While generally associated with CrossFit, toes to bar is a movement that should have a home in any kind of strength program. It’s a dynamic core movement that involves a great deal of hip flexion along with grip strength and coordination. Strict toes to bar are particularly taxing to the midline and the amount of compression —and even leg strength— needed to do large sets makes this a hugely beneficial move for all athletes.
For CrossFitters, it’s a staple, with kipping toes to bar showing up every year in the CrossFit Open. Whether you’re still looking for your first toe to bar or want to get more efficient at the movement (just pulling down on the bar is NOT the best way to go), our gymnastics guru Sean Lind is here to help.
Oh and about that squat carryover? Toes to bar requires hip flexor mobility and strength. A big reason (other than grip strength) that most people burn out quickly is because their hip flexors aren’t strong enough. Adding in specific hip flexor training is going to do wonders for your squat and virtually every other lower-body movement that involves hip flexion. No clue how to train your hip flexors? We got you.
IF YOU DON’T HAVE TOES TO BAR…
Lind, the founder of Conjugate Gymnastics and Hybrid Performance Method coach, takes you through some simple progressions in the video above. The key is to not skip steps. Make sure you can do a few sets of 10-15 before moving on to the next progression.
You also need to be practicing with straight legs, especially when you’re first learning the movement.
“It’s the full skill,” Lind said. “If I’m looking at the movement itself and not as part of a CrossFit workout we are training to see straight legs. It forces the athlete to have full compression. If I’m doing it as part of a CrossFit competition- high volume where you want to be efficient and it’s easier to bend your knees, you can do that.”
If you learn the full movement first, not only will you be getting all the great hip and core benefits, but your good technique cycling will make it that much easier to do with bent legs.
Remember, just like in pull-ups and handstand pushups, you want to develop the strict full range of motion movement first. It will save your joints and help ensure longevity in your sport. (And if you’re not a CrossFit athlete there’s really no need to train anything but the strict straight leg version.)
IF YOU HAVE A FEW/WANT TO GET MORE EFFICIENT….
How often are you practicing strict, paused or single leg toes to bar? All have a great purpose in helping develop a stronger base for the movement.
“If an athlete is kipping, rhythm is a factor, timing is huge. But a huge error is a lot of people lean back, they don’t focus on compression and bringing their legs up,” Lind said.
“They bring their shoulders behind the bar and when that happens it lets their toes touch but they aren’t compressing. That’s going to burn out your lats so hard because you don’t have to the ability to do a beat swing anymore.”
If that sounds like you, you need to fix your movement if you want to hang on for bigger sets and be much more efficient overall.
“People think toes to bar is swing on the bar and lean back and if you know anything about levers the farther you move away the more taxing it is on the body,” Lind said.
“So if you stay underneath the bar, focus on more compression (of the hips), it’s more efficient and it’s also faster, less moving back and forth on the bar so you stay underneath.”
This may take some time, but if you practice this method going up with straight legs as far up as you can —even if you can’t get your toes all the way up in the beginning— you’re going to see vast improvements in your cycle time.
While strict and single leg strict toes to bar are both challenging, the pausing variation can be brutal. (You pause with you toes on the bar.) If you can’t get there in the beginning, don’t freak out. Lind suggests starting in hang with your knees tucked into your chest as the first progression. From there, work up to an L-sit hang and keep progressing those toes up higher and higher until you’re able to hold paused toe to bar.
IF YOUR HIP FLEXORS SUCK….
Ever get that tightness in the front of your hip? Or feel like your hips are super sore and lack mobility? Chances are you also lack strength and stability which can lead to a host of issues (read: injuries) when you’re trying to lift heavy weight.
Lind recommends incorporating hip flexor work daily into your warmup routine. You can also use it as an accessory piece in higher volumes. The paused toes to bar mentioned above are a fantastic hip flexor exercise as are L-Sits and decline sit ups (with your feet elevated.)
This #Adailydose is the mother of all exercises for working your lower abdominals and hip flexors—both areas that often get overlooked. I give you leg raises. Make no mistake these are no joke. Video 1 is for those who are pretty proficient and want a really good core challenge. Video 2 is when you need a bit of help from a spotter (SOUND ON 🔈). Don't have a spotter or are somewhere in between? Try Video 3 on the dip bar (or whatever you can find that gives you a little more leg room. Biggest key here = try really hard to NOT use momentum.⠀ ⠀ #athletedaily⠀ #movelikeyougiveadamn
“Any kind of compression- pike and straddle progressions, basically leg lifts are all great,” Lind said. “If people want to get better at toes to bar they better do a compression.”
This is another gnarly way to attack the lower abdominals/hip flexors:
Struggle with toes-to-bar? Check your lower abs. Even though it seems like you should be able to rep out T2B based on your strength and athletic prowess, weak lower abdominal muscles are often times a big piece of the puzzle that most people lack (my lower abs are weak AF too). The solution? This ab circuit created by @pat_minehan at @code3sandiego. ⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ Do 10 reps of each of the 4 movements shown UNBROKEN (L leg high, then R leg high, then L lowers, then R lowers). Repeat for 3 sets total. Key is to go unbroken between the movements. When 10 reps gets easy, work up to 15 reps of each movement. My toes-to-bar have steadily improved, and my abs are on fleek. 👌🏻👌🏻👌🏻⠀⠀ ⠀ #athletedaily ⠀ #movelikeugiveadamn
ACT LIKE A GYMNAST AND POINT YOUR TOES
“Always point your toes,” Lind said. “It allows you to be active in your quad and hip flexor more that way than flexing your foot. It allows you to take more tension in your legs, which allows you to basically engage your muscles more. And it looks pretty.”
FOR ADDITIONAL GRIP WORK
Victory Grips Gymnastics Series
Struggling to get muscleups? For more on developing your strict and kipping muscle-ups, check out Part 2, here.
Still unsure about handstands? Get comfortable being upside down and learn how to handstand walk like a boss in Part 3, here.
***Both founders of Athlete Daily have followed Sean Lind’s gymnastics programming for several years—going from zero strict pull-ups to 15 unbroken and strict muscle ups—and we highly recommend it to athletes of all levels. If you’re looking to improve your bodyweight skills, check it out here. Sean’s gymnastics programming is also available through Hybrid Performance Method here.