How To Do The Skin The Cat Exercise Properly

You’d be surprised to know that you are probably already familiar with the skin the cat exercise, especially if you spent a lot of time outdoors as a child.

It is a basic calisthenics technique that involves rotating your body from a dead hang position so that your arms and shoulders are twisted behind you, then repeating the movement to get back to the original position.

Sound familiar yet?

No?

Okay, let’s get into the details, maybe then you will recognize it.

  • First, you need two gym rings or a pull-up bar from which your body will hang. Most people prefer the rings because they allow your shoulders to rotate more naturally.
  • Start by grabbing onto the rings, one in each hand, so that you are in a dead hang position. Your palms should be turned out (overhand grip).
  • Keep your legs and arms straight, and engage your core and lats as you flex your hips to bring the thighs towards your chest.
  • Continue bringing your feet up all the way past your arms so that your body is upside down.
  • Keep your core tight as you lower your feet towards the floor to get back to the starting position.
  • To achieve a greater stretch at the end of the movement, rotate your palms out.
  • Once you get to a dead stop, bring your thighs up towards your chest once again and lift the hips towards the ceiling.
  • Bring your feet through the space between your arms to get back to the original starting position.
  • It’s only when you come back to this position that you will have completed one rep.

WHAT MUSCLES DOES THE SKIN THE CAT EXERCISE WORK?

The skin the cat exercise mainly works your shoulder muscles.

To a lesser degree, it also works the long head of your triceps, lats on your back, pectoral muscles on your chest and the abdominal muscles on your core.

BENEFITS OF THE SKIN THE CAT EXERCISE

WORKS YOUR SHOULDERS

When you do it properly, the skin the cat exercise trains your shoulders through their full range of motion as you rotate your body between the rings.

Stronger shoulders improve your ability to perform pulling and pressing upper body exercises such as pull-ups and bench presses.

EASY TO MODIFY

There are many different ways in which you can modify this exercise to suit your fitness goals.

For example, if you are looking to enhance shoulder flexibility, you can use an underhand grip instead of an overhand one.

You can also make it more challenging by slowing down your reps to put more tension in your muscles.

Another way to increase the challenge is to maintain straight legs in the pike position and tucking them into your stomach.

This will put more tension on your shoulders and work your core at the same time.

STRENGTHENS YOUR CORE

When you keep your core tight to help stabilize your body as you rotate it, you also tone and strengthen your core muscles.

ALLEVIATES BACK PAIN

The skin the cat exercise can help relieve your back pain by strengthening your core and decompressing your spine which then takes some tension  off your lower back and alleviates pain.

ALTERNATIVES TO THE SKIN THE CAT EXERCISE

RING PULL UP

Ring pull ups use gym rings instead of a pull up bar to enhance your shoulder stability and arm strength.

Before you begin, set the rings over your head.

Then, follow these steps:

  • Stand upright with your feet together.
  • Stretch both arms overhead and grab onto the rings with your hands.
  • Position your hands a bit past shoulder width apart. Your shoulders should be relaxed and your back straight.
  • Pull your body up using support from the rings.
  • Hold for a few seconds before releasing and slowly lowering back to the ground.
  • Repeat as many times as you desire.

BULGARIAN DIP

The Bulgarian dip is a bodyweight movement involves lifting your body off the floor with the support of gym rings set at waist level.

It works the same upper body muscles as the skin the cat exercise.

Steps:

  • Stand upright and place your feet together.
  • Grab the ring handles with a pronated grip and keep your elbows aligned with the shoulders.
  • Extend your arms as you lift your body off the floor.
  • Simultaneously, switch to a supinated grip.
  • Release and get back to the starting position.
  • Perform as many reps as you want.

Switching between the two grips not only increases your shoulder joint mobility but also enhances your arm strength.

SKIN THE CAT EXERCISE MISTAKES TO AVOID

FAILING TO WARM UP

Always warm up sufficiently before doing the skin the cat exercise.

If you fail to warm up, you might not be flexible enough to complete your rep in a fully rotated position.

Stretching exercises could be particularly helpful in ‘waking up’ the muscles responsible for helping your body go through the motion patterns of this exercise.

HALF REPS

This is perhaps the most common mistake people make while doing the skin the cat exercise.

You may be tempted to stop after the first flip, but that would be an incomplete rep.

Make sure you perform two flips until you get to the original starting position, because only then will you have completed the rep.

NOT TIGHTENING YOUR CORE

Without a tight core you may not be able to flip your body upside down mid air during this movement.

Keep a braced core to help stabilize your body and strengthen your lower back as you perform the exercise.

WRAPPING UP

If you are just starting out, you may find it difficult to maintain straight legs.

To lessen the challenge, you can tuck your legs at first until you’ve gained enough strength to maintain them in a straight position.

Also, setting the rings at a lower position will make the movement safer and less challenging for you at the beginning.

Once you’re more comfortable with the form, raise the rings to increase your range of motion and work your muscles better.