Strongman/Strongwoman Training Series: The Yoke
One of the oldest strength events in history, the "yoke" consisted of a pole with contraptions or receptacles attached to either end creating a "bridge" across the shoulders. Useful for carrying items long distances where grip was a limited factor in indeed weight. Possibly the first piece of genuine strength engineering equipment advances in the sport.
First used in 1977 at World's Strongest Man for carrying fridges and then in 1993 for carrying cars.Today, we use frames fashioned out of steel tubing and The Super Yoke was born for carrying insane amounts of weight in around 2004 at a competitive level.
The yoke requires upper body mobility for reaching out to the sides of the frame, a strong core for remaining upright, mobile hips for moving fast, strong legs for endurance and distance walking; it is a true test of grit, mental fortitude and willpower. The skill level require in executing this exercise is fairly low and can be picked up quickly. Quire simply, you put the yoke beam across your back, stand up and walk/run as quickly as you can to your target point. It's simply to learn and difficult to become expert as the top guys can move quickly with 350kg+
Variations and what to expect at a comp
In a comp you can expect to see these variations:
- 20m drop & turn (run 20m to a line and then pick up to complete the return leg
- 10-20m dash (no drop, just go for it)
- 10-20m into Farmers (a medley of sorts and crowd pleaser - tests two different types of strength and can make or break a placing)
- Hold for time (rarely seen these days and inconsistent to score)
- You will be given a line to reach; ensure you listen to the the ref who will tell you whether you need to go all the way over the line or just "break" it with either your feet or the front of the Yoke. Too many competitors fail to listen and lose time/points/placing
Here are some general rules for the event:
- Do not slide the Yoke over the mid way point or finish line. This will cost you points as you can be deducted time for doing it (penalty of 5 seconds is normal).
- Limited pick ups; some comps only allow one pickup. Number of reasons for this (exposure of kit to repeated drops at a heavy weight, damage potential to floor, speeding up comps). So check first if you're not told.
- Dragging the yoke throughout the event; the frame should clear the ground completely when you are in motion.
Tips and Tricks
- Take a deep breath and "chuff" like a train; this will help maintain your core stability
- Try and over exaggerate your hip gait and this will get your feet shuffling
- Pick a point on the floor 5-6 metres in front and set little goals if you find the weight ridiculous - each step is a potential PB and a massive achievement
- Practice the drop and turn like an OIympic Swimmer would practice their underwater turn. They do this over and over as seconds can make the difference when two people are equally matched with running speed
You do not see many ideas for programming the Yoke. I've heard everything... "just something we mess around with", "we go heavy as we can each session" and "I don't really practice it"
At Old Time Strength we do event days on a Saturday and we will sometimes add a yoke and farmers in the week alternating between speed and endurance work. Whatever we did in the week, we'll do the opposite on the event day.
I think this is a good way to build up the Yoke skillset:
Max Yoke 250 (% work rounded up to nearest 5kg)
Endurance session: Try and do 5 sets of 60m-90m (could be 2-3 lengths of 20m or 6-9 lengths of 10m if you want to practice drop and turn). Start at 50% for week 1 and then do this for 5 weeks adding 5% each week. Walk or run... doesn't matter as this is building up confidence and posterior chain strength.
Speed session: Try and do 3 sets of 20m timing each run (10m drop & turn) and replicate comp conditions if you can. Start at 70% and run it for 4 weeks alongside your endurance sessions (do endurance in week and speed on weekend).
Take the speed session off for week 5 just do the endurance session. Then the week after set a new PB. You'll feel refreshed for taking the heavier load off your back.
This is just one way we train and practice the yoke. You can train with or without a belt but I try and do the endurance sessions without a belt.
This programme works very well for comp prep too. I used it to flap about with 400kg for 20m in 12 seconds post surgery having started back 3 months ago only doing 260kg for a longer time (see above).
Other members of the gym who have run this routine have added 20-60kg onto their Yoke with more confidence, moving better, quicker turns and with good technique all the way through.
Don't be worried about the weights "seeming" low; the Yoke is about building strength... once built you can show it off later.
Periodise the Yoke over time and remember that recovery from the exercise is a challenge. Going to max weights on a irregular basis with this piece of kit can be draining and affect you for 1-3 weeks meaning your other sessions have less productive outcome.
The Yoke is one of the finest exercises to do; so much so most of our back squat gets replaced with Front Squat when a regular 2 x per week Yoke session is planned in.
Lots of time under tension with the endurance work is extremely effective for posterior chain development and of course building skill on an exercise which is often overlooked as a "main" exercise.