A Review of The Yoak Training System
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
I periodically have companies send me equipment to demo with the hope that I’ll enjoy it enough to market and push their product. Sometimes I see the merit in the equipment and other times….. well lets just say in those instances where I don’t see the value I simply won’t write a review or market it.
Recently I had the pleasure of demoing a very unique training tool called the Yoak Training System. As many of you know I’m a big advocate of properly implemented unstable training and oscillating kinetic energy protocols. However I’m always a bit leery of any new training instrument that comes onto the strength and conditioning scene as most of them tend to fall short. However, the Yoak was undoubtedly an exception to this rule as it absolutely blew me away. In fact I would go as far as saying it’s one of the best and most versatile training tools I’ve used in recent years.
So lets dive into the various benefits and options of this unbelievably awesome piece of equipment and show you how much fun/torture you can have with it.
Oscillating Kinetic Energy
The Yoak’s primary training stimulus is derived from oscillating kinetic energy. This is similar to the hanging band technique (read more about the Hanging Band Technique here) where weights such as kettlebells hang from bands that are attached to a barbell or specialty bar. This produces numerous oscillations and perturbations to the barbell creating a very unstable environment for the lifter. In the scientific world this is sometimes referred to as Oscillating Kinetic Energy (OKE), or Chaos Training due to it’s erratic nature.
If it still doesn’t make sense, check out this video compilation of some of my awesome clients including NFL athletes Lawrence Virgil and Jarius Wynn. Also big shout out to Ben Lai, Leslie Petch, Mitch Ellis, Erin English, and Drew Dinsmore.
Improved Neuromuscular Efficiency
There are many benefits of OKE training. In fact the stimulus produced from tools such as the YOAK induce heightened levels of motor unit recruitment in both primary and secondary muscle groups. The amount of motor control required also elicits improvements in both intramuscular coordination (within a muscle) and intermuscular coordination (between different muscle groups). Furthermore the instability and oscillatory effects of the device do wonders for waking up proprioceptive mechanisms, as sensory receptors such as muscle spindles must work overtime to continually adjust to these erratic movements.
Body Mechanics and Joint Centration
The YOAK is one of the most joint friendly variations you’ll ever utilize for performing traditional barbell movements such as squats, presses, rows, lunges, etc. That’s because the instability and unpredictable oscillations of the YOAK literally force the lifter to tighten up every muscle in their body and maintain this throughout the duration of the set. Not only does this have an incredible effect on muscle activation but this method almost involuntarily causes the lifter to centrate their joints into the most biomechanically efficient position to avoid losing control of the load.
Muscle Growth and Hypertrophy
The benefits of the Yoak go beyond neuromuscular recruitment and technique enhancements. In fact, the effects on strength, size, and muscularity are significant as the method allows you to capitalize on 2 key mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy namely mechanical tension and metabolic stress.
In terms of mechanical tension, the oscillating kinetic energy produced from the Yoak forces the lifter to fully engage all available fibers within a given muscles. This is evident even during light/moderate sets as anything short of near-maximal-contraction effort will cause further disruptions to the Yoak. As you continue through the sets and muscular fatigue accrues the amount of intramuscular tension escalates even further making it difficult to replicate this type of mechanical tension with other training protocols.
The Yoak also induces significant metabolic stress and metabolite accumulation as the lifter is forced to maintain constant tension within the targeted muscles throughout the set. The moment this ceases and the lifter relaxes their muscles, the Yoak becomes almost unmanageably shaky. In fact I’ve routinely been implementing the Yoak with many of my athletes to teach them to maintain full body tension.
Although it’s quite different than what you would typically see bodybuilders use to build muscle, this actually represents a form of occlusion training as the muscles are continuously contracting at a high threshold throughout the set. The amount of lactic acid accumulation, cellular swelling, muscle volumization, and overall muscular pump after just one intense set for a particular muscle group are significant to say the least.
As a bonus, if you have an athlete or client that refuses to remain tight during their sets, the Yoak is a surefire cure for this lethargic form of muscle activation.
The Yoak as a Barbell Replacement
At a first glance the Yoak seems like a similar and equivalent tool to many of the other unstable OKE devices such as the bamboo bar, tsunami bar, earthquake bar, and other unstable devices however there are several components that make the Yoak highly unique.
1. Yes the Yoak can be used as a barbell to perform movements such as squats, bench press, overhead press, lunges, RDL’s, rows, good mornings, curls, pullovers, tricep extensions, Bulgarian squats, and many other traditional movements. What makes the Yoak so effective is that the actual tool is very light and unstable. In fact the Yoak itself weighs approximately 10 lbs. When it comes to oscillating kinetic energy, the lighter the device that the unstable objects are attached to or hung from, the more unstable the bar will be. Simply put the ultra light nature of the Yoak (while still being very sturdy) causes the hanging weight to create more perturbations by more aggressively disrupting the balance of the lifter and the device.
2. The Yoak sits in the hands quite differently than a barbell. For example when performing movements like bench press and overhead press the Yoak feels as though it’s going to rotate in the hands unless the lifter forcefully squeezes their grip. Besides acting as an incredible stimulus to the grip (many of my athletes mentioned their forearms and grip were shot after using this), intense activation of the hands and grip muscles helps to centrate and pack the glenohumeral joint through concurrent activation potentiation. As a result the Yoak is extremely joint friendly and provides a unique method for many lifters who suffer with shoulder and joint pain to perform upper body exercises pain-free.
3. The curved nature of the Yoak not only makes it more unstable but it actually provides a more natural and comfortable hand position for performing squats, good mornings, and back-loaded lunges. That’s because the hands are positioned several inches below the shoulders thereby placing less tension on the shoulder capsule. As a result it’s highly conducive for those with upper body mobility and flexibility restrictions. This concept is similar to the Buffalo barbell many powerlifters use to squat with as it’s much easier on the shoulders.
Suspension Training with The Yoak
Besides having the ability to use it as an unstable instrument to perform traditional barbell movements one of the coolest features of the Yoak is that it can be used for suspension training systems. Think of the Yoak as Olympic rings or TRX straps on steroids as the difficulty of performing pushups, pullups, dips, planks, flyes, rows, ab fallouts, shoulder raises, bodyweight bicep curls, and tricep extensions are infinitely more difficult than any suspension training device I’ve ever used. Think of this as rings x 10.
What makes the Yoak so intense yet also so effective is that it has a central focal point from where it hangs and then two straps that are attached to the end of the Yoak. Besides producing significantly more oscillations and perturbations to traditional bodyweight movements, it also provides an incredible training tool to reinforce symmetrical loading. Simply put, if the individual pulls or pushes with even a few additional extra pounds of pressure on one side of the Yoak the entire device including your body will begin to tilt and collapse. In fact, I’ve yet to train with any tool that was so effective in providing immediate feedback about symmetrical loading and asymmetrical activation patterns. The first time you use the Yoak for bodyweight suspension training you’re sure to be in for a rude awakening as you’ll probably spend the first 5 minutes neuromuscularly recalibrating as you eliminate imbalances and asymmetries.
The Yoak is also designed to be adaptive and user friendly to varying levels of skill, fitness, and strength as it has three slots to hang the straps/loads from. The more central strap placement provides less tipping and perturbations. The further out you go the more challenging it becomes. In fact if you want a good laugh have a few of your buddies try pushups with the straps moved out to the farthest slot.
I work with NFL football players who can bench over 400 lbs and only a handful of them could even complete 2 or 3 bodyweight reps before falling to the ground with these wider pushup variations. However I also had several athletes determined to perfect these and the results to their other pressing movements (once they took the time to master them) in terms of motor control, strength, and even upper body size were well worth the temporary frustration and failed attempts.
Whether you’re a strength coach, trainer, therapist, or every day fitness enthusiast looking for a unique but highly effective piece of equipment (not to mention economical as it only costs several hundred dollars), you owe it to yourself to invest in the Yoak ASAP. In fact I’ll be investing in several more of these within the coming weeks to have stationed throughout my facility. And while perhaps the only drawback of the Yoak is the ability to overload with more than several hundred pounds, most humans (superheroes and mutants excluded) will struggle even with relatively light loads. With that said I can’t imagine intensity will ever be an issue even for the strongest athletes as the training stimulus of the Yoak is predicated more so on instability and oscillating kinetic energy rather than pure overload.
Between the ability to use the device as an unstable barbell with the hanging band technique or using it as a suspension training system like rings and TRX straps, the possibilities with this device are endless. Just be prepared to swallow your pride at first as many of the exercises are quite humbling even with relatively light loads. But once you master your mechanics and movement with the Yoak you can expect improvements in all facets of your performance and fitness.
To purchase the Yoak, visit TheYoak.com/AHP and use “AHP10” at checkout to receive 10% off your purchase.