Zercher Squat vs Front Squat: Front-loaded exercise

Looking for a front-loaded exercise? There are two barbell squats—the Zercher squat and front squat—with the bar placed in the front of the body. They will help build your quads and can relieve the pressure on your lower back from traditional squats with the barbell placed on your back.

When deciding Zercher squat vs front squat, there are a couple of things to consider.

What is the Zercher squat?

woman doing zercher squat at the gym

A Zercher squat is a regular squat but the bar is held in a different position. Rather than having the bar on your back, you hold it in the crook of your elbows at about lower chest-upper ab heights with your arms flexed. It is essentially a variation of the front squat, which means it works your muscles in a similar way.

It gets its name from St. Louis strongman Ed Zercher. The top of his career was during the 1930s and 1940s where he was one of the best in his field. 

Bar placement

The Zercher squat requires you to hold the barbell in the crooks of your elbows using a half bicep curl position, placing the bar close to your body. It is much harder on the arms to hold the barbell in place while squatting when compared with the front squat.

woman at the bottom position of the zercher squat at the gym

Muscles worked

The Zercher squat works the quads, glutes and hamstrings. It also works the core muscles, biceps and upper back to keep your torso stable and prevent you from falling over.

How to do Zercher squat

  1. Using a squat rack, place the bar just below the height of your sternum
  2. Get close to the bar and get into a half-squat position
  3. Wedge the bar in the crease of your elbows and clasp your hands together
  4. Ensure that the bar is right up against your body and locked in position 
  5. Stand up to lift the bar from the rack
  6. Take a couple steps back and set your squat stance 
  7. Bend at your knees, while trying to stay upright
  8. As you descend, keep your torso upright and your arms bent in the half-bicep-curl position
  9. Stop once your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly below
  10. Push the floor away to stand up

Benefits of the Zercher squat

Including Zercher squats in your bodybuilding routine can have several benefits:

Improves quad strength. This squat hits your quad muscles more so than in a regular squat. The movement pattern overloads the muscle and forces it to adapt and grow.

Ability to squat deeper. The squat teaches you to drop your hips below parallel at the bottom of your squat without putting stress on your lower back.

Improves core stability. The squat involves your erector spinae and transverse abdominis muscle groups. These help to stabilize your core and keep your spine straight.

Improves upright posture. This squat variation requires you to keep your back in an upright position. The barbell in the crease of your elbows means you are forced to push your chest up engaging your upper body and back muscles; in turn helping to improve your posture.

What is a front squat?

The front squat requires a lifter to place a barbell in the rack positioning, often using a clean-grip width and/or crossed arm hold. 

woman standing for front squat with arms criss crossed

Bar placement

The front squat requires you to place the bar on the front deltoid with your arms raised into the “front rack position”. The barbell rests across your shoulders, and your elbows are forward with your fingertips under the bar. The weight of the bar is on your shoulders, and your fingertips provide some control but don’t forget you’re not holding the bar with your hands.

You also can use the crossed arm grip, which positions the barbell in the same exact spot along your shoulders. However, your arms will cross at the front of your body as you place your hands on the bar at the opposite shoulder. 

The cross-grip will easily allow you to keep your elbows up, which ensures your torso can remain upright.

woman at the bottom of the front squat

Muscles worked

The front squat, the focus remains on the following muscle groups: the quads, glutes and adductors (a hamstring muscle). While the upper back, core and biceps also get worked.

How to do the front squat

  1. Using a squat rack, place the loaded barbell at shoulder height
  2. Wedge the bar in the crook of your shoulder
  3. Place your hands just beyond shoulder-width and try to get the base of your four fingers around the bar
  4. Drive your elbows up, so that your triceps are parallel to the floor
  5. Stand up to lift the bar from the rack
  6. Take a couple steps back, and set your squat stance 
  7. Bend at your knees, while trying to sit between your thighs to stay more upright
  8. Stop once your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly below
  9. Push the floor away to stand up

Benefits of front squat

Including front squats in your bodybuilding routine can have several benefits:

  • Improves your mobility. Over time, simply holding the bar in the front rack position will increase the flexibility in your wrists, triceps, and lats. 
  • It builds your quads. Thought the back squat would build your legs more than the front squat? Think again. A study by Gullet et al. (2008) found that the front squat was just as good as the back squat for recruiting muscle mass. From the results of this study, we can infer that neither exercise has the upper-hand in stimulating hypertrophy, even though you can lift much more with the back squat.
  • It places less compressive force on your knees. If you have ligament issues in your knees (partial/full tears), then the front squat makes an excellent squat variation.

Zercher squat variation

If you are unable to hold the weight comfortably, you can perform the lift in the Smith machine. Using the Smith machine can also help with your range of motion and stability in the bottom position of the squat.

How to add Zercher squats into squat routine?

Add the Zercher squat to your strength training once a week and do 3-5 sets. Do this in addition to traditional back squats.

It’s similar to when you do a leg press or lunges. 

How many should you do?

When first starting out, go light and focus on proper form. Do sets of 5-8 reps.

Once you get the form down, you can add additional reps. Aim to use a weight load that challenges you. 

Wrap up

Deciding on which front-loaded exercise you should do is a personal choice. Both squats are a great way to improve the strength and muscle in your lower body.

Over time you will notice that you will see improvements in regular squats and deadlifts

0 0 votes
Article Rating

Similar Posts

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments