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there was no other way – 151kg

151kg

the zercher standard

antidote to weakness

Honestly this is just how it feels! It’s rare to stumble upon something feeling as raw as this. Zercher exercises are brutal reality check every time. Its like one of those things one would rather not do — not ever — unless there is no other way.

Herein lies the problem. There is always another way, preferably some easier way to do things, which majority is always pursuing. In case you haven’t figured it out, this is not how you get stronger, tougher nor feel safer for that matter. Wilful exposure to discomfort is the best working strategy to face — what you aren’t ready for — but need to be ready for. It’s never just about strength, muscle gains, conditioning or how fit you are. All that are just a welcome side effects of your personal journey through tough as nails workouts which I see as an antidote to becoming weak, soft and a burden to society.

“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.”

— G. Michael Hopf, Those Who Remain

Dave saved by pure grit

The Zercher Standard starts with a fat axle deficit deadlift to get you into the Zercher squat position from which you need to deliver 10 full depth squats, returning the bar — without dropping — back to the floor. You have 60sec to achieve all this, need to use a 50mm fat axle and start from 13-15cm deficit.

You need to log in at this point as what you see bellow are levels for an average 25 years old male, your numbers might be very different as they are individualised to your age, height, weight, etc. but its impossible to show you your data if you are not logged in.

or REGISTER

> Level 3    Guardian          ~ 130kg
> Level 2    Fit human         ~ 90kg
> Level 1    Homo sapiens      ~ 55kg
- - - - -
~ sub:level  demi-sapiens      40kg
… non:level  non-fit creature  30kg or less

This is simply a brutally hard exercise. It may be — in my opinion — one of the best all-round strength exercises to transform you both physically and mentally. Zercher exercises are unique, they look strange, are tough, yet extremely beneficial while requiring very little to almost no skill at all. Contrary to all the logic they are great and quite safe for most beginners.

You don’t need to take my word for it so here is what the legendary powerlifter, strength coach and owner of Westside Barbell, Louie Simmons has to say on the benefits of the Zercher squats:

“It teaches you exactly how to squat. It teaches you to push your knees apart. Push your chest up. Push your buttocks out. The whole nine yards.”

— Louie Simmons, Westside Barbell

Louie believes Zercher squat is great for squatting mechanics, especially for beginners. It forces an athlete to maintain an upright posture throughout the movement and allows for a deeper squat than the majority of people can achieve in the more traditional squats.

The name of the article is the Zercher Standard by which I wanted to imply that it covers more than just a Zercher squat but that being said — the squatting part constitutes by far the most dominant movement of the whole standard which I am about to introduce in detail.

origins of zercher

zercher refers to the placement of the bar and is named after Ed Zercher, a strongman and a power lifter from the 1930s. The story goes he didn’t have a squat rack in his home gym so he came up with the Zercher lift and variants, like squats, holds, carries and even good mornings. Whatever the real reasons were — for Ed Zercher — to come up with these legendary exercises, benefits they offer are so great they are more than worth exploring, learning and incorporating into anyone's workout regime.

the zercher standard

Presented standard is an exercise complex which evolved naturally by my personal pursuit to develop one of the most beneficial movements for the whole body with the use of just one simple complex and one basic piece of equipment. My goal was to incorporate natural movements which demand barely any skill yet build raw strength, killer grip and don’t neglect your flexibility.

Here is what makes the whole complex:

  • start with a fat axle deficit deadlift to get into initial Zercher squat position
  • proceed by doing full depth–dead stop–Zercher squats for 10 reps
  • end by returning the weight to the floor without dropping it

What equipment is needed:

  • improvised mini platform to achieve 13-15cm of deficit to stand on
  • 50mm thick fat axle without any knurling to help your grip
  • rubber bumpers to add weight

Basically you are doing a modified old school strongman complex with a fat axle, which incorporates an easy to improvise deficit deadlift, Zercher squats and a good enough flexibility on top of raw strength. Your main piece of equipment is a fat axle which is the cheapest type of bar you can buy while the use of bumpers is something that just goes along with the bar.

benefits of the zercher standard

The Zercher Standard offers so many unique advantages I find it hard to name them all. I will do my best to list the most important ones.

The complex activates more muscles than any other single exercise while it works to eliminates compressive forces acting on the spine. You achieve superior posterior chain activation in combination with harder core contraction which is forced to work overtime.

Weight is loaded anteriorly (towards the front) placing greater emphasis on the anterior stabilizers, your diaphragm has to work extra hard to stabilize the spine and your whole midsection has to get on with the program. Using only 50% of your max deadlift will feel like a max effort deadlift to your abs.

Tom is fucking strong @ 151kg

The deficit start increases your pulling strength and the squatting part strengthens your mid-point of the deadlift. Because of all this, your whole upper and middle back is getting hammered midway through the lift. Your biceps needs to go into maximum contraction at peak angle — especially since we are using a fat axle which adds to the comfort but makes the whole exercise notably harder as the bar wants to open your elbows by pulling you forward to roll down your forearms. Your center of balance is also more forward — when you use a fat axle instead of a regular bar — which adds additional intensity to the lift.

It doesn’t stop here. The more upright your position is by holding the bar closer to your center, the more emphasis you’ll put on your hamstrings, especially on glutes and your quads. Posture required for a strong Zercher squat will directly carryover to your front squat front hold strength. Legendary weightlifter David Rigert who has set 68 world records during his career was reportedly doing as much as 10x 200kg Zerchers squats in training which would be reason enough in addition to my own why I have decided to use 10 reps as my standard.

Alex the rating king @ 151 kg

Aleksandr Karelin, the most feared wrestler of all time, 3 times Olympic champion, 9 times World champion, 12x European champion, undefeated for 13 years with 887 wins. Karelin was said to routinely use 10x 200kg Zercher squats, while his max was supposedly 300kg. Seriously, you should look up this legend and how he would grab 130kg heavy athletes, lifting their whole body from the floor from the most awkward positions, throwing them in the air over his shoulder which is famously know as Karelin lift. He is considered to be one of the 25 best world athletes of 20th century, his methods of training matter.

Louie Simmons says that the Zercher squat appears to have the greatest carryover to the deadlift from all of the squat variations, which is a big deal. The Zercher squat is also a favourite exercise in Dan John’s armour building arsenal. The center of gravity is a lot lower than in the back or front squats so you can “grind” harder without losing your form. From all the squat variants, Zercher allows you to achieve the deepest squat position.

To succeed in completing the whole standard your first obstacle is to be able to hold the fat axle and lift the weight, deadlift to your knees, then get into the Zercher squat position. To achieve this a great deal of flexibility is needed together with a high level of grip strength. If you are lacking this, obviously the Zercher standard is kinda forcing you to work and improve in this area while at the same time forcing you to use lower weights when you are starting out. The addition of fat axle deficit deadlift to how you start the Zercher standard is both a diagnostic and a safety feature for those lacking the essentials, while being the easiest part to those who are strong enough already.

rules of the standard

Take a good look of my execution — all the rules are taken into account — which should make the standard easy to understand. I did my best to show you as good of a form as I could manage with such weight and took some extra time for each transition while still trying to manage all within 60sec.

  1. Time cap: you have 60sec to complete the whole standard. Your time starts running the moment you lift the weight from the floor and ends when you safely — without slamming or dropping the weights — return the weight down to the floor.

  2. Deficit deadlift: grip your fat axle with a double overhand grip, the use of a mixed grip does not count as a successful lift. You don’t need to fully extend hips on the top but only lift the bar high enough to place it on your knees so you can get into the position for the Zercher squat which follows.

  3. double overhand deadlift

    double overhand deadlift

    get into Zercher position

    get into Zercher position

  4. Zercher squats: need to start from the ATG (ass to grass) position which is just a fancy term to for the deepest squat position you can manage. All 10 reps need to start from the so called dead-stop, which means taking a short pause at your deep squat position. You can use the dead-stop to rest there but that 60sec time limitation will force you to keep it short so that rest can be a double edged sword.

    no holding hands Zercher position

    no holding hands Zercher position

    Position of your hands and where the bar rests is actually what Zercher refers to. Its kinda self explanatory if you watch either the photos or the video, the bar needs to sit in crooks of your elbow. Holding hands is not allowed — this is not a limitation in original Zercher lifts but I enjoy making things harder for everyone — to force you to build a stronger biceps to lift, hold and carry big weight. You need to hold the bar without holding hands both fists pointing upwards. It will get you additional badass points as well.

  5. Returning the bar: is basically just a reverse movement of how you lifted the bar to place it on your knees. Same rules apply though — no mixed grip is allowed — show control when lowering, returning the weight back to the floor.

  6. Hating the Rules: is in vain. It’s worth pointing out how most who fail because of some specific rule requirement usually have the most to argue against the rules. You are missing the point here. I am writing the standards to make you a universally better, stronger and a more complete package in every way. In case you didn’t notice you are competing against your self only. Benchmarks of the standard are individualised for you and not others, they represent an improved or surpassed version of your current self. Standards can be your judge, your guide, your journey.

Benji after 10x 153.5kg

equipment guidelines

needed

  • fat axle, 50mm thick, raw steel without any knurling
  • bumper plates of your choice, best to use rubber ones
  • jerk box or improvised deficit block, 13-15cm height
  • width of your deficit block should not exceed 70cm
  • strong abs, core and back are your belt replacement
  • bare feet are perfect for stuff like this, use them

prohibited

  • use of any suit, knee, elbow or wrist wraps for support
  • weightlifting or any type of shoes are not allowed
  • use of weightlifting or lifting belt is not allowed
  • use of any accessories that offer an advantage

tolerated

  • use chalk if you must, bonus points for none
  • you can have a bad ass motivation crew
  • wear socks if you cant do without
  • deadlift slippers are fine as well

Benji with 153.5kg

he killed all 10 reps with 153.5kg

limitations and exceptions

Even though there is almost no skill involved in the execution of this standard its complex nature of movement can easily point to more than just one limitation where you fail to lift as much as you potentially could if you had all your bases covered. This standard can also serve as a good diagnostic tool for general assessment of posture, flexibility, strength balance/distribution and strength in general.

What follows bellow are just the most obvious limitations you can expect to stumble upon, ironically they cover most of the body:

  1. flexibility issues and bad posture
  2. weak grip strength, left/right imbalance
  3. weak back, in part or general
  4. weak legs, glutes, hams, quads, all
  5. weak biceps, forearms, arms in general
  6. weak abs and core strength
  7. other strength imbalances
  8. lack of toughness

The Zercher Standard is one of those you either can or can’t do in full. You can’t really say you don’t know how to do it as you cannot be saved by skill. Limitations I mention above basically demand you develop a good balance in all areas of strength, taking care of and correcting any poor movements, posture or flexibility issues which may affect your abilities when it comes to this standard.

Becoming aware and pointing fingers to any discovered limitations adds weight to the reasons why my standards exist and stand for in the first place. They are not there just to make you look cool or as something to brag about but to help you notice, catch, recognise and become aware of possible deficiencies, imbalances and other holes in your game which you would rather ignore. Standards are meant to build longevity of your physical performance and general physical preparation.

working with limitations

Acknowledging your limitations is important. This is how you become better, how you improve. If your flexibility is limiting or bad you need to work extra and improve it. My experience tells me that those who don’t have good flexibility starting out also rarely do much to improve it while they are champions in using it as a permanent excuse why they can’t do this or that. You are not expected to be a ballerina so stop treating your self like you are inflexible as a brick, do your homework and don’t expect results overnight.

If your temporarily lack the flexibility needed for a deficit deadlift then start with a regular deadlift, work on improving your flexibility and slowly adding and maybe building a bit of a deficit in your deadlift.

If your are lacking grip strength to hold a heavy fat axle you will need to train your grip additionally, there is just no other way around it but to work on your newly found weakness. Same approach goes for any other weak areas you need to improve, part of your back or the whole back, legs, arms, biceps, core strength, abs …additional work and effort is needed to improve each individual limitation or area of weakness.

mixed grip - only a temporary solution

mixed grip - long term get rid of it

You could for example add just Zercher squats to your workout regime, maybe as part of a warmup for your back squats while using only a moderate weight and a regular bar. When you become more comfortable with the Zercher squat you can do a full squat session Zercher style once every two weeks or so. To improve grip decide to incorporate some hanging from the bar, pull ups using fat gripz or even biceps curls with fat gripz on dumbbells. Save your mixed grip style only for the heaviest deadlifts and add some small deficit in your warmup sets and so on. With just a little imagination you can complement what you are already doing without really turning everything on its head, just remain focused and aware of your weak areas, and work consistently towards improving them.

final words

The Zercher Standard as it stands is not meant to be a pure max strength challenge but rather an acknowledgement that your overall strength can be exceptional for a non-strength specialised athlete.

Note that an actual specialised strongman type athlete would be penalised by this standard, especially if being on the heavier side as in that case the calculated weight could become unrealistically huge. Does this mean my formula is wrong? No — it just means this challenge might not be suited for a specialist. Surely a strongman specialist don’t need someone like me telling them they are strong as they know far better already. Additionally anyone who is on the heavier side, even though very strong might find out to have a problem already with something as simple as a one arm hang. The more specialised you are in some area the easier you will find your self struggling with some of my standards while occasionally being exceptional in others. You are rewarded for balance in everything without sacrificing performance across the board.

best methods are never popular

While the Zercher Standard demands of you to be athletically balanced you cannot expect to achieve this with practising only the Zercher Standard. There are many areas — as listed in the limitations part of the article — which need to be worked independently for you to improve generally. Only when you strengthen all of the necessary weak links will you be able to test this standard to your full potential. It may very well be worth the trouble though, not only for strength gains but also from a bodybuilding muscle gains perspective (old school) and as a general physical preparation pillar for any sport. It would be impossible to imagine how anyone who is able to manage this standard at the highest level also doesn’t look genuinely strong and athletic at the same time.

The Zercher Standard — I am just repeating this for those who skipped to the bottom of this article — starts with a fat axle deficit deadlift to get you into the Zercher squat position from which you need to deliver 10 full depth squats, returning the bar — without dropping — back to the floor. You have 60sec to achieve all this, need to use a 50mm fat axle and start from 13-15cm deficit.

You need to log in at this point as what you see bellow are levels for an average 25 years old male, your numbers might be very different as they are individualised to your age, height, weight, etc. but its impossible to show you your data if you are not logged in.

or REGISTER

> Level 3    Guardian          ~ 130kg
> Level 2    Fit human         ~ 90kg
> Level 1    Homo sapiens      ~ 55kg
- - - - -
~ sub:level  demi-sapiens      40kg
… non:level  non-fit creature  30kg or less

Finally, the Zercher Standard is an impossible standard if you haven’t committed to balanced strength and muscular development. To claim this standard is also a mental toughness challenge. To be honest I don’t expect to find many who will be able to claim the top rank here but if you ever do, please let me know of this. May the strength be with you always.


Marck Goran Lorencin © all rights reserved