Should You Do Zercher Squats In The Smith Machine?

zercher squat
May 9, 2023 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “should you do zercher squats in the smith machine?”. The zercher squat is an interesting squat variation that is named after Ed Zercher.

Ed was a powerlifter and strongman from the 1930s. You essentially squat with the bar resting in the crooks of your elbows. It is a brutal exercise and can cause discomfort for some people.

This article will explore whether you should do zercher squats in the smith machine instead of doing them with a barbell inside a rack.

Should You Do Zercher Squats In The Smith Machine?

Some people may find the standard olympic barbell causes them more discomfort in the forearms when doing zercher squats.

With the smith machine and a pad, there is a little less discomfort when doing zercher squats. Another benefit of doing zercher squats in the smith is you can focus on just moving the weight and less on stabilising it.

When you do free weight zercher squats you have to work a lot harder to stabilise the weight. The zercher squat also brings the glutes into the movement more than the front squat.

Therefore, it is a good idea to try doing zercher squats in the smith machine. If you enjoy this exercise and your body responds well to it, keep doing it!
zercher squat

Does Your Gym Have A Squat Rack?

Your gym could have barbells, dumbbells and lots of plates but no squat rack. Whist this is rare, there are unfortunately still some gyms that don’t have a squat rack.

In this case, trying a squatting variation like the zercher squat inside a smith machine would be a viable alternative. Personally, I am not a fan of doing front squats or back squats inside the smith machine.

If I had no access to a squat rack, I would rather do goblet squats and bulgarian split squats with dumbbells. I would also try out the zercher smith machine squat.

This is because this exercise offers a unique challenge and works the muscles from a different angle. It will also strengthen your upper and mid back and be a movement that is functional in real life.

When you are picking up odd objects in real life, you have to wrap your arms around them and squat down. Then you would have to come back up using your lower body muscles, whilst keeping a firm grip on the object.

The zercher squat is a movement that will get you brutally strong in a very functional way. 

Less Abrasions On The Smith Machine

One of the big complaints about the zercher squat is how it can cause a lot of discomfort to the crooks of your elbow and your forearms.

This generally happens more when you do heavy zercher squats with an olympic barbell. The smith machine bar tends to be skinnier and if you use a pad it can feel more comfortable.

You also have to worry less about stabilising the weight when using the smith machine. You can focus on just executing the movement and not have to worry about stabilisation.

The free weight zercher squat can present safety risks in that you can lose the bar forward with heavy weight. However, if you have safety pins in place this is less of a concern.

Dan John’s Views In The Goblet Squat vs Zercher Squat Debate

Both goblet squats and zercher squats are fantastic exercises. Both involve holding the weight in front of your body.

Although with zercher squats you are pitched forward more. Your upper and mid back has to work a lot harder on the zercher squat. Dan John says that a good standard of strength would be to do your bodyweight for reps on the zercher squat.

So if you weigh 100kg and can do reps with 100kg on the zercher squat, that would be a good standard. Dan explains that he has a friend who can do zercher squats in the 400lb range and above. This is very impressive!

Goblet squats are an exercise that will work better for the general population. The zercher squat is an acquired taste and not everyone is comfortable with the pain that it can cause.

Just like any other exercise, there are people who are seemingly born to do it. These people will tend to excel at this exercise and be able to do zercher squats with very heavy weights.

More Glute Activation Than Front Squats

An interesting observation about the zercher squat is that it will work the glutes slightly harder than the front squat or goblet squat.

Anecdotally, many people share this experience. It seems that keeping the weight in the midline of your body and having to sit back slightly more will force your glutes to work harder.

This is another reason why the low bar squat is one of the best glute exercises. The low bar squat has you leaned over a bit more and you have to sit back to keep the bar over the middle of the foot.

The glutes are more heavily recruited on the low bar squat than they are on the high bar squat. Therefore, if you prefer to have the load in front of you and want to work your glutes, you are better off with the zercher squat. 

Final Thoughts

Should you do zercher squats in the smith machine? You can and you should try this exercise. Zercher squats offer a unique challenge and are a good way of getting more glute activation out of a squat where the weight is in front of your body.

If the exercise doesn’t agree with you then you don’t have to continue performing it. Some people love the zercher squat and these are the people who will likely get up to a higher level on this exercise.

If you have any comments on this topic please leave them below. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

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