Toes-to-bar is a full-body gymnastics movement that puts in the core, lats, and hip flexors in motion. Kipping this movement takes strength and flexibility, and it can be a vexing movement to get into the right rhythm.
First, strengthen and stretch…
1. Hollow holds/Superman
Toes-to-bar requires core strength and flexibility working at once, and hollow holds and superman holds work both of these on either side. Try this as a Tabata workout, even. For hollow holds, lower your feet and hands as low as possible while keeping your lower back on the ground. Flip over and work the flexed position, keeping your feet and hands off the ground and the spine in a neutral position.
2. Bar hangs
Even with all the core strength in the world, you won’t be getting more than one or two reps at a time with weak grip strength. Build up your hands for long stretches on the bar with bar hangs for time. Remember to keep active shoulders while you’re doing this – don’t dead hang with your arms pulling out of socket. Draw your shoulder blades down and back while keeping hold.
3. Hip flexor strengthening and stretching
While it may seem like it’s all abs moving your feet up to the bar, your hip flexors are doing a lot of work—if you’re doing it correctly. You can strengthen these with lunges, flutter kicks and bridge holds. Be sure to stretch them out before toes-to-bar work with hip opener stretches like pigeon, butterfly and pulling your knee to your chest while laying on your back.
4. Work on kipping knees to chest
As you’re working up to toes-to-bar, knees-to-chest is a good progression that works similar muscles while allowing you to practice a beat swing. Draw your knees to your chest, making sure your knees reach a point higher than the hip crease. On the way down, actively bring your heels down and back instead of simply letting your legs fall—this will prevent the dreaded extra swings between reps.
Some will tell you that toes-to-bar is simply knees-to-elbow with a flick. Once you have knees-to-chest mastered, work on this progression. This starts to incorporate the arm and back movement needed to get the legs higher. Think about pushing down on the bar with your hands as you compress your body to get the knees to the elbow.
If you’re working on the shoulder flexibility necessary for your kip swing, toes-to-rings is a forgiving progression (when compared to toes-to-bar) that still simulates the movement of bringing the toes up to a high target between the hands. Work on bringing the chest through on the back swing, and still pushing down on the rings as you bring the toes up.
Then perfecting the movement…
7. Think about compressing, not leaning back
Yes, if you hang from the bar, lean way back and rotate backward, you might be able to squeeze out a rep or two, but this is not a sustainable, repeatable movement. As you come into the hollow hold portion of the movement, think about compressing your body, pulling your ribs to your belly button, and truly using your core to its full potential to reach your toes to the bar instead of leaning backward until they hit (or don’t).
8. Point your toes
Have you ever watched a gymnast? Their toes stay pointed through most of their movements, no matter if it’s on the balance beam, the floor or the bar. Pointing them completes the hollow body position and allows for a better reach to the bar when the legs come up to flick.
9. Actively pull legs down and back, don’t just let them drop
After you touch your toes to the bar, don’t just let your legs drop—this kills the tension that allows you to connect multiple reps. Every part of a toes-to-bar rep is under your control. After your toes touch the bar, actively and aggressively kick back down to drive your chest forward and your heels backward. This will maintain your momentum and help avoid the pendulum swing.
10. Quick singles—don’t waste reps
If you want to become quicker and more efficient with toes to bar, you won’t get farther by continuing to practice poor kipping movements, hanging on the bar and getting one rep for every five swings. Practice good form, even if it means getting one or two reps, then dropping once you start to swing wildly. You will eventually start stringing more (efficient!) reps together, and you’ll save time by coming off the bar and resetting quickly.