How to Do a Towel Calf Stretch

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Towel Calf Stretch
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Towel straight leg calf stretch

Targets: Calf muscle (gastrocnemius), Achilles tendon

Equipment Needed: Towel or strap

Level: Beginner

The towel calf stretch is a simple and effective way to help improve the flexibility of your calf muscles. By performing this stretch once or twice a day, you may be able to ensure that your calf muscles and Achilles tendon can move freely and function properly. You can make this stretch part of your morning routine, as may be recommended for some conditions. Towel stretches involve using a towel, belt, or long strap to help assist you while you stretch. They are easy moves you can do anywhere at your convenience.


This stretch can help maintain or improve flexibility in your calf muscles and Achilles tendon. It is also a recommended morning stretch for people with plantar fasciitis.

Stretching muscles can help ensure that your muscles and joints can move freely during a workout or athletic competition. In years past, the conventional wisdom was that stretching muscles before athletic competition and exercise could help limit or reduce injuries. More recent research is indicating that muscle stretching before exercise may not reduce injury. You can perform the stretches as a separate activity from your workouts.

Your Calf Muscles

Your calf muscles are located in the back of your lower legs. These muscles course down your lower leg from behind your knee to the Achilles tendon, which attaches to the back of your heel bone.

Your calf muscles help to point your foot down as if you were stepping on a brake pedal in your car. When you are walking, this muscle group helps to propel you forward with every step. Since the calf attaches to the back of the knee, it is also active when you bend your knee. This muscle group can also work with your quadriceps and hamstring muscles to help straighten your knee when your foot is planted on the ground.

Common Injuries Involving Your Calf Muscles

Since the calf muscle crosses both the knee and the ankle joint, an injury here can cause significant functional loss, especially with walking and running. Common injuries that involve your calf include:

Other conditions may cause tightness in your calf. For example, if you have had a stroke, you may be experiencing spasm and tightness in the back of your legs. Sometimes, conditions like Parkinson's disease or spinal cord injury can cause calf muscle spasm as well.

Treatment for many of these conditions may involve strengthening and stretching your calf muscles to restore normal strength and mobility. A visit to your physical therapist can help you decide on the best treatment for your specific calf injury.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Grab a long bath towel or beach towel. If you do not have a towel handy, you can use your belt or a long piece of rope.

  1. Sit on your bed or the floor with your legs out in front of you.
  2. Wrap the towel around the ball of your foot just below your toes.
  3. Gently pull on the towel, allowing your foot to slowly bend up toward your knee while keeping your knee straight. You should feel a slight stretching feeling in the back of your lower leg. You may feel the stretch behind your heel or your knee, depending on where the muscle or tendon is particularly tight.
  4. Hold the stretched position for 15 to 30 seconds, and then slowly release the stretch.
  5. Rest for a few seconds and then repeat the stretch 3 to 5 times on each leg.

Common Mistakes

Not Keeping Your Back Straight

Try to keep a straight back and not be slumped forward. Use a longer towel, strap, or belt so you don't have to bend forward to do this stretch.

Cold Muscle Stretching

If you are doing this stretch in the morning for plantar fasciitis, you might do it before you get out of bed to loosen up before standing on the affected foot. But for other applications, it is best to warm up your calf muscles with some walking and other exercises before stretching.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

You can bend the knee of the leg you are not stretching, or you can angle it to the side if that is more comfortable.

You can also perform this stretch seated in a chair with the leg you are stretching extended straight in front of you, the heel resting on the floor.

Up for a Challenge?

Stretch a different calf muscle, the soleus, in addition to the gastrocnemius. To do this, use the same position but slightly bend the knee of the leg you are stretching.

Safety and Precautions

If you have any injury or chronic pain in your legs, hips, or back, check with your doctor or physical therapist before starting any exercise program. After an injury, you should not perform stretching until you can push your toes down against the floor without feeling pain.

While stretching, you should feel the tension in your muscles, but you should not feel any pain. If you feel pain, end the stretch.

Try It Out

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

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 15 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.