By now, you know that your CrossFit WOD is absolutely unpredictable. You head to the box hoping to see front squats and thrusters scrawled on the whiteboard, only to find your arch nemesis’s name staring you down: The skin the cat.
If you can’t avoid it, you have to learn to conquer it. So, keep reading to learn everything there is to know about CrossFit’s skin the cat.
Table of Contents
What Is It?
The first time you see somebody do this exercise, you’ll probably say, “Oh, that’s what that’s called?” Yep, you’ve probably done this CrossFit exercise on the monkey bars as a kid.
It’s hard to believe that something you did for fun as a child is actually a workout in and of itself.
The skin the cat is considered a flexibility exercise in CrossFit.
With nothing more than gymnastics rings or a pull-up bar, you’ll go from a hanging position to upside down and then back to that same hanging position once more.
It’s easy and it’s fun, but it can be hard on the shoulder girdle if flexibility isn’t your forte.
Benefits of Skin the Cat
You might assume that anything that doesn’t include a barbell or weight plates is a waste of time. But, there are quite a few clear benefits of the skin the cat that you might not know about.
Let’s take a look at what those are.
Shoulder Flexibility & Strength
Tightness in the shoulder muscles is a problem that affects a lot of athletes. The good news is that the skin the cat takes a unique approach to shoulder flexibility and range of motion.
In fact, it’s considered a 360-degree pull.
This exercise can help you to improve both strength and flexibility in your shoulder girdle, an area of the body often left untouched through resistance training and CrossFit WODs.
A stronger and more flexible shoulder girdle can help to lower the risk of injury.
Let’s be honest. It’s pretty tough on your hands to grip the rings (or the bar) as you pump out rep after rep on the skin the cat.
So, doing this exercise often enough can help with grip strength.
This can help to improve your grip on the barbell or dumbbell with exercises like the deadlift or the bicep curl.
A stronger grip can mean fewer dropped weights and fewer sets cut short due to forearm or hand weakness.
And, nothing compliments bulky biceps and triceps like massive forearms, right?
Okay, so the skin the cat works a lot of muscles….what makes the core any more special than the rest?
Well, think about the actual movement.
First off, you’re starting the exercise by bringing your knees to your chest and rolling upward. This is just like a unique way to do the hanging leg raise.
But, the core comes into play when it comes to actually controlling your movement.
Since you’re keeping your knees tucked into your body and maintaining straight legs, you’re basically flexing your abs from start to finish.
It’s finally possible to work your upper body and abs at the same time.
Oddly enough, there are some trainers that recommend wearing a CrossFit-style weightlifting belt during this movement. We don’t recommend that, however.
Muscles Worked with Skin the Cat
As a rather unconventional exercise, it may be hard to tell which muscles you’re actually targeting with the skin the cat exercise.
Here’s a look at which muscles are used.
- Back (Specifically the Lats)
The shoulder girdle is the key target of the skin the cat, which encompasses a lot of muscles in the upper body (both back and front). That includes the traps, rhomboids, serratus anterior, and part of the pecs.
How to Do CrossFit’s Skin the Cat
CrossFit’s skin the cat looks a lot easier than it actually is. So, to make sure you absolutely nail this exercise next time it’s on your WOD, follow these instructions.
- Begin by hanging loosely from a set of gymnastics rings or a pull-up bar with your palms facing away from you.
- Grip the rings (or bar) tightly and bring your knees up toward your chest.
- Continue driving your knees backward over your head.
- Slow your movement as your legs are straightened toward the floor.
- Bring your knees back toward your chest and use your core to reverse your direction.
- Return to your starting position.
It’s important to do this exercise slowly and with caution given the degree at which you’re stretching your shoulder girdle.
Things to Keep in Mind
Once you get the hang of the skin the cat, you’ll be able to knock them out without a second thought when they’re in your WOD. But, there are a few things you’ll want to remember when it comes to staying safe during this exercise.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Sure, it’s pretty fun to swing from the gymnastics rings at the gym and practice what you like to call “hanging somersaults.”
But, this exercise is about strength….not momentum.
The shoulder girdle is known for being pretty weak and you need to take great care to control your movement while skinning the cat.
So, take the skin the cat slowly and don’t just use your lower body momentum to swing your legs overhead. Otherwise, you’re just asking to pull or tear something in your shoulder.
Control Your Range of Motion
No other joint in the body can rotate quite like the shoulder joint. But, while your shoulder can rotate 360 degrees, there are some limitations.
Swinging your arm 360 degrees while standing stationary is very different than doing that same motion with your bodyweight on the end of it.
Even the most well-trained athletes will overestimate their shoulder flexibility and strength.
So, be careful about how deeply you sink into the skin the cat after you’ve flipped over. The further you sink, the more strength you’ll need to muster up to return to your starting position.
Give your shoulders time to build muscle and flexibility first.