Kipping Toes to Bar (TTB)
I did a post previously on a straight leg kipping toes to bar sequence (5 kip swings + 5 bottom 1/2 TTB + 5 3/4 TTB + 5 full TTB). If you haven’t seen it already, it is on the Jacked Gymnastics Instagram, here:
There are two, arguably three, different variations of TTB. No one variation is necessarily better than the other, they have different pros and cons depending on the circumstances (workout format, mobility etc). I will write a separate post on that sometime in the future. However, regardless of which variation you prefer, I strongly recommend that you work on your straight leg TTB. It's a great way to teach your body how to stay tight in a dynamic movement. I also see this version as the most advanced and I truly believe you should strive for higher skill attainment and perfect technique because by doing so, you're in control. What I mean by that is you have the luxury to decide which version to use. If you learn a lower skilled version, you don't have the luxury of a decision. You merely have the only variation that you can do. Simple. In the video I am doing … – 5 kip swings – 5 bottom half TTB – 5 three quarter TTB – 5 full TTB The focus … – Staying tight – Short, fast kip (there's no excessive hollow or arch and I'm not forcing my head really far through the bar) – My legs are completely straight and I am compressing at the hip. I am not closing my shoulder angle excessively and pulling with my lats. Give this sequence a go. #jackedgymnastics #crossfit #gymnastics #masterthebasics #ttb #fitness
As mentioned already, I see the straight leg version of TTB as the higher skilled variation that will teach you to:
- Keep more tension through your body
- Utilise a better kip
- Stop pulling heavily with your lats and excessively closing your shoulder angle. Your lats should be active but you shouldn’t be on the verge of doing a front lever. I’m exaggerating but hopefully you get the point. The reason is because it obviously requires too much strength and thus uses too much energy.
As the higher skilled version it also means you will usually be able to easily transition to other variations of TTB which in most cases is important. Depending on different environmental factors, we might need to adapt. For example, what movement(s) have TTB been paired with? How high is your heart rate? Do you need to slow down a bit to catch your breathe and get back into a more comfortable rhythm? How fatigued is your core / grip? How big are the sets of TTB (relevant to your max unbroken set? … etc.
As promised, I have explained the 3 different variations of TTB below along with their positives and negatives so that you can figure out which you are most suited to and/or how you can change / adapt depending on the workout. But for now, just understand that there are 3 basic variations:
- Straight leg
- Bent leg (knees up and feet flick up to bar)
- Bent leg “scoop” (the legs scoop back and then straight up into the next rep – a little bit like a reverse bicycle motion)
Common Mistakes in Kipping Toes to Bar
The two most common errors I come across in TTB are;
- Bad timing of transitioning between arch/hollow. Think of it as a pendulum, as your feet move behind the bar (into arch) your chest needs to come in front of the bar (shoulder angle opens). When your feet come in front of the bar (into hollow) your chest needs to come back behind the bar (shoulder angle closes). This needs to be co-ordinated to happen simultaneously. If the timing of co-ordinating the two together is off then you will start to swing back and forth. This is particularly common in beginners and can usually be resolved with some hands on coaching to help the athlete feel the right positions.
- Not utilising a good arch position in the kip. Unless you are using the 3rd version, which for most people I don’t recommend unless the workout is a complete sprint, you are incredibly good at TTB or in rare cases your grip strength is just terrible (although, this could be linked to another problem such as gripping the bar too hard) then you need to learn to utilise a better arch position in the kip. A good arch position is the premise for creating momentum for the toes-to-bar itself.
Finding the Arch Position for Kipping Toes to Bar
For the first two variations, finding a good arch position in the kip is paramount. First of all, you generate more power at the hips when your legs are straight and together (as oppose to bending at the knees) which ultimately leads to more momentum. This isn’t too much of a problem because the hips are effectively an accessory part to the kip. The real momentum is generated at the shoulders. However, if your legs are loose and/or your core isn’t engaged (think squeezing your glutes in the arch) then you are effectively shifting (some) dead weight.
It also means your body isn’t working together effectively as one unit. Think about a kinetic chain, there are different points in which your body can “break” when tension is lost. Each point creates a potential break in that kinetic chain. Each break ultimately means less momentum from the kip and additional utilisation of strength. That is a bad thing because it means you will fatigue much faster and use more energy.
The body has a kind of “recoil” (think strength-reflex) your tendons, ligaments and muscles have a certain elasticity. When they increase in length the tension builds and they effectively “recoil” back which gives you momentum.
Gravity for Kipping Toes to Bar
On the way back down (dropping from toes at the bar back down to the kip), gravity is working in your favour. That means you want to increase the length of the lever so gravity pulls you down harder into the kip. Think more momentum. That means that even with variation two (bent leg) you need to re-find a straight leg position as your come back down into the next rep.
That’s the complicated bit done. Now to the pro’s and con’s of each variation …
Three variations of kipping toes to bar
Straight leg kipping toes to bar
- Generally slower which means more time under tension (think grip strength). I say generally because it will take a lot of practice and time but these can be just as fast. Straight leg is one movement. Bent leg is effectively two parts as you have to lift your knees and then open out your legs to touch to bar. But again, generally (unless you have these completely nailed) bent leg will be slower because you will be able to raise your legs quicker due to the shorter lever.
- Longer lever (straight legs) around the point of rotation (which will be at, or slightly higher, than your hips) means the core has to work harder to compress.
- Easier to find tension in the kip. Generally, when the legs are straight and together it is easier to stay tight. When the legs are bent you have to re-find tension again.
- Lower heart rate and easier to focus on breathing.
- More dependent on mobility (additional hamstring and potentially lumber if you are really tight but more hamstrings).
Bent leg kipping toes to bar
- Tends to be faster which reduces time under tension (think grip strength).
- Shorter lever (bent legs) means the core doesn’t have to work as hard.
- Usually easier to learn but more difficult to re-find tension at the bottom for the kip.
- Higher heart rate and more difficult to focus on breathing.
- Less dependent on mobility (it still is, but just less so).
Bent leg “scoop” kipping toes to bar
- Fastest version. Great for sprint workouts or workouts with small sets of TTB, assuming the overall volume isn’t too high. This reduces time under tension further, however, often people grip the bar too hard as they’re trying to move so fast. Secondly, because of the “scooping” movement, your bodyweight will tend to fall sightly more in a downward direction which means your grip will have to work a little bit harder to keep you holding onto the bar. If you do either of those two things then your grip will tire just as quick, if not quicker.
- Shorter lever – same as above but the problem is that your core is always under tension. With the first two variations, there is always a “weightless” point at the peak of the arch (kip) where your core is active but not having to work hard. This “weightless” point is effectively where your momentum is changing directions and “recoiling” back. With this version, because you are cycling so fast and not utilising a proper kip back (arch), it will actually likely be just as hard on your core.
- Highest heart rate and most difficult to breath.
- Least dependent on mobility. To get into a good arch position you need thoracic extension and shoulder flexion in order to open up into a good position. That’s why you will often see really stiff guys who can’t utilise a good arch go with this version and just “muscle” their way through.
As I mentioned above, I suggest trying and learning all 3 so that you have the luxury of a choice when you workout. It also means that if required, you can change / adapt the style depending on the circumstances. How high is your HR already? Is your grip and/or core fatigued? How long is the workout and how high is the volume?