You may or may not know the yoke originated from the wooden beam that used to link 2 animals together and sit on the shoulders of one or two which would be attach to a cart or plough to be pulled.
In typical strongman style this has been altered to test mans physical ability, and is one of the cornerstone events with stones, farmers and the log press as it has been around since the sport started in 1977.
The Pick up
This is always difficult as it ultimately depends on where the fabricator sets the heights on the yoke but ultimately when the yoke is grounded the bar should sit in front of your lower chest so when you lift the yoke you will have enough clearance when mobilizing with the load.
Bar Placement on Shoulders
The bar will always sit comfortably in the same position as when you squat and your hand position should be the same with regards to a wide or narrow grip. You need to minimize as much variation between events as possible but in some positions its not ideal and I will discuss below.
High Trapezius Position
This position is suitable for weightlifters with a narrow grip as you need to utilize your trunk to stabilize the weight. You’ll need to fix through your lats, pecs and trunk extensors. This technique will require you have a high heeled shoes so using olly shoes or firm sole running shoes is ideal in enable you to keep a good spinal position and ensure the weight is loading through your pelvis evenly.
The high bar setting will limit your acceleration and stride length as you’ll need to limit the yoke movement. You will need to have a narrow gait and short pace and build up the speed of your steps.
Positives with this are you have a fast pick up and you can build up the speed relatively quickly. You can also use the yoke to assist building up and slowing down your speed easily by adjusting your trunk position into flexion and extension.
Negatives are that you require a steady yoke and if you pick up speed to quick, on uneven ground or loose your stepping this will make you easily unsteady and not only cost you time but can put your at risk of injury.
Mid Trapezius Position
This in my opinion is the most suitable position for any yoke and most reliable. This position is suitable for any style of lifter and you can have a narrow or wide grip. Ultimately it ensures the load is going equally through you spine and hips.
If you have very mobile yoke you can help fix the yoke further by medially rotating your shoulders/point your elbows backwards which will put your rear deltoid in a better position to assist stabilizing the weight by increasing your surface area. However when doing this you need good thoracic and shoulder mobility or this can increase your anterior tilt and increase abnormal pressure through your spine and discs. Also make sure when you do this that you keep your chin tucked in to stabilize your neck.
- That the yoke is more stable on your back regardless of how its made as it will cover a larger surface area.
- You get even load through your hips and spine
- You can very your starting position with your feet (I.E. Staggered step, wide or shoulder width).
- You cant have a narrow grip and you need to fix through your pecs and anterior deltoid.
- Not ideal for raised heel footwear as it will increase your lumbar lordosis.
This is the least ideal position to carry the yoke and over load your thoracic spine and increase anterior tilt in your trunk and put you at high risk of spinal injury. The only benefit is you have a easy pick up but that is as far as I’ll take it. So I would advise you to not carry the yoke in this position.
Footwear and Placement
Soft vs Firm Sole trainer
For injury prevention its best is any shoe that has a solid sole so feel free to test the shoe and give it a twist and feel the resistance. If there is too much then they’re no good and too firm and they will prevent your feet form moving which will be cause you a lot of discomfort. So any walking shoe or canvas shoe is the ideal. I would avoid any running shoe or soft sole trainer.
Professionally I’m asked about arch supports in shoes and the best advice I can give is, if you have a high arch make sure when competing and training with over 75% of your max weight you have insoles that support your arch to prevent over pronation of your foot when you increase the load which will alter your ankle, knee and hip biomechanics when running with the weight. This is the same if you have low or medium arched feet. As well as this it will prevent shin splints and lower limb fatigue.
Flat vs heeled
You need a fairly firm flat sole shoe when carrying the yoke and the only time heeled shoes are effective are if you have the yoke in the high trap position and have a narrow grip (i.e. weightlifters).
The best shoes with a heel are weightlifting shoes (although are not designed for running in) as they are designed to support your foot positioning with high loads.
The Pick Up Foot Position
There are 2 main styles in picking up the yoke, the staggered step and the squat stance. Either way is not a problem but I would stick with one throughout your weight increases.
Although the staggered step gives you the quickest start it puts the majority of the load through your front leg and the heavier the yoke the slower your pick up, the other limitation with this is if the yoke has multidirectional movement this will put uneven load through your trunk which may lead to back, hip or knee problems along with a swaying yoke. So the staggered step is reliant on a stable well made yoke.
For consistencies and the biggest cross over from training to events I would have a shoulder width or wider stance pick up and build up your speed from your stance phase to the step and prevents any yoke sway.
The best way to pick up your speed is to keep the same stride length but build up the speed of your steps and don’t try and extend your stride as this will increase your lumbar load and increase the stress on your quadratus lumborum, lats and glute medius.
Tips and Tricks
- The pick up itself requires your glutes, quads, lats and erector spinae. Good exercises to help develop this, is your back and front squat, hack squat, deadlift, bent over rows, stiff leg, good mornings, pull ups or pull downs.
- To improve your stability on the run other than strong legs with squat, leg press, lunges, high box lunges and single leg leg press you require strong abdominals, obliques and lats to assist in fixing the weight throughout the lift, so make sure your hitting the endurance aspect on those muscle groups.
- Once your moving, the majority of work comes from your quads so make sure you work on high reps on exercises like the leg press.
- When using chalk on your back add a bit of water to help increase the grip.
- If the yoke starts to rock front-back, either drop the weight or speed up but don't slow down.
- Training with an uneven yoke won't help and if anything put you more at risk back problems. If you want to increase your glute strength with heavy load, a good way of achieving this is by doing farmers walk with the load only on one side.
- Your stride and keeping the yoke steady is highly reliant on a strong glute medius and quad lumborum to prevent lateral trunk shift. E.g. when you heel strike and put load through your left leg and take your right leg off the floor you contract your left glute medius and quad lumborum to prevent lateral pelvic shift.
Shown below in the video was the first time I picked up 400Kg and you can see I cant fix through my glutes and I use my trunk more to shift the weight from leg to leg and as a result I got more lateral movement of the yoke.
The best way to prevent lateral shift is to utilize your glutes more in stabilizing the weight as shown below you get less yoke shift. Realistically you need to practice with the yoke and work on lighter runs into fatigue and every 6-8 weeks try a heavy load.
Hope this helps and any questions don't hesitate to contact me and if you would like one to one session contact me.