'Skin The Cat' Exercise

Skin the cat exercise - Calisthenics 101
Difficulty: 
Beginner

Skin-the-cats are one of the most basic calisthenic techniques and is usually one of the first techniques many people learn. It can be done on the bar or on rings and I'd recommend everybody to add this technique to their warm-up routine as it's great to get your shoulders stretched out.

What are Skin-the-cats?

Essentially the technique itself is quite basic and should feel familiar to anybody who used a climbing frame as a child. Although skin-the-cats can be done on a variety of equipment, I'd recommend starting out on the rings as the flexibility with the rings can be forgiving on those with poor shoulder flexibility.

Starting from a dead hang position you want to lift your body up and rotate yourself backwards one full rotation so that you return to dead hang with your shoulders and arms twisted behind you. From this position rotate yourself forwards until you return to the starting position - that's one rep. If you're using the rings make sure your palms are facing inwards and if you're using the bar use an overhand grip.

If you're not overly flexible or you haven't warmed up fully yet then you may struggle to finish in a fully rotated position similar to dead hang, but try your best to rotate yourself round as far as you comfortably can with your toes pointing towards the ground. Don't rush the technique if your shoulders aren't feeling very supple, but with each rep try and rotate further and lower yourself a little bit lower so that your shoulders slowly loosen out.

Struggling to get round at all?

If you're struggling to even rotate yourself so that you are upside down then the chances are you're probably throwing yourself up in an incorrect manner. You want to pull up with your shoulders behind the rings/bar and your weight leaning back, that way you're rotating "around yourself" as opposed to flinging your whole weight upwards in front of you. The top half of your body should essentially be doing a pull-up whilst the bottom half is doing a crunch. Keep your knees tucked in to your stomach to help balance your weight backwards.

If you're struggling on the rings then another tip could be to try the bars instead. As I mentioned earlier the technique is often easier on rings due to the movement of the ring position, but this movement can have a negative effect on newcomers who struggle with even getting upside down. The solid bar which doesn't move could prove helpful here as it forgives a poorer starting technique more than the rings do.

Variations

Here are a few things you can try to make the technique a bit more challenging:

  • Switch an overhand grip to an underhand grip to put greater emphasis on the shoulder flexibility
  • Aim for slow long reps rather than many rushed reps
  • Keep your legs straight in a pike position tucking them as tight as possible into your stomach. This puts a greater strain on your shoulders and works your abs at the same time
  • When returning back to the starting position move your legs in a way like you are "walking through the air". You'll need to work on this to get the timing perfect if you want it to look like you're actually climbing round rather than just kicking out randomly!