A part of the family of gymnastics movements in crossfit, stringing toes to bar are an important benchmark for most crossfitters. While the action of completing one toe to bar can be relatively simple, simply swing your feet up until they hit the bar, stringing multiple toes to bars is when it becomes a real challenge. Luckily, with hard work and persistence, toes to bars can become easy!
The first thing you need to know about toes to bar, is that it is much more like a pullup than one might think. Often times, people classify pullups and toes to bar as two separate movements, completely independent of each other. However, there are many elements of the toes to bar that overlap with the kipping pullup. For starters, just like in a pullup, a good solid kip is necessary. If your problem with toes to bar stems from your kip, then you need to take a step back and work on your kip before continuing to practice your toes to bar. As you practice your kip, be sure to keep your feet close together, and try not to bend your knees too much on the back swing. A good kip will not only engage your abdominal muscles, but also your glutes and shoulders.
Once you have developed a strong kipping motion, the similarities between kipping toes to bar and kipping pullups don’t end there. As you exit the back swing of the kip and enter the phase where your legs are drawn up towards the bar, many athletes make the mistake of simply letting their toes lead the motion, allowing their butt to swing forward as they bring their toes to the bar. This is incorrect for two reasons. While the name “toes to bar” implies that the athlete brings his toes to the bar, the opposite is in fact true. Instead, the athlete needs to bring the bar to their toes. While it seems impossible at first, think of it like this. As you bring your toes up to the bar, you need to pull down on the bar almost as though you are bringing the bar to your toes. This action reaps two benefits. The first, is that it almost lifts your body in the air, bringing you closer towards the bar and making the distance between your feet and the bar much shorter. Secondly, it ensures that your butt stays behind the plane of the bar. If we imagine that the bar makes a plain with the floor, we want to be sure to keep our butt behind said plain. This will allow you to reenter the kip the moment your feet leave the bar. If your butt is too far in front of the plain of the bar, the re-entry into the kip will cause you to create a swinging motion, and force the athlete to perform a double kip in order to start the kipping motion again, or in some cases, not be able to restart the kipping motion again at all. The harder you can pull down on the bar to, in a sense, draw the bar towards your toes, the more efficient your kipping motion will become.
Once you have perfected the basics of stringing toes to bar, you can begin to refine your technique. The first way to refine your toes to bar, is to focus on the path your feet travel up towards the bar. While many athletes choose to “pike” their toes to bar, keeping their legs completely straight as they swing them up towards the bar, the best way move your feet up to the bar, is to apply what you learned with your knees to elbows. Most crossfitters working towards stringing their toes to bar will already have fairly solid knees to elbows. To refine your foot path, perform a knees to elbow, and simply “flick” your feet up towards the bar. This will help to save your abs and hip flexors in the long run, as a “piked” toes to bar will significantly tax your abs and hip flexors.
Another way to refine your toes to bar technique is the “sweep” back down towards the kip position. Often times, athletes will return their feet to the knees to elbows position and from their, punch their feet back to the bottom position. While this can make for quick toes to bar in the short run, it can weaken the kipping motion over time. Instead, by straightening your legs from the top of the toes to bar position and “sweeping” back into the kip, you create more momentum for the kip meaning that your hips and abdominals are taxed far less than if you bring your legs straight back down.
The final way to refine your toes to bar, is in your hands. Often times, people take an overgrip when doing toes to bar, putting their fingers and thumbs over the top of the bar. However, hooking your thumb under the bar when performing toes to bar not only helps to better engage your delts and lats, but can also help you to maintain your grip longer, as you string your toes to bar in a workout. While it may feel awkward at first, hooking your thumbs will make your toes to bar far easier in the long run.
While it seems easy in theory, developing good toes to bar takes hours of practice and dedication. So, how do you ensure that you can continue doing them in workouts. Many people will practice their toes to bar during open gym, but will scale to knees to elbow or even sit ups during workouts. While this can help prevent athletes from going to failure during their workouts, it can also hinder their progression in doing the movement under the stressors of a workout situation. The best way to perform toes to bar in workouts without going to failure, is to cut the reps or to perform knees to elbow. While sit ups can and will strengthen the athlete’s core, knees to elbows and toes to bar not only strengthen the abs, but also can help to develop grip strength. If a workout contains a fairly reasonable number of toes to bar, cutting the reps can help to prevent the athlete from going to failure. For workouts with a high number of toes to bar where cutting the reps to a number the athlete could do without going to failure would be unreasonable, knees to elbows can serve as a good scale that can help significantly with grip strength and core development.
While toes to bar can be a tricky movement, with practice and core development, any athlete can find themselves successful in completing long workouts heavy with toes to bar.
Kaylyn Wiese has been CrossFitting of more than five years and has been competing against athletes from across the country since age 16. She currently coaches and trains in Boston at CrossFit Coolidge Corner and is a sophomore at Boston College studying business and data analytics. Find her on Instagram @kaylynwiese and Twitter @kaylyn_wiese.