There are tons of reasons to do squats: stronger legs, shapely glutes, full-body coordination; the list goes on. And now, we can add: build core strength because the Zercher squat automatically activates your core muscles.
It looks like a circus trick with the weight in the crook of your elbows, but is ultimately easy to learn and a solid fit for most body types and experience levels. Here’s how to do it and why you should try it.
HOW TO ZERCHER SQUAT
The Zercher squat refers to any squat that holds the weight in the crook of your elbows. This keeps the weight close to your midsection, which challenges your core and takes stress off your lower back.
You can use a medicine ball, sandbag or any other implement you can manage to hold in the Zercher position. If you’re using a barbell, it’s highly recommended that you put a squat pad around the middle of the bar to cushion your forearms.
Whatever kind of weight you use, it’s best to pick it up out of a squat rack or off a shelf or a bench to avoid having to bend over and round your back. While the Zercher squat was invented as a way for strongman competitors to pick up a barbell off the ground without doing a traditional deadlift, you can skip that part if you’re just trying to do squats.
Once you’re holding the weight, follow these steps:
- Set your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart with toes turned out slightly.
- Hug the weight tightly to your midsection.
- Inhale as if you were about to dive underwater (this further activates your core muscles).
- Sit straight down as low as you can (for most people, sitting until your hips are slightly lower than your knees is plenty low enough).
- Exhale as you stand back up to the starting position, focusing on pushing your feet down through the floor.
IT ALL STARTS WITH THE CORE
If you’ve tried other squat variations like back squats and front squats, you may notice Zercher squats feel smoother and more coordinated. You’ll likely be able to squat lower without feeling like you’re going to fall forward. This all stems from one thing: Zercher squats automatically activate your core muscles.
Why not just do goblet squats? Holding the weight at chest height activates your core too, right? This is true. However, during Zercher squats you hold the weight directly in front of your abdominals (instead of right under your chin) and your arms are slightly out in front of you (instead of elbows tucked into your armpits). This takes the core activation to a higher level.
The combination of having the weight in front of your body and in the crook of your elbows forces you to use your core to prevent the weight from falling. When your core muscles are firing on all cylinders, you’re less likely to use your lower back. What’s the number 1 concern with back squats and front squats? Falling forward. No matter how hard they try, many people still tip forward while squatting, which can put undue stress on the lower back. Zercher squats cure this ailment with a simple cue: Don’t drop the weight and you won’t fall forward.
THE BOTTOM LINE
At first glance, Zercher movements look a bit out of place compared to other exercises. However, they could be just the movement you need to get your squats and other lower body exercises feeling smooth and coordinated because of the increased core emphasis. Finally, Zercher squats activate your core muscles in a functional, effective way.
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