How to Do the Towel Chest Stretch

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Pectoral muscles

Equipment Needed: Towel or strap

Level: Beginner

Tight pectoral (chest) muscles can result from poor posture, weight lifting, or simple daily activities. Chest stretches can help you keep your pectoral muscles flexible. One simple chest stretch uses 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.

3 Chest Stretches

  • Towel chest stretch
  • Doorway pec stretch
  • Lying pec stretch

How to Do the Towel Chest Stretch


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

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 behind you, 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 or 3 times.

Benefits of the Towel Chest Stretch

Keeping your pec muscles flexible can help make it easier for you to attain and maintain proper posture. Since the pectoral muscles help move your shoulder, flexible chest muscles can ensure that you retain 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 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 them to help you regain normal mobility.

Other Variations of the Towel Chest Stretch

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 to 30 seconds.
  5. Relax and return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat these steps 2 or 3 more times.

Lying Pectoral Stretch

Another simple way to stretch tight pectoral muscles is to do the previous move in a supine position.

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

Common Mistakes

As with any stretch, when you do chest stretches, keep the pulling motion gentle, not jerking. Avoid these common errors to keep the stretch safe and effective.

Skipping the Warm-Up

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.

Incorrect Arm Position

If you feel the stretch more in your shoulder joint than in your chest muscles, which is the goal, change your arm position. Raise or lower your arms until you feel the stretch activating your chest muscles.

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 chest 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:

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you loosen tight chest muscles?

    You can loosen tight chest muscles by taking frequent breaks from sitting or hunching. Poor posture can lead to tight and painful chest muscles. During your breaks, be sure to stretch your chest. It's also helpful to strengthen your back muscles to counteract the effects of poor posture.

  • Is it good to stretch the chest?

    Stretching the chest is a good idea. If you sit a lot during the day, your chest muscles can become very tight due to the forward posture and working with your arms in front of you. Take frequent breaks to stretch, including stretching your chest muscles.

  • How do you know if chest pain is muscular or heart-related?

    It is never a good idea to wait if you experience a pain in your chest that you are concerned about. If you are unsure if a pain in your chest is muscular or heart-related, be on the safe side and seek emergency care.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process 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.

  2. Yoo W. Comparison of the effects of pectoralis muscles stretching exercise and scapular retraction strengthening exercise on forward shoulder. J Phys Ther Sci. 2018;30(4):584-585. doi:10.1589/jpts.30.584

  3. Zmyślna A, Żurawski AŁ, Śliwiński G, Śliwiński ZW, Kiebzak WP. Assessment of body posture of children with chest pain. Front Pediatr. 2021;9:704087. doi:10.3389/fped.2021.704087

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.

By Laura Inverarity, PT, DO
Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.