First though, a quick definition :
To anyone who loves the iron, the yoke is simply the collection of muscles that sits around the neck and makes it look as though you're permanently wearing one of those inflatable travel pillows. Those muscles help protect your neck from all sorts of damage (which is why you'll often see footballers, wrestlers and MMA athletes working them seriously).
For a slightly more anatomical look at things, the yoke consists of :
If the first exercise that came to mind when you read the word 'yoke' was the humble shrug, join the club. Although there are many ways to hit the traps, the shrug is at the top of the list for a good reason - it works.
The traps help with several movements of your arms above your head (picture the movement of a pull-up, for starters). The top shelf always gets a little harder to reach after a solid deadlift day.
Rear Delts (Posterior Deltoids)
These are simply the muscles at the back of the shoulders, and help to raise your arms behind you (think of a rear lateral raise).
Neck (Several muscles, all designed to rotate and tilt your head in various directions)
There are several muscles involved, but they have a common purpose : to help protect the cervical spine. And rotating/tilting the head of course.
If you're a combat athlete, a strong neck will make it more difficult to knock you down (and greatly increase your options if you find yourself on the ground). If you're involved in contact sports such as Rugby, it'll help protect your head when you slam into an opponent. If you're involved in high-speed motorsports (as a driver or rider), you've no doubt felt the physical strain as you take each corner. A strong neck will help reduce that.
In short, a strong neck is a great thing to have.
First let me point out that you can strengthen your neck without any equipment at all. The bodyweight exercises are just fine.
Still, if you want to make things a little more interesting, here are the types of neck-training gear available :
I love the neck harness. I have one of my own. It is a devise that is like a dip belt for your head. It allows you to strap weight to hang from a chain underneath your chin. I use it by strapping up the weight, getting myself into "deadlift position" and then curling my head back against gravity and the weight.
If you have a partner, you can lay down on a dumbbell bench, with your head hanging off one end, and have someone strap the weight up behind your head and do curls that way.
I have a 50# kettlebell by my bed, with my harness right beside it, and sometimes, if I haven't trained that day, and I won't the next, I'll strap it up and do neck extensions for reps.
Where to get them : online at places like Amazon, and offline at high-end fitness and sporting-goods stores.
Where to get them : online at places like eBay and Craigslist. Alternatively, these make a fantastic DIY project.
To see how you can use an exercise ball for neck work, take a look at the Will Heffernan video below.
Where to get them : online at places like Amazon, and offline at various fitness and sporting-goods stores. Be sure to look for terms like 'commercial grade' or 'anti-burst'.
Where to get them : online from places like Amazon, eBay or Craigslist, and offline at high-end fitness and sporting-goods stores.
Whether you're using your own bodyweight (or perhaps that of a training partner), or resistance in the form of something like a weight plate or kettlebell, these various technique videos will show you the basics :
NB : Siegmund Klein also performs some very interesting neck harness exercises in his 'Super Physique' Course.
Of course, there are many, many more. For a little variety in your neck workouts, check out articles like A Little Yoke Work : 10 Exercises for a Bigger Neck. Good fun.
If you're just entering the world of neck training, welcome. As I mentioned above, you don't actually need any equipment (though it's great if you do).
Let's dive in.
Good news for anyone who is beginning neck training, "you" are pretty much all you need. I like Mike Bruce's beginner program on Straight to the Bar, but another really simple beginner program is this:
Lay on your back on the floor, or on your bed, and just raise your head, curling your chin to your upper chest, as many times as you can. Then lay on your stomach, and raise your chin to the ceiling as many times as possible. Then lay on your side and curl your ear toward your shoulder as many times as you can, and then lay on your other side and do the same thing.
Many people who have never done any neck training have difficulty just laying on their back and curling just their head 20 times. It is a really simple starting point just using gravity. To progress, you could do more reps, do more sets, or start holding a book to your head as you do your repetitions.
A number of these devices have been reviewed on this site, as well as on the forums and on Google+. Of these, my own favourites are :
There's also an incredible array of articles and videos on this site. Use the search box at the top of each page, or get in touch directly.
If a man has a strong neck, he probably is a man of power.