It may not be the best exercise for your abs, but the toes to bar is great for relative strength and athleticism. Here’s how to do it.
The toes to bar (TTB) exercise builds incredible strength in the anterior chain and improves your relative strength.
Toes to bar is a favorite exercise of many “fitness influencers.” Why? Let’s be honest: it’s because it shows off the musculature of the rectus abdominis extremely well. Some even claim that it’s the best exercise to build washboard abs.
First off, the best exercise to build washboard abs is the mental exercise of not eating like an a**hole. Secondly, the TTB actually isn’t that great for directly strengthening the rectus abdominis (visible abs). The primary movers are the lats for shoulder adduction (applying downward pressure on the bar) and the hip flexors (mainly the psoas muscle) to lift the legs.
The abs do help out, but they’re not the major working muscles. Nonetheless, the TTB is still a great exercise. If you want to master it, use the following progressions:
This is a beginner-level progression to ensure you have the strength to hang from the bar while lifting the legs. You’d be surprised how many people actually lack the requisite strength to perform this movement competently.
Apply downward force on the bar while simultaneously lifting your knees to your elbows.
Once you’re a bit stronger, use the same kipping motion but instead of touching your knees to elbow, straighten your legs slightly and touch your toes to the bar.
This one is more demanding on your lats, hip flexors, and abs since you’re eliminating the momentum from kipping. The strict TTB is a great movement to improve relative strength.
This is the most advanced progression requiring a significant amount of relative strength. Think of it more as a “hips to bar” movement. The candlestick TTB actually requires the most abdominal strength of all the progressions. It’s a foundational movement pattern in calisthenics and gymnastics.
Contrary to popular belief, the best exercise to improve your TTB is the pull-up.
Think about it. The stronger your lats, the more downward force (shoulder adduction) you can apply on the bar, and the more easily you’ll be able to touch your toes to the bar. Most coaches miss that fact.
If you want to improve your TTB, don’t just practice it; improve your strict pulling strength by performing more strict pull-ups.