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Zercher Squat vs Front Squat: Finding Your Perfect Squat

May 27, 2018

It’s time to examine the Zercher squat vs front squat.

But, what is the Zercher?

Why is it called that? Do you even know what it is?

There’s a good chance you stumbled upon this article without even knowing what the Zercher squat is, but are now intrigued.

Well, trust me, we are going to go over what it is, how it compares to a front squat, and see which is overall better.

Also, since we are talking squats, I would highly suggest getting a barbell squat pad like the one we provide.

For regular front and back squats, this will give you far more comfort.

But, with a Zercher squat, a barbell pad can make a night and day difference for deciding if you like the exercise or not!

Related: Correct Posture for Squats – 16 Steps to Follow


What is the Front Squat?

Front Squat Form

Zercher Squat vs Front Squat - Front Squat OlympicFor some, the front squat is a foreign squat movement.

With the front squat, you have the barbell positioned across the top of your chest and shoulders, holding the bar with your fingers and palms facing up.

This could be an uncomfortable position for a few people, which is why I usually recommend back squat for beginners or people with any sort of knee/hip issues.

It is much easier, in my opinion, to get out of a back squat than it is a front squat.

But, although the front squat form is different, it is still cherished and an often performed movement.


Why Should You Front Squat?

Zercher Squat vs Front Squat - Front SquatSo, why would you front squat when you can just back squat?

Well, think about the dynamic of each movement, before you question its use.

Unlike the back squat, which will primarily target your glutes, the front squat zones in on your upper quads.

You will feel the entire sheet of muscle on your quads bearing the load of the barbell.

A lot of lifters (primarily men) will switch to front squats after a while to keep training their legs without growing their glutes too much.

For women, there’s no real reason to avoid back squats and not grow your glutes, but front squats should also be done.

Weight placement, for the most part, will always change how your muscles are targeted, and that is the case here.

So, with that in mind, you should probably front squat if you want to grow bigger legs.

Related: 3 Tips for Nailing the Front Squat


What is the Zercher Squat?

Zercher Squat Form

Zercher Squat vs Front Squat - Zercher SquatNow, for the Zercher squat, your form will be unlike anything you’ve ever done.

Well, maybe not, but still unusual if all you know is traditional squats.

So for the Zercher, the barbell is also held in front of you.

But, this time, not at your upper chest, but rather in the crook of your elbows.

You will also have your feet pointed a tad bit outward so your squat position will be wider to account for the location of the barbell.

At this point you are probably thinking, that sounds terribly uncomfortable.

You may also be wondering why you would even consider doing a Zercher squat.

Well… let’s see why you actually would.

Related: How to Zercher Squat


Why Do We Zercher Squat?

Zercher Squat vs Front Squat - Zercher SquatMany people decide to do the Zercher squat because it helps with all-around growth.

Furthermore, it does exceptionally well at helping you build your front squat.

So, for all those people who do front squat, and have hit a plateau, Zercher squats can be the answer.

Everyone will have different reasons to do a Zercher squat, but here are some other reasons:

  • Back squats or front squats are too uncomfortable
  • You are short on time and want to target your muscles efficiently
  • Previous injuries make traditional squats impossible (shoulder injuries especially)

These are just a few reasons, besides it being a great exercise, that you may want to do Zercher squats.

But, let’s get deeper into the actual benefits of the Zercher — and front squats.

Related: Safety Bar Squat vs Back Squat – Which Should You Do?


Zercher Squat vs Front Squat

Benefits of Zercher Squats

Zercher Squat vs Front Squat - Zercher Squat DeepLike I suggested earlier, Zercher squats are great for those avoiding injuries, who want to try a different squat variant, and if you are looking to build up your front squat.

Also, Zercher squats are somewhat of a full-body workout.

On their own, you’ll be hitting your quads, glutes, strengthening your core, working your traps (from holding the bar) and using both your forearms and biceps.

Wow, that is a lot, now that I think about it!

Now you’re probably thinking, Zercher squat vs front squat? Obviously, Zercher wins!

And, I can see why you’d think that.

Honestly, that’s what I’m thinking, too.

The Zercher may be more difficult in form and technique, but it is clearly a superior squat, right?


Benefits of Front Squats

Zercher Squat vs Front Squat - Front SquatFront squats are like the next step after you master back squat.

People love to do front squats, especially if they can get the form down properly.

When doing front squats, you’ll be targeting your quads and your upper back.

Furthermore, the form and positioning of the barbell for front squats lends itself well to the snatch and clean and jerk.

If you are an Olympic lifter or someone who plans to compete, training with front squats will be highly beneficial.


The Similarities

Zercher Squat vs Front Squat - Zercher SquatBoth the front squat and Zercher squat play a huge role in alleviating (or at least avoiding) shoulder injuries and pain.

A lot of athletes that have shoulder problems will prefer to run a routine with front squats and Zercher squats as their alternatives.

Also, since both squats are front-loaded, you sort of have a better idea of how to control the weight.

This even allows you to better control the re-racking of the barbell.

Sometimes, for back squat, you will miss the safety catches and put yourself in danger.

But, with the barbell clearly in your range of sight, you can safely finish your sets.

These similarities make both the Zercher and front squat comparable in greatness, but what are the differences that are important to Zercher squat vs front squat?

Related: Heavy Squat Benefits – Going Big to Get Big


The Differences

The biggest differences between these two squats are their setup:

  • Front Squat – held at your upper chest with standard foot position, similar to back squats
  • Zercher Squat – held in the crook of your elbows with feet a little wider than normal

Zercher Squat vs Front Squat - Front Squat OlympicWith these form factors in mind, you will notice the difference in comfort.

Most will prefer the front squat as the more comfortable variant, as opposed to the strange Zercher stance.

Despite their fundamental differences, both squats are quite similar on a basic level.

But, which should you choose?

In my opinion, you should focus on comfort and your goals when deciding!

However, if you have specific goals in mind, like building mass, then you should focus your efforts towards those accomplishments.


Final Thoughts: Zercher Squat vs Front Squat

Zercher Squat vs Front Squat: Make Your Choice Based on Comfort

Zercher Squat vs Front Squat - Dark Iron Fitness Barbell Squat PadAt this point, you’ve probably decided whether or not you’d rather do front squats or Zercher squats.

For some, front squats may be the more uncomfortable squat of the two, whereas others will hate the positioning of the Zercher squat.

Both people have fair points, as both styles of squats are somewhat unconventional for maintaining heavy weight while squatting.

If you have problems lifting with the barbel in front of you, I suggest doing back squat.

However, if your only concern is the pain in the crook of your elbows, then you can use a barbell pad to cushion yourself during the Zercher squat.

Related: Why Do Squats Hurt My Lower Back?


Zercher Squat vs Front Squat: Cater to What Your Squat Goals Are

Zercher Squat vs Front Squat - Squat Muscles WorkedAs with any exercise you do, you need to do them with your goals in mind.

If you are training for athleticism, both of these squat variations will be great.

However, if you are training specifically for Olympic lifting, I would stick with front squats.

Also, if you aren’t really worried about overall progressive overload, you can probably do front squats and leave it at that.

Zercher squats will definitely help you overcome plateaus in front squatting and get better, but if you are only squatting to stay in shape and have mobility, they aren’t necessarily that important.

But, on the flip side, if you want to keep your workouts short and full-body oriented, then Zercher squats will do you good!

Keep your squats tailored to your goals and you will never go wrong.

Related: Will Squats Make My Bum Bigger?