If you are struggling with Toes to Bar and are searching for answers, look no further! Here is my attempt to gather all of the information that I have learned into one place. I will continue to update and edit this article until it is as clear and as useful as I can make it!
When I was starting to learn TTB, I found myself frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how to perform the movement. But I was even more frustrated because I couldn’t seem to find enough information about how to do them. I would learn a bit from one video, a bit from another… I would get lots of help from the coaches at my box, but without enough material to create a frame of reference, it was often difficult to understand what they were trying to tell me.
To start, touching the bar with my feet was not difficult – but it took a while to figure out that I was going about it the wrong way. Figuring out how to string them together, understanding the timing and the movement pattern, that all took a lot longer. Finally I have figured them out, and I can string together quite a few – though I haven’t tested my max yet – 15? 20? And now I actually look forward to seeing them come up in a workout.
A note of encouragement if you are struggling with the movement: TTB were easier to perform than I expected. I would have been happy to string together four at a time, but I can already do much more than that. I would say TTB are more about correct movement patterns and timing than anything else.
First, let’s take a look at the CrossFIt movement standard video:
1. Hands outside of shoulder width
More specifically, your hand width should be where you are strongest at kipping. If your grip is too narrow, you wont be able to push through into the arched body position. You might even need to put your hands out a little bit wider than they suggest here – it might be something to experiment with to figure out where you are strongest.
2. Full grip on the bar
You’ll be less likely to fall off the bar… Which is probably a good idea. I can’t see any reason to go with a thumbless grip here. Also, I’m assuming you’re using gymnastics grips! I have yet to find anything better than Bear Komplex grips, and I highly recommend them. Not only do they prevent hand tears, but they just help to grip the bar really well.
3. Start hanging with arms extended
They are just defining the movement standard here.
4. Initiate swing with shoulders
This is actually something I need to work on. Another way to initiate the swing is to jump forward at the bar, rather than just jumping up to the bar. This initiates your swing and you will have enough swing and tension to begin the movement right away.
5. Alternate between arched and hollow positions
This movement pattern is repeated often in many movements in CrossFit and sports.
6. Lift feet towards bar while in hollow position
I’m not sure how you would do it otherwise!
7. At the same time, push down on the bar with straight arms
This is a big key to the movement. Closing the angle between your hands and your feet makes the movement easier, and less hamstring flexibility is required. Further, pushing away like this gives you enough momentum to swing through to the fully extended position. If you push away too little or not enough, you’ll have trouble timing your swings. “Timing” might be the big key to the movement that they are failing to mention in the video.
8. Both feet contact the bar between hands
Again, the are just defining the movement standard.
What they don’t mention in the CrossFit video:
There are two different types of toes to bar, the pike version and the “tuck and flick”.
If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, check out this video with Dan Bailey going head to head with Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson. It will be obvious, but Dan is doing the tuck and flick version, and Bjorgvin the straight leg pike.
And here’s a great explanation from Chris Spealer as to why the flick is easier, as well as why people mess up their swing. “leg’s go straight down!” that is not to say you just lose tension and drop them, you keep the tension but push your feet straight down as soon as you touch the bar with your toes.
For me personally, the “legs straight down” cue was the missing piece. When I got that, I got the movement.
The tuck and flick version is likely way more attainable for you if you are lacking flexibility. BUT you should probably always be striving to do the straight leg movement. the strength and flexibility required for the straight leg version can only help you.
Building Your Strength To Improve TTB:
There are a ton of useful exercises to build your strength here. Such as sit ups, toes to rig, leg raises, one leg v-ups, v-ups, bar hang for time, scap raises, knees to elbows, partial toes to bars, hanging leg raises, L-sit, hollow hangs, hollow rocks, etc.
But which exercises you use will depend on your individual weaknesses. For me, I just worked on all the moves until I figured out which I was weakest at, and I focused on that move. It turns out I am terrible at L-sits and v-ups. So for me, I work on those, but also hanging knee raises / knees to elbows, toes to rig and leg raises are helpful.
Improving Your Flexibility To Improve TTB:
Anything that improves the flexibility of your hamstrings (and your hip flexion) will help you here. If you struggle with flexibility and mobility, like I do, you might want to spend a significant time stretching your hamstrings before any TTB workout.
I won’t go in depth into various stretches here, as this writing would get way too long – but I do have one possibly useful tip – try to approximate the movement. I always suggest focusing on whatever stretch that most closely resembles the movement you need to do. As en example, here’s a photo of me doing a hanging hamstring stretch, and if you flip it, you can see it’s the TTB position. (As an aside, this is also a simple test to prove whether you have enough flexibility to do the movement)
Partial movements will help you learn the timing. Knees to elbows, or knee raises past the hip, or straight leg as high as you can but without touching the bar. The focus on the push away is the same, the timing is similar, the kip is the same.
Don’t kick the bar slowly. For the tuck and flick, the flick is done very quickly. Hence, the word, “flick”. You want to touch the bar as quickly as possible so you don’t lose the timing of your swing. Further, if you’re lacking flexibility, holding the toes touching the bar position for any length of time is very difficult. After you quickly tap the bar, you can use that stretch reflex to shoot your feet straight back down to the floor.
Don’t look at the bar! This is a common fault. People tend to stare intently at what they are trying to hit. But looking up like that will effect your spine position and mess up your movement pattern. Keep your head pointing straight ahead, and you will likely find the move easier. If you go back and look at the video that I posted above (the one with Dan and Bjorgvin) you’ll see they both are looking straight ahead.
Maintain tension in your core when you are dropping your feet. If you just relax, you will lose your swing. This is another common fault, and something we are used to perhaps, pushing hard on the positive and relaxing on the negative. But that’s not what we want here – you need to maintain tension through the core on the decent. One way to teach this feeling is to do a toes to bar, and then have someone push your feet down quickly. The feeling of resisting that push is what you need to keep.
Lastly, when all else fails, just get really strong! Drill the movements and work that core hard!