At Aspire 2.0, we love squats. All types of squats!

Squats are a fundamental part of any strength-building routine and a foundational movement in many sports. 

The squat is one of the most basic of human actions, and proper squat kinematics play a significant role in the longevity of healthy activity. It is proven that squatting is one of the best exercises to continue in later life. 

“Group-based body-weight squat exercise performed twice weekly for 12 weeks does improve muscle strength and muscle thickness in physically frail older adults.”

Fujita et al. 2016 [1] 

Quite simply, squats are good for us… Very good for us… 

zercher squat vs front squat

Not only do squats encourage efficient movement patterns and mobility as we age, but there is also evidence to suggest that the strength and mobility developed through squats can protect athletes from injury. 

Case et al. [2] found that male and female athletes who had displayed a stronger 1 rep max back squat during pre-season had a lower likelihood of injury when compared to weaker athletes. 

“Individual and mean 1RM relative back squat strength values. Uninjured (UINJ) athletes had significantly higher relative back squat strength than injured (INJ) in both men (p 5 0.02) and women (p 5 0.04).” 

Case et al. [2]

Zercher Squat vs Front Squat

Although the Zercher and front squat are similar in terms of the muscle groups they target, there are some notable differences that we need to consider if we are to optimise our training. 

The 3 Main Differences Between The Front Squat And The Zercher Squat

The Bar Position

Zercher Squat 

zercher squat

The Zercher squat requires the lifter to cradle the barbell in the crooks of their elbows. Holding an isometric, half bicep curl secures the bar close to the sternum.

It is much more demanding on the arms to hold the barbell throughout the movement than the front squat.

Front Squat

front squat

The front squat requires the lifter to place the bar on the front of the shoulders while supporting the bar with the hands in a clean-width grip. This is often called the “front rack position”.

This position usually has the bar make contact with the collarbones. The goal is to maintain a full grip on the barbell rather than allowing the fingers and wrists to bend backwards.

This is a demanding position, and if it is not possible to perform the rack grip with proper form, the “cross grip” is a suitable alternative, whereby the lifter crosses the forearms in front of the chest and applies hand pressure to the bar from above. 

Muscles Worked

muscles worked zercher squat

Zercher Squat 

Because of the unique bar position of the Zercher squat, the load is not only distributed into the thighs but also the upper back and arms.

The bar is pulling down and away from the body, activating the core muscles, resulting in a set of Zercher squats, often feeling like an ab workout. 

Front Squat 

The front squat activates the muscles of the legs almost the same way as the Zercher squat, although some lifters report the muscles of the hips and the adductors fire fractionally harder during Zerchers.

The rack position activates the erector spinae muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and arms, although this activation is far less than the Zercher squat. The same can be said for the core muscles.


Zercher Squat

zercher squat

The range of motion required to perform a perfect Zercher squat is significant but not overly demanding for a lifter with good flexibility.

It is essential to have good mobility of the hips and upper back. However, shoulder, arm and wrist flexibility requirements are not huge. 

Front Squat

front squat

The ROM requirements for the legs, hips and upper back are similar to the Zercher squat. The demand placed on the arms and wrists sets the front squat apart.

You need good, no REALLY GOOD wrist mobility to get into a proper front rack position. This is usually the defining factor of whether a lifter can perform a rack grip front squat. 

Should I Front Squat Or Zercher Squat?

This is a fascinating question and one that requires a bit of thought from a coaching perspective. I will try to explain why you would choose one over the other. 

The front squat bar position (the rack) and movement are integral to regular patterns that weightlifters and athletes who use Olympic lifts must perform regularly. The clean and jerk is a fundamental movement in so many functional fitness and sports performance gyms nowadays that it is advisable to train the front squat regularly. 

front squat

The Zercher squat will not fulfil these requirements.

However, the Zercher squat is fantastic for training the raw, full-body strength that strongmen need for their events. It is excellent for rugby players training to clear out rucks or scrummaging. It is also used by combat athletes to improve their grappling strength. 

It is a question of specificity. 

What Is Specificity?

The principle of specificity says that training should be relevant and appropriate to the goal we are training for. 

If you want to get good at something, you need to train in ways that are specific to whatever it is you want to get good at. 

For example, if you want to sprint faster, doing loads of bench press and bicep curls will not help. Heavy squats are proven to assist speed development and could be considered to be specific to the goal of sprinting faster. 

If you plan to use Olympic lifts, you should stick to conventional front squats to ensure you are continuously training the appropriate techniques and maybe throw in some Zercher squats every so often to mix things up.

Equally, if you want to develop strength for lifting and holding heavy objects in your arms, for sport or work, front squats are far less specific than Zercher squats.

Physical Limitations And Injury

We have discussed the differences between front squats and Zercher squats regarding technique and position. We have also suggested that specificity is a common reason for choosing one over the other. 

Another common reason for choosing between the two movements would be physical limitations and injury. 

zercher squat

For example, if you were suffering from a bicep injury, you would probably choose the front squat, adapted with a cross grip, as opposed to a Zercher squat, where there is no way to avoid direct bicep compression. 

If you have limited strength and mobility, you may find that traditional front squats place a significant strain on your hands, wrists and shoulders.

You might ask, why not just switch to a cross grip? In a cross grip, the arms and shoulders play more of a passive role than in the Zercher squat. I would much rather the lifter benefits from the increased arm and shoulder activation achieved when Zercher squatting. 


Front squats and Zercher squats are both excellent variations of front-loaded squats. Both movements offer the lifter enhanced quadriceps strength, postural awareness, core stability, and high levels of training effect from relatively low weight. 

Lifters and coaches should assess the specificity of their goals when choosing between the two types of squats upon planning a training programme. 

Equally, they should also assess the physical capabilities of the lifter to perform the movements and sustain the correct bar position. 

For general strength building, where there are no physical limitations or laser focussed specificity; instead, the goal is health, fitness, and strength, the lifter will find that front squats and Zercher squats are pretty interchangeable. Depending on your preference, you might like to mix up your front-loaded squats with both of these exercises.


[1]Fujita, E., Takeshima, N., Kato, Y., Koizumi, D., Narita, M., Nakamoto, H., & Rogers, M. E. (2016). Effects of Body-weight Squat Training on Muscular Size, Strength and Balance Ability in Physically Frail Older Adults. International Journal of Sport and Health Science, 14(0), 21–30. doi:10.5432/ijshs.201504 

[2] Case, M. J., Knudson, D. V., & Downey, D. L. (2020). Barbell Squat Relative Strength as an Identifier for Lower Extremity Injury in Collegiate Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000003554