SKIN THE CAT Your Way to Mobile Shoulders

January 6, 2016 by VAHVA Fitness

Skin the cat exercise will mobilize your shoulders and thus make them less prone to injuries. Progressions from beginner to advanced!

The exercise skin the cat will also build great strength in the shoulder girdle and abdominal muscles which will transfer very well to almost any other exercise out there.

Especially the lats are worked to a great degree. You can expect to see improvements in chin ups, front lever work and other pulling exercises. 

You can expect to increase shoulder mobility, to build strength and also to ensure your shoulders won't break in the future.

With the correct progressions we have demonstrated below, anyone can start working towards the full skin the cat - even the complete beginners. 

What is Skin the Cat Exercise? 

skin the cat
front pull
front pull

Skin the cat is a rotational 360 pull from the hanging position to "over your shoulders". Skin the cat will primarily work lats, long head of triceps and abdominal muscles. 

Skin the cat is commonly utilized in gymnastic strength training, but the exercise also has benefits outside the gymnastics and it's easy enough for most people to do.

Anyone regardless of their training method can benefit from stronger and more flexible shoulders which is why skin the cat is a good exercise for any sport, any athlete and any lifter.

The bottom position of the skin the cat (3rd picture above) is called the german hang. The german hang is the position which will primarily stretch your shoulders. 

Many Ways to Skin the Cat

Grip Position

There are two ways to hang on the bar: supinated(underhand) and pronated(overhand) grip.

Pronated grip is the easier and more comfortable variation, which people should start with. The grip emphasizes more the lats muscles. 

Supinated grip will put more emphasis on the long head of triceps, but also the shoulder stretch becomes different due to the different shoulder angle and rotation. Moreover, the supinated grip will stretch more the wrists and forearms. 

Bar vs. Gymnastic Rings

Both are great ways to skin the cat, except gymnastic rings tend to offer more freedom in the rotation of your wrists, which makes it a wrist friendly option. 

Gymnastic rings also offer more space at the top so even if your flexibility isn't too good, getting your legs over your shoulders shouldn't be difficult. 

Gymnastic rings can also be used at home. You can get a pair here.

Skin the Cat Progressions 

BEGINNER: Shoulder Stretching

shoulder stretch for german hang
shoulder stretch for skin the cat

It's not a good idea to try the full skin the cat and the german hang position if you lack the flexibility in your shoulders to hold the positions. 

Beginners should start by stretching their shoulders. The first picture on the left is the easiest stretch that will prepare you for the skin the cat. You can do it against a bench, a sofa or a table. 

The second picture on the right already mimics the german hang position of the skin the cat exercise. Your shoulders just aren't holding your entire bodyweight which makes it a safe and an easy alternative to test your shoulder flexibility. 

Once you feel comfortable in the positions, you can begin working on actual skin the cat progressions.

INTERMEDIATE: Bent Knees & Bent Arms Skin the Cat

In the beginning it's likely that you lack the flexibility and strength to do the exercise with straight arms and straight legs, which should be the eventual goal. 

It's alright to do the exercise with tucked legs and bent arms in the beginning. It will be much easier for the upper body to rotate this way.

ADVANCED: Straight Legs & Straight Arms Skin the Cat

skin the cat exercise

The advanced progression of the skin the cat not only requires more flexibility in your hamstrings, but it's also significantly harder for your muscles. 

Especially the abdominal muscles need to work extra hard to keep the L-sit position. Due to the harder leverage, your lats and other muscles also need to work harder. 

How Much? When?

Skin the cat is an excellent exercise to either begin your workout (it will amazingly well warm-up your entire upper body), or to finish it. 

Work towards 5 sets for 5 repetitions per set. In the beginning 1 to 3 reps might be enough, and that's alright. Work your way up. The beginner stretches can be done from 10 to 60 seconds per set. 

You can also just hang in the position. This was called the german hang. You can work towards sets of 10 to 30 seconds. This is the primary way to improve your shoulder flexibility.

Train hard, stay safe.


samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

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  • Great article, but I have a few questions:
    – Should the shoulders in the german hang be protracted or eventually be retracted? (I always get a strain in my lower Serratus Anterior when I don’t actively protract my shoulders)
    – Will the german hang Improve my mobility for Dips?
    – Is there a chance for biceps tears in the german hang smiliar to back levers?

    I would be very grateful for any anwser!

    Best regards

    • Hi Alex!

      1. The shoulder position should change during the exercise but mainly stay neutral. In the initial pull they should be slightly retracted but once the legs are over, the shoulders can be slightly protracted.

      2. It certainly should

      3. If you are not strong enough and haven’t warmed up well enough, there is always a risk with a movement like this

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

  • Was able to do my first “skin the cat” today. I did it on a dip station to get comfortable with it before doing it on a higher bar. After I completed it, I noticed a small bout of dizziness or vertigo. Is this a “normal thing” when first completing a “skin the cat” or am I doing something wrong?

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