What can you do, if you have the shoulder mobility of someone in a straitjacket?
THE MOVE: Zercher Squat
MOVEMENT PATTERN AND MUSCLES WORKED: Squat: quads, glutes, core.
WHY DO IT: When goblet squats no longer cut it for you, it’s common to up the ante with front squats or back squats to continue driving progress on the squat pattern. However, even with little weight, you still must have the appropriate shoulder mobility to do either of these squats safely and effectively.
In the front squat, there are a couple of things you must have in order to do it correctly. You must have good extension of your upper back in order to keep your elbows up for the front rack. Your shoulders must be able to externally rotate adequately to allow for you hands to hold onto the bar outside of shoulder width. Your wrists have to be mobile too, so that they can cradle the bar with your fingers throughout the squat.
The back squat can be challenging too, as it puts you in a position that really “opens up” your torso. This can be hard for desk jockeys who are hunched over a desk all day. Upper back extension is a must here, but tight pecs (from benching) won’t do the job here. Shoulder external rotation is also important so that you can hold the bar across your back. Finally, you should also have good retraction of the shoulder blades to create a stable shelf for the bar to sit on.
The Zercher Squat is the answer to these mobility issues. In the Zercher, you hold the bar close to your body with your arms at your sides. The bar is held in your elbow crease. This requires little t-spine, shoulder, and wrist mobility, and should be easy for almost anyone to do. Having the bar sit in your elbow crease can be a little uncomfortable at first, but like the front squat, it won’t take much time getting used to.
The mechanics of the Zercher are very similar to the goblet squat. The load out in front engages the abs and forces you to squat with an upright torso. In fact, you can think of the Zercher Squat as a teaching tool for picking your kid up from the floor.
If your shoulder mobility has you feeling like someone in a striatjacket, the Zercher Squat is the answer to your squatting needs.
HOW TO DO IT: When it comes down to it, the Zercher Squat is as easy to learn as the classic goblet squat. Set up a loaded barbell at waist-height in a rack. Approach the bar and fold your elbows underneath it. The bar should be sitting in the crease of your elbow, with your elbows close to your torso and your hands right in front of your chest.
Position your feet underneath the barbell, and squat up slightly to unrack the bar. Walk it out and get into your squat stance. From here, think about keeping your torso up and squatting between you legs. Push through the heels and finish through the hips to come all the way back up. Repeat for reps.
Holding the bar in your elbow crease will be a little uncomfortable at first, but you’ll get used to it. I also find that squeezing your biceps a little helps take some of the load off your elbows, so give that a shot. You might even get a bicep pump out of that.
The Zercher Squat fits nicely in the beginning of a training session. I’d recommend using it for 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps. If goblet squats are too easy, but shoulder mobility prevents you from transitioning into the front or back squat, the Zercher can be a great fit for you. As it is a barbell exercise, the loading potential on this is great as well. Try it out and let us know what you think on Twitter or Instagram @halevylife !
by Jeremy Lau
Jeremy Lau is a Senior Staff Coach at Halevy Life.
Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and received his Master’s in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.
As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.