The cat stretch is exactly like what it sounds like because it mimics how a cat would stretch. This yoga mainstay is done for no other reason than to stretch out the back, core, neck, and hips, and mobilize the spine, but it’s also good for preventing injuries due to tight posterior muscles.
So you won’t build muscle and strength with this stretch but it’ll really open you up, improve your posture and keep you mobile, flexible, and functional.
Here’s a guide to the cat stretch…
In This Exercise:
- Target Muscle Group: Erector spinae
- Type: Stretch/pose
- Mechanics: Isolation
- Equipment: Exercise mat
- Difficulty: Beginner
This isn’t a muscle or strength-building exercise but rather a method used to stretch out the upper body.
The erector spinae isn’t a single muscle, but rather a group of muscles and tendons that run along either side of the vertebral column or length of the spine on the back. These muscles allow us to bend forward, back, and rotate. Cat stretches are an excellent way to stretch out the back muscles and keep them healthy.
Related: The Couch Stretch – Why, How-to, and Variations
How To Do The Cat Stretch
The cat stretch is a rather simple exercise to perform. You only need your body weight and, ideally, a soft surface or mat for comfort purposes. Here are step-by-step instructions.
- Get on all fours so that your knees are under your hips and your palms are under your shoulders.
- Look forward, inhale, and lightly engage your core.
- Round/flex your back to get a good stretch while simultaneously tucking your chin into your chest and exhaling. Hold for a few seconds.
- Return to a neutral torso and repeat.
Cat stretch tips
- Round your back with good effort but don’t try to go beyond what you’re capable of. The idea is to stretch, not stress.
- Draw your navel toward your spine during the cat pose and keep your fingers spread out, imagining that you’re pushing the floor away.
- Hold the pose at the top for a few seconds before returning to the initial position.
- Transition into the “cow stretch” for even better effect (see variations).
Don’t get us wrong, the cat stretch is good on its own, but there are some variations that are as good and that adds another element for greater effect. Here are four variations that you should also do.
Cat Cow Pose
Pair the cat pose with the cow stretch for an enhanced stretch. The latter involves extension of the spine as opposed to flexion with the cat pose. When you lift the sternum and tailbone, you mobilize the spine and this is used to prepare for other, more advanced yoga moves.
To do it:
After the cat pose, you want to inhale, raise your chin and tilt your head back, then push your stomach towards the floor and lift your tailbone toward up, drawing your chest and sternum forward and up. Transition back into the cat pose and exhale then repeat.
This should be a fluid movement and it may take you a few times to get the hang of it but remember to exhale during the cat pose and inhale during the cow pose.
Opposite knee to elbow
If you want to challenge and improve your balance and stability, then you should include a more dynamic variation of the cat cow pose.
To do this:
- Get on all fours.
- Extend one leg back and the opposite side out in front of you.
- Bring the knee of the extended leg and elbow of the extended arm together and round your back for the cat pose.
- Perform the desired reps and repeat on the other side.
Watch this short video for two more variations.
Another good variation is to simply lift your knees off the floor (also called floating knees) and perform the cat pose as normal.
How To Incorporate The Cat Stretch Into Your Routine
Typically, the cat stretch is done at the beginning of a yoga session or first thing in the morning (like how a cat does it after a nap). This helps to condition and mobilize the spine and even get blood flowing which is a good way to prepare for the day ahead.
And there’s really no better way to do it. It’s a simple, easy stretch/pose that feels great when you do it after a long sleep or to warm up before you do more advanced movements.
You really only need one set of about 10 reps before you’re ready to move onto something else. It’s just a stretch and as long as you do it correctly, you should be good to go.
The cat stretch is a must-have pose not only for those who practice yoga; it’s good for anyone. Stretching out improves many aspects of functionality and is a good habit to keep your body in tip-top shape. While you won’t get impressive muscles from doing it, that’s not the point. We hope this guide was helpful.
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