Topless man in gym rack zercher squat legs bicep abs exercise

Use the Zercher squat to build strong legs, biceps and six pack abs

Harness the leg-building and biceps-boosting power of the Zercher squat and master the only acceptable method of training your biceps in the squat rack, says New Body Plan creator and Men’s Fitness cover model Jon Lipsey

Most guys would rather train their biceps than their legs. If that sounds like you then we have the perfect way to work your lower body and grow your guns.

How? The Zercher squat. It’s a rarely-used but super-effective lift that builds bigger, stronger and more powerful legs as well as packing on serious biceps size and strength. What’s more, it even gives your core a solid challenge to help you sculpt six pack abs. Here’s what you need to know to get the full benefits from this essential multi-muscle move.

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What is a Zercher squat?

The Zercher squat is a barbell squat variation where you rest the bar in the crook of your arm. You’ll need squat stands or a squat rack to get the bar into position.

What muscles does a Zercher squat work?

The Zercher squat will work all of the major lower body muscle groups. So you’ll develop your quads, your hamstrings and your glutes. Because of the way you hold the bar, you’ll also train your biceps. And because you have to work hard to keep your torso upright and stable, it will challenge your abs, core and spinal erector (lower back) muscles too.

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Why should I do a Zercher squat?

There are lots of reasons to include the Zercher squat in your better-body training plan. Here are some of the biggest benefits.

Zercher squats are safe to do on your own
The barbell back squat is a great exercise. But it does come with some risks. If you’re under a heavy bar and you fail, that can end badly if you’re not sure how to safely ditch the bar. Zercher squats are comparatively safe because you’ll inevitably use a lighter weight than you would when doing a back squat. So when you fail, it’s while using a 40kg, rather than 140kg.

The position of the weight encourages good technique
When you perform a Zercher squat the load is in front of your body. This encourages you to get into a good lifting position. You’ll naturally want to put your weight on your heels and mid-foot to counterbalance the bar. And you’ll want to keep your chest up to avoid collapsing forwards. In many respects the load distribution is similar to the front squat. However, a lot of people struggle to get into the start position of the front squat. The Zercher squat makes it easier get into a good start position.

It works really well with a shoulder press as a superset
Supersets, where you do two exercises back-to-back, are a great way to train. They’re great for building muscle and burning fat and they are time efficient. They key to a good superset is a good exercise pairing. The Zercher squat and barbell shoulder press are ideal because you can use the same weight. This saves time between sets. You can also do them both in a squat rack, so you don’t need to wait for equipment.

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How to do the perfect Zercher squat

• Position the barbell in a squat rack at just higher than waist height.
• Position the bar on crook of the arms then take the bar out of the rack.
• Stand tall before you start the rep with your core braced.
• Simultaneously bend at the knees and hips to squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
• Keep your weight on your heels and mid foot, not your toes.
• Push through your feet to return to standing and squeeze your glutes at the top of the rep before repeating the exercise.

How to get stronger in the Zercher squat

Squeeze your biceps
You want to bring your biceps into play as much as possible. For that reason, you want to squeeze your biceps hard for the duration of the set. Because your biceps are working in an isometric (static) contraction, it’s down to you to recruit as many muscle fibre as possible. The harder you squeeze your biceps, the more muscle fibres you’ll recruit.

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Common Zercher squat problems

The problem: My arms get tired quickly when doing Zercher squats
The fix: Make sure you time it right in the workout

The chances are that, when you’re doing Zercher squats, your arms will get tired before your legs. If that’s happening, you may want to do other legs moves before you attempt the Zercher squat. If you do that, your legs will be pre-fatigued and your arms will be fresh.

The problem: I find it painful to hold the bar in the crook of my arms
The fix: Make sure you’re using the correct bar thickness

The thinner the bar, the more it is likely to hurt. If you’re using an Olympic bar that weighs 15kg, that will be thinner than a 20kg bar. That means it is more likely to hurt, even though it is lighter. Another option is to wrap a towel around the bar to give yourself a bit of padding.

The problem: I find that I’m being pulled forwards and I lose control of the bar
The fix: Get tight and squeeze your biceps

If you’re being pulled forwards, the solution is to brace your core. And while you’re doing that, ensure that you’re squeezing your biceps and pulling the bar in towards you. Doing those three things will help you maintain a strong and stable position.

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