Yoke Bar

Besides the safety squat bar (SSB) being rounded and not welded, there isn’t much of a difference between the yoke and SSB. The way they’re both used and even manufactured is very similar. It’s more of a personal preference than anything else.

I prefer the yoke bar for a couple reasons. The first is the yoke bar has a better pad. With the safety squat bar, the pads fall apart pretty quickly. As you will see in our videos, a lot of them are duct-taped. The second reason I prefer the yoke bar is because it has extended handles. That is a feature we came up with a couple years ago. It gives you more options and allows you to create different movements.

Both have many advantages. They allow you to squat without holding onto the bar by using the pads or handles. This is very beneficial for anyone with shoulder injuries or for someone who normally wouldn’t be able to squat due to shoulder pain. Let’s face it, athletes get hand, arm or shoulder injuries all the time and they will still be able to squat with the yoke or safety squat bar. I’ve seen people squat in slings! I’ve had pec tears and shoulder injuries and never had to miss a workout because of these bars. This, I believe, makes them a must-have for any weight room – be it sporting, pro, university or high school.

Another advantage is both of the bars are held a little bit higher so they are in the constant process of pushing you forward. This works your upper back harder than a conventional squat. Many people think a squat is missed coming out of the hole because of the lower back. This is not the case because a lot of the time, the back is still arched. What actually happens is the chest caves in, which is a weakness of the lats and traps. These bars work to help strengthen these muscles.

My First Safety Squat Bar Workout

I had seen the SSB before and thought it was a total joke. I always thought that if you wanted to squat more, you simply squatted. And if you wanted to deadlift more, all you had to do was deadlift. To me everything else was just to get bigger, not stronger.

I still remember my first training session with the SSB. It was a max effort training day. On max effort days, my training partners and I would always pick one exercise and work up until we hit a one rep max. On this particular day, we performed a SSB squat off of a low hassock (which is similar to a soft box). After a few sets of 135 pounds, we proceeded to work up to three reps by adding 45 and 25 pound plates. Anything less was a sin. I knew this bar was about to kick my ass when we got up to 315. It shouldn’t have been that heavy, as I had recently squatted 760. But it was – and my lower back was screaming! The thing that killed me was that 315 seemed like a total joke for the other guys – and they all squatted less than me! I had no idea why I was so weak. We jumped to 365 and when I unracked the bar, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it. It felt like a ton when I took it out of the rack. After I unracked the bar, there were several shouts of encouragement from the spotters. I grinded out my first rep. After the second rep, my eyes began to water and I started seeing stars. The third rep, I don’t remember.

The rest of the guys once again had no problem with the weight and I began to feel humbled. I thought I was done squatting when I heard the 45 slapped on the bar. The bar was now loaded to 405 pounds and they were calling me back up to the bar. For the first time in my life I didn’t want to squat. The last set just about knocked my head off and now I was expected to squat 405! Being that I had never made smart decisions in the past with my own training, I figured what the hell. I got under the bar, unracked the weight and proceeded to do one of the slowest single-rep maximums of my entire life. I’m sure my spotters were yelling the whole time, but the only thought going through my head was to stand back up with the weight. After the weight was racked the room began to fade and then I saw flickering silver dust particles all around me. I held onto the bar to ensure I didn’t pass out and then walked over to the glute-ham raise and held myself up for the next half-hour. I watched and drooped over the pad. My world was spinning as everyone else worked up to 600 pounds.

The next day I was sore as hell from my calves to my neck. There wasn’t a single muscle on the backside of my body that didn’t hurt. When I looked in the mirror, I noticed that both my eyes were bloodshot and I had broken capillaries all over my face. I hated the SSB, but realized how valuable it was. Over the next few years, I saw my squat jump from 760 to 935 and I have to say that some of this increase was due to the torture of the SSB.

Dynamic Training with the Safety Squat Bar

Dynamic (speed) squat training with the SSB offers many strength benefits. First, it is a great way to build the explosive and static strength of the lower back, and many have found that this bar is a great way to increase your deadlift. Second, it takes much of the stress off of the elbows and shoulders. This has a huge recovery effect for your bench training. This is of great value for lifters who are training for bench press only meets, or those who are trying to recover from pectoral, shoulder and elbow injuries. With the safety squat bar you’ll be allowed to train around the injuries and still get in a quality squat workout. Third, the SSB is great to use for GPP or lactic acid tolerance training. Listed below are some of the more popular squat cycles done with a safety squat bar:

Lactic Acid Tolerance Training Cycle

Application: This is a great cycle for off-season training when you’d like to give your arms and shoulders a break. This is also a great way to peak your bench for a bench meet without having to stop squatting. This is good for beginners, intermediate and advanced lifters.

Training Cycle (Three week version)

Week 1 – 35% for 10 sets 2 reps with 45-second rest periods
Week 2 – 37% for 15 sets 2 reps with 30-second rest periods
Week 3 – 40% for 15-17 sets of 2 reps with under 30 seconds of rest

· The rest period for the third week should be back-to-back sets. Two people should squat together and as soon as one lets go of the bar, the second guy should be grabbing the bar. Each lifter should try to wear the other out and see who dies first. BE AGGRESSIVE AND DON’T LOSE.

Training Cycle (One week version)

Week 1 – 37% for as many sets as possible of 2 reps with 30-second rest periods

· With this cycle you should use a training partner that is close to the same strength as you and try to run each other into the ground. We’ve seen battles go beyond 38 sets! BE AGGRESSIVE AND DON’T LOSE.

Notes:

- Training percent is based on current one rep max with the free squat with equipment.
- These percents are used as guidelines. The more advanced the lifters, the lighter the percent needed. If you’re a raw lifter or don’t use powerlifting gear, then a minimum of 10% should be added to the listed percents.
- All sets should be performed on a parallel box.

Basic Three Week “Straight Weight” Advanced Cycle

Application: This is a very good cycle for advanced lifters for off-season training, or as a deload cycle before a competition or test day.

Training Cycle

Week 1 – 45% for 10 sets 2 reps
Week 2 – 48% for 10 sets 2 reps
Week 3 – 50 % for 10 sets 2 reps

Notes:
- Training percent is based on current one-rep max with the free squat and equipment.
- These percents are used as guidelines. The more advanced the lifters, the lighter the percent needed. If you’re a raw lifter or don’t use power lifting gear then a minimum of 10% should be added to the listed percents.
- All sets should be performed on a parallel box.
- If you feel good after your sets, work up to a heavy double. This shouldn’t be done every week, but should be completed at least once through the cycle.
- You should rest no more than 45 to 60 seconds between sets.

Basic Three Week “Chains” Intermediate Cycle

Application: This is a very good cycle for the intermediate lifter who has good squat skill and form. The chains will help to develop a greater level of squat stability as well as increase the explosion from the bottom of the squat. This would be a very good off-season strength cycle for the intermediate lifter.

Training Cycle

Week 1 – 50% for 8 sets of 2 reps
Week 2 – 53% for 8 sets of 2 reps
Week 3 – 55% for 8 sets of 2 reps

Suggested Chain:
Squat Max: 200-400 Pounds – 60 total pounds of chains
Squat Max: 400-500 Pounds – 80 total pounds of chains
Squat Max: 500-600 Pounds – 100 total pounds of chains
Squat Max: 600-800 Pounds – 120 total pounds of chains
Squat Max: 800-950 Pounds – 160 total pounds of chains

Sample Exercises with the Safety Squat bar

Team EFS demonstrates some of the exercises you can do with these bars, including: suspended good mornings, hammer curls, walking lunges, tricep extensions and many others.

The safety squat bar has been used very successfully over the past 10 years for training. Think of it this way: If you miss a squat or deadlift, what usually happens? In the squat, most people will shift or fall forward. This bar will help you develop two things that can make a huge difference. It will increase your static strength and keep you from falling forward in the first place, and it will help you develop the strength to help you recover if you do fall forward. Here is a list of some of the most popular movements you can do with the yoke bar.

Chain Suspended Good Mornings

This is a great max effort exercise to help your deadlift. There are two ways to set up this exercise. One way is to place the barbell on the safety pins. The other is to place the barbell in 3/8 inch chains. For the latter, place the two chains at the top of the power rack and loop them so that the barbell is suspended. The bar can be set at any height, but is usually slightly above the navel. To perform the exercise, place yourself under the bar and simply perform a good morning. This is a great exercise to help build your deadlift because both lifts are a concentric-only lift. Don’t get caught up in maintaining your hips at a certain level. Simply get under the bar and get it up! Be sure that your hands do not get caught under the chains or the safety pins. Any width stance can be used.

Safety Squat Bar Box Squats

This movement is performed the same as the regular box squat, except you’ll be using the SSB. This bar is designed to keep the bar high on the traps and force more of the weight forward on the body. This places more stress on the muscles of the upper and lower back, glutes and hamstrings. The best way to use this bar is to hold the yolks on the front of the bar. This keeps the stress on the muscles we’re trying to develop. Most people miss a squat because the bar shifts forward and they end up trying to do a good morning. The bar will help to develop the muscles to keep it from happening in the first place. The box used on max effort day can be a low box (one to three inches below parallel), parallel box, or a high box (one to three inches above parallel).

Zercher Squats

This is a great exercise to build your deadlift and teach you to maintain proper position when squatting. Because of the position of the barbell, it forces the lifter to maintain tight abs, an arched lower back and proper chest position. Begin by placing a bar in a power rack just below your armpits and unrack it in the crook of your elbows. Keep your back arched, stomach pushed out and chest up. Squat back until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure to keep your elbows and arms close to your body – this can also be done by using a box. A shoulder-width stance is usually used. The amount of weight you can hold in your elbows will limit the bar weight used during this exercise. However, the SSB makes it easier because of the thickness of the bar.

Backwards Bar Safety Squat Bar Box Squats

This is the same as the “Safety Squat Bar Box Squats” except the bar is placed backwards on your shoulders. This alters the camber of the bar and makes for a completely different movement.

Good Mornings

Done with a safety squat bar, good mornings are one of the most difficult exercises to perform, but also one of the most effective. Begin by unracking a barbell the same as you would a squat. Your feet can be set at a close, medium or wide stance. This can change depending on what you feel works best for you. For example, a wide stance seems to work the hips more. Get into a tight position (arched back, shoulder blades pulled together, knees slightly bent and abdomen pushed out against your belt). This is the starting position. Slowly bend forward at the waist until your torso is slightly above parallel to the floor, then reverse the movement to return to the starting position. This is usually done between 5 -10 reps and used as a second exercise. You’ll have to fight to maintain position throughout the entire movement, so make sure you start with a light weight.

Triceps Extensions

While it may seem weird to perform a tricep movement with the SSB, try this for a little variation on an otherwise boring movement. The bar should be set up so that when racked, the yoke is pointed toward your feet. Unrack the bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart and bring the yoke to just above your nipples. Let the points of the yoke hit your chest and the bar will rotate towards your chin. Then, let down until your forearms are almost parallel to the floor and extend up. Because the bar is a little thicker than a standard bar, your elbows will take less of a beating. You also may want to place a folded towel on your chest to prevent the points of the yoke from bruising your chest.

Shrugs – With the bar on your shoulders, attempt to raise your shoulders to your ears. This is a great variation to standard shrugs with a barbell. You can try placing your hands down at your sides or place them out in front of you, holding the rack.

Partial Arches

This exercise is great for your entire back. One of the best ways to do this exercise is to place the bar on your back and sit on a box. While sitting on the box, arch your lower and upper back. After holding this position for a few seconds, roll your upper back forward and round your lower back. Make sure to stay tight in this position. Hold this for a few seconds and arch back to the original position. Concentrate on arching hard and rounding over because it’ll exhaust the muscles of your back. This exercise will not only build a ton of muscle, but allow the lifter to feel what it’s like to arch at the bottom of the squat.

Lunges

Lunges are frowned upon simply because they’ve been embraced by the fitness community and have been the main exercise of housewives everywhere. But this is one of the best exercises to develop overall leg strength. Done correctly, lunges work your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Make sure you don’t short-stride your reps just so you can add more weight. Too many times people perform lunges by taking short six-inch steps and then brag of the weight they can handle. This is not a lunge! This is a squat done with bad foot position. Try doing walking lunges, backward lunges or standard lunges; all work well and the benefits will make you wonder why you ever dropped this exercise in the first place. However, the soreness you get the next day will probably answer the that question. There are many different variations of lunges you can try: walking lunges, backward lunges, side lunges and lunges done with your front foot elevated.

Walking Safety Squat Bar

This is an old exercise that is used to build overall endurance and is pretty simple. Place a SSB on your back and begin walking a prescribed distance. A good way to do this is to take turns walking with your training partner from the squat rack to a certain point and back. This can turn into a contest and is great for overall body strength, as well as mental strength. It’s recommended that you begin this exercise with light weight. Also, be careful when performing this exercise as it’s very difficult to dump the bar when you’re tired. Still, this exercise will build your traps and legs like no other. Don’t perform this exercise often – it will absolutely annihilate you!

Glute-Ham Raises

This is done like a regular glute-ham raise except the SSB will be across your back. This is an exercise for very strong lifters only!

45-Degree Back Raises

By putting a SSB on your back during a 45-degree back raise, you’ll greatly increase your low back, hamstring and glute strength. Also, it will hit your upper back and add some serious mass to this region. This can also be done on a standard back raise or back hyperextension piece of equipment.

Pushups with Safety Squat Bar

With this exercise, you’ll need a partner to help stabilize the bar on your back. Place the bar on your back the same way you’d squat and perform pushups. This can be a very challenging exercise.

Get the EFS Yoke Bar here

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About the Author

Dave Tate is the founder and CEO of elitefts.com, staffed by experienced professionals dedicated to providing strength coaches, athletes and trainers with the highest-quality equipment, personalized service and extensive knowledge needed to advance their training programs. Special thanks to Joe DeFranco, Zach Even-Esh, The Thinker, Julia, James "Smitty" Smith, Jim Wendler and Jason Pegg for their help with creating the content for all the exercises within this index.