How good was Ed Zercher?

by Roger LaPointe

Frank Ciavattone performing a Zercher Lift at the 2000 USAWA National Championships. The entire video of this meet is available for sale from Atomic Athletic.

Comparing old records to modern records can be tough. In the case of Ed Zercher, we can compare contemporary results in the Olympic lifts.

The Olympic weightlifting contests were very different in the early 1930s. The biggest difference being in the number of lifts contested in a single day. Today, there is just the Two Hand Snatch and Two Hand Clean & Jerk, but way back then it was a weightlifting pentathlon, including the single hand version of those lifts and the military press. Of course, the equipment was less sophisticated and the rules slightly different.

At the Fifth Annual Western AAU Weight Lifting Championships Ed Zercher (Bodyweight 156 Pounds), had the following lifts:

One Hand Snatch 120 lbs.
One Hand Clean & Jerk 130 lbs.
Two Hand Military Press 170 lbs.
Two Hand Snatch 145 lbs.
Two Hand Clean & Jerk 200 lbs.
Total 765 lbs.

Ed was also a Loader and Official in the meet.

As a comparison, John Terlazzo (Olympic Gold Medalist Tony Terlazzo’s brother) won the 148 pound class at the 1935 AAU Junior Nationals, as well as John Terpak and Walter Good, as reported in the same issue of The Arena & Strength.

  Terlazzo (148#) Terpak (148#) Good (165#)
One Hand Snatch 143# 126.5# 159.5#
One Hand C & J 159.5# 143# 176#
Two Hand Military Press 181.5# 176# 203.5#
Two Hand Snatch 187# 187# 192.5#
Two Hand C & J 242# ——- 275#
Total 913# 632.5# 1006.5#

(I believe Terlazzo’s OHS was his National Record, but it is not mentioned as such in the accompanying article.) Terpak went on to win a Gold Medal in the 1936 Olympics and Good took 14th in the 1936 Olympics.  As you can see, when it came to the five lift Olympic contests, Ed was not quite up to Olympic caliber, but he was not far off.

Thom Van Vleck has reported on the USAWA web site (usawa.com) that “The oldest record listed that has a verified date (Old record list from Bill Clark) is a Harness Lift done by Ed Zercher, Sr with 2150lbs in 1940.” He also reports, “Clark stated that the below records were Missouri Valley AAU marks prior to 1941. So, while we don’t know the exact year these were set, they were set prior to or in 1941. “

Aug. 3-4, 1963 Iron Man Lifting News reported on the 3rd Annual Heart of America Festival, which contested 15 different events, of which Ed (age 56) competed in the following:

Roman Chair 610 lbs., Leg Press-Unsupported 10 Reps 600 lbs.

The Zercher Lift was also a lift at this meet, but Ed did not compete in it. However, he did officiate.  Ed continued to be a judge for Olympic weightlifting contests in the 1960s, Iron Man Lifting News has him listed as an official for the Dec 7, 1964 Missouri State Weightlifting Championships, Missouri State AAU Olympic Weightlifting Championships at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, December 10, 1967. He was also an official for the March 30-31, 1968 Missouri State Penitentiary Weight Decathlon, during which they contested 10 lifts, including the “ Zercher Lift”. The Emcee was Bill Clark.  Ed did not lift in either contest.

See the Zercher Lift in competition here:

 http://www.atomicathletic.com/store/ProductInfo.aspx?productid=VID004

Zercher would likely have been considered a “Presser”, but his One Hand Snatch was quite good as well. If powerlifting had been an organized sport in the 1930’s, I suspect that with his pressing ability transferring to the bench press, his record in the deadlift and obvious ability with leg pressing and other squat-type movements, he would have really done well, if not taking some national or world titles.

For your own research, you will want to start by looking at Strength & Health Magazine:

 http://www.atomicathletic.com/store/ProductInfo.aspx?productid=MAG006

Live strong,
Roger LaPointe

Zercher: A Lift and A Lifter

by Roger LaPointe

Ed Zercher performing a deadlift.

Wow! Imagine if they named a lift after you!

You know you have really done something amazing in the world of weightlifting when that day comes. Lots of people set records, but very few get that named lift. There’s the Hack Lift, the Zottman Curl, the Scott Curl and then there is Ed Zercher’s squat, called the Zercher Lift.

You can read all about the proper way to do a Zercher Lift in the USAWA Rulebook. Basically, it is a front squat with the bar held in the crook of your arms.

Various individuals will tout the benefits of a Zercher Squat and others will talk about the dangers. I prefer an unorthodox way of doing it, using a rotating thick bar, as the lift can be very hard on the biceps tendons. Basically, the smaller the diameter of the bar, the greater the biceps stress. However, few people know about some of the truly amazing lifting that Ed did before becoming known for his signature lift.

Here is the bar I use:  http://www.atomicathletic.com/store/ProductInfo.aspx?productid=Y02988

Edward Zercher’s Early Lifting

At the Fifth Annual Western AAU Weight Lifting Championships Ed Zercher (Bodyweight 156 Pounds), had the following lifts:

One Hand Snatch: 120 lbs.
One Hand Clean & Jerk: 130
Two Hand Military Press: 170
Two Hand Snatch: 145
Two Hand Clean & Jerk: 200
Total 765

Ed was also a Loader and Official in the meet. This was Oct. 27, of 1934.

The December 1934 issue of The Arena and Strength reports that Edward Zercher also had the 2 Hands Deadlift record (165 lbs. Bdwt.) of 536 pounds. We also have a photo of Ed doing a 536 Deadlift, but the caption says he weighed 155.

I highly recommend using bumper plates when training the Zercher Lift, as you can dump the weight without having the damage issues associated with iron plates. When those biceps tendons suddenly start hurting, it really is best to dump it quickly. If you don’t already know the “good pain vs. bad pain” difference, be prepared to learn.

Live strong,
Roger LaPointe

Zercher’s Zercher Lift Record Broken!

by Al Myers

Art Montini breaking Ed Zercher's USAWA record in the Zercher Lift.

Often when someone’s record is broken, it just “disappears into obscurity” and no one really cares or thinks about it anymore.  All the attention goes to the one who BROKE the record.  But something historic happened recently when it comes to “broken records” that I think needs pointed out to everyone. At the 2011 IAWA World Championships in Australia, Art Montini broke Ed Zercher’s record in the Zercher Lift.  I mention this because this was the LAST USAWA RECORD held by Ed Zercher in the Zercher Lift, the lift named after him. In 1988 at the Zercher Strength Classic, Zercher did a 160 pound Zercher lift in the 80 plus age group, 90 kilogram weight class.  Art broke his record with a fine lift of 176 pounds.  This act removed an All-Round lifting legend from the USAWA Record List!  Lately, Art has broken several of Ed’s records which have been “on the books” for over 20 years, but none as meaningful as this one.  Art now owns 10 age group/wt class records in the Zercher Lift, which is a record in itself.

I still have not seen a picture of Ed Zercher performing his signature lift. But at least now I have a picture of THE MAN who broke Ed’s Zercher Lift record.   I predict someday Art Montini will have legendary All-Round lifting status equal to or above that of Ed Zercher, and this picture will be worth BIG BUCKS!

Zercher Lift: A Missouri Original

 by Thom Van Vleck

Denny Habecker completing the Zercher Lift. Denny will be at the 2011 USAWA Nationals where this lift will be contested

When I was selecting lifts for the 2011 USAWA Nationals to be held June 25 in Kirksville, Missouri I very carefully selected my lifts.  I was trying to get a good mix from each of the major categories.  I wanted a thick bar lift (Continental to Chest), a dumbbell lift/one arm lift (DB Snatch), a power type lift (Deadlift 12″ base), a miscellaneous lift (Cheat Curl), a pressing movement (Pull over and Press), and a squat movement.  For the squat movement I picked the Zercher!  I also wanted all the lift to come off the floor so that the meet could move along quickly and I was not sure how many spotters I would have.

While the list was then passed on the USAWA board to approve and they did approve it the only one that was questioned was the Zercher.  Not because it’s a “bad’ lift, but because it’s been used several times before and there was just some thought that maybe we should “mix it up” a little.  The problem for me was this was the ONE lift I felt I HAD to have in my meet.  The reason:  The Zercher was named after Ed Zercher and he’s a true MISSOURI born strongman!

The man himself: ED ZERCHER, one of Missouri's greatest strength athletes!

One of the things I like about the USAWA is it’s respect for history and the desire to make sure many of these lifts from bygone years are remembered and practiced.  Many of them have real merit and are often “rediscovered” in modern times.  Look at Kettlebell lifting!  My grandfather used to do Kettlebell training when I first stared lifting in the 1970’s and I remember thinking how “old fashioned” that was and he needed to get “modern” if he wanted to get strong!  How naive I was!   The Zercher has made a bit of a comeback for that same reason……in a way!

Many modern lifters have begun to do what they call “Zerk’s” or Zercher Squats.  They take a weight out of low squat rack or power rack, squat with the bar in the crooks of the arms, and then reload it on the rack.  This has become a variation that some lifters use in a mix with front and back squats but it is also one that guys have added that have trouble holding the bar in the front squat position or some other injury the precludes regular type squats.  But of course, as “Ol’ Clark” himself would tell you…..THIS IS NOT A ZERCHER!  Now, there’s nothing wrong with doing “Zerks” and they are a fine exercise to anyone’s repertoire of lifts.

There were some guys recently discussing “Zerks” on a message board and I got on there and pointed out the difference in what I thought was a polite, informative way.  One of them blew up!  He thought I was being petty bringing up the difference.  But to me, Ed Zercher developed that lift and we need to honor the man by keeping things straight!  With that said, here’s the rules for the Zercher lift:

C8.  Zercher Lift
The bar starts on the platform and at the lifter’s discretion the bar is deadlifted to a position where it may be supported on the knees or thighs.
Feet placement is optional, but the feet must be in line with the torso. The lifter will then bend down, with the bar resting on the legs, to a position in which the lifter is able to secure the bar in the crooks of the elbows. The lifter will then stand erect with the arms bent and the bar fixed at the articulation of the upper and lower arms.  The lifter’s arms may be inside or outside of the legs. The hands may be locked together. Once the bar is
motionless, the legs straight, the body erect with shoulders upright, an official will give a command to lower the bar. The bar must be returned to the platform under control for the lift to be complete. It is acceptable to drop the bar once it is below the level of the knees provided that the hands follow the bar to the platform.

So, come to Nationals and help me honor one of Missouri’s greatest Strongmen!  Let’s Zercher!

Bill Clark and the Zercher Lift

by Al Myers

The founding father of the USAWA, Bill Clark, making a 405 pound Zercher Lift.

I recently found this picture of our USAWA  founder, Bill Clark, performing one of his favorite lifts, the Zercher Lift.  The Zercher Lift was named after the famous old time Missouri strongman Ed Zercher. This picture was taken in the early 1960’s at a meet at the Leavenworth Prison, which Bill was promoting.  Bill’s best lifetime Zercher Lift was 455 pounds – which would still be the best at most USAWA meets today. In a true Zercher Lift, the bar is taken from the platform, and not from a rack or stands. Notice that Bill is not even wearing a belt!

TEAM LIFTING

by Al Myers

The date for the USAWA Team Nationals is approaching fast (Next Weekend -Sunday, September 20th, 2009). Team lifting is when two individuals (the Team) perform a lift together. The USAWA provides divisions for 2-Man, 2-Person, and 2-Woman Teams. A 2-person team is a team made up of a male and a female. All of these divisions are contested at the National Team Championships.

My training partner Chad Ullom (to left) and myself training the 2-Man Zercher Lift in preparation for the 2007 Team Nationals. We ended up lifting 705 pounds at Nationals.

Rules for Team Lifts (taken from the USAWA Rulebook)

“Any approved lift may be done as a Team Lift, provided it is done according to the rules of the individual lift. Team Lifts consist of two lifters performing a lift together. This may consist of male-male, female-female, or female-male teams. The combination of lifters may be of any age or weight. The weight class the Team will be in will be that of the heaviest lifter and the age class that of the youngest lifter. An exception is if a Junior lifter is teamed with an Open or Master lifter, in which the age class will be the class of the older lifter. “

Team lifting is very challenging because factors come into play that when lifting on a bar by yourself you don’t experience. The timing of the lift with your partner has to be the same or imbalances occur. It helps if both lifters are of the same height and body type so the bar is at the same height during and at the finish of the lift. Flexibility becomes more of a factor because of the limited space a bar provides when two lifters have a hold of it!! Lifting styles also come into play. For example – when doing a clean, one lifter can’t squat clean the bar while the other power cleans it!! Another factor you don’t think of until you actually do Team Lifting is trust. A missed lift can be catastrophic in team lifting because one person may be successfully completing the lift when this happens and unaware that one side of the bar is dropping fast!!! You have to know each others capabilities and be able to TRUST that your lifting partner won’t let you down.

But at the same time, Team Lifting provides a great challenge. In some lifts you can actually lift more together than the sum of each of your individual lifts. Chad and I found this out a couple of years ago when the Team One Arm Deadlift was contested at Team Nationals. We had an idea of what we thought we could do together based on each of our individual One Arm Deadlifts – but forgot a big difference that was going to occur when we were both gripping the bar. That difference was we were able to create an “alternate grip” on the bar by facing away from each other, thus helping in blocking the “bar roll” that occurs in any one arm deadlift. We ended up lifting more together than the sum of our “Bests” at the time.

There is still time to enter the USAWA Team Nationals.