The cat stretch is a stretch used frequently by exercisers, especially during such activities as yoga and Pilates. It is used to primarily stretch and loosen the spine and the muscles of the lower back, although some people also report feeling a mild stretch in the upper back and the abdominal muscles. The cat stretch is fast and simple to perform and very relaxing, which makes it ideal for warm-ups and cool downs before and after workouts, as well as a quick way to relieve stress during the day.
This stretch is performed on the hands and knees, so a cushioning mat may be needed to support the knees. From this position, the individual should round his back by contracting the abdominal muscles and tilting the pelvis upward and the head and shoulders downward, and hold the stretch, generally for about 15 to 30 seconds. At this point, some people consider the cat stretch complete, while others go on to extend the spine in the other direction, lifting the head and tilting the pelvis downward so that the back is arched and the abdominal muscles receive a slight stretch. It is best to perform this stretch slowly to avoid straining or otherwise injuring the back. Some individuals do several slow repetitions, alternating between the spine flexion position and either a neutral flat back or the spine extension position, depending on what is most comfortable.
Since the cat stretch is relatively easy to complete and does not require much exertion, it is typically used only as a relaxation tool or as a part of a warm-up or cool down during a workout, rather than a main part of the workout itself. It is a very common way to stretch the back before and after workouts that contain a large number of abdominal and back muscle exercises. Exercisers often combine the cat stretch with spinal twists and other back and abdominal stretches to thoroughly warm up and stretch the core of the body, which can greatly reduce the likelihood of injury.
Some people use the cat stretch to relieve back pain. Sitting in a chair all day during work or standing for long periods of time with incorrect posture can cause the muscles of the back, especially the lower back, to tighten and become painful. Gentle stretches such as the cat stretch loosen these muscles back up and reduce or eliminate the pain.