Toes To Bar Alternatives: 4 Best TTB Substitutes

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
August 2, 2022

The toes to bar or “TTB” exercise is a compound movement primarily focused on core muscle activation, with its most common practitioners being CrossFit athletes or similar dynamic exercise athletes of an intermediate training experience.

However, due to the positioning, intensity and mechanics of the toes to bar exercise, it may be otherwise inaccessible or dangerous for certain exercisers to perform - thereby requiring that a suitable alternative exercise be found in order to preserve the original intended training stimulus of the workout.

Fortunately, quite a number of possible alternatives to the TTB exercise exist, with each possessing their own unique set of characteristics that may make them more suitable for use by certain exercisers, such as v-ups for people without access to a pull up bar, or leg raises for individuals wishing for greater core isolation.

Why Should the Toes to Bar Exercise be Substituted?

The toes to bar exercise is usually substituted due to its high strength and mobility requirements, as well as the fact that the forearm musculature of the exerciser will often fatigue before the core muscles themselves have been sufficiently stimulated.

toes to bar muscles

This can lead to the exerciser developing muscular imbalances or a weakened core if the toes to bar exercise is their sole source of abdominal muscle training stimuli, alongside other issues relating to unstable or improper form during its performance.

Other factors that may lead to the substitution of the TTB exercise are a desire to trade its compound muscle group activation with one that isolates the core muscles alone, or the simple fact that the exerciser does not have access to a pull up bar or similar implement from which to suspend themselves with.

Muscles Worked by a Toes to Bar Alternative Exercise

The toes to bar is the very definition of a compound exercise; activating a large number of muscle groups throughout the body, with the deltoids, biceps brachii, triceps brachii, rhomboids and the various muscles of the abdominals all being used as primary mover muscles throughout each repetition.

toes to bar

However, the toes to bar exercise is one of the few exercises that doesn’t require its alternative to replicate its muscle group activation for the most part.

This is due to the fact that the toes to bar exercise is performed for its core muscle developing benefits, with its activation of other muscles such as the rhomboids or biceps brachii being considered only a secondary effect besides the fact.

As such, while certain situations may require that the subsequent alternative to the TTB also train these additional muscle groups - for the most part, the alternative exercise need only train the core musculature.

These are primarily such muscles like the transversus abdominis, the obliques and the rectus abdominis.

Characteristics of a Toes to Bar Alternative Exercise

Apart from being a core muscle activating movement, the substitute exercise meant to take the place of the toes to bar exercise should also feature dynamic contraction of said musculature, thereby excluding certain isometric abdominal contraction exercises like the plank or handstand hold.

In addition to inducing a corresponding type of muscular contraction, the alternative exercise must also possess a similar level of intensity and complexity - except in the case where it is these two characteristics that are the reason for the substitution in the first place.

Being of intermediate level complexity and also of intermediate difficulty, the toes to bar alternative should also present an equal challenge unless otherwise necessitated by the exerciser - with low intensity exercises providing insufficient stimulus and reducing the rate of development intended by the training program.

1. The V-Up as the Ideal Toes to Bar Alternative Exercise

The V-Up is often the first exercise considered when one must substitute the toes to bar exercise, as it not only shares a similar source of resistance (the exerciser’s own bodyweight), but also provides several advantages that make it suitable for practically any circumstance.

The V-Up is performed entirely on the ground, requires no equipment at all, and primarily acts as a core muscle isolation exercise with a level of intensity that may be adapted to the exerciser’s own level of physical capability.

v sit ups

The sole circumstance wherein the V-Up may not be a suitable alternative to the toes to bar exercise is if the exerciser does not wish to involve their arms or upper torso in the movement due to injury or insufficient mobility - something that, unfortunately, excludes the performance of the V-Up.

Who Should Use the V-Up as a Toes to Bar Alternative?

The V-Up is quite simple in terms of exercise complexity. This, combined with its variable level of intensity and lack of equipment requirements makes it suitable for practically any exerciser and circumstance.

In particular, the V-Up shines as a toes to bar alternative for exercisers that wish to retain its range of motion, training stimulus, mechanics and core activation specificity without the use of a pull up bar or excessive forearm grip endurance.

Programming the V-Up Alternative

As grip endurance is a major limiting factor in the performance of high volume sets of the toes to bar exercise, many individuals will find that they are capable of performing more repetitions per set of V-Ups despite the similar levels of intensity.

As such, it is advisable to perform two to four more repetitions per set of V-Ups than what one would perform with the toes to bar exercise, taking full advantage of the former exercise’s advantages while still avoiding excessive fatigue.

Such programming is, of course, inapplicable if the exerciser has chosen to surpass the level of resistance found in ordinary sets of the toes to bar exercise - requiring that the volume be subsequently lowered accordingly.

2. Toes to Kettlebell as a Toes to Bar Alternative Exercise

The toes to kettlebell exercise is simply the lying counterpart to the toes to bar exercise, with such a level of similarity that they may be considered entirely interchangeable (except for the purposes of developing the spinal flexion mechanic while in a suspended state.)

As its name implies, toes to kettlebell is performed with the exerciser lying on the ground and gripping a kettlebell or similar weighted implement above their head - all prior to recreating the movements of the toes to bar exercise by raising the legs and hips upward until the feet come within approximate distance of the hands.

Despite its name, the toes to kettlebell exercise does not actually require a kettlebell, and the exerciser may use practically any stationary and stable object such as the base of a machine, a heavy weight plate or any other number of items to create an anchor.

Apart from the fact that the toes to kettlebell is performed lying down, it otherwise shares every other characteristic with the toes to bar exercise, possessing a similar set of biomechanics, range of motion, muscle group activation set and level of complexity.

Who Should Use the Toes to Kettlebell Exercise as an Alternative?

As the toes to kettlebell exercise is practically just a variation of the toes to bar exercise, it is a suitable alternative for individuals without access to a pull up bar or for exercisers with insufficient forearm endurance to complete a full set of the toes to bar exercise.

Conversely, exercisers with mobility issues or injuries that prevent them from performing the toes to bar exercise will find that they retain much the same problems with the toes to kettlebell exercise, making it unsuitable for such circumstances.

In particular, individuals without sufficient hip or lower back flexibility to complete the full range of motion required in the toes to bar exercise will be even more hampered during the toes to kettlebell exercise as the floor presses against their lower torso, increasing relative resistance in that area.

Programming the Toes to Kettlebell Alternative

For exercisers whose forearm endurance capacity is not the reason behind their substitution of the toes to bar exercise, they may directly translate the sets and repetitions of the TTB exercise to the toes to kettlebell alternative - requiring no further reprogramming or calculation at all.

However, for individuals who find that they are insufficiently trained by the toes to bar exercise due to their forearm endurance limiting total volume, the toes to kettlebell alternative may be programmed in such a manner that each set is fully realized in terms of repetitions per set.

To do so, the exerciser need only add additional repetitions to the total number that they would otherwise perform during the TTB exercise, usually with four to six repetitions per set being sufficient enough for such purposes.

3. Leg Raises as a Toes to Bar Alternative Exercise

Leg raises are functionally similar to the toes to bar exercise with the largest shared aspect between the two being the fact that they are performed in a suspended state with abdominal contraction being responsible for the legs being raised upward.

hanging leg raise

This mechanic is so similar that the leg raise may even be considered a lower impact regression of the toes to bar exercise, all the more so due to their practically identical muscle group activation and exercise mechanics.

Despite the similarity in biomechanics and form, the leg raise is of lower intensity and a shorter range of motion than the toes to bar exercise, allowing a greater amount of repetitions to be performed within the same frame of time.

In addition, leg raises may be performed with the use of a leg raise station or other machines that remove the limiting factor of grip strength from the exercise, allowing individuals to perform as many repetitions as their core musculature allow without being hampered by forearm muscle endurance.

Who Should Use the Leg Raises as an Alternative?

Leg raises may be used as a suitable alternative for exercisers who find the toes to bar exercise to be difficult to perform with correct form or in appropriate amounts of volume, as the lower intensity and greater capacity for high repetition sets in the leg raise make it the best alternative for such situations.

Additionally, leg raises may also be used for exercisers wishing to place a greater focus on the lower portion of their abdominal muscles - something that is less pronounced in the toes to bar exercise due to its larger range of motion.

Programming the Leg Raises Alternative

As leg raises require less exertion per repetition and are otherwise relatively lower impact, the exerciser will be better served by programming them at higher amounts of volume than the toes to bar exercise - as well as placing it later in the order of exercises due to its lesser activation of secondary muscle groups.

4. Lying Leg Raises as a Toes to Bar Alternative Exercise

Lying leg raises are the prone variation of the previously covered leg raise exercise, with the difference in terms of their capacity to act as an alternative exercise being that the lying leg raise requires distinctly less mobility and does not contract the core muscles in an isometric fashion as significantly.

lying leg raise

This places the lying leg raise in the ideal position to act as a toes to bar substitute for individuals with a history of injury, are currently with child or those with similar circumstances limiting their mobility, while still retaining a similar set of exercise mechanics and muscular activation.

Who Should Use Lying Leg Raises as an Alternative?

The lying leg raise may act as a suitable alternative to the toes to bar exercise for individuals with conditions or circumstances that make a full range of motion difficult to perform, those with poor isometric core contraction strength or for individuals that wish to entirely eliminate the involvement of the arms and legs (save for the hip flexors) from their core training.

In addition to this, the lying leg raise is a simplistic and easy enough movement that novices or athletes in physical rehabilitation may both perform it as a regression from the toes to bar exercise.

Programming the Lying Leg Raise Alternative

As lying leg raises will rarely ever match the intensity or exertion of the toes to bar exercise, they are best performed near the end of a training program as an accessory exercise, with sets of approximately twenty repetitions each being sufficient for most able-bodied exercisers.

References

1. Kim K, Lee T. Comparison of muscular activities in the abdomen and lower limbs while performing sit-up and leg-raise. J Phys Ther Sci. 2016 Jan;28(2):491-4. doi: 10.1589/jpts.28.491. Epub 2016 Feb 29. PMID: 27065536; PMCID: PMC4792997.

2. Hodges PW, Richardson CA. Contraction of the abdominal muscles associated with movement of the lower limb. Phys Ther. 1997 Feb;77(2):132-42; discussion 142-4. doi: 10.1093/ptj/77.2.132. PMID: 9037214.

3. Guimaraes AC, Vaz MA, De Campos MI, Marantes R. The contribution of the rectus abdominis and rectus femoris in twelve selected abdominal exercises. An electromyographic study. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1991 Jun;31(2):222-30. PMID: 1836517.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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