Have you ever watched the CrossFit Games and wondered how athletes like Tia-Clair Toomey not only achieve their six-packs but also the abdominal strength that comes with it? A part of it is due to eating enough calories, while another part of it is training properly and performing the movements that help build strength and aesthetics. When determining which movements are responsible for a tight midline, you can start your abdominal journey at the toes to bar.
Increased core strength can enhance spinal stability, rotational force production (think sprinting, hitting, throwing), and can even support your overall strength in movements such as the deadlift, squat, and press. All of these are on offer if you master the toes to bar.
In this article, we will take a deeper look at the toes to bar, specifically the kipping version often seen in most fitness and CrossFit competitions.
Benefits of the Toes to Bar
- Increases Muscular Demand
- Improves Shoulder and Back Strength
- Builds Grip Strength
- Provides Efficient Core Work
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The toes to bar movement involves you going from a slightly hyper-extended position with the hips and shoulders open to a full contracted position at the top. To achieve the fullest range of motion requires great amounts of muscular strength, control, and coordination.
With the added component of momentum and speed involved in kipping, a lot of energy is spent during the eccentric portion of the exercise to ensure proper reloading of the legs and hips for the next repetition. Additionally, lifting the full weight of your legs and torso, even with the momentum of the kip, can lead to some serious muscle hypertrophy in the abs.
Hanging from a pull-up bar while the body is in dynamic motion is a skill in itself. It requires great range of motion in the shoulder capsule, stability and control in the upper back and scapular regions, and high amounts of arm strength to be able to support and control yourself, especially during longer sets.
The kipping toes to bar challenges many of the supportive muscles in the upper body and hips, which can often increase overall performance and strength. By increasing the demand on the supporting muscles that aid in the performance of the toes to bar, you can develop strength in the back and shoulders at the same time.
Supporting your own bodyweight on a bar while you swing back and forth requires an immense amount of grip strength. It might seem less glamorous than back strength or big muscles, but it’s more important than you think. A strong grip aids in movements like the deadlift where you’re pulling a lot of weight; afterall, you can only lift as much as your hands can hold.
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Some literature even suggests that grip strength can be an indicator for overall upper body strength. Not only that, but in older adults, grip strength had been correlated with the ability to perform basic activities like getting up from a chair and even walking outside. (2)
Despite popular belief, an endless volume of sit-ups is probably not the best approach for overall core development and results. Luckily, the toes to bar provides both a novel stimulus to distract from all the sit-ups and a higher level of stress placed on the abdominals since you’re moving your entire body at once.
What does this mean? Less time spent in the gym if you’re in a rush or need to do other movements. By enhancing the complexity of your ab work, you can optimize your results.
How to Do The Toes to Bar
You’ve read the benefits of toes to bar, and now you’re ready to set sit-ups aside. We get it, but let’s talk about how to perform them safely and effectively. The toes to bar may put extra strain on your shoulders, so it’s important to warm up properly before hopping on the pull-up bar.
Grab a pull-up bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and an overhand grip. Actively hang from the bar by engaging your lats to pull your shoulders away from your ears and keep your core tight. To start the kipping motion, keep your legs straight as you arch your back hard to begin generating momentum.
Once you’ve begun swaying, contract your abs and kick your feet up to the bar as high as possible. As you descend, keep tension and maintain momentum to avoid losing the timing.
Toes to Bar Tips & Tricks
Mastering the toes to bar requires time, practice, and progression. You might think you’re ready to hop right in, but check out these tips first to ensure safety and efficiency.
Warm Up Your Shoulders
The warm-up is a crucial part of your workout and can help prevent injury. The science suggests warming up five to 15 minutes before the actual workout to increase blood flow to the muscles, which also helps augment performance. (1)
Control the Kip
If you don’t have the technique fully down, it’s easy to lose control of your kipping motion. This may happen due to lack of core strength or just simply suboptimal technique. To keep your kip in control, keep your legs straight and your toes pointed throughout the entire motion.
Try to avoid swinging your legs too far behind you and focus on relying on your core and your lats to do the work. Momentum helps with efficiency, but we want to maintain form too.
Keep Your Eyes on the Bar
Some CrossFit workouts or functional fitness competitions don’t permit scaling of exercises. When it comes to the toes to bar, if your toes don’t make it to the bar, it’s obviously a “no-rep.” Keeping your eyes on the prize, proverbially and literally, can ensure that each rep counts.
Toes to Bar Variations
Whether you’re looking for a progression or just a different way to train your core, there are plenty of different toes to bar movements to help with speed, strength, and control. Check out these variations to mix up your workout.
Strict Toes to Bar
The strict toes to bar is similar to the kipping toes to bar, but you omit the momentum. Because you’re not using momentum, you must really rely on your core strength to do the work. Once the standard kipping toes to bar becomes comfortable, you can progress towards the strict variant for an added challenge.
Knees to Elbows
As the name implies, knees to elbows are exactly what they sound like. Using a kipping or strict motion, hang from the bar the same way, bend your knees, and bring them up to your elbows.
Bending the knee reduces the length of your lower body, improving your leverage and making it easier on your core. Knees to elbows are a great beginner movement if the toes to bar is temporarily out of reach.
The “Scoop” Technique
If you need to get your reps done quicker, the scoop technique is great. By not arching the back and sweeping the legs behind the body, and instead “scooping” the pelvis at the bottom of each rep, your turnaround from start to finish should be noticeably faster. The trade-off is relying more on the power of your hips to get each rep done.
If you find even strict toes to bar sets to be child’s play, you can ante up with the dragon flag. The dragon flag is an extremely challenging movement with similar posture to the toes to bar. By taking yourself horizontal instead of hanging from a bar, the forces placed on the core are altered to provide a much more direct challenge for the lower abdominals specifically.
Carve a Better Core
Whether you’re never touched your toes to a bar before or you’ve cranked out thousands of reps already, the toes to bar is a mainstay exercise for functional fitness enthusiasts due to its accessibility and core stimulus.
Still looking to carve some serious midsection muscle? Look no further than some of our top core training articles below!
- Explosive Medicine Ball Slams for Serious Core Strength
- Give Planks a Rest. Try the L-Sit for Core Strength & Stability
1. Bohannon, Richard W. Grip Strength: An Indispensable Biomarker For Older Adults. Clin Interv Aging. 2019 Oct; 14: 1681–1691.
2. Park, Hyoung-Kil, Jung, Min-Kyung, & Park, Eunkyung. The Effect of Warm-ups with Stretching on the Isokinetic Moments of Collegiate Men. 2018 Feb; 14(1): 78–82.
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