Here comes another ‘all-in-one’ movement straight from the world of calisthenics!
Want any of the following?
– Grip strength
– Core strength
– Enhanced shoulder mobility and stability
– Increased kinesthenic awareness
– Something with great carry-over to the ‘pinnacles’ of the calisthenic world; muscle ups (especially strict ones), front lever, back lever and many pull up variations.
The ‘German Hang’ or, ‘Skin The Cat’ as it’s commonly called ticks all those boxes above. Don’t take those names literally though – we’re not talking about a form of medieval torture or animal cruelty – we are talking about a calisthenic movement (don’t panic!)
And one that has head-turning potential and an air of mystery to go with it. It’s also one of those…….“oh, that looks insanely cool! Damn. That’s awesome. So tell me, what is it doing?”
In the video below you see a full skin the cat……..
The gymnasts, crossfitters and barstarzz out there will know this one, and know it well. It’s worth noting that when you get to the ‘hang’ position (like in the thumbnail), you can let go of the bar and be safely on your feet – providing you don’t use an excessively high bar.
As you get familiar with the movement, you’ll probably have to let go of the bar plenty of times before it starts to feel natural in the hang position. Keeping the legs extended and tight will help with stability, and prevent you from gliding too far forward into a position where you have no choice but to let go of the bar, as your shoulders will have exhausted their range of motion. It will also take a little time to get OK with the blood rush to the head as you rotate your body back and forth – unless you’re a handstand superstar – in which case, you’ll love it!
What about the abs?! I WANT SOME ABS!
The mystical creatures that are the abdominal muscles will get a blitzing from this exercise, don’t worry. The extent to which, depends on your level of core strength overall. If you’re someone who finds lying leg raises difficult, this will be very challenging indeed. On the other end, if you’re someone who can rep out dragon flags, this will be a walk in the park!
(workoutlabs.com) – lying leg raises
(muscleandperformance.com) – Dragon Flags!
As you assume the hang position, the movement is initiated essentially by a knee tuck. You pull your knees right up into your chest and keep pulling them up and back, until eventually your feet end up behind the bar. Once they do, you can extend the legs fully and keep them there for the remainder of the movement. The first phase will hit the upper abs nicely. The latter section will attack the lower abs with fury – especially as you reach the halfway mark and hit reverse.
A strong grip seems to be a thing of the past nowadays. Remember the days where you could tell a man’s profession just by looking at his hands? If his skin was like sandpaper, you knew he was a bricklayer. If his hands were thick and solid, you knew he was a mechanic of sorts……..and if he had a fresh manicure, you wondered what was going on.
I discussed the issue of grip in my last post about deadlifts and grip strength being such a limiting factor. I’ve also promoted dead hangs on a chin up bar as a great way to develop better grip strength (READ THIS: A simple, old school & fun way to build a monster grip!) The hands in Skin The Cat are doing just as they would be in the dead hang – keeping you on the bar. Although unlike the dead hang, you’ve got plenty more to think about or ‘co-ordinate’ with Skin The Cat. This could be a great relief for those of you who hate the mental war of isometric holds for time; you don’t have to think so much of what the hands are doing. Great!
Lats & upper back
Anything involving hanging from a bar or even revolving around a bar is going to involve the upper back musculature and particularly, the lats. We could simplify things further and say: anytime the shoulders are moving from flexion to extension, the lats are playing a fair part in the action. With Skin The Cat, the shoulders are doing just that; you start with the shoulders in flexion (arms overhead) and you transition to having the shoulders heavily extended thanks to the inversion.
I can’t get my knees high enough to get my feet past the bar. What shall I do?
It’s likely you’re not proficient enough at hanging knee/leg raises. You should accumulate volume with high knee raises. Try doing 3 sets of as many reps WITH GOOD TECHNIQUE as possible on every workout day. Treat it as a specialisation approach.
I can’t get my body far enough past the bar to be able to have my legs hanging vertically at the bottom – what’s up with that?!
This is likely due to inhibited shoulder mobility. Try another of my favourite moves, and one I wrote about recently; the shoulder ‘dislocate’. These help assessing and developing external rotation at the shoulder, which is likely what you’re lacking. (READ THIS: 1 exercise for healthier shoulders)
So tell me again, why should I bother with these ‘hangs’ and ‘cat skins’?
Because if you’re keen to broaden your arsenal as far as bodyweight movements go, and you wish to do so while using your time effectively, then these are just the ticket. The inversion nature makes potential handstand training a lot easier. They have extremely good carryover to the back lever too. On top of all that, they are a fitting warm up drill as well. The core is activated. The shoulders are moved through a vast range of motion. The forearms are woken up and of course, our precious brain gets a nice boost of vital blood to it!
(arthlete.com) – the full back lever
(RELATED READING: 5 SERIOUSLY challenging calisthenics movements – can you do any of these?)
My full front lever is coming. And when it arrives, I’ll owe the German Hang a drink or two! Stay tuned.