The Zercher deadlift is a strange and very unorthodox looking exercise. It’s a very challenging and extremely hard variation of the conventional deadlift.
But what makes this lift so challenging and daunting? Well, it’s because of two things. First, the way the barbell is held and secondly the impossible-looking starting position of the lift. In the ZDL you hold the bar with your forearms basically in your insides of the elbows. You also start the lift from the ground, which puts you in a very unorthodox and difficult starting position.
It requires a high amount of flexibility and mobility. Even to get the proper required starting position of the Zercher deadlift, you need to have a lot of mobility and flexibility in your legs, hips, and back.
This brutal total body lift was designed by the famous 1930’s strong man named Ed Zercher. He was somewhat of a pioneer when it comes to difficult exercise variations. One of the more popular lifts that he is known for is the Zercher squat, which is also performed while holding the weight with your forearms.
The Zercher deadlift is a complete compound full-body exercise with the main effort going on your posterior chain muscles. It will train your entire back, your trapezius, your legs, your core muscles, and even your biceps and forearms.
The lift is considered to be one of the most dangerous exercises you can perform. Because of the low starting position, the long-range of motion, and the way you hold the weight, there is a very high risk for injuries. So proper form and good technique are everything when it comes to this lift.
Benefits of the Zercher deadlift
It’s a full-body compound exercise. It works your entire body, starting from all the muscles in your posterior chain, your core, and your legs to your biceps and forearms.
It will boost your strength levels! The ZDL puts an insane amount of pressure on your whole body and takes functional strength training to a whole new level.
It’s an insane lower back exercise. Just like the regular barbell deadlift, this is a great lower back exercise. Compared to the conventional DL the Zercher deadlift has a much longer range of motion. The starting position is a lot lower, which makes your lower back muscles work harder, and it puts much more pressure on your whole back.
Amazing core activation. This exercise is quite an intense core workout. Because of the unorthodox and uncomfortable starting position, you have to use all of your core muscles to get the bar off the ground. Also, you have to keep your core and abdominal muscles engaged throughout the entire exercise.
It will improve your conventional DL. Adding this variation to your workout routine will skyrocket your conventional DL. In addition to the physical strength gains, it will help you improve your DL form as well.
The Zercher deadlift has many benefits. It’s a true “beast” when it comes to adding both overall and functional strength, and it will boost all your other big lifts such as the regular DL and squats. Because it’s such a challenging (and to be honest painful) exercise, it will build your mental toughness as well in addition to physical strength.
How to do the Zercher deadlift
- Start by standing in front of the bar. Your feet should be a little wider than your hips, about your shoulder-width. The bar should be positioned over the middle of your feet.
- Squat down as low as you possibly can. Allow your back to slightly round.
- Now hook your elbows under the center of the barbell along the insides of your legs.
- The bar should rest on your upper forearms just below the inside of your elbows. Do not place the bar directly on your elbow joints. Squeeze tight!
- Brace and engage your core and keep it tight for the whole lift.
- Slowly begin to lift the bar off the ground. Don’t make any sudden movements. Try to keep it controlled and steady.
- Push your feet through the ground and deadlift the bar.
- Stand up into an upright position and fully lock your body.
- Hold for a second and then slowly return to the starting position.
Tips and recommendations
- Because of this DL variation’s high-risk nature, a proper and thorough warm-up is essential before starting this exercise.
- Remember that this is an advanced version of the conventional DL! Before moving to this lift, you should first know how to deadlift with proper form.
- To perform this exercise right and with good form, you need a lot of flexibility and mobility in your lower body. So, before trying this lift out, or adding it to your workout routine, you should check if you have the necessary hip, ankle, and back mobility to even get into the proper starting position.
- If you are lacking in mobility but are hell-bent on adding the Zercher deadlift to your routine, you can elevate the barbell off the ground by using either some kinds of wood blocks, weightlifting plates, or even a squat rack.
- If you are having trouble getting the right starting position or maintaining it you can try to turn your feet a bit more out.
- While performing this feat of strength, you should keep the weight always on the low side. As I have mentioned a few times now, because of the complicated nature of the Zercher deadlift (especially it’s starting position), the risk of injuring yourself is high.
- Adding weight should be done very gradually and with caution. Gradually add weight to the exercise and don’t add too much at a time. Even a slight rise in weight, like a few pounds, can make a big difference in this lift.
- Remember to keep the barbell on the upper part of your forearms and not directly on your elbow joints.
- The Zercher deadlift variation is quite harsh on your forearms and can leave really nasty bruises. To avoid or at least alleviate that, you can use padding for your forearms. Also, you should change which hand is on top, between sets or even reps.
- Keep your core and abs tight and braced throughout the exercise.
- This dl modification rounds out your lower back at the starting position, so you should keep your initial lift as controlled and tight as possible.
- Take your time and perform this lift in a slow and controlled manner and with caution.
In conclusion, the Zercher deadlift can be an incredible exercise with a lot of benefits if done correctly and with proper form. It will challenge you both physically and mentally. But always remember to be extremely cautious when performing this lift and focus on correct technique rather than weight and load.
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