Toes to bar makes its way into many Crossfit WODs. It's is an advanced full body exercise that requires a lot of core and hip strength, so it won't be suitable for beginners. 

If you're a Crossfitter and have a limiting injury, you'll need to modify this high level movement.

If this is you, read on because I share my top 7 toes to bar substitute exercises that won't compromise on building core strength.

If you’ve done CrossFit before, you'll be familiar with the toes to bar exercise that works your whole body.

If you can't do this movement or don't have a pull up bar, then there are some toes to bar substitute exercises that mimic the movement and provides the same benefits, allowing you to work up to the movement.[1]

Some toes to bar modification exercises engage all the same muscle groups, whereas others break down the movement and focus on specific areas. It’s a good idea to mix up these exercises and create a routine for yourself.

1. Knee Or Leg Raises 

Woman Doing Leg Raises In The Gym

For this toes to bar substitute exercise, you’ll need a chair to do a seated version at home, or a captain’s chair for a more challenging version in the gym, no pull up bar necessary.

It's a great functional exercise that strengthens your core muscles and legs in one move, helps to improve your grip strength, and gives you greater control over your whole body.

Leg raises are tough for beginners, so you might need to start with a seated raise and build up to them.


  • Targets the lower abdominal muscles.
  • Strengthens your hip joint.
  • Improves balance and stability and transfers to everyday movements. 

How To Do it:

  1. To perform a seated knee raise, start with your hands resting on the base of the chair and your back upright against the support. 
  2. Keep your upper body still and raise your knees up until you feel your thighs come away from the seat slightly.
  3. Pause for a second, and then lower your feet back down until they are about an inch off the floor. Try to keep your core engaged throughout and get the most benefit from this exercise.  
  4. If you’re performing a leg raise in the gym on a captain’s chair, you’ll need to hold the handles and let your feet dangle in the air below you.
  5. Then, in a controlled motion, raise your legs up until they are horizontally level with your hips, pause for a second, and then lower them back down to starting position. 

Tips From A Trainer!

I love performing knee and leg raises on a power tower, or Captain's chair. The back pad will help you maintain control and stability while increasing core strength. 

2. Reverse Crunches 

Man Doing Reverse Crunches At Home

The reversed crunch exercise targets the lower abs by engaging the muscles in the pelvic region and bringing the hips towards the chest. It is an effective exercise to strengthen and tone the abdominal muscles.

This exercise is an easy-to-do at-home workout that requires no equipment. Simply lie on your back, bend your knees, and lift your hips off the ground as you bring your knees towards your chest.

This exercise can be done on a gym mat or soft surface for added comfort.


  • Less strain on your lower back than a conventional crunch.
  • Can be done anywhere.
  • Takes the strain off your neck.

How to Do It:

  1. Start by lying on your back with your hands at your sides, palms on the floor. 
  2. Next, raise your legs and bend your knees so your thighs are perpendicular to the ground, engage your abs, and bring your knees into your chest, slightly raising your hips off the floor.
  3. Hold for a second and then slowly lower back down to starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

This exercise is great for adding to your ab workout routine. I like to superset it with cable crunches for a complete ab-burning experience. 

3. Lying Toes To Kettlebell 

Woman Doing Lying Toes To Kettlebell Exercise

Not everyone has a bar at home, but it’s cheap and easy to pick up a kettlebell to use in workouts so you can perform this alternative exercise at home.

The toes to kettlebell exercise is the best way to prepare for toes to bar, as it repeats the exact same movement and strengthens all the same areas.


  • Perfect toes to bar modification for beginners.
  • Good toes to bar alternative no pull up bar required.
  • A slow eccentric lower will build serious strength in your core muscles. 

How To Do It:

  1. To perform the exercise, start by lying on the floor with arms stretched out and a kettlebell in your hand acting as an anchor. 
  2. Engage your core, tuck your knees in, and raise your hips to move your toes up over you towards the kettlebell with straight legs.
  3. Hold for a second and then lower back down to the starting position and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

You might want to skip this toes to kettlebell exercise if you suffer from lower back pain. It can be tough on your spine to roll your back up off the floor. 

4. Lying Leg Raises 

Lying Leg Raises

Lying leg raises are the perfect way to build up your abdominal muscles without any equipment. It’s a good choice for those with an injury because it's a natural movement.

This exercise is useful for beginners, and you’ll quickly notice how your body becomes stronger if you perform it regularly. 


  • Perfect toes to bar modification for those with limited strength.
  • Helps protect your back from injury.
  • Ability to create slow reps and increase time under tension.

How To Do it:

  1. Start by lying with your back on the floor and your arms at your sides. 
  2. In a controlled motion and keeping your legs straight, lift your legs up until they are pointing directly upwards.
  3. Pause for a second and then lower back down to starting position. Repeat for 8-12 reps. 

Tips From A Trainer!

You can modify the lying leg raise by doing only one leg at a time. You can also alternate your leg raises to do flutter kicks. 

Related Article - 10 Best Burpee Substitutes

5. Sideways Knee or Leg Raises 

Sideways Knee Or Leg Raises

A good way to build strong hips and thighs is through a sideways leg raise. This is one of my go-to exercises to give beginners because it won’t put much strain on your body too soon.

The exercise doesn’t engage your upper body as much, but you’ll notice it strengthening your core and improving your overall flexibility.  


  • Increases strength around the hip joint. 
  • The difficulty can easily be increase by propping yourself onto your elbow. 
  • Can be done anywhere, no equipment required.

How To Do it:

  1. Start by lying on your side on the floor with one leg on top of the other, keeping legs straight.
  2. Engage your core and raise the top leg from your hip so it’s a few inches away from your other leg.
  3. Pause for a second and lower it back down to starting position.
  4. Aim for 8-12 reps, and then switch sides to repeat the movement with your other leg.  

Tips From A Trainer!

You can do a side leg raise basically anywhere, which I really appreciate. It's great for people on the go or traveling. 

6. V-Ups 

Woman Doing V-Ups On A Gym Mat

V-ups are an excellent toe to bar modification exercise that really works your core and activates muscles in your back, legs, and arms for a full-body workout, and you don't need any equipment to perform them.

If you are unable to perform the V-up exercise due to lower back discomfort or any other reason, there are v up alternative exercises that can effectively target your abdominal muscles. 


  • Improves balance and coordination.
  • Great for the upper and lower abdominal muscles. 
  • Perfect to strengthen your whole core and protect your back from injury.

How To Do It:

  1. To perform a V-up, start by lying with your back on the ground. 
  2. Lift your legs, arms, head, and chest off the ground until you can reach your toes, creating a V shape.
  3. Pause for a second and then lower back to starting position and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

If this is too challenging for you, try a Tuck up. This is the same movement but done with bent knees rather than straight legs.

7. Ab Pulse-Ups 

Woman Doing Ab Pulse-Ups

An effective variation on reverse crunches is the ab pulse up.

This move puts most of the effort on your core and improves your overall stability and balance, making other movements easier. 


  • Very effective for working the lower abdominal muscles. 
  • Great choice for beginners.
  • Helps create stability and balance in the body.

How To Do It:

  1. Start by lying on your back with your knees slightly bent and your hands tucked underneath your tailbone. 
  2. Raise both legs up at once, tense your abs, and lift your hips until your glutes are off the ground but keep your back flat on the ground. 
  3. Pause for a second and then lower back down to starting position and repeat.  

Tips From A Trainer!

Ab pulse-ups greatly improve stability by forcing you to use the correct form when raising your glutes off the ground. Try keeping your legs straight the whole time! 

What Are Toes To Bar Alternative Exercises Good For?

Toe to bar alternatives primarily work your core, activating your abdominal muscles and your lower back, but they will also work your shoulders, upper back, arms, and legs.[2]

Alongside the muscle gains in these areas, you’ll also stretch out some of the smaller joints around your hips and shoulders to improve your stabilityPlus, there’s minimal impact which makes the exercises well suited for recovery, and they're often used by athletes coming back from injury. 

These alternative exercises are easy enough for anyone to perform because they focus on simple, compound movements which engage a lot of different muscle groupsThey work your core and improve flexibility which will benefit you in other workouts. You can also use weights to add resistance if you want to see greater gains.

The majority of these substitute exercises have no reliance on commercial gym equipment, so they’re perfect for anyone working out at home or away from a commercial gym.

Learn More - 25 Effective Bodyweight CrossFit Workouts

Toes To Bar (TTB) Frequently Asked Questions

What are toes to bar good for? 

Toes to bar are good for your abdominals, hips, back, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and improve your grip strength to give you a full-body workout.  

Are toes to rings easier than toes to bar? 

Yes, toes to rings are easier than toes to bar. They are regarded as slightly easier because you can use your body weight to build momentum and complete the movement.  

Why can’t I do toes to bar? 

This is generally because of a lack of strength or flexibility. Performing alternative exercises can help you improve in these areas until you’re able to perform a toes to bar exercise.

How can I learn strict toes to bar at home? 

Performing some of these alternative exercises will help you develop the necessary strength to perform a toe to bar exercise, but you can also practice by holding a pull up bar and slowly lowering yourself down to the floor so you can learn to manage your weight. Once you feel comfortable, you can practice jumping up on the pull up bar and swinging your toes as high as you can to improve your strength and stability. Focus on these and then perform some knees to chest and leg raises until you feel strong enough to do a full toes to bar movement.


Whether you're a beginner, have limited equipment, or prefer variations that target specific muscle groups, incorporating these alternatives into your workout routine can help you achieve similar benefits and enhance your athletic performance.

Remember to choose exercises that suit your fitness level and listen to your body to prevent injuries.




Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website