The toes to bar exercise can be useful but you may want other options. Discover alternatives to toes to bars with similar effects.
Toes to bars are an exercise that works your abs, hip flexors, and to some extent grip muscles.
In turn, this means that toes to bars can help you build muscle mass, burn calories, prevent back pain, and offer other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy doing the toes to bar exercise, you don’t have a pull-up bar, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to toes to bars can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
Keep in mind that even though there are upsides, like any exercise there is always some risk of injury.
Especially if you have a sensitive back, you want to be careful when doing these toes to bar alternatives and implement a good technique. When in doubt talk to an expert.
1. Knee or leg raises
While there will definitely be toes to bar alternatives without a pull-up bar, for this first exercise you still need one or something like a captain’s chair.
Once you have one of these, take the following steps to do a knee or leg raise on the captain’s chair:
- Take place on the captain’s chair by putting your arms on the supports, and back against the back support. Let your legs hang down for now.
- For the knee raise, start raising your knees held together upwards. Let gravity do its work on your lower legs throughout the exercise. For the leg raise, you keep your legs stretched but in this step, they just hang downwards.
- Slowly raise your knees to at least hip height for the knee raise or your feet to at least hip height for the leg raise. Once you are at your highest point you can hold for a second or less.
- Lower your legs back into the position in step 2 in a controlled manner.
The toes to bar is a relatively challenging exercise. You may need to start with knee or leg raises to work up to the toes to bar.
If you are more of a workout beginner you can start with knee raises. These are generally less challenging than leg raises. If that is still too hard you can start by raising your knees only a small amount.
2. Reverse crunches
Reverse crunches are a great alternative to the toes to bar exercise both in the sense that they are better to get used to how engaging your abs feels and in that reverse crunches are a less challenging build-up exercise.
On top of that, this substitute can be done without a bar or any other equipment. That being said, a yoga mat can make reverse crunches more comfortable.
Take the following steps to do a reverse crunch:
- Lie down on your back with a 90-degree angle in both your hips and knees. Your arms start resting on the ground at 90 degrees out from your shoulders or just next to you for stability.
- Slowly move your knees towards your chest while keeping your hips and knees in a 90-degree angle. To do this your hips and lower back will come off the ground. Stop right before the middle of your back would come off the ground too.
- Lower your lower back, hips, and legs back into starting position in a controlled motion.
If you want extra oblique training, you can do a sideways reverse crunch. In this variation, you bring one knee to the chest of the opposite side. After that, you repeat the same but with the other knee to avoid muscle imbalances.
At some point, bodyweight reverse crunches may become too easy. If this is the case you can wear good ankle weights, clamp some type of weight between your legs or switch to lying leg raises or the toes to bar.
3. Lying leg raises
For lying leg raises you again preferably want a yoga mat or other soft surface to lie on. Take the following steps to do a lying leg raise for training your abs:
- Lie down on your back with your legs stretched and right next to each other on the ground. Put your arms on the ground at your sides for balance.
- Slowly turn your hips and move them toward your chest. In theory, your legs should not really move relative to your hips. You can go as far as raising your lower back off the ground. Keep the middle of your back on the ground.
- Slowly lower your legs back to the ground.
You can also do lying leg raises in a way that also works your hip flexors by also moving your legs in relation to your hips. This will be more similar to the toes to bar exercise.
You can add resistance to this alternative by wearing ankle weights or clamping a weight between your legs.
4. Sideways knee or leg raises
The next toe to bar alternative is another exercise that requires a pull-up bar, captain’s chair, or similar set-up where your legs hang freely.
Take the following steps to do a sideways knee raise while hanging from a pull-up bar:
- Hang from the pull-up bar with your hands at about shoulder-width with your hand palms facing forward. Let your legs hang down for now.
- Raising your knees held together upwards. Slightly tilt your hips to the left or the right so that the knee on that side is in a higher position than the other knee. Let gravity do its work on your lower legs throughout the exercise.
- Raise your knees to at least hip height. Once you are at the highest you can hold for a second or less.
- Start lowering your knees until your legs are back in starting position.
- Repeat but with the other knee in the higher position.
The previous substitutes for the toes to bar exercise were mainly focused on your abs, the muscles in the middle of your core, and your hip flexors.
Sideways knee and leg raises will focus more on your obliques which are core muscles in your sides.
Once your skill level is up for it you can consider doing sideways leg raises or sideways knee raises with extra weights to make this exercise more challenging.
Take the following steps to do a V-up:
- Lie down on your back with your legs stretched and right next to each other on the ground. You can hold your arms against your chest if you are relatively new to ab training, stretched above your head if you are more experienced.
- Keep your legs slightly less than stretched while you move them up slowly. At the same time curl up your upper body starting with your shoulders and continuing with the rest of your back until your upper body makes a V-shape with your legs. Make sure you use your abs and not the momentum of your arms to power the movement.
- Slowly lower your legs and upper body again. If you will do more repetitions you can keep your feet hovering just above the ground and your lower back pressed against the ground with the help of your abs. If you are done you can lower your legs to the ground.
Most versions of the V-up require you to stretch your arms above your head but this does make this at-home-friendly toes to bar alternative more challenging.
If you are more of a core resistance training beginner you can start with your arms against your chest and build up from there.
V-ups focus on your lower, middle, and upper abs and hip flexors. Similar to many other options on this list you can use weights to make the exercise more challenging.
One downside of this at-home-friendly toes to bar alternative is that it is generally harder on your back than most hanging core exercises.
Take the following steps to do a pulse up:
- Lie down on your back with your hands on the ground beside you for balance.
- Move up your legs upward until they are about vertical to the ground. Keep them as stretched as possible.
- Slowly raise your hips and legs by tightening your ab muscles. Avoid using other muscles like your legs or hip flexors.
- Lower your hips and legs back to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
Keep your movements slow and controlled during pulse-ups to make your abs and obliques really work hard and to avoid using your legs for momentum.
Pulse-ups are a substitute for the toes to bar exercise that targets very similar muscles but in a smaller range of motion and with less resistance.
This makes the exercise easier which can be both an advantage to work up to toes to bars or a disadvantage if you are going for optimal muscle growth and strength progress.