All Hail the Toe-to-Bar
By Colin Farrell
Weightlifters will often make reference to the back squat as “the king of lifts.” Why? It’s not as fast or cool as the snatch, it’s not as powerful as the clean-and-jerk, it’s not as exotic or instagram-worthy as the overhead squat.
The squat is the king of lifts because it is not cool, or fast, or exotic, yet still it makes you better at just about everything else you do in life. Get stronger at the back squat, and your push press will go up. Get stronger at the back squat, and your snatch will go up. Get stronger at the back squat, and you will probably get a pay raise at work
The same should be said of the toe-to-bar in the realm of gymnastics. The toe-to-bar lacks the fluidity of smooth and multi-rep sets of muscle-ups, it is not the social media gold of handstand walking, it does not really offer the same sense of accomplishment as climbing the rope.
However, to become more proficient at all of those things, athletes need to master the toe-to-bar. Often times athletes will scale muscle-ups to pull-ups and ring dips (or push-ups), or to work on pulling and grip strength for rope climbs they will perform more pull-ups or ring rows. While no one will get less fit doing pull-ups, dips, and ring rows, it is not the most efficient avenue to the higher skill gymnastics movements.
The toe-to-bar goes something like this:
- 1. After a forward swing, athlete drives/presses the bar away from them and down, using the shoulder and lat to do the work
2. There is no pulling or flexing at the elbow.
3. As the athlete presses down on the bar, the shoulder closes and the athlete’s hips rise higher and higher, shortening the distance between toes and bar.
4. Athletes with strong shoulders will be able to press down on the bar hard enough that the forehead may even be in line with the anchor point of the hands.
5. Athlete closes hips as kicks toes to the bar, making contact, and finishing the movement.
The lats stay strong and doing the bulk of the work. The elbows don’t bend. The hips have to close hard and fast at the right time in order to maintain rhythm and successfully complete the movement.
The muscle-up (bar and/or ring) and the rope climb require much the same thing. During the muscle-up athletes must press the bar/rings away from them using the lat as they raise the hips as high as possible. Once the hips have driven to their apex, the hip has to close hard and fast. Anyone who has ever tried a kipping muscle-up by pulling with the arms and flexing at the elbow has ended up doing an awkward chest-to-bar or chest-to-rings pull-up that coupled well with an, “Aw, shit” face.
During the rope climb, the elbows should flex very little. The lats do the work and the hips close hard as the athlete leans back (just like a toe-to-bar).
This same concept carries over to weightlifting as well: hard hip- and shoulder-driven movements, followed up by a rapid closing of the hip, and characterized by the elbows bending only at the last possible moment and only as much as is necessary. If you’ve ever seen old YouTube videos of Coach Cody’s dad, Coach B, you’ve probably heard him bark the words, “When the elbows end, the power ends.” This is true with all of the aforementioned movements.
Want to get that first muscle up, or get better at them? Do more toe-to-bar.
Want to climb ropes faster? Do more toe-to-bar.
Want to get better at first impressions on dates? Do more toe-to-bar.