2017 CrossFit Open Prep: Toes to Bar Efficiency Tips

Proficiency in toes-to-bar has been a separator in every open thus far. Don’t expect this year to be any different.

(Source: J Perez Imagery>)

The 2017 CrossFit Games Open looms just around the corner. Are you ready?

The mastermind programmers behind these five workouts strive for combinations that are “unknown and unknowable.” However, examination of the first six years reveals trends that inform what our next five weeks might include.

Toes-to-Bar (TTB) are one of only a handful of movements included in every CrossFit Open to date. The trend presents a perfect bait-and-switch opportunity for HQ to continually surprise the participants, but this seems unlikely. TTB are such a tempting choice, given the typical Open workout criteria. They require no more equipment than a pull-up bar. They are a gymnastics skill that requires both strength and skill to perform at all, and true athleticism and efficiency to maintain while under heavy fatigue. TTB proficiency has been a separator in every Open thus far. We can expect little change on this front for 2017.

3 Efficiency Laws for Toes-to-Bar

Whether you struggle to link your TTB at all or they fall apart under fatigue, you can improve by increasing your movement efficiency. Kipping derives significant power from your core. Most athletes struggle, not from a lack of power, but from a misappropriation of the power they can generate.

Loaded Back Swing

Kipping is little more than cycling between arched and hollow positions. Powerful kipping is built on the tension you can create in these positions, not on momentum. I see so many athletes throw their legs into a huge backswing so that they can bring them forward with more momentum. This is a fundamental misunderstanding what makes an effective kip.

Kipping efficiently means transforming your body into a stiff bow that, when bent away from a straight position, builds elastic energy to use in recoil. Think of your body as bow or a diving board, rather than a pendulum. Create as much tension as you can in your arched position. Do not allow your arms or legs to bend in the backswing. Olympic lifting coaches like to say, “when the arms bend, the power ends.” The same principle applies to gymnastics movements. Once you break your chain, you are unable to load any tension in the arched position. This tension is what drives a powerful kip.

Flexible Posterior Chain

TTB are a fold, plain and simple. If your posterior chain is tight—from your calves, hamstrings, feet, low back, upper back, neck, or anywhere in between—you have to fight your own mobility to reach the final position. There is no greater drain on your power than using it to fight your own body.

To ace TTB in the Open, work to improve your hamstring flexibility. Choose options that will both deepen your fold and build strength and control at the end range. A few great options are good mornings, Jefferson curls, and compression folds.

Reduce Excess Movement from Your Upper Body

Many athletes waste power on excess range of motion in the TTB that does not serve the end goal. You generate a finite amount of power from your kip. This will improve with strength and the aforementioned efficiency tips, but you can also expect this to diminish as fatigue builds throughout a workout.

Think about how you perform a set of TTB. Do you bring your hips so high that your back is parallel to the ground? Do you swing so far behind the bar that you can look almost straight forward at the bar?

Are these necessary to get your toes to the bar? The answer is no. They come from nowhere but bad habits or poor teaching.

The top position of toes to bar should look essentially like an upside-down, standing forward fold. An image of a very flexible yogi/dancer/gymnast probably comes to mind, with perfectly locked out legs, and their ears between their knees. I like to dream too!

Dismiss that image, and picture what you look like when you fold and touch your toes. This is what your TTB top position should look like, upside-down. Your upper back should remain nearly vertical with biceps by your ears (just as in hanging) when your feet touch the bar. Closing your shoulder angle to rotate your torso and lift your hips is completely unnecessary.

Your torso is the heaviest segment of your body. Lifting it a foot or more behind the far requires a significant amount of energy. Don’t steal power away from your kip for an aspect of TTB that is entirely optional.

Check out the video below for a visual examination of this concept. I demonstrate that regardless of your mobility, you can drastically improve your TTB efficiency by eliminating this habit.

Wondering what else to work on?

2017 CrossFit Open Prep: Movements to Master