The "Toes to Bar" exercise requires a significant amount of abdominal strength to be able to execute. It is not uncommon to see compensations for a lack of this strength in order to achieve the movement. One commonly seen compensation is breath holding.
Breath holding leaves your ribcage expanded and may result in a ribcage flare, not allowing for the abdominals and pelvic floor to properly coordinate.
The following is one recommended progression back to "Toes to Bar" in a way that's healthy and happy for the abdomen and core system.
1) Static Hang
Hanging alone may be more than enough of a challenge initially for most women postpartum. Can you breathe deeply into your diaphragm? Ribcage and belly expanding on the breath in? Ribcage drawing down and together, abdominals and pelvic floor contracting on the breath out?
Try 3 sets of 8-10 breaths of a static hang. If this feels easy move on to level 2.
2) Single Leg Bent Knee Lift
Progress your out breath by drawing one knee towards your chest.
Imagine a string from the middle of your lower ribs to your mid thigh. As your ribcage draws down, abdominals and pelvic floor contract, the string tightens, drawing your knee up in response.
Alternate legs as you hang.
3) Bilateral Knee to Chest
Repeat the same cues as Step 2, now drawing both knees towards the ribcage with each out breath.
4) Single Leg Straight Leg Raise
The single leg straight leg raise requires more quad and hip flexor strength than the bent knee version. The longer lever arm from your leg also makes your leg heavier - requiring your abdominals to work harder.
Repeat the same cues as above - exhaling on effort to draw the ribcage down, engage the deep abdominals and lift the straight leg up.
5) Bilateral Straight Leg Raise to 90 Degrees
Most individuals are surprised at just how challenging this movement is. Repeat the same cues as above. Exhaling to draw the ribcage down, engage the deep abdominals and lift straight legs up t0 90 degrees.
6) Full Toes to Bar
Now it's time to put all together. Can you keep your out breath, rib cage drawing down and abdominals tightening the string from your ribs to your thighs as you bring your legs up?
Slowing down and breaking up the "Toes to Bar" move can really help to bring light to any weaknesses that may be present. Slow and steady progressions always win the race.
Huge thanks to Robyn Rayner from Taranis Athletics for the demo photos. Robyn is a Crossfit and Pre/Postpartum Athleticism coach at Taranis in Victoria BC. The Taranis P&PA program is designed for the pregnant and postpartum woman with a focus on safe, healthy movement strategies, stage appropriate exercises and education designed to empower a woman during this amazing transitional chapter in her life. Robyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org