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The Yoke and You

Why should the yoke be a part of our training? That bulky thing next to our ropes and sleds: How is it a good supplement to the general fitness we practice? It’s intimidating, sure. However, the yoke does more than double duty as an extra squat rack or providing scaling options for rope climbs. The yoke will build structural integrity and strength, and assist with cleaning up imbalances in movement.

The structural integrity of the whole body is imperative to weight bearing exercise. The yoke provides a means to build strength while requiring less skill. Yoke carries and Anderson squats require less skill than back squats but are inherently easier. Carries and Anderson squats all but remove the eccentric phase of the squat, which is the time that spent traveling downwards, and could also be called the hard part. The “eccentric phase” is a fancy way of saying the muscle is under tension while lengthening, rather than contracting.

yoke bottom squat

Balance as well as strength, and a sprinkling of mental fortitude is necessary to put yourself in the bottom of a squat with a weight on your back! Picking up the yoke and walking with it just means standing up. A general rule from StrongFit states that you should be able to walk 20m with 150% of your 1 rep max back squat, and if you can’t, your structure is likely unfit to progress safely in squatting with more weight.

What Kinds of Issues can the Yoke Help With?

Structural integrity may be inherent to holding weight under load, but how do carries and Anderson squats build strength? Anderson squats in particular are excellent for building strength by training through the “sticking point” in the squat, that moment when you may have gotten out of the very bottom but tend to get stuck or lose momentum and have to bail out.

Another issue would be tending to fold forward in a back squat, with the hips moving up but the chest and shoulders unable to keep up. Anderson squats require you to set up a little higher than parallel with an optimal position for the trunk. Standing up with the yoke will be difficult, painful, or impossible without your chest in an upright position. Anderson squats make it possible to lift a lot more weight than a back squat, readying the whole core to move to better, bigger back squats.

stand yoke
Standing up with the yoke requires balance. The yoke will sway and rock and generally piss you off if you have a tendency to be more forceful with one leg than the other, and if you’re lucky enough to push straight up, it’s likely you have a strong side (often the side of your dominant hand) through your core. Keeping the yoke balanced is work. Trunk stability will improve through yoke carries, as well as with Anderson squats.

Our yoke weighs 185lb. It’s definitely possible that weight is a tad heavy to start this kind of work. Ask your coaches for scaling options, like back rack barbell carries or Anderson squats from the jerk blocks to start. Also, try out our StrongFit classes to become more confident on the yoke, and in a squat!

Tobi is a 26 member and coach (CF-L2). She coaches CrossFit, Olympic Lifting, and StrongFit classes.

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