How to do the cat-cow stretch — great for relieving lower-back pain

a photo of the cat cow stretch
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

There are no ifs or buts about it, being sat down for eight hours a day isn’t good for your health, your spine, or your posture. But if you have little choice in the matter, and you’re looking for some exercises to help, we’ve found one of the best lower-back stretches out there — the cat/cow stretch. 

If you do suffer from lower-back pain, either from being sat down, or from an injury or condition, stretching the back can help improve blood circulation between the vertebrae and reduce back pain. Certain stretches and exercises also work on strengthening the muscles in the lower back, which can in turn reduce back pain. We have a separate list of the 7 best exercises if you have lower back pain and we also have suggestions for the best exercises to try if you’ve been sitting down all day. (If you suspect your sleep setup isn't helping mattress, you should also check out our guide to choosing the best mattress for back pain.)

The cat/cow stretch is a traditional yoga pose which helps to gently mobilize the spine, and stretch the muscles in the back and neck. You don’t need any equipment to get started: simply unroll your yoga mat if you have one (if you haven’t, we’ve found the best yoga mats on the market here), and set five minutes out from your busy schedule to practice.

how to do the cat/cow yoga pose

(Image credit: Shuttertock)

How to do the cat/cow stretch 

To do the cat/cow stretch, get onto your hands and knees, with your knees hip-width apart. Make sure your hands are in line with your shoulders, and your knees are stacked underneath your hips. Engaging your core, take a deep breath in and arch the back, pulling your belly button into your spine. 

Hold at the top of the movement for two or three breaths — you should feel a stretch in your spine and lower back. Then move into the cow part of the stretch by lowering your belly to the floor, lifting your sit bones outwards, and raising your head and neck to the ceiling, rounding your spine. Keep moving between these two stretches for a few minutes each day. 

What are the benefits of the cat/cow stretch? 

As mentioned above, this is a brilliant exercise for mobilizing the spine and increasing the blood flow between the vertebrae. This can help reduce back pain and stiffness. This simple cat/cow stretch can also help improve posture and balance, which can often suffer if you sit down for long periods, or suffer from back pain. 

As this is a yoga pose and involves you breathing deeply and moving with your breath, the simple pose can also ease stress and tension — something most of us need after a day at work. 

What are the best exercises for lower-back pain?  

If you do suffer from lower-back pain, there are a few exercises that you should avoid, and others that are safe to enjoy. The best exercises to try if you suffer from a sore lower back are:

Swimming: As swimming is completely low-impact, it’s a great form of cardio for anyone who suffers from lower-back pain. Water provides both support and resistance to strengthen the muscles in the back as you move. 

Core exercises: As well as being an aesthetic goal for many, a strong core is important for people who suffer from a sore back, as it can help ease the tension on the lower back. We’ve found some of the best ab workouts here, but it’s important to look for modifications if you suffer from a sore back — always keep your lower back pressed into the mat, and avoid things like sit-ups, which involve putting strain on the back. 

Yoga and Pilates: Yoga and Pilates, which both incorporate stretching into the practice, are often great choices for people who suffer from lower-back pain. Why not try this yoga with Adriene class, which is perfect for beginners? Alternatively, we’ve found the Pilates exercises that target your core, and a 30-minute Pilates class worth trying here. 

Walking: If running is too difficult for you with your bad back, why not try a different form of cardio, such as walking, or biking? Walking can strengthen your bones and muscles with less impact, and is relatively easy to fit into your daily routine, even if it just means getting off the bus one stop earlier or leaving the car at home for some of your daily errands. 

Looking for more workout inspiration? We’ve found one of the best exercises that targets your lower body and core, the arm exercise that can build muscle without weights, and one of the best ab exercises when it comes to sculpting a slimmer waistline.

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.