefits you by strengthening your legs, arms, and abs all at once. However, proper technique is critical to ensure that you don’t pull a muscle or otherwise injure yourself.
To begin, set the rack up on your equipment so that it rests below your elbows. This is the ideal height for assuming the Zercher position.
Set the barbell in the creases of your elbows. Make sure to keep your elbows tight at your sides and avoid splaying them.
Set your hips beneath the bar and take a deep breath. Use your legs to squat up from the rack and maintain this height as a backup.
Take another breath and begin to squat. Lower yourself until your elbows reach your thighs. Alternatively, your elbows may go between your thighs if your position is wide.
Rise up using your legs until you are at the beginning position. Repeat the squat until your set is complete.
Move forward and return the barbell to its position on your equipment. Alternatively, kneel and rest the barbell on your knees before gripping it in a deadlift position and rising to drop it on the ground.
Here’s how to do a Zercher Deadlift.
- After loading your barbell, deadlift it to the front of your thighs.
- You should assume the Zercher position from this point.
- To make this easier, you can balance the barbell on your knees until you roll the bar to the crooks of your elbows.
- Arch your back as you would any other squat.
- Stand up with the barbell firmly in the crooks of your elbows, then kneel again and rest the barbell on your knees.
- To ensure safe completion, slide your arms so that the barbell is not in the crooks of your elbows.
- Then, grip the barbell in the deadlift position, stand, and deposit the barbell on the ground.
Done correctly, the Zercher Deadlift will make your squat even better than before and can strengthen your glutes, quads, traps, and apps all at the same time. Even your biceps will get a good burn going.
If you don’t have the equipment to hold your barbell below your elbows to assume the Zercher position correctly, you can use the above deadlift technique to accomplish a Zercher position safely.
The Zercher Carry is a variant of the Farmer’s Walk exercise. As the Zercher position is used extensively, the load of the barbell is transferred to your upper back and core much more effectively than with other loaded carry exercises.
- Start with the barbell at around elbow height and bend your legs to fit the bar into the crooks of your elbows.
- Using your legs, raise the bar off of its rack and keep your spine and core straight and tight.
- Begin moving forward at steady paces all the way to the marker.
- You can use a piece of tape or another piece of equipment to mark the endpoint of your walk.
- Turn around and maintain the barbell load at the same height while you spin.
- Walk all the way back to the rack and set the barbell back down.
- You should be facing the equipment at this point.
You can repeat the walk as many times as you desire.
Done properly, the Zercher Carry will also help you perform your squats much better than before. It trains excellent posture and core strength, both of which are used extensively in any squat exercise.
- You’ll want to avoid leaning back too much during this exercise. Leaning back all the way will put too much pressure on your spine and back muscles.
- This can lead to damage to your back, but it also cheats your core muscles from receiving the work out they deserve. Your core is much better placed to handle the weight of your barbell load.
- Tense your abs while you walk. This will improve your posture even further during the exercise.
- Walk steadily rather than speedily. It’s more important to keep up a consistent pace than to tire yourself out with quick steps.
- Ideal distances for the Zercher Carry are around 30 m or so.
The Zercher Lunge is a great addition for adding muscle to your upper back and activating your lats. This is an advantage over regular lunges since lats aren’t activated very much in the regular variation of the exercise.
The addition of the barbell in the crooks of your elbows pulls the muscles on your upper back and spine.
This both increases your core strength and forces you to keep your spine rigid, which will improve your posture and positioning. In this way, it can be helpful for learning how to lunge correctly.
- Assume the Zercher position and rest the barbell in the crooks of your elbows.
- Step back from the barbell rack and give yourself plenty of space to perform the lunging motion.
- Perform a lunge as you normally would.
- Make sure your feet are hip-width apart and take a step forward with your right leg to shift your weight forward.
- Make sure that the heel touches the floor first.
- Lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the floor.
- The right shin should be vertical.
- Pressing into your right heel, drive yourself back up to the starting position.
- Repeat with the other side until all of your lunge reps are complete.
- Return the barbell to the rack once your lunges are finished.
Done correctly, the Zercher lunge should require you to engage your hips and legs without twisting your waist or bending your back.
Zercher Good Mornings
The Zercher Good Morning is a variant of the typical Good Morning waist exercise. It’s very similar to the standard version, only with the added weight of a barbell in the Zercher position.
- Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and keep your toes pointed forward.
- Slide the barbell into the crooks of your elbows by stepping into the barbell once it is racked at elbow height.
- Start the good morning movement by stepping back from the rack and pushing your hips backward so your butt juts out behind you.
- Maintain the barbell position in the crooks of your elbows.
- The motion of your hips should naturally cause you to lean forward.
- Continue leaning forward and pushing your hips out until your chest is parallel with the ground.
- Once parallel, rise from the position while maintaining back tension and integrity.
- Once standing, you can repeat the exercise for as many reps as you require.
- Replace the barbell on the rack once you are finished.
The Zercher Good Morning is an excellent exercise for your hips. It can easily help you strengthen your core and make all other exercises more manageable once you build up excellent core muscles and spinal tension.
In fact, low back muscles are often those hardest to target effectively. But the Zercher Good Morning is ideal for strengthening those muscles in particular.
You can use a towel or other soft implements in the crooks of your elbows to make the barbell more comfortable to hold.
The bending motion tends to rub your skin against the barbell if you’re not careful.
Zercher Front Raise
The Zercher Front Raise is a focused exercise that can impart benefits to your arms, chest, and core muscles all at once. It’s very simple but requires good posture and strict discipline to complete correctly.
- Being with the barbell at elbow height on the rack.
- Step forward and assume the Zercher Position.
- Lift the barbell once it rests in the crooks of your elbows.
- Lift the barbell to chin height without allowing the barbell to roll back onto your biceps.
- Lower the barbell back down to an elbow height starting position.
- Repeat the exercise for as many reps as are in your set.
- Replace the barbell on the rack once you are finished.
Like most shrugs, Zercher Shrugs is designed to massively increase the size of your trapezius muscles. These muscles rest over your upper spine and shoulders and cover a huge amount of your mid and upper back.
This exercise specifically helps you increase the strength of those muscles that rest above your collarbone and around your neck. It’ll help you bulk up and improve other upper body exercises in the future.
- Assume the Zercher position by starting with the barbell at elbow height.
- Lock the bar into the crooks of your elbows and lift it from the rack using a squatting motion.
- Without stepping away from the rack, use the sides of the rack apparatus as guides to prevent you from pulling the bar too far away.
- Using your trap muscles, lift the barbell performing only a “shrugging” motion.
- Done correctly, the bar should lift to about pectoral height from the elbow position.
- Lower the bar by relaxing your trap muscles back to elbow height.
- Repeat as necessary until the completion of your set.
- Reset the bar on the rack when you are finished.
Remember that with any shrug exercise, the range of motion is incredibly small. You can, therefore, load a very high amount of weight onto your barbell and feel extraordinary.
But don’t go overboard with this. It’s better to perform the exercise correctly with a lesser amount of weight than to overweigh the barbell and perform incorrect weights.
Performing shrug exercises poorly can ruin your posture and mess with your shoulder mechanics.
The Benefits of Zercher Exercises
Zercher exercises should be considered as part of any complete workout routine thanks to their numerous benefits. Unlike targeted exercises, Zercher exercises work many parts of the body and improve overall physical conditioning and mental fortitude.
Since they are so easy to begin, anyone can try out Zercher exercises with an unloaded barbell to see if the balance feels acceptable.
Adding on extra weight is as simple as stacking loads on either end of the barbell.
As a whole, any Zercher exercise will build muscle in the abdominal, bicep, and trap areas. It’ll also increase the activation of your glutes and quad muscles, even if you aren’t doing an exercise that specifically targets those groups.
This is because the inclusion of the barbell in the Zercher position forces your body to remain locked and disciplined to maintain stability and balance during an exercise.
It turns any exercise into a whole-body routine, which provides benefits to your cardiovascular system in your core muscles.
In fact, anyone seeking to improve their core musculature should look into Zercher exercises. They might be a supercharge for their routine.
Aside from that, Zercher exercises are excellent for building discipline and proper posture.
One of the biggest things that prevent people from seeing the results they want, is incorrect form or technique.
As a bipedal animal, humans derive much of their posture from the positioning and musculature of their back.
Strengthening your back muscles and learning how to maintain proper core composition will help your positioning during any physical movement, including many of the exercises used to build up the arms and legs.
Since Zercher exercises target the back and core muscles, anyone can learn how to appropriate excellent posture and technique by rote repetition.
It won’t be an instantaneous change, but over time anyone using Zercher exercises should notice a real improvement in their overall posture.
This is a particularly excellent benefit for helping solidify your back during many staple exercises. Lots of people struggle with good posture during a deadlift, as an example.
- Learning how to Zercher Deadlift is a great way to improve posture and positioning for the regular exercise.
- Even regular squats can benefit from the improvements gleaned from Zercher reps. Many folks fail to maintain proper upper back posture as they stand back up from the squatting position.
- The Zercher squat helps force you to maintain a good upper back posture to keep the barbell balanced in the crooks of your elbows.
- Zercher exercises also provide passive boosts to your bicep workouts. Your biceps and arms will be straining constantly under the weight of the barbell without you having to do any real bicep-focused exercises specifically.
In short: Zercher exercises are intense, whole-body, and great for improving mental fortitude and posture.
Are There Any Negatives?
All of that being said, Zercher exercises do have a few drawbacks.
They tend to be relatively uncomfortable. Heavy barbells rub against the sensitive skin in the crooks of your elbows, so we recommend using a towel or another soft implement to cushion your elbows if you haven’t built up enough skin to weather the rubbing.
You can also wear a long sleeve shirt or use knee sleeves to accomplish the same protective effect.
In addition, Zercher exercises are hard to learn to breathe through. Due to the position of the barbell, your lungs can’t expand quite as much as they would normally.
This can be a little worrying for beginners or those who are not used to front squat exercises.
This lower capacity for oxygen intake can be dealt with after some practice however, I recommend that you start with lower weights when learning how to do Zercher exercises effectively for the first time.
Who Are Zercher Exercises For?
Those who want to up the ante and make their bodies work for progress will love the discomfort and difficulty included with Zercher squats and other movements.
Zercher exercises automatically add a little extra difficulty to any normal exercise, but with the added difficulty comes greater rewards.
Greater rewards also mean that you’ll build muscle all across your body more quickly than those who stick to the tried-and-true exercises without the Zercher method.
Therefore, Zercher exercises are great ideas for anyone who wants to get bigger fast.
Any gymgoers who want to get the most bang for their buck will also love the efficiency that Zercher exercises bring to the table.
Since you work out so many muscles at the same time, you can complete a whole body workout in fewer reps and less time than if you target each individual muscle group specifically.
You don’t even lose out on effort or calorie burning. In fact, Zercher exercises burn more calories per rep than their non-Zercher equivalents. You’re adding an entire extra barbell of weight, after all.
Most importantly, Zercher squats and other exercises are best used by those who need help with their positioning or posture.
Learning proper workout discipline is arguably the toughest part of getting strong.
Anyone can lift the weight over and over, but fewer can lift weights properly and with the correct routine to maximize their results and avoid injury.
Since they require such extensive discipline and mental fortitude to complete correctly, Zercher exercises are great ways to teach beginners how to do workouts the right way. They can even prevent bad posture habits from forming in the first place.
It’s easier to do that than it is to unlearn a bad habit, like rounding your back at the end of a squat.
New gym clients or young men and women who are starting to get into exercise are those who can benefit the most from Zercher movements.
They lack the bad habits that many frequent gymgoers already have and can build up excellent posture from the very beginning.
With practice and determination, they’ll be able to reach heights of physical fitness that others can only dream of.
Overall, Zercher squats and similar exercises can improve the workout routine of just about anybody and pay dividends in terms of posture training and mental conditioning.
They don’t require more muscles than one already has but can lead to greater gains than one might expect.
We’ve been grateful to share Zercher exercises in this guide. Remember to practice safe techniques and go slowly when first starting out.
Founder of EWS. Research writer and test performance hacker, avid intermittent faster, and weight loss specialist. Improve your health and torch fat by clicking here and downloading FREE Intermittent Fasting guide for weight loss. (Testing NEW I-Fasting method, eBook & formulated tracking sheet available for download coming soon!)