By Tony Gracia, Head Coach and Co-Founder at Industrial Strength.
I have been a full-time professional in the fitness industry for 12 years, and over that time I have seen a lot of people come in with pre-conceived notions about what exercises are good and what they should be doing for their training. While many of these exercises are ones that I would also consider good, unfortunately sometimes people are a little closed-minded about trying other exercises that are also awesome, and in many cases would be a better fit for that person in terms of meeting their goals & needs. This series of articles will highlight fifteen of my favorite exercises that I think are awesome and do not get the appreciation they deserve.
UNDERRATED EXERCISE #1 = ZERCHER SQUAT
Zercher squats (ZS) are, in my opinion, the best barbell squat for most people. They deliver essentially all the same great features of a back squat, while offering several other benefits. First off, ZS can, and will, get you insanely strong (why some people think they can’t get strong with ZS is beyond me). Seriously, if you think you can’t get strong by doing ZS as your primary squat then you are either taking some crazy pills or are being closed minded.
Second, they are more approachable for a wide range of body types and people who have limited mobility or orthopedic issues. A few examples of people who will probably do better with ZS than traditional back squats include people with long legs (in proportion to their torso), limited mobility in their ankles, hips, and/or shoulders, and people who have an exaggerated forward curve of their upper back (excessive thoracic kyphosis). If you have one or more of these, then definitely consider trying ZS. I bet you will get better depth and maintain better form compared to traditional back squats.
Third, most people really struggle to use their abs and other core muscles correctly when squatting; it takes a lot of coaching and practice to really learn how to get it right, and especially to continue to do it right when the weights get heavy. That said, the feedback that the weight provides during ZS almost always gets the lifter using their core better right away, and it tends to stick better even when the weights get heavy.
Fourth, Zerchers tend to be easier on the lower back than traditional back squats. The reasons for this are the placement of the bar being 1) in front of the lifter, and 2) closer to the mid-point of the spine instead of near the top of it. Also, as stated in the paragraph above, ZS tends to “turn on” the lifter’s core much better than back squats, adding additional elements of strength, support, and safety to the lower back.
HOW TO DO THEM
- Set up your rack so that the bar is just below your elbows when you are standing up tall
- Wrap your arms around the bar so that it is resting in the crook of your elbows – a few tips for this set up include:
- Your elbows should be in-line with your armpits and not flared out
- Your elbows should only move forward slightly, not excessively
- Turning your palms toward yourself (like a biceps curl) is often the most comfortable position
- Interlacing the fingers is NOTrecommended for safety reasons
- Before you un-rack the bar make “white knuckle tight” fists, as that will help your strength and stability
- After walking out the bar, assume your normal squat stance. Heels approximately under the shoulders, toes angled outward 30° – 45° (these will vary from person to person)
- As you descend think about “pulling yourself” down to the bottom with your hip flexors and hamstrings
- Also during the descent you should be actively trying to keep the bar close to you using your upper body strength – allowing the elbows to move forward and away from you is one of the most common errors; also be sure to keep your elbows inside of your knees, never outside of them
- Descend as low as possible (at least below parallel and preferably rock-bottom), pause for a moment, then come up
- As you stand back up make sure the hips do not rise faster than the shoulders. In the ZS this is somewhat self-limiting, meaning it is difficult to make this mistake badly. However, on the back squat, it is a major mistake and something people get away with quite a bit
Thanks for taking the time here. Stay tuned this week for more on the list of top 15 of the most underrated strength and power exercises. If you like what you see, please do us a huge favor and share, comment and repost. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or DM us.
Tony Gracia / Head Coach / Co-Founder @industrialstrengthgym