Watching the Toes-To-Bar (TTB) performed at high speeds is beautiful. Advanced CrossFit athletes can make them look effortless. If you’ve ever attempted to perform TTB’s you know they are anything but effortless. Like anything in life, if you want to get good at these it’s going to take proper practice and training.
Training only the CrossFit for the last 10 years, and owning a gym for the last 7, I can confidently name 4 commons reasons athletes struggle to perform this exercise.
If an athlete cannot hang on a pull-up bar for 60 seconds at-a-time there is no magic cue you are going to be able to give them as a coach that is going to help. Whether you are performing a kipping version or a strict version grip strength is paramount. There are many ways we can help develop grip strength. The most functional would be the implementation of the farmers carry or another odd object lift. Not only can this strengthen the forearms they are an effective conditioning tool when coupled with other exercises. I would be remised if I didn’t talk about appropriate body composition levels. Novice athlete that are severely overweight will always struggle with this exercise. No amount wrist curls or farmer carries are going to help this individual. The real issue is their weight, not their grip. As their weight comes down their grip strength will improve drastically.
2. Core Strength
The next step once an individual is able to consistently hang on the bar is to focus on their “core” strength (I hate that word but you know where I’m getting at). The best transfer exercise would be a hanging L-sit hold. These are performed statically which help reduce the shear forces on the grip compared to swinging. The goal should be to build up to holding a fully extended L-sit for 30 seconds at a time. From there a strict TTB is in order. Multiple sets of 5-10 reps are ideal. Another good option if an athlete still can’t hang on a pull-up bar is V-ups. If you watch TTB performed you will notice a forceful, if not violent, contraction of the abdominals. The closest thing to that is the V-up
In comparison, stringing 5 TTB is much more advanced than performing 1 TTB strict. Not only does a kipping version provide more volume in less amount of time they indirectly develop grip strength through the intensity of quick cycle rate. In gymnastics, we call this coordinated effort of the body a “kip swing“. The force potential, when performed correctly, transfers into other movements like Pull-ups and Ring and Bar Muscle-ups. In training, a progression of kip swings that immediately follows a knee-to-chest motion is very effective at developing the timing needed to be able to kick the leg higher and higher into the air.
An athletes inability to touch their toes from a standing position severely limits their ability to string multiple reps together. Although an efficiently performed TTB doesn’t require a full extension of the knee, the tension on the hamstrings will always there. Every workout that includes Knees-to-Elbow KTE) or TTB should always begin with a 5-minute mobility piece on the hamstrings. With time, if an athlete works on it consistently enough, their flexibility will improve. Here’s a secret…the difference between a KTE and a TTB is about 2-3 inches of hamstring length. Even with tight hamstrings, an athlete can perform the TTB if they learn to quickly “flick” their toes to bar at the moment their knees come up to elbow height.