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Stretch of the Week: Cow Face Arms

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January is all about loosening the shoulders up! This month we will take a look at four different stretches that will loosen up the muscles in the chest, the shoulder girdle, and in the front and back of the arm. Please remember to honor your body and not overly push yourself in these moves. The shoulder has a very wide range of motion and can be easily injured if stressed too far, so please listen and be aware of what your body is telling you. Week one is a stretch that you will feel in the triceps, down into the armpits, in the deltoids, biceps, and also the chest. This stretch is called cow face arms in yoga. You will need a strap or a belt, even a dog leash or a piece of rope will work! This stretch can be done seated on the edge of a chair or standing. Please do not do this pose if you have a severe shoulder injury.

 How To Do The Cow Face Arms:

  1. Start with the beginner version, top left photo: Reach the right arm up towards the sky, then rotate the palm so it is trying to face behind you.
  2. Bend the right elbow and reach the hand down between the shoulder blades, palm of the hand on the back.
  3. Then take the left hand to the right elbow and gently pull the elbow towards the left as well as slightly down, so the right hand goes a little further down the back.
  4. You want the right elbow to be facing up to the sky. Don’t let the head and neck jut forward or down.
  5. Sit up straight, or if you’re standing, stand up tall. Spine should stay straight, with the gaze forward.Cow Face Arms

Tip: imagine you have a string coming out of the top of your head and someone is pulling on it toward the ceiling. This will help you stay engaged and not slouch. You don’t want to look like the bottom left photo!

If this feels good and you have a little bit more flexibility than you thought, try the next step:

Intermediate Cow Face Arms

  1. Intermediate, top left photo: set up the right arm as above, but this time have a strap or belt in the right hand. Let’s add the left arm to the equation.
  2. Extend the left arm out to the left, so the arm is parallel with the floor, then turn the hand so the thumb is pointing down.
  3. Bend the left elbow, and bring the back of the left hand to the low back.
  4. Find the other end of the strap and grab it with the left hand.
  5. Once you find it make sure the spine is straight and tall, gaze is forward.
  6. Keeping the spine in this position, you can start to inch the hands towards one another along the strap. Only go as far as you feel a comfortable stretch in both arms. Remember, don’t compromise and lean forward!

Advanced Cow Face Arms

  1. Advanced, bottom left photo: If you are really flexible here you can attempt to clasp the hands to together in a C clamp shape. But if you can’t keep the spine straight and the head up, then go back to the strap modification.
  2. Over time, if you do this stretch regularly, you may end up in this advanced version. If you have ever had shoulder surgery or a serious injury here, it just may never happen. Be OK with it!
  3. Remember it doesn’t matter how deep you get into the stretch, you must only go as far as your body feels good, you will still get the same benefit:) happy stretching!

Questions? Please email me at and follow Rachel Lackowski on Instagram for more stretches.

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