Possibly the most underutilized position in strength and conditioning today? For my money, I'm going with the Zercher position.
Not necessarily an exercise in and of itself, the Zercher position is a specific barbell placement that sees the bar placed in front of your body in the crooks of your elbows. It looks like this:
A huge number of movements can be executed with this bar position, making it a great way to mix up your training while still sticking with tried-and-true exercises. You can use these movements in your accessory work or as a primary movement for the session. Here's a taste of some movements that utilize the Zercher position:
Some of my other favorites include Zercher Pin Squats, Zercher Step-Ups, Zercher Walking Lunges, Zercher Bulgarian Split Squats, Zercher Single-Leg Box Squats and Zercher Carries. And with the options of using various specialty bars (such as cambered bars or bamboo bars) and strongman implements like sandbags, the possibilities are limitless!
To initiate the Zercher position, you want to begin by placing the barbell into the crooks of your elbows. Next, drive your fists up to create total body tension, bracing before you un-rack the barbell. Keep your hands separated at shoulder width if possible, as not clasping your hands together will create a greater emphasis on maintaining total body tension (though you can work up to this over time). Locking into this bar position will put a much greater emphasis on upper back and trunk stability than your typical Back and Front Squat, while also recruiting a greater contribution from the biceps. The key is not allowing the bar position to pull your trunk too far forward and throw your form out of whack—resisting that very outcome is what makes the Zercher position such a great modifier.
There is a good reason why you don't typically see the Zercher position utilized in most gyms or weight rooms—because it is hard! With that being said, the toughness the position requires should invoke as much mental strength and confidence as it does physical. The Zercher isn't for everyone, but when used properly, it can be a great mix-up to prevent stagnation in your training and to stimulate further strength and muscle gains. If the discomfort is preventing you from actually being able to use this position as you might like, you can add a foam pad or towel to alleviate some of that pain while still reaping a ton of unique benefits.
The Zercher position is a great alternative to spine-loaded movements, which can make it nice option for those new to lifting. Since any movement done from the Zercher position tends to be significantly harder, it can also be a smart way to help keep a young lifter's ego in check and force them to focus on technique over weight.
Going off this, the Zercher Squat is a fantastic option when teaching a new client or athlete the basic squat movement pattern. Performing a Zercher Squat virtually forces the individual to remain upright, and having the bar in their elbows as opposed to across their back can make it easier to cue them to push their hips back and drive their knees out while squatting.
If you're looking for a unique conditioning option, Zercher barbell complexes are absolutely brutal and will help build tremendous strength and muscular endurance. Below is an example Zercher Barbell Complex (Perform these movements back to back without stopping or putting the barbell down):
- Zercher Squats, 10 reps
- Zercher Reverse Lunges, 10 reps
- Zercher Good Mornings, 10 reps
This is just one example as Zercher complexes can be done with several different movements and rep schemes.
Training should be attacked from all angles; nothing of true necessity should be left out of an individual's program. The Zercher position works to simultaneously develop upper back, trunk and spine stability along with creating better movement patterns and total body strength in a wide variety of movements. This position is far too good to neglect and can easily be implemented into almost any individual's program. Give it a try and see how a simple shift in bar position can lead to big changes in your results.
Photo Credit: SolStock/iStock
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