In the early years of weight training many strongmen made their own special assortment of lifting tools. Bars of variable length and bar whip with solid globes, blocks of steel, cement or hollow metal endings. These ‘bar-bells’ varied based on the lifters preference and strength or often by the availability of resources. Historians have credited the Boston strongman George Barker Windship and German strongman Louis Durlacher in the mid to late 1800’s with the idea of using sand or lead shot inside the hollow spheres to vary the weight of bar-bells, dumb-bells and kettle-bells. Windship later patented the plate loaded “practical graduating dumb-bell” with wing nuts used as collars, which he began marketing in 1865. Other patents for barbells and weight equipment began appearing and in 1902 Alan Calvert of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded the Milo Barbell Company and began selling adjustable bar-bells and dumb-bells.
If you grew up in the early twentieth century you may have purchased an advertised adjustable barbell set which was often delivered to your home. Along with the set came a pamphlet with photos of multiple exercises you could do. The set did not include a bench for bench pressing or stanchions for squatting and overhead pressing.
The adjustable barbell set was a simple iron bar around 5 feet in length with a chrome sleeve over the bar for gripping instead of knurling. The bar was loaded with plates that had a 1″ hole. As one got stronger a simple exercise such as pressing a barbell became more difficult. When you tried to clean the barbell, not only was it awkward, but the plates did not spin torquing the wrist. This caused many lifters to cheat curl the bar or use a movement such as ‘shouldering’ and then switch their grip into a pressing grip before the bar was pushed overhead.
When training the legs resting the bar on your back became problematic. The bar had to be cleaned, pressed over your head and rested on the shoulders before the squat or a lunge began. Getting enough weight to squat and affect the legs became extremely difficult for a lifter, as leg strength began to out pace pressing power. The conundrum was not only getting the bar to your back, but getting it safely off your shoulders when the lift was completed. The lifter could do a front squat, yet as mentioned the cleaning of the bar and wrists were a limitation. Companies began selling weight stands for your home, but many lifters couldn’t afford the extra expense or just came up with ways to rest the weight on benches or developed new ways of exercising.
St. Louis Strongman Ed Zercher popularized and has been given credit for the development of what historically has been labeled the ‘Zercher Squat.’ Young men trying to develop ways of squatting with a simple barbell and no other lifting apparatuses deadlifted the bar to their knees and then in a squatting position worked the bar to the crook of their elbows and began doing a waist level deep front squat. Not comfortable, but it became away to Get Strong without a ‘rack’.
If you are an avid lifter it is fun to try the Zercher Squat and feel the struggles that young men went through to Get Strong in their homes, basements and garages before the advent of the local health spa.
Strength training is hard and should be hard, yet it shouldn’t cause the pain and bruising of the bar digging into your joints as the Zercher Squat requires. Modern technology via the Pendulum Squat Pro allows all athletes regardless of their physical structure and varying limb length to achieve excellent squatting form with the heaviest weight they can handle. There is pain, but only the good direct pain of tremendous muscular development. Ed Zercher would love the Squat Pro!