The longer you train calisthenics skills the more likely you are to want to try harder progressions as your skills evolve and strength increases. There are dozens of different exercises that you can incorporate into your workouts that help transfer across several movements. Of these exercises, one stands out as an extremely useful movement when breaking your first plateau and stepping into intermediate-level calisthenics. The calisthenics skill you should be training is the skin the cat. 

While the name may sound weird, this exercise offers a range of benefits for strength, mobility, shoulder flexibility and can help you learn many advanced calisthenics skills like the front lever and back lever

In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of the skin the cat exercise, its origins, and the reasons why you should consider incorporating it into your fitness routine.

What is the Skin the Cat Exercise?

Skin the cat, also known as the German hang, is a bodyweight exercise that primarily targets the upper body and core muscles. The exercise involves hanging from a bar, swinging the legs through an inverted position, and returning to the starting position. It requires flexibility, upper body strength, and core stability, making it a challenging yet rewarding movement.

What Muscles Does Skin the Cat Work?

The skin the cat exercise is a compound movement that engages multiple muscle groups in the upper body and core. This calisthenics exercise trains the lats, rhomboids, traps, biceps, forearms, abdominals, obliques, hamstrings, grip strength, and hip flexors. A real full body exercise. 

The latissimus dorsi, commonly known as the lats, are the large muscles in the back that give the V-shape appearance. The skin the cat exercise heavily engages the lats as they are responsible for the pulling motion during the movement.

The rhomboids and trapezius muscles, located in the upper back, are activated during the pulling phase of the exercise. These muscles play a crucial role in retracting and stabilizing the shoulder blades.

The biceps and forearms work isometrically to maintain grip strength on the bar throughout the exercise. They are engaged to support and control the swinging motion.

The core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis, are actively involved in the skin the cat exercise. They provide stability and control throughout the swinging and inverted positions, helping to maintain proper body alignment.

The skin the cat exercise requires a significant range of motion in the shoulders. The deltoids, which are the muscles covering the shoulders, along with the rotator cuff muscles, are engaged to control and stabilize the movement.

During the swinging motion, the hip flexors and hamstrings are engaged as they help raise the legs towards the chest and assist in controlling the movement.

The skin the cat exercise challenges grip strength as you need to maintain a strong grip on the bar throughout the movement. This helps strengthen the muscles of the hands, wrists, and forearms.

In addition to hitting all these muscle groups, the skin the cat exercise also engages stabilizer muscles throughout the body to maintain good form and a high level of control. 

The Benefits of Skin the Cat Exercise 

Overtime training skin the cat can lead to impressive strength and shoulder flexibility improvements. It is one of the first exercises beginners learn that activates many muscle groups throughout the body making it a core skill to know for calisthenics progression

By consistently training skin the cat you will find many other exercises becoming much easier and you may even surprise yourself when attempting new skills for the first time. Front and back lever as well as air walking skills use skin the cat as a progression before learning the full movement. 

While skin the cat may look difficult, it is a much easier and safer calisthenics skill than many other movements. With good form and a strong grip, skin the cat is as safe as doing pull ups

The motion also familiarizes the body with being upside down which can help build spatial awareness and even help with becoming more comfortable doing handstands and backflips. Mastering this skill can also be a large confidence boost when you want to begin learning intermediate and advanced calisthenics exercises. Your first time performing skin the cat should be something you can be proud of.

How Hard Of An Exercise Is Skin The Cat

Depending on your current athletic ability and fitness levels the skin the cat exercise may be very easy or very hard to learn. It is an exercise that requires a combination of strength, flexibility, and body control to execute with proper form. If you are able to complete the following exercises then you can expect skin the cat to be a possible exercise to add to your routine. 

  1. 60 second deadhang
  2. 8 good form pull ups
  3. 10 hanging knees to chest
  4. 15 second L Sit

If you find yourself being scared during the inverted motion of skin the cat, remember that your grip is holding you up, and as long as you hold on you are at no risk of falling. To further reduce the nerves of going upside down consider using a lower bar or lower your gymnastics rings to reduce your perceived fall height. You can also place a mattress or crash pad below you to help you feel more comfortable with the movement. 

Using Skin The Cat As A Progression

The movements during each rep of skin the cat simulates the movement from many other calisthenics exercises. The initial raising your hips motion of skin the cat simulates the lift off for a front lever and the first few steps of a forward air walk. Holding the inverted position simulates a tuck back lever which is a very important progression for the back lever. Skin the cat also trains your shoulders to bear load and how to rotate making it useful for building the strength to do dips.

Once you are able to perform multiple skin the cat reps you will be training muscles throughout your entire body and maximizing your growth. By holding any position of the skin the cat you are training different muscles and familiarizing your body with different positions that will make other exercises more comfortable and easier to learn. 

When Should You Start Learning Skin The Cat

The decision of when to start learning the skin the cat exercise depends on your current fitness level, strength, flexibility, and overall body control. While the skin the cat can be a challenging exercise, it is not limited to advanced athletes or individuals with extensive training experience.

Before attempting the skin the cat exercise, it’s beneficial to have a foundation of upper body and core strength, as well as adequate shoulder and hip mobility. This can be developed through regular strength training exercises, such as pull-ups, push-ups, planks, and shoulder mobility exercises. If you are comfortable with hanging and have some experience with swinging exercises, such as hanging leg raises or toes-to-bar, you may be ready to start learning the skin the cat.

The skin the cat exercise can be modified and progressed to suit different fitness levels. If you are a beginner or feel you may not have the necessary strength or flexibility, you can start with assisted variations using resistance bands or a partner’s assistance. This allows you to gradually build strength and proficiency before attempting the full movement.

Remember that everyone progresses at their own pace, and it’s essential to listen to your body and progress gradually. If you are able to perform this exercise we recommend adding it to your pulling day routine. To learn more about exercises like skin the cat check out our training programs. If you are looking for calisthenics equipment to use when training this skill check out our store