How to Do the Towel Chest Stretch

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Pectoral Muscle Stretch
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Pectoral muscles

Equipment Needed: Towel or strap

Level: Beginner

Tight pectoral (chest) muscles can be the result of poor posture, weight lifting, or simple daily activities. You can stretch your pectoral muscles—and keep them flexible— using a towel or strap, though there are other variations.

An injury to one or both of your pecs may cause you to lose shoulder range of motion (ROM) and overall function around your arms or chest. One part of your pectoral rehab may be to learn such stretching exercises.

Benefits

Keeping your pec muscles flexible can help make it easier for you to attain and maintain proper posture. Since the pectoral muscles help to move your shoulder, flexible chest muscles can ensure that you maintain full mobility in your shoulder joints with no limitations.

Your pectoral muscles attach at your sternum (breastbone) and then course to the front of each shoulder. The muscles serve to help pull your shoulders in and across your body, a motion known as horizontal adduction.

Injury to your pecs may cause you to lose the ability to fully adduct your arms, leading to difficulty with lifting and pushing activities. Stretching your pecs is one component of rehabbing your pecs to help you regain normal mobility.

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Watch Now: How to Stretch Your Pectoral Muscles With a Towel

Step-by-Step Instructions

Have the towel or strap handy. Breathe normally as you stretch.

  1. Stand with good posture holding a towel behind your back.
  2. Lift the towel up behind, holding the ends with both hands.
  3. Use the towel to gently pull your shoulders into extension. You should feel a stretch in the front of your chest. Squeeze the shoulder blades together to maximize the stretch.
  4. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds, and then relax.
  5. Repeat 2-3 times.

Common Mistakes

The pulling motion should be gentle, not a jerking.

Don't stretch cold muscles. It is best to stretch after a warm-up, after getting out of a warm bath or shower, or at the end of an exercise routine.

If you are feeling the stretch more in your shoulder joint than in your chest muscles, which is the goal, change your arm position.

Modifications and Variations

These variations allow you to stretch your pectoral muscles without any equipment.

Doorway Pectoral Stretch

With the help of a doorway, you can easily stretch your pectoral muscles.

  1. Stand in the middle of a doorway with one foot in front of the other.
  2. Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle and place your forearms on each side of the doorway.
  3. Shift your weight onto your front leg, leaning forward until you feel a stretch in your chest muscles.
  4. Hold for 15-30 seconds.
  5. Relax and return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat these steps 2-3 more times.

Lying Pectoral Stretch

Another simple way to stretch tight pectoral muscles can be done while lying down.

  1. Lay on your back with your fingers interlaced behind your head.
  2. Draw both elbows back to open up your shoulders and stretch your pecs.
  3. Hold the stretch position for 15 to 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat 2-3 times.

Safety and Precautions

You should feel the stretch in your chest muscles, but you should not feel any pain. If the stretch causes any lasting pain, stop it immediately and see your doctor.

Remember to check in with your doctor before starting this—or any other—exercise program to stretch your chest muscles. A few sessions with a physical therapist can help you identify which pectoral stretches are best for your particular needs and/or your condition.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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Article Sources

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Manske RC, Prohaska D. Pectoralis major tendon repair post surgical rehabilitation. N Am J Sports Phys Ther. 2007;2(1):22-33.

Additional Reading

  • Roddey, T. S., Olson, S. L., & Grant, S. E. (2002). The effect of pectoralis muscle stretching on the resting position of the scapula in persons with varying degrees of forward head/rounded shoulder posture. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy10(3), 124-128.