Every box seems to have that one guy, Toes-to-Bar Man. If he were a super villain, his power would be to effortlessly connect his feet to a chin-up bar at astounding speed. You might be able to smash Toes-to-Bar Man at deadlifts, wall balls and power cleans, but if a WOD happens to contain his signature move, you know you’ll be playing catch-up for the whole workout.
It’s time to even the score. Chances are, you haven’t figured out how to kip your own toes-to-bar yet and are simply piking your feet to the heavens. That’s a heroic effort but a slow and exhausting one. With a few simple adjustments, you can massively improve the speed and efficiency of your movement and finally put a stop to Toes-to-Bar Man’s reign of terror.
1. Body Position
Grasp a pull-up bar (one that’s set high enough off the floor that your feet don’t drag when you hang) with an overhand grip that’s a bit wider than your shoulders. A wider grip means a shorter distance for your feet to travel and also helps to create dynamic tension in your shoulder girdle.
2. The Kip
Begin by practicing the first stage of the kip, actively opening and closing your shoulders so that your body begins to break the plane of the bar. This is often referred to as “C’s and D’s” because that’s the shape your body will take as it moves behind the bar and then in front of it.
Imagine that your arms are a window. Your head needs to pop through both sides of that window as you open and close your shoulders.
3. Knees to Elbows
Open your shoulders and pop your head through the “window” of your arms. Then pull down on the bar and rapidly close the shoulders to bring your head and torso back through your arms and slightly behind your body. Using that momentum, snap your hips and bring your knees to your elbows. As much as possible, keep your body underneath the bar and your legs traveling close to your torso. Imagine the path of your lower body as a vertical line that moves up and down rather than swinging forward and back to the bar.
Knees-to-elbows is an integral part of the toes-to-bar continuum and features in several Hero WODs. Practicing it will not only improve your movement, but it’s also a smart, scalable version for a beginner who’s still perfecting the slightly more advanced toes-to-bar.
4. The Kick and Return
Getting your knees to your elbows is 90 percent of the struggle. Once they’re there, simply kick your legs to tag the bar with your toes. This should not be a strict pike-like contraction of your core but a quick and almost effortless flip of the lower legs. As your feet return from touching the bar, bring them down to the floor in a straight line, resisting the urge to lower them in an arc. Dropping them straight to the floor negates any swing in the body, which would ruin your next rep and keep you from finding the rhythm that will allow you to chain reps together. As your feet come down, your body will once again move slightly in front of the bar. Keep your core tight as you again close your shoulders and initiate the cascade of events for a series of smooth and connected repetitions.
Intermittently relaxing and contracting your grip is essential to performing multiple reps of toes-to-bars without excessive fatigue in your hands. A light dusting of chalk on your palms can smooth out the interface between palm and bar.
Photos by Ian Spanier