Squat Q&A: Zercher Squats, SS Yoke Bar Breathing, and Tight Hips

TAGS: groin stretch, wide squatting, squatting technique, squat arch, tight hips, breathing while squatting, soft-tissue work, assistance exercise, ss yoke bar, Zercher squats, fat gripz, Thomas Deebel, dave kirschen, Casey Williams, clint darden, Brandon Smitley, Joe Schillero, box squat, Q&A, squat, powerlifting, Bob Youngs

You have questions, team elitefts has answers. This article is a compilation of training questions asked by you, our readers, directly to the members of team elitefts. We previously covered multiple deadlifting and benching topics and today turning to the squat. Dave Kirschen, Casey Williams, Clint Darden, Joe Schillero, Thomas Deebel, Bob Youngs, and Brandon Smitley discuss Zercher squats, breathing with the SS Yoke bar, box squat rounding, and tight hips. 


Zercher Squat Hold

Q: I have added Zercher squats this training cycle. I get good depth and feel it in my hamstrings, mid back, and upper back. As I add weight it's harder to hold and keep the weight in the crook of my elbow. I use two sets of Fat Gripz so there is no real elbow pain, just difficult to keep the bend in my elbows and not dump the bar. Any help is appreciated. — LEE

Dave Kirschen:

What you're experiencing is why so few of us still do Zercher squats to any significant degree. The Fat Gripz will help greatly with the discomfort, but now the weight won't sit as securely in the crook of your arm as it would with a standard barbell. Generally speaking, with Zercher squats, you tend to be limited to what you can hold in your arms (or your pain tolerance) rather than how strong your back/glutes/hamstrings are. 

Just one of those exercises that looks really cool, and makes sense on paper, but never really pans out in practice, in my humble opinion.


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You could try to find a middle ground between the Fat Gripz and naked bar, like wrapping a towel around the barbell. But as far as the classic Zercher, that's about it.

Casey Williams:

I think they're a great assistance exercise. I program them for a lot of beginner lifters because they can hold almost as much as they can squat in some instances.

You can always keep them and throw them in at the end of a training session with some lighter weight and high reps.

Clint Darden:

This is where you really need a thick bar axle for the lift for it to be effective and not super painful. After doing them with any sort of axle you will not look back to a normal bar again for these.


Breathing with SS Yoke Bar

Q: When I go to unrack the SSB with heavy weight, I have a hard time catching my breath. — MIKE H.

Joe Schillero:

When you say "hard time catching your breath" are you referring to after you've walked the weight out? Or during the unrack?

When you unrack the weight, you want to set your feet up directly under the bar, get your lats tight, and drive your head/traps back into the pad of the SSB. Then when you take your air it should be into your midsection as you lock your abs tight against your belt.

Once you walk the weight out, make sure you let it settle before you begin your squat (and make sure your weight isn't forward on your toes).

Thomas Deebel:

Joe gave you some good advice. I'd add that with any new bar you need to get accustomed to it. Watch your work and you'll adapt.

Casey Williams:

Breathing is overrated. But if you have to do it with a SSB on your back, breathe into your belly.

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Box Squat Rounding

Q: While performing the box squat with a SS Yoke Bar at approximately 50% of my competition 1RM and 4 chains (two on each side) it "bows" my upper back on the second and following reps as I leave the box and I lack speed off the box. Any suggestions? This does not happen with the straight bar squat even at max effort. — TYLER

Bob Youngs: 

One of the great things about the SS Yoke Bar is it forces you to really lock your arch in. This could be an upper back weakness, but in most people it is a technique flaw. You need to really focus on having your arch locked in and driving your head through the movement. It is especially important to drive your head out of the hole.

Joe Schillero: 

Like Bob said, technique can play a big part in this. I was having the same issue for a long time and have been finally making improvements by focusing on pushing my knees out more as I descend to the box, and making sure my first thought off the box is "head up" to ensure my chest is up and hips are through as opposed to picking my hips up off the box first and making it a good morning.


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Another issue can be pulling down on the handles, which will round you forward.

Brandon Smitley: 

I personally have this issue as well, where most of mine is technical and not strength. I have to think hard about trying to keep that arch. I would certainly make sure that you are using a training max with that specific bar, not the straight bar. I know for myself, the SS Yoke Bar will drop my training percentage about 10% on average. I'm specifically working with this bar once a week to get better at it and try to build my upper back more specifically.

You can also try to implement good mornings with the SS Yoke Bar and still focus on keeping that arch. These are really going to suck, but they have great carryover in building that arch which will help the squat aspect as a whole.

Tight Hips

Q: How do I loosen up my hips and groin for wider squatting? This used to not be a problem for me, but progressively through this past college football season, my hips and groin seem to be preventing me from sinking into the hole for unquestionable good depth for powerlifting standards. I'm a wider squatter but not crazy wide. What is the best way to correct this issue with either exercises or mobility?  — Bryton

Brandon Smitley: 

You've got a few options here. First I would recommend some soft tissue work on your hips and groin areas. If these are tight from football season, be preventative now and take care of that so it just in general feels better.

In terms of training, you can do box squats with the stance that you are wanting to use, but start with a moderately high box. Something that you can perform without pain and issue. Then gradually over the course of weeks slowly lower the box. Make sure you are still staying tight and not plopping to the box (keep those hamstrings loaded!).

You might also look into performing some groin stretches and adductor mobilizations as part of your warm ups and cool downs to improve the ability of these muscles to lengthen and let you get where you want to be.

Whatever you do, just make slow adjustments by feel from week to week and month to month until you get where you need/want to be.

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