The Zercher Squat and the High School Athlete – Elite FTS

Squatting is one of the most beneficial and necessary movements for a high school athlete. Few movements will build as much strength and flexibility as the squat and should be an essential exercise for any successful high school strength training program.

High school age athletes are adaptable and must learn all the nuances of how to perform a safe and effective squat pattern. Regardless of the variation used, they must have a solid understanding of the many different variations because the basic principles and signals are similar.

These athletes should be able to successfully perform or strive to perform, barbell squat, front barbell squat, and back barbell squat, if of course proper instructions are given. An often overlooked variation of the squat that must be made in this continuous rotation of exercises as well as being the first choice when introducing these vulnerable young athletes to the squat style is the Zercher Squat. High school sports coaches seem to like her too because they think she looks “stronger”.

I can’t count how many times the Zercher squat has helped me better prepare the younger high school athletes I train, and serve as a primary teaching tool for the squat.

Zercher squat benefits and preparation

The Zercher squat is a type of front-loading squat in which a barbell is loaded into the bend of the elbows. Holding the bar in this position will put more stress on the muscles of the upper back and middle. The upper back and midsection need to constantly develop with this specific age group.

When preparing for the Zercher squat, full body tension must be created. Once the barbell is firmly attached to the elbows, the lifter will keep his hands apart, pressing them as tightly as possible. This will create a radiating effect that creates tension down from the fist throughout the body, not allowing a single link of weakness. From there the squat signals are essentially the same as a standard squat squat.

This pose also works well for these athletes because it helps teach the squat in a progressive manner. It seems to make squatting more natural, or less complex, allowing the athlete to reach deep with ease, hitting the big cues of the knees, and hips back, and forcing them to maintain a strong, straight posture. If the position is not maintained throughout the lift, the lifter will fail, which takes me to my next point.

Zercher squat safety

Zercher squats are initially safer than back-loaded variations because if the athletes fail, they fall flat and let the safety pins do their jobs. I understand it’s technically the same process as a barbell back squat, but if you’re reading this and thinking about the time you saw a high school football player fail on their back squat, you’ve seen panic overwhelm them and they just give up entirely on taking care of their body or body Their monitors or equipment while unloading the iron bar in any direction they like.

No matter how much education and safety you teach kids, the first time they go down the hole with a lot of weight on their back and realize they won’t come in, it’s a scary feeling and can lead to a lot of bad decisions. While failing in the Zercher squat is downright embarrassing, a barbell was not loaded onto my spine and athletes have told me they felt more in control during those tough situations—assuming you have the safety pins set up at a manageable height the shit hits the fan.

Failing properly is a lesson in itself and should be discussed and rehearsed to some extent. Getting athletes comfortable with this idea with the Zercher Squat is a great first lesson.

get rid of ego

An additional clue I find that helps with the Zercher squat exercise is that it destroys any lifting ego the athlete may have previously had. When athletes perform back squats, especially high school students, they tend to raise their ego and focus more on the weight of the barbell and less on the execution.

The Zercher Mode Barbell Grip Brute always fixes that right away! Men don’t jump in 90-pound increments with Zercher squats and surprisingly the focus is more on technique at first. If not, we at least know that failure is safer.

bar board

I know this will turn up the hottest when performing Zercher squats if you let them use the dreaded barbell. The first thing to address is that I don’t recommend using a barbell for back squats. The athlete needs to learn how to lock in the barbell using his upper back and stay strong in this position. Most of the athletes who tell me that bar squats hurt their neck in school because that’s where they put the bar! Teaching setup is first, and it can’t be done properly by putting on a thick, soft piece of foam that will shift and cause the bar to be improperly loaded, eventually causing everything to be performed with the squat incorrectly.

Now on the other hand when performing Zercher squats, I don’t care too much if they use a barbell or not. Like arguing with your wife, you need to pick your fights. If using a barbell makes athletes more willing to perform the exercise and load it up heavier, so be it, and may the lifting gods have mercy on me.

Differences in the Zercher squat

Let’s get into the exercise itself and different variations of its application with the high school athlete.

Zercher Squat Pin

The Zercher performance spike squat is a great introduction to the movement and is easy for athletes to perform. Mounting on the pins will allow the athlete to pay more attention to their setup and getting into the depth won’t be an issue since they will always start from the pins.

You can do this with a set of lower pins, really working the hip and depth movement, or perform the pins a little higher focusing on overloading the torso and upper back strength.

Zercher Box Squat

Once you are comfortable with the Zercher position, progression to the squat box is next. They will hold the bar for the entire group but don’t have to worry about the depth of the meeting, as long as they perform the squat box correctly.

Zercher squatting

Getting into a full squat position brings everything you’ve been working on together. Athletes will have to go deep on their own and ensure a solid standing while undergoing exercise.


The Zercher squat is a coach’s best friend when working with a younger, less experienced high school team. Exercising gives you multiple benefits and is the best of both worlds with a focus on getting stronger. It’s also a safer alternative initially to help you learn to squat in the long run.

Brandon Holder, CSCS, is a strength and conditioning coach and performance director at FASST Sports Performance in Winchester, Virginia. His mission is to help young athletes and individuals of all levels live the strongest lives possible. He specializes in youth sports development as well as has Experience in training at a team and tactical level. Brandon HHe has also previously competed in powerlifting and strongman and holds certifications with American Weightlifting and US Track & Field, among others.


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