Zercher carryover to conventional deadlift

Physical Culture

Level 4 Valued Member
Been reading about Zercher squats on the SF site and a few others.  Seems that Pavel recommends them.  I have  a question.  What kind of carryover have you experienced between Zercher squats and conventional deadlifts?  I want to bring my dead up, but I don't want to deadlift as frequently as some here do, because I also train GS, and don't recover like when I was younger.   I experience chronic knee pain when I practice the jerk, but squats make it go away.  I've been squatting everyday for the last week and a half- under 10 reps total, working up to a heavy single (not a max), then a couple of back-off sets of 2 or 3 reps.  My knees have not felt this good in a long time.  Last night after my squats, I practiced Zerchers- 2 sets of 3 with 135, just to practice the technique of deadlifting the weight, putting it on the knees, then standing up with it in the crooks of the arms.  It was a light weight, but felt good.  I like the movement.

So, I need a heavy squat variation in my training, but I want to bring up my deadlift.  Are Zerchers a good choice?  Can anyone report on their experience with the ratio between Zercher and deadlift (i.e., I can Zercher X and I can Deadlift Y)?  I know each person's mileage will vary, just interested in how things seem to shake out with others.


Level 3 Valued Member
Hey Steve,

I'm curious how squats are helping your knees. Just wondering if something's happening with your hips and them being in greater extension in the jerk as compared to the squat that's giving you the issue. Not diagnosing, just compiling info. Also, where do you feel the pain? Is it more under the kneecap or along the joint line or on either side?


Physical Culture

Level 4 Valued Member
Spent some time with Zerchers today, after jerks and snatches (24k and 20k).  I did 130x3, then 200x2, then got about halfway up with 220.  On a scale of perceived exertion, 2oo x 2 felt about like pulling 325 times 2, which for me is a good effort.  I can certainly see how this would carry over to the dl- strong legs and hips, and a very stable core.  Also the ability to grind until it moves.  I stopped the 220 attempt because my back was rounding more than I want it to. I assume this is normal?

Joe- I've had knee pain from years of martial arts.  I had a total ACL replacement on my left in 2007.  After a hard session of jerks, they get tight and painful.  If I don't move them for a while, they get really stiff (i.e., after riding in the car for an hour, I can't just jump out and go.  It takes a minute to straighten them out.  It was also difficult to get in to a full squat (unweighted) with my hamstrings on my calves, though I worked on mobility.  A friend told me that squats helped his jerks, so I started back squatting.  Within two days, my knees stopped hurting.  I usually work up to a single of about 250-270.  I tested the squat in October with belt and heavy knee wraps, and maxed at 315, so these squats are fairly heavy for me (no wraps, sometimes a belt).

Steve B.

Level 6 Valued Member
The Zercher Experiment
Steve,Here is an article i wrote that might help you a bit.

Steve Belanger

December 18, 2007 03:02 PM
In this article I'm going to explain how one can maintain their strength in the deadlift and even increase it with minimal deadlifting using the Zercher lift.

First of all what is the zercher lift? The original way to do the lift was created by a man named Ed Zercher Sr. back in the 30's.He did these by deadlifting to an upright position. Then squatting down to parallel with the bar balanced on his mid thighs he then hooked his arms up to the elbows under the barbell. From there standing to an upright position while the bar still cradled in the crooks of his elbows. Then the lift is reversed in the same manner back to the floor to the thighs and back up for the desired number of reps and then set back down to the floor. It is said he started doing these because his basement gym lacked squat stands. These days most everyone just does the top part of the lift taking the bar off hooks in a power rack squatting down and back up. I call this style zercher squats. The next style is off different pin heights in a power rack to a standing position then back down. I call this style Zercher lifts. I will be talking about the "the off the pins" version since it is closer to the deadlift and could be called the dead Zercher.

I will now give you a little back ground to how I ended up using this lift in my workouts. About five years ago while working out in my martial arts class I was thrown to the floor landing directly on my elbow breaking it. Not knowing at the time it was broken I did the usual ice and Advil therapy. The elbow eventually felt better but my arm healed in a permanent at a 30 degree angle because it hurt to extend it out when it was healing I kept in a bent position most of the time. After it healed I was able to do most of the average things I could do before the break even with my slightly bent arm.

Enter the deadlift. When I got back to deadlifting, I noticed pain in the elbow forearm area of the previously broken elbow when getting into lifts at 400+lbs. At first it wasn't too bad but over a period of time the pain became more intense to the point I could not even pull a 400lb deadlift. I easily had the strength to do it but had to set the bar down after only lifting one foot off the floor because of the severe pain. Not being even able to pull 80% off my DL max this lift was taking a nose dive fast. A little depressing since the deadlift is my favorite of the three powerlifts. Speaking one day with Pavel about my dilemma he made a suggestion I give Zercher lifts a try. An idea he picked up from Bud Jeffries. I felt the deadlift volume I was doing was probably irritating scar tissue or tendons or both and the Zercher lift seemed like a logical choice to cut down on my DL volume, give my elbow a break and keep my deadlifting muscles strong. So begins the Zercher experiment. Pavel recommended twice a week with one day being a heavy day and one day a light day and minimal deadlifting to be done on both days. I do my Zerchers as I described above, in a power rack off pins.

I feel doing them this way somewhat simulates the deadlift better as there is not a stretch reflex as in the squat variety Zercher and posterior chain muscle groups are hit hard. On my heavy day I set the pins so the bar is about 4-5 inches above my knees. On light days the pin level is set so the bar is set at the lower part of the knee. There is roughly a six inch difference between the high and low pins. Deadlifts are done after a few warm up sets of Zerchers for no more than five singles and as few as three singles with a weight of 50% to 70% of a max single DL in my case, basically to keep in touch with my technique. After that it's back to the meat of the workout on the Zerchers. Here I work up in percentages from 70% to 100 % of my best single Zercher with reps ranging from 1 to 5 with 3's being the most commonly used. I also established PR's on the 1, 3, and 5 reps at both the high and low pins for variety and to keep me motivated. I use six week cycles .That would be six workouts on the heavy day/high pins and six workouts on the light day/lower pins, twelve workouts total for the cycle. I follow a percentage format using Prilipins table as guide line for sets and reps. After six weeks I change the pin height either up or down one hole in the rack to slightly change the stimulus. I also establish PR's at these levels. Lately I have been using even more variety with the Zerchers attaching kettlebells on bands to the bar which hits the obliques and intercostals hard due to the unstableness of the bar or putting a jump stretch band around my neck and standing on the other end and standing up with it while cradling the in my arms which really hits the lumbar's and glutes. As you can see I like to keep it interesting which helps keep me from getting stale on the lift.

Let's talk about performing the Zercher lift. First I would recommend not using a belt to get the full benefit of the lift. Most of the same rules that apply to the deadlift that apply to the Zercher: Flat back, pinching the glutes, intra-abdominal pressure, head looking forward and driving the hips through, the whole time staying tight throughout the lift.

As the bar rests on the pins hook your arms under in the crooks of the elbows. A wide stance with arms between the legs or a narrow stance with arms outside the legs are both ok to do. It's up to you to see which style works best for you. Mixing them from cycle to cycle is also ok .Get that belly full of air and glutes tight and proceed to a straight standing position while trying to hug the bar close to the body. Then simply reverse the movement bending at the hips first and back down to the pins with a flat straight back. Release the bar, set up again, and repeat for the desired number of reps.

A couple of things to be aware of if you have never done Zerchers there will probably be some pain in the crooks of the elbow and forearms. I myself use neoprene elbow sleeves or a long sleeve sweat shirt to take the sting off. Forget about wrapping a towel or using foam around the bar because you won't have a good secure placement with the bar on your arms. You'll need to be secure throughout the lift. Some like to use a thick bar on these and feel they help ease the pain. You will eventually get use to it but it my take a few weeks.

Do they work?

Well for me in March of this year I couldn't even pull 405lbs because of the severe pain. By the time the Venice push/pull meet came around in June and a few weeks of some heavier DL singles I pulled a 451 DL with a little to spare with minimal pain. So in my case they did work. And as I speak I am working on getting back to a 500 lb pull with the Zercher lift as important part of the journey to get me there. If you want take a break from deadlifting or just want to try something different that will keep you strong give this classic old forgotten lift a try you won't be sorry you did.

Physical Culture

Level 4 Valued Member
Thanks, Steve.  This is a great testimonial to the Zercher.  I decided to go ahead and sign up for a powerlifting meet Feb. 2.  I had decided to drop it after spending a week on the couch with bronchitis.  Now I figure I'll go for it, deadlift only.  My last two meets I've pulled 325 in the 181 division, so I have a lot of room to improve.  My main priority is GS, but I want to pull an official double bodyweight deadlift.  I've pulled 375 in the gym, but failed on the platform with 365 and 355 in two meets.  I can squat more frequently than I can deadlift, along with GS, so I'll give the Zercher a run for a couple of weeks and see how it goes.


You mentioned "bear hugging" the barbell in the Zercher.  That made a light bulb go off in my head: at my last meet, I lost 355 just below the knees.  A 70 year old man who has been competing since the time I was born (and pulled more than me), told me that I let the bar drift too far forward out of its groove, and that's why I lost the lift.  He told me I was strong enough, but my technique cost me the lift.  Practicing pulling the bar up and back into the shins will correct this- and I imagine that the bear hug of the Zercher could have the same effect.  I'll report back on the training and the meet.
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