A shredded midsection is the symbol of peak fitness. Although many people aspire to develop a well-defined six-pack that could rival the sculpted Greek statues, it usually remains that — an aspiration.
The benefits of a strong core extend beyond aesthetics. A strong core can improve your balance and functionality, which can boost your performance in compound exercises and daily tasks. Plus, it can improve your posture and reduce the risk of lower back pain and injury.
Most people avoid training their abs because they find the orthodox ab exercises, such as crunches and leg raises, boring and redundant. You have come to the right place if you’re looking for a challenging exercise that requires skill, strength, and endurance. Toes to bar is a compound exercise that primarily works your abs and also engages your arms, shoulders, lats, glutes, and hip flexors.
Toes to bar (TTB) is a gymnastics exercise and a mainstay in many CrossFit workouts. It is an extended and advanced version of the hanging leg raise. That said, performing the TTB requires significantly more core strength and practice.
In this article, we go over the basics of TTB, its benefits, muscles worked, correct exercise form, most common mistakes, and the best variations and alternatives to add to your training regimen.
What is a Toes to Bar?
Toes to bar involve lifting your feet to an overhead bar. Simple, right? Wrong. TTBs are more challenging than hanging leg raises, and depending on your experience level, it might take a long time to drill the movement.
Since the TTB is a compound movement, it helps improve your overall anterior chain strength. Plus, TTBs performed with a flawless form look dope. It is also an excellent way to show off your core strength.
There are two main toes to bar variations:
Strict Toes to Bar
The strict TTB is one of the most difficult abdominal exercises. It is generally included in a workout to test an exerciser’s midline strength. Save this TTB variation for after you’ve mastered the kipping TTB. Besides core strength, the strict TTB demands decent hip flexor, gluteal, and hamstring mobility.
Kipping Toes to Bar
The kipping TTB is a popular ab exercise in gymnastics and CrossFit workouts. As the name suggests, it involves using a kipping motion that makes touching your toes to the bar a little easier. On the other hand, the strict TTB involves touching the overhead bar with your toes while keeping your torso parallel to the floor.
Muscles Worked During Toes to Bar
Toes to bar works the following muscles:
The TTB primarily targets your abs. It engages the rectus and transverse abdominis and will leave you with a sick ab pump. The rectus abdominis runs along the front of your abdomen and is commonly known as the “six-pack.” Conversely, the transverse abdominis wraps around your trunk from front to back.
Hip flexors are located on the front of your upper thighs. These muscles are involved in flexing the hips and bringing the knee closer to the chest. Weak hip flexors can make it more challenging to complete a TTB.
Your grip and forearm strength are crucial factors that can dictate your performance in toes to bar. Plus, you might experience biceps recruitment during more extended TTB sets, which involve holding on to the bar for longer.
Your lats kick in as soon as you hang on to the pull-up bar. Furthermore, the kipping TTB variation can lead to greater lat engagement as you cycle between the hollow and arch positions.
Glutes and Hamstrings
You need good glutes and hamstring mobility to perform the TTB with optimal form. The glutes and hamstrings also help control the movement during the exercise’s eccentric (lowering) part.
Notably, the kipping toes to bar variation increases the demand on the grip, shoulder, and back.
Benefits of Toes to Bar
Adding the TTB to your training regimen entails the following advantages:
Build a Strong and Shredded Core
TTB is a challenging abdominal exercise that will help build a stronger and chiseled core. To avoid swinging between reps, you must keep your core contracted throughout the exercise. TTB will also strengthen your stabilizers, improving your overall balance and boosting your performance in compound exercises and everyday functioning.
Boosts Muscle Coordination
A TTB involves several moving parts. You must hang onto a pull-up bar, generate momentum by kipping, raise your toes to the bar, return to the start position, and repeat this process for the recommended reps. Adding TTB to your workouts will improve your muscle coordination, which will carry over to other exercises.
Toes to bar strengthen your abdominal muscles and lower back, which can contribute to a better posture. Core exercises are a must for folks who spend most of their day sitting or hunched over their phones or computer screens.
Read also: Toes To Bar Workout Progression Routine
How To Do Toes to Bar
The TTB is a complex exercise, and you must master several steps to perform this movement correctly. Below I’ll take you over the kipping toes to bar step-by-step instructions that require a cyclical, ballistic motion.
Step 1: Grab an Overhead Bar
Jump and grab onto a pull-up bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width overhand grip. You can use a hook (fingers over the thumb) or reverse hook grip (thumb over the index fingernail) on the bar.
Pro Tip: Avoid using a false grip on the bar. A thumbless grip will make it harder to hold onto the bar during the kipping motion.
Step 2: Generate a Kip
Kipping involves alternating between an arch and a hollow position to generate momentum. Initiate the kip by driving your head and chest forward and extending your legs behind you. Immediately kick your legs in front of your body as you push on the bar and bring your body behind it to get into a “hollow” position.
Pro Tip: Beginners can perform two to three kips to generate enough momentum before raising their legs.
Step 3: Raise Your Legs in the Hollow Position and Flick the Bar
After generating momentum and getting into a hollow position, contract your abs, lats, shoulder blades, glutes, and quads, and raise your legs toward the ceiling. Your toes should hit the bar at the top of the movement. Keep your head neutral throughout the range of motion, and look at the bar during the concentric (upward) phase of the lift. Looking ahead during the upward motion will make lifting your legs more difficult.
Pro Tip: Instead of locking out your knees and keeping your legs straight during the concentric motion, you could break it into two parts. First, bend your knees and bring your quads to your chest. Finish the movement by extending your knees and touching the bar with your toes. This technique is also known as the tuck-and-flick method.
Step 4: Return to the Extended Arch Position
After flicking the bar, lower your legs by extending your spine. Push your legs behind you and your torso forward to immediately enter the arched position. Use the momentum to get into the hollow position. Repeat for recommended reps.
Pro Tip: The eccentric motion of the tuck-and-flick method involves returning your legs to your chest and extending your knees as your legs move below your waist. Many exercisers find the tuck-and-flick method more convenient while stringing bigger sets.
Toes to Bar Tips:
- It is common for beginners to experience ab cramps while performing TTBs. Stop your set and stretch out your abs if you experience the same.
- Master the kipping TTB before trying the strict TTB.
- Before attempting the kipping TTB, drill your kipping form. Perform three sets of 10 kips in alternate workouts until you have command over the exercise.
- Use CrossFit grips to avoid ripping your hands on the pull-up bar. Remember, you are as strong as your grip on this exercise.
- Advanced trainers can perform this exercise on gymnastic rings. The unstable rings lead to greater core and stabilizer recruitment.
In This Exercise:
- Target Muscle Group: Abs
- Type: Strength
- Mechanics: Compound
- Equipment: Bodyweight
- Difficulty: Intermediate
- Best Rep Range: 10-15
Common Mistakes While Performing Toes to Bar
Avoid the following toes to bar mistakes to get the best bang for your buck and limit your risk of injury:
Incorrect Hand Position
Most people fail to kip consistently and complete a TTB because of incorrect hand placement. Grabbing the bar too close will make touching your toes to the bar more difficult, whereas taking a snatch grip on the bar will lead to uncontrollable swinging. Grab the bar just outside shoulder-width for optimal range of motion.
Keeping Your Shoulders Under The Bar
Many rookies try to do a TTB while keeping their shoulders under the bar. Although you might be able to complete one TTB, you’ll likely not be able to control the eccentric motion, which will lead to uncontrollable swinging.
Not Using a Kip
In continuation with the previous point, strict TTB is significantly more difficult than the kipping variation. You must master kipping before attempting toes to bar. Begin the kip by pretending to perform a straight-arm pushdown and pull your torso behind the pull-up bar.
Banging Your Toes Into The Pull-Up Bar
Avoid banging your toes into the bar at the top of the motion. Many exercisers end up with bruised toes due to kicking the bar too hard. Bring your toes over the bar, or touch it lightly; this will get easier as you gain more experience.
Slowing the Eccentric Motion
Many trainers make the mistake of controlling the descent, which can break their momentum. You want to use the momentum from the eccentric motion to power your kip and the next rep. That said, you must control the eccentric motion on the strict TTB.
Variations and Alternatives of Toes to Bar
The following TTB variations and alternatives will help add variety to your training regimen:
Hanging Leg Raise
The hanging leg raise is an excellent progression exercise for the TTB.
- Hang onto a pull-up bar with a shoulder-wide overhand grip.
- Brace your core and glutes, and lift your legs toward the ceiling until they are at least parallel to the floor. Keep your knees locked out throughout the range of motion.
- Pause and contract your abs at the top.
- Slowly return to the start position.
- Repeat for recommended reps.
Pro Tip: Incorporating kipping into this exercise can help drill the TTB movement. Get into the arched position during the eccentric motion and a hollow position during the concentric lift.
Lying Leg Raise
Perform the lying leg raise on an elevated platform like a flat bench to mimic the arched position of the TTB.
- Lie supine with your hips on the edge of a flat bench. Your leg should be extended and parallel to the floor.
- Hold the bench at your ear level for stability.
- Keeping your legs straight, raise your lower body toward the ceiling until it is at a 90-degree angle with your torso.
- Lower your legs toward the floor until your feet are a few inches off the floor.
- Rinse and repeat.
Pro Tip: As you gain more experience, touch your knees to your head at the top of the movement. Progressing to this stage can take a long time as it requires significant core strength and flexibility.
Knees To Elbow
Knees to elbow is the middle ground between the hanging leg raise and the toes to bar. This exercise involves touching your elbows with your knees.
- Grab onto a pull-up bar with a shoulder-wide grip.
- Contract your abs, glutes, and quads.
- Raise your quads to your chest by flexing your hips.
- Bend your knees and touch your elbows at the top of the motion.
- Return to the starting position.
Pro Tip: Kipping can make the exercise easier and help cycle through reps faster.
The hanging L-sit might look easy, but it requires a strong core. This exercise will improve your core and grip strength, which will translate to a better performance on the toes to bar.
- Hang onto a pull-up bar with a shoulder-wide pronated grip.
- Keeping your elbows and knees locked, raise your legs until they are parallel to the floor.
- Hold the position for as long as possible.
Pro Tip: Experienced exercisers can perform L-sit pull-ups. This variation will help build a stronger core, resulting in better lower body control during TTB.
Controlled GHD Sit-Up
GHD sit-ups will help you build a robust midline. However, we will limit the extension on this exercise since we are using it as a TTB progression.
- Sit at the edge of the GHD pads and place your ankles between the foot pads.
- Your torso should be perpendicular to the floor at the start position.
- Hold your hands in front of your chest.
- Contract your abs and slowly lean backward.
- Your torso should at least break parallel to the floor at the bottom of the movement.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat for recommended reps.
Pro Tip: More experienced athletes can use the full range of motion and touch the floor with their fingers at the bottom.
Toes to bar is a compound exercise that requires decent core strength and kipping practice. Mastering this exercise will help build a stronger core, boost your endurance, and bless you with sculpted abs.
So swing, reach, and touch your toes to the bar with fierce determination, knowing that every rep brings you closer to an extraordinary transformation. Each TTB will hurt, but it will all be worth it in the end.
Best of luck!