How To Perform The Cat Stretch Exercise (A Beginner’s Guide)

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Published by Christiana Mikesch, CPT | Senior Coach
Last updated: November 24, 2023
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When I suggest doing the cat stretch exercise before a workout, my fitness clients often don’t understand how mimicking a cat can be a good warm-up exercise.

But from my experience as a fitness trainer, I can tell you that it can play an important role in blood circulation in the back and in improving your posture.

To help you perform this exercise properly, I’ve compiled what I know about the cat-cow stretch and consulted a physical therapist.

Let's get into it.

Quick Summary

  • The cat-cow stretch exercise works the lower spine, hip, and core muscles
  • You do not need equipment to do the cat-cow pose. You only need your body weight and maybe a mat to keep it easy on your knees.
  • Even if you cannot get on all fours, the seated cat stretch is just as effective.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Two steps of doing cat pose

The only equipment you might need for the cat pose is an exercise mat for comfort purposes.

But you can also do without one.

1. Starting Position

To do this relaxation sequence correctly, let's begin by getting the starting position right:

  • Start on all fours with your knees underneath your hips, wrists underneath your shoulders, and core muscles engaged.
  • Keep your knees hip-width apart and on the floor and the palm of your hand shoulder-width apart and on the floor.
  • Try to keep your spine in a neutral position supported by your shoulder blades. Don't push it up too much or let it hang. Just let it stay neutral.

2. Dipped Cat

Dipped cat pose for stretching

In the dipped cat position, you’ll be curving your spine to make a smooth bow.

Here’s how to do it:

  • With your hands and knees on the floor, lift your head gently, and gaze straight ahead while moving your chest forward simultaneously.
  • At the same time, lift your sit bones upward and curve your spine down.

To make the arch for the cow pose right, ensure you gaze gently toward the ceiling without cranking your neck.

3. Arched Cat

Here, we’ll be making the reverse movement. Instead of a bowl position, you’ll be making a smooth dome.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Start by returning to a neutral spine position with your hands below your shoulders and knees underneath the hips.
  • Now, drop your head gently and gaze at your navel.
  • At the same time you’re doing this, tuck your tailbone and draw your pubic bone forward while engaging your ab muscles.
  • Combining these two movements should arch your spine toward the ceiling.
  • Do a few repetitions while moving your whole spine before coming back to a neutral spine position.

Now, while both are simple to do, they should not cause pain.

So, it's wise to seek a medical expert’s advice in case you experience any.

If you’re in a wheelchair or cannot get down on your hands and knees, here’s a modification of the cat pose to help you perform it.

4. Seated Cat Stretch

Stretching back while sitting

It's also called the chair yoga pose.

Here’s how to do this movement:

  • Sit towards the front of a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the ground.
  • Place your hands on your thighs and bring your head down. Take a few breaths to establish your position.
  • Now, move your hands forwards on the knees to help you arch back.
  • Hold for a few seconds before moving to a neutral position.
  • Roll on the front of your sit bones, lift your chin and push your sternum forward.
  • Hold a couple of seconds.
  • Repeat a couple of times.

Common Mistakes

Man stretching back doing cat pose

To do it correctly, avoid the following errors:

  • Only move your spine. Keep your arms straight to ensure the movement is within your spine and not with your elbows or arms.
  • Don't strain your neck. Try not to overextend when lifting your gaze. And when letting your head down, do it naturally rather than forcefully to avoid neck injury.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed while doing these stretches.


Flexing and extending your spine can get the blood flowing and improve circulation around your back muscles.

In return, it can help support the back, ease pain, and maintain a healthy spine, especially if you sit for long periods of time.

The cat pose can improve posture and balance, prevent injury, and increase the flexibility of your shoulders and neck.

Studies show that yoga movements such as the cat pose can also increase your spine’s flexibility and mobility for a better quality of life [1].

“The cat stretch is a yoga mainstay that is done for no other reason than to stretch out the back, core, neck, and hips, and mobilize the spine, but it’s also good for preventing injuries due to tight posterior muscles.”

- Mathew Magnante, CFPl, Author at Fitness Volt

Because breath drills are also involved, the calming pose can also be a good stress reliever.


What Muscles Does the Cat Stretch Work?

The cat stretch works the lower spine, core, and hip muscles. It also opens up the chest and lungs for easier breathing.

Is the Cat Stretch Good for Your Back?

Yes, the cat pose is good for your back as it stretches and releases the upper back, spine, and shoulders while strengthening the shoulders, core, and arms. It's a great way to warm up your spine for rigorous movement.

To perform the cat pose, engage in dynamic movement by rounding your upper back and lifting your knees directly towards the ceiling.

How Long Should I Do the Cat Stretch?

You should do the cat stretches for about one minute. Hold the extreme positions for about 30 seconds each and repeat 3–4 times.

To perform the cat pose correctly, keep your head forward and your shoulder blades engaged, ensuring a gentle arch throughout your whole spine, and follow these fitness tips for a beginner's guide.


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