Femurs that are longer than one’s torso are a disadvantage to performing the back squat.

If your lower legs are disproportionately short for your upper legs, and especially if your femur length exceeds that of your torso, you’re stiffed when it comes to executing back squats without an uncomfortable forward lean, unless you adopt a very wide stance; enter the Zercher squat.

When I began a new client on squats, I took notice of their “levers” to see if they might be a poor candidate for the standard back squat.

Every so often I prefer them to try out the Zercher style. This is a viable alternative to those stiffed with long femurs.

This move comes in handy also for those with shoulder tweaks that interfere with the back squat when keeping their hands on the bar.

For this move, you hold the barbell in front. This allows you to keep your spine more upright throughout the exercise.

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Practice first with a bare Olympic bar, or even a shorter fixed-weight barbell. The Zercher will feel awkward at first. With practice your body will become more comfortable with the technique. 

• Assume the starting position of a squat as far as leg positioning, and approach the Olympic bar that’s waiting for you in the squat rack at an appropriate height.

• Cradle the bar in your elbows and step away so that you have room for a half squat.

• Hands can be gently clasped together, or apart, but the elbows are flexed enough to keep the bar securely in place.

• Make sure your cradling position is smack in the middle of the bar.

• Keeping the elbows securely flexed, lower into a half squat. If you feel like lowering a little deeper, that’s fine too.

• Keep the head up, chest proud.

• Don’t crane the head upward, however.

• Keep your eyes straight ahead.

• At the bottom of the movement, elbows are below knee level.

• Try not to let the bar rest on your lower thighs.

• Now stand back up to complete the rep. 

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The bar will probably be uncomfortable against the skin. You can get around this by wearing a sweatshirt, using a thick bar if your gym has one or by using a barbell pad.

Be creative. You can wrap an Ace bandage around the portions of your forearms that make contact with the barbell. Of course, you can just tough it out, too.

When doing the Zercher for the first time, you’ll immediately notice the different pattern of muscle fiber recruitment.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 



Top image: Shutterstock/crazystocker