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Cat-cow

This slow movement from an arched to rounded spine is one of the best exercises you can do for your back, whether you are an athlete warming up or a non-athlete recovering from a back injury. Use this exercise to mobilize your spine, release kinks or stiffness in your back, and prepare for exercise.

Target Area: Spine, Back, Chest
Difficulty: Beginner

Benefits:

  • Relieves spinal stiffness and pain
  • Prevents spinal injury
  • Improves spinal mobility
  • Stretches shoulders and back

Considerations – who should be careful?

  • If you have neck or back pain, reduce the depth of the stretch (don’t round or arch your back as much).
  • If you have trouble getting into a tabletop position, you can do this from a standing position instead – place your hands on the back of a chair or a tabletop.

Technique Walkthrough

  1. Start on all fours with shoulders over wrists and hips over knees. (Toes can be tucked or untucked.)
  2. Position knees and ankles parallel to each other, hip-width apart.
  3. Form an L-shape with your index fingers and thumbs.
  4. Cow:
    • Inhale as you arch your spine, pulling your chest forward and lifting your tailbone toward the ceiling.
    • Lengthen the front side of your torso, and maintain length in your mid- and upper spine.
  5. Cat:
    • Exhale as you round your spine, pulling your forehead toward your hips.
    • Press down through your hands to lift the upper back toward the ceiling.
    • Tuck your chin to your chest.
  6. This is one rep. Continue to alternate slowly from Cat to Cow, inhaling as you move into the full extension of Cow, and exhaling as you move into the full flexion of Cat.
  7. Lengthen each breath as much as possible.
  8. Lightly squeeze legs toward one another to keep your core engaged and protect the spine.

Make it easier (Modifications)

  • If you have trouble doing this from a tabletop position, place your hands on a countertop or the back of a chair instead.
  • If you have pain in your wrists; make fists with your hands instead of planting your hands on the ground.

What you should (and shouldn’t) be feeling.

What should you be feeling?

  • Stretch through chest and abs
  • Relief of stiffness in spine

What you shouldn’t feel.

  • Craning or pain in neck; if you do, focus on lengthening mid- and upper back
  • Spine pain; if you do, decrease depth of arch, and use core more

Common Errors & How to Avoid.

  • Not keeping enough length in your neck when extending; try to press your head away from your shoulders, pull your chin in toward your neck, and maintain length as you arch your neck.
  • Not keeping your knees hip-width distant; if you have trouble with this, it helps to squeeze a block between your thighs while doing this exercise.

FAQs

  • What if I have difficulty arching my back?
    It takes time to increase your spinal mobility. Do this exercise more often, focus on backbending, and improve your posture on a day to day basis.
  • What if I have neck pain?
    Don’t look up as much, make sure you are keeping length in your spine, and pull your chin in toward your neck (make a double-chin).

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Want to see more info like this? These photos and sections are taken from Yoga Fitness for Men, published in May 2018 by DK Publishers, and written by Dean Pohlman (that’s me), the founder of Man Flow Yoga.

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