Sure, you squat. Or you should be squatting, because squats are crazy effective at defining muscle, making you strong, and will help you sculpt dat ass. But hold the phone – because there’s one that you probably aren’t doing. But it’s my very favorite of all, and I want you to love it too.
It’s a variation on a goblet squat. A squat that’s almost anyone can do. But I’m going to show you a “next level” squat that’s basically a souped up goblet squat.
In case you don’t already know, to perform a goblet squat, you simply hold a dumbbell under your chin and skwat. Easy peasy. Just think about squatting between your legs, let your elbows brush your thighs, and chances are, you’re going to do a pretty bang up job.
Maybe you think you’re too strong/jacked/dope to goblet squat.
Nope nope nope.
Changing up the kind of squat you do helps you build strength and stability in new ways, prevents boredom, and helps you work around injuries. That’s all good stuff. For me in particular, heavy barbell back squatting just didn’t play well with my hip, and at times my shoulders, very well. That’s where I began to use goblet squats way more frequently for lower body work. Not only for high rep fat burning workouts – but for sculpting more muscle too.
So what’s the problem?
You see, I reached a point in my training where I wanted to use the squat to get stronger through my legs and glutes. Here’s where it sounds like I’m going to cry and complain about a “first world gym problem”.
The heavy dumbbell. On the rack. It’s so big. So unwieldy. So annoying to get into position. Bleh.
Yeah yeah, maybe I’m being a big baby about it. But the act of dragging out a big dumbbell was off putting. Yet as some inventor-type person once said, “necessity is the mother of invention”. So it dawned on me that I could get around this issue and squat heavier weight more comfortably.
It’s the zercher squat.
Here’s the part of the article where anyone who’s ever done a zercher squat is going to silently say “Amy, are you high?”
No. I am not. I’m merely highly caffeinated. But I always get this look when I talk about zercher squats:
That’s because they can be hellishly uncomfortable. But there’s a work around there too, so stick with me for a minute and I’ll show you.
“Zercher” is named after an old lifter named Ed, but the name now just refers to how you hold the bar. In the crook of your elbow. For the squat, most people set pins on a rack somewhere between waist and chest height, and scoop the bar into that sweet spot.
As you can imagine, the big issue that people seem to have with this variation is that the thin bar, nestled into this tender spot, becomes terribly painful at higher loads, especially if you’re doing a lot of reps. So that’s why I get the look of dismay.
Before you run for the hills, convinced I’m going to say “Suck it up, buttercup”, remember – I was just whining about being uncomfortable with the dumbbell. Instead, I want to focus on getting stronger without my work feeling needlessly awkward. You need only one thing.
Squat sponges get mocked regularly at gyms. I’ve heard them called “pussy pads”. Cue the snickering. It’s apparently the anti-badass gym accessory.
And I don’t love them for barbell back squats: I feel more stable and better tension with the bar maintaining close contact with my back. But I wondered what would happen if I used the sponge as I had been doing for months already with hip thrusts. If now, instead of protecting my hips, I could create an elbow cushion.
Then I gave it a whirl.
Magic, baby, magic. The Zercher squat remained stable and secure – even more so, I wager, than with just the bar. And I could load up more weight than I could with a dumbbell goblet squat.
Check mine out here:
The thing is, the two lifts have quite a bit in common:
- They both encourage a more upright posture, which can be tricky for some who squat.
- Both variations are fairly friendly to the lower back.
- Both zercher and goblet squats allow you to get down and dirty into a deep squat – good for building your butt.
- Each lift require your body to maintain a metric ton of tension throughout your core. You don’t even have to try to engage your core. It’s going to happen if you like it or not.
- And both are safe to do without a spotter – at worst, you’ll dump the bar in front of you and feel a little embarrassed.
While I wouldn’t recommend the zercher variation to a brand spankin’ new squatter, I see it as a fine variation to use simply because you can load it more heavily, making it possibly appropriate for a “main lift” of the day. And once the discomfort issue is out of the way, there’s no reason not to try.
Unless you’re like my friend Andy, who retorted “yeah but I could never Instagram that”. Get outta here. You’ll still be a badass even with a snuggly squat sponge. I promise.
So give Zerchers a try if you’ve avoided them. Just like dumbbell goblet squats, they’re a great tool in your leg day tool kit.