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Zercher Squats vs Back Squats: Which Exercise Is Better?

Chances are, you’ve seen some people perform back squats in the gym before.

You may have even done them yourself.

However, zercher squats aren’t as common though.

While they’re an effective leg-building exercise, their name doesn’t give away what they might look like.

You may have actually seen people perform them before, but not known what they were called.

Well, in this article, we compare back squats with zercher squats.

By the end of it, you should not only have a better understanding of the two exercises but also have a very good idea as to whether one is better suited to you and your fitness goals.

What’s The Difference Between Back Squats And Zercher Squats?

One of the biggest differences between back squats and zercher squats is that back squats are a back-loaded exercise whereas zercher squats are a front-loaded exercise.

During back squats, the weighted barbell is held on the top of your back throughout the movement.

(I.e. The weight is loaded on the backside of your body.)

During zercher squats, the weight is held in the crooks of your elbows which are bent in front of your chest.

The weight is therefore loaded on the front side of your body.

The different positions of the weight impact which muscles do more work and can make a difference as to whether one is better suited to you than the other.

Zercher Squats vs Back Squats: For Quad Development

Front-loaded exercises are better for quad development than back-loaded exercises.

With this in mind, zercher squats are better than back squats when it comes to working your quads.

Zercher squats are a knee dominant exercise which means your quads will take more of the load.

As back squats are a hip dominant exercise, they bring your hamstrings and glutes into play a bit more so your quads don’t have to do as much of the work.

Zercher Squats vs Back Squats: For Hamstring Development

As the weight is held on the back of your body during back squats, they’re better for hamstring development. 

While your hamstrings certainly play a part in zercher squats, they’re placed under more stress during back squats so will benefit more from these.

Zercher Squats vs Back Squats: For Glute Development

There aren’t many more famous glute-building exercises than back squats. 

Back squats are a back-loaded and hip dominant exercise. Both of these things result in more engagement of your glutes during the movement.

Zercher squats can help with glute development but back squats will be more effective at targeting them specifically.


Back Squats

Back squats form the base of so many squat variations.

Zercher squats are themselves a variation of back squats (to some extent).

Here’s just a few ways you can vary back squats. You can:

  • Alter your feet position (i.e. narrow/wide stance).
  • Change the equipment used to perform them.
  • Do them with the weight held in different positions (barbell hack squat for example).

Zercher Squats

Zercher squats can be changed into standard front squats by moving the bar higher up the front of your body.

They can also be turned into zombie squats by extending your arms out in front of you.

Zercher squats have good levels of variability so you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to mixing things up in your training.

The Verdict

Both back squats and zercher squats have high levels of variability.

Back squats have slightly better variability because there are more ways to safely hold a weight on the backside of your body as opposed to the front.

That being said though, zercher squats offer enough variability to keep things interesting and effective.


Back Squats

As back squats involve multiple muscle groups and fairly complex movements, they have a reasonably high difficulty level.

Your back, core, legs, and shoulders all play a part in back squats, so unless you have good levels of strength in them, back squats will be a very challenging exercise for you.

Zercher Squats

Zercher squats are a very challenging exercise and have a very high level of difficulty.

Not only do they have the added challenge of holding a weight on the front of your body, which can make you more unstable, but they also require you to hold the bar in the crook of your elbows.

This puts additional stress on your back, core, and biceps.

Zercher squats will not be suitable for anyone other than highly experienced gym users who already have high levels of strength in the working muscles.

The Verdict

While neither back squats and zercher squats are easy exercises, zercher squats have a greater level of difficulty due to the challenging position the weight is held in throughout the movement.

Zercher squats not only target your leg muscles but they also put your back, core, shoulders, and biceps under stress, meaning lots of effort and strength are required to perform them successfully.

Safety Considerations

Back squats and zercher squats are exercises that could easily cause injury if the appropriate safety considerations aren’t taken into account.

One of the biggest safety considerations for both exercises is to carefully think about the weight you’re attempting to lift.

A huge amount of injuries suffered during training are caused by lifting too much weight.

With back squats and zercher squats, the position of the weight added to the complexity of the movements can lead to serious injury if too much weight is put onto the bar.

Using the correct technique for both exercises is also an important safety consideration.

Even small errors in your technique can result in injury and pain, so it’s important to get things right.

One other thing to think about is the area in which you’re performing each exercise.

You should consider what would happen if you dropped the bar or if you were unable to perform a full rep.

A squat rack could be useful or ensuring you have a spotter to hand to assist if needed can help minimize the risk these squats present.

Zercher Squats vs Back Squats: Which Is Best?

If you’re looking for an exercise that works multiple muscles at the same time with the primary focus being on the back side of your legs, then back squats are a great choice.

They offer a slightly lower level of difficulty while working your hamstrings and glutes more too.

Zercher squats are a more challenging exercise that puts more focus on your quads and other muscles on the front of your body.

This is a less common squat variation that’s very challenging to perform effectively.

Both exercises are great leg-builders so you might have to base your decision on which one you personally prefer doing.

That’s all for this article, but are squats in the pool effective? Or why do you get neck pain from squats?

Hope this helped!


Back Squats Muscles Worked

Zercher Squats Muscles Worked