Yoke Walks: What They Are, Benefits, and How to Train Them

What’s a yoke walk?

The yoke walk is one of the most popular and recognized events in strongman. Typically, competitions utilize this event because it expresses an athlete’s strength, stability, and speed all in one movement.

The yoke walk in competition has several variations. For the first variation, athletes are scored by distance and speed; if a set distance is being used to score athletes, then results will first be measured by who completes the course with the fastest time, followed by who managed to go the greatest distance. This is typically done with a heavy yoke for a shorter distance. In the second variation yoke walks are performed in the form of distance runs where a given weight is picked up and carried for the greatest distance; the longest distance wins.

Performing Yoke Walks

To perform a yoke athlete, an athlete will set the yoke up so that when the crossmember is in contact with their back rack position they will be in a quarter squat. This position will give an athlete the best leverage to pick the heavy yoke up off of the ground. The hands should be placed on the upright so the athletes can push with them to help activate the upper back and shoulders, while giving them a stable shelf for the cross member to sit on.

Athletes should brace their torso by drawing in and contracting the abdominal musculature. Next, they should take a big breath into the stomach building the intra-abdominal pressure, as this helps lock the spine in place and helps prevents energy dissipation in the torso musculature.

Now, with feet placed shoulder width apart, the athlete will drive upwards into the bar and stand upright. Due to the larger diameter of the crossmember, balance and stability is key. Any excessive forward leaning or if the chest is brought too upright, then the yoke will slip off the upper back’s shelf.

Once the athlete is standing they should take small quick steps. Step-by-step slowly increase stride speed and develop a good rhythm. If long pronounced steps are used, then an athlete’s torso and hip stability can be compromised resulting in loss of coordination, a dropped yoke, and wasted energy.

Benefits of the Yoke Walk

The yoke walk offers a number of benefits when it is utilized in training. Studies have reported peak activation of the thoracic and lumbar erector spinae during the initial lift of the yoke. During the walking portion, peak lateral bend, twist, and stiffness occur, which help demonstrate the strength and stability needed during this event, and increases its ability to enhance these training needs without the usage of direct abdominal work.

Due to the supramaximal load of the yoke, an athlete’s overall muscular activation and nervous system stimulus will function at a very high level. By training at maximal loads the body becomes used to the impact and “feel” of weight resting on the nervous and skeletal muscular systems. This makes feeling weight on a variety of lifts such as squats feel easier and lighter when they are held. In short, it can act as an overload stimulus.

Another big benefit of the yoke walk is the impact it has on metabolic rate (energy expenditure). Weighted carries have been shown to have a positive impact on metabolic rate. Due to the full body muscular activation of the yoke walk the energy demand on the body is much higher. You can see increases in resting metabolic rate throughout a workout and some times after doing walks, which can have a positive effect on overall body composition.

How to Train Walks Without a Yoke

One of the most difficult aspects of the yoke walk is actually training for it, as many people do not have access to the implement. If this is your case, there are still many ways to train for the event. Simply having access to a standard barbell can be enough.

Start with the bar in a rack, load it up with weight, and take a walk. Simple and easy. Although, the problem with this is that the lack of uprights and the smaller diameter of the bar makes it more stable compared to the yoke.

Another technique you can use is a fat bar to better simulate the diameter of a yoke. With a fat bar you can suspend weights or chains to further add instability. With these two variations you must be careful though, unlike a yoke when barbells are dropped they’ll fall to the ground, and there is nothing to stop it from falling (no legs). Due to this, it is recommended to use less weight and concentrate on technique.

Programming Yoke Walks

For the yoke walk, programming must be done carefully.

Due to the nature of this movement heavy loads are often utilized. This is a great training stimulus, but it can quickly wear the body down and drain the nervous system if programmed incorrectly for athletes. Each individual will have different tolerances, of course, and the following recommendations are made to encompass a larger population.

My personal preference is to start beginners with light weight and work on speed and technique. This will create a foundation to build from. For first time users, I like to start athletes at around 90% of their back squat 1-RM, then use a distance around 15-25 yards. Have them pick up the implement, run the distance, drop, re-pick it up, and run back for a rep. Do this for 5 to 10 sets. Start at the low end of the distance and low end of the sets. Each subsequent session add a set, but keep the distance. Once you get to 10 sets, up the distance, and start a 5 set and work back up to 10. Try to maintain the same speed for each set.

The more advanced athlete will be able to handle more on the yoke. Most likely they will have figured out a max weight they are capable of handling. For a yoke session, work up to a heavy yoke run ranging from 90-100+% for a very short distance of 10-15 yards. Do this for 2-3 sets.

After this heavy set, drop the weight down to 50-65% and train speed runs. Use 20-30 yards as a distance and do the carry in the fastest time possible. Go through this for 3-5 sets. This will allow you to train max strength, along with work capacity, speed, and endurance. Depending on upcoming contests requirements, change the focus through the speed vs. strength spectrum. If you are competing on a heavy yoke walk, then you need to train heavy yoke as the focus. Conversely, if it is a speed run, work on speed.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image from @thorbjornsson Instagram page.

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