Toes to Bar (How To, Variations, Muscles Worked)
Toes to Bar are a very challenging core exercise that has been made popular appearing often in Crossfit workouts. They’re as close to a total body movement as an ab exercise can get with the core, shoulders, grip and even back all contributing to the movement.
In this guide, I’m going to teach you how to do Toes to Bar, what their benefits are and a few alternatives in case you need a substitution.
How To Do Toes to Bar
- Pull-Up Bar – Ideally a stand-alone pull-up bar or one connected to a squat rack although any sturdy object you can hang from will technically work.
- Abdominal Core Muscles (Rectus Femoris, Obliques Externus Abdominus)
- Quadriceps, Rectus Femoris
- Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL)
- Secondarily: Back, Biceps and Forearms
- Find yourself a pull-up bar and grip the bar with an overhand grip
- Engage your lats so your body doesn’t go limp once you begin to hang
- Now hang from the bar with a slight flex at the elbow
- Keeping the legs straight, flex the core and lift the legs up until your toes touch the pull-up bar.
- Lower the legs under control to help keep them from swinging uncontrollably.
- Repeat for the designated number of reps
The biggest issue that most of my athletes run into when doing Toes to Bar is how to keep from swinging, or better yet, how to properly utilize that swing as a positive and not a negative.
To keep from swinging, you have to actively lower your legs back down. If you ‘let your legs go’ and just allow gravity to take over you’ll completely lose control of the movement.
Timing and rhythm are both important for Toes to Bar and you can’t achieve either if you’re not in control of your legs throughout the movement.
Toes to Bar Benefits
The most obvious benefit of Toes to Bar is that they are a great core exercise.
Specifically, they target the lower abs (and hip flexors). The majority of core exercises – situps, crunches, etc – involve flexing the shoulders toward the core. Far fewer involve driving the legs toward the core and Toes to Bar are a great example of one of those movements.
The benefits extend well beyond just the abs though. They are a great way to sneak grip training into your routine. A set of 15 to 20 Toes to Bar will take most lifters 20 to 30 seconds (or potentially multiple sets). Three full sets can account for about 90 seconds of Bar Hang time.
And don’t forget about the back, biceps and shoulders as well. Having to stabilize the position of the upper body and maintain the flexed arm position can be a workout in itself.
All of these benefits are why Toes to Bar can be such a powerful addition to your strength training routine. You really do get a whole lot of ‘bang for your buck’ with them.
Toes to Bar Variations
Looking to change up your workout a bit, or maybe you need to make Toes to Bar more (or less) challenging? Here are a few variations you can try out. Want even more options? Here are my top 8 Toes to Bar alternatives ranked from easiest to hardest.
Hanging Knee Raises
If you’re finding Knees To Elbows a little too difficult, then you could switch up to Hanging Knee Raises. You’re still going to be hanging from the bar, but you can keep your arms mostly straight instead of having to hold the 90-degree flexed position.
In addition to that, you don’t have to raise the knees as high. The combination of the two makes Hanging Knee Raises more beginner-friendly.
Knees to Elbows
The next progression from Hanging Knee Raises on the way to working towards Toes to Bar are Knees to Elbows.
Knees to Elbow is the same setup as Toes to Bar and a very similar movement. As the name implies, instead of taking your Toes to the Bar, the object is to take your knees to your elbows.
The biggest difference between the two movement is the amount of flex in the elbow. Arms will have a significantly bigger flex with Knees to Elbows, up to almost 90 degrees.
Toes to Bar Alternatives
If you can’t do Toes to Bar, because they’re a little too difficult or you don’t have the proper equipment, here are a few alternatives that you can try to substitute in their place.
If you don’t have a pull-up bar or just aren’t ready for Toes to Bar yet, Suitcase Crunches are a great alternative. Suitcase Crunches are pretty close to the exact same movement, but with your butt on the ground instead of hanging in the air.
Sit on the ground with legs extended straight out, six inches off the ground, and your torso leaning back at about a 45-degree angle.
Now, drive your knees and chest together (like closing a suitcase) and then extend back out. Keep your back and feet off the ground throughout the exercise.
Cross Body Mountain Climbers
Most of us probably did Mountain Climbers at some point in gym class growing up. Cross Body Mountain Climbers ramp up the ab involvement big time.
From a pushup position drive one knee up, cross-body, to the opposite elbow. Alternate back and forth until all reps are completed. You might be surprised just how much these can light your abs on fire.
More Links and Info
Looking for more Core Exercises? I have a growing collection in my Exercise Library, all with step-by-step instructions and all for free.