Fix Chronically Tight Shoulders with the Cat Stretch
Cats are known to be one of the most agile animals on their feet. It’s no surprise that they would have an exercise named after them that opens tight shoulders.
The cat stretch is one of the best weapons to combat a tight chest and upper back, making it a great exercise option to add to your repertoire of shoulder openers. Anyone who utilizes this stretch can attest that cats knew what they were doing when they coined the movement.
Open shoulders combat poor posture as well as prepare the shoulder joint for overhead work like handstands. If your handstand line breaks at your shoulders, the cat stretch should probably be a daily go-to for you. And to be fair, we could all learn a lesson or two from our feline friends, so here’s the scoop on the cat stretch and learn how to do it properly to get the best possible results.
Cat Stretch Tip #1: Get Your Bottom In The Right Position
The first and most important step to perform the cat stretch is to start in the correct position. This ensures that you will feel the stretch in all the right areas.
Tip: Keep your hips stacked over your knees as you lower into this GB Stretch Series favorite.
Most cat stretch variations start from a kneeling position with your hips and shoulders aligned over your knees and hands respectively. This is known as a quadruped position. Keep your back flat and press through your shoulders until your upper back rounds slightly.
This is your starting position. Remember this key detail as you go through the following steps 2 and 3: Your hips must stay aligned over your knees during the stretch.
Let's also emphasize the "keep your back flat" part. You will have a better stretch through your upper thoracic and armpits if you do not arch your lower back. This should not be a lumbar stretch, so if you need to tuck your pelvis to avoid lower back movement, do it.
Cat Stretch Tip #2: Straighten And Extend Your Arms
From your quadruped position, begin to extend your arms in front of you until your arms are fully extended in front of you. Keep your hips in place while reaching your arms reach overhead so that your chest can lower towards the floor.
The GymnasticBodies system utilizes two main variations of the cat stretch to open up tight shoulders, chest, and upper back muscles:
- Cat stretch – on the floor
- Elevated cat stretch
If you are new to the cat stretch then try the floor variation first. Using the ground will block you from excessively arching your back. Once you feel comfortable with the ground variation you can step it up a notch by elevating your hands up on a workout bench, or couch if you are at home.
Cat Stretch Tip #3: Think “Big Armpits”
Once you are set up into position with your hips aligned over your knees and arms extended overhead, you are ready to sink into the stretch. From here, the point is not to bring your chest to the floor – this tendency usually leads to an excessive arch through the spine.
Instead, you’ll want to keep your spine relatively straight and press your shoulders downwards towards the floor. Better yet, think to widen your armpits to open up your shoulder girdle — hence the term, “big armpits”.
Hold this “open chest” position for 30-60 seconds and watch as your shoulders, chest, and upper back sink deeper into the stretch.
If you come to love the cat stretch half as much as we do, be sure to check out the GymnasticBodies Online Courses to learn all of our tips and tricks for opening tight shoulders and creating the most mobile body possible.