The toes to bar was popularized by CrossFit but is not a new exercise by any means. This movement has been used to strengthen the core in gymnastics style forms of exercise for decades. Often this would be performed on a wooden ladder which provides back support. This either makes the exercise easier as you have a surface to press into with your back OR more difficult because it demands the movement be strict. There is literally no space for swinging or “kipping.”
Many people think think about the abs when they see toes to bar performed. You are bringing the lower body limbs towards the upper body – which certainly does involve the core. But hip flexors are the sneaky MVP here. And you’ll begin to feel that if you practice these drills.
In the V up the main motion is in fact hip flexion. Your rectus femoris (middle, top quad muscle) works to keep knees extended and bring the femur (upper leg) towards your chest. The rectus abdominis (and a grip of your other core muscles) work to bring the pelvis towards the rib cage. Also, latissimus dorsi is involved – we’re not just hanging here like a dead piece of meat. Your lats engage and help to pull the ears away from the shoulders. And help to lean the upper body back, away from the bar a bit to make space for the pelvis to rotate and toes to in fact meet the bar.
If the hamstrings are limited in range of motion, then this exercise is going to be unattainable with straight legs. Can you sit in pike with your upper body laying on top of your thighs? If yes, you at least have the passive range of motion to get into the top position of the toe to bar. If no, you’ll have to bend your legs, at which point we lose that rectus femoris engagement. Not the end of the world, but just, “a thing” to be aware of.
The video below lays out seven exercises to work on in order to build the strength and skill needed to eventually perform a strict toes to bar. Again, working on mobility in addition to these exercises probably won’t hurt if you’re lacking.
Start with these, be consistent, remember you’re training a skill.
If you’d like to learn more about program design for strength, yes, and hypertrophy training over long term periodization, check out Pure PROgramming.
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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