How to Do the Towel Chest Stretch

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Also Known As: Pectoral towel stretch

Targets: Pectoral muscles

Equipment Needed: Towel or strap

Level: Beginner

A simple stretch like the towel chest stretch can improve the flexibility and range of motion of the chest muscle group, which is key for maintaining proper posture. You can also use the stretch to help you regain normal motion and function after an injury to the chest muscles. It may be recommended as part of physical therapy for these injuries. Towel stretches do not require any special equipment—just a towel or a belt. You can do them as part of a morning routine after a warm shower or after exercise.


The chest muscles, known as the pectoral muscles, are actually two different muscles in the front of the chest. These muscles are known as the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor. The pectoralis major has attachments from your breastbone and collar bone to the front of your shoulder, while the pectoralis minor attaches from your shoulder blade to the front of your ribs.

The chest muscles help move the shoulder blade and the shoulder joint. If you want to push something, like opening a door, your chest muscles are active. When these muscles contract, the shoulders, and arms move inward. The pectoral muscles are also responsible for reaching your arm across the front of your body.

Occasionally, the chest muscles can be injured. If you are lifting something heavy and are using the chest muscles, you may suffer a strain to these muscles. This can cause significant pain in the front of the chest. A strain to the pectoral muscles may also cause shoulder pain.

A significant strain to the chest may cause one of the muscles to tear. This type of injury is rare, but it can cause significant pain, bruising, or swelling. If you suspect you may have torn your chest muscle, seek medical attention right away. Traumatic tears to the pectoral muscles may require surgery to repair the tear and restore normal arm and shoulder function.

Tightness in your chest muscles may occur if you maintain a slouched posture throughout each day. A rounded shoulder posture can place the chest muscles in a shortened position, and this position can make it difficult to sit up tall. Poor posture may lead to other problems in the body like low back pain or neck pain. It may also be a cause of shoulder pain. To help keep the chest muscles from getting too tight, maintaining proper posture is a must.

Step-by-Step Instructions

To prepare, get a long bath or beach towel. If you do not have a towel handy, just use a belt or a strap.

  1. While standing and holding the towel at both ends, lift your arms overhead and then allow your arms to fall behind your neck and back. You should feel some slight rotation in your shoulders. Be sure to keep your arms straight.
  2. With both arms holding the towel behind your back, you should feel a stretch in the front of your chest. Relax and hold this position for 15-30 seconds. Remember to breathe slowly and let the chest muscles stretch gently.
  3. The closer you grip your hands on the towel the stronger the stretch will be. Modify the distance of your hands appropriately to find a good stretch. 
  4. Slowly return to the starting position and rest for a few seconds.
  5. You can repeat the stretch three to five times, a few times a day.

Common Mistakes

Jerking Motions

Don't use a jerking motion in this stretch, it should be a gentle pulling motion.

Arm Position

If you aren't feeling the stretch in the front of your chest, change the arm position. Doing it incorrectly may put the tension on your shoulders instead.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

While the towel stretch is very convenient, you might also stretch your chest muscles in other ways. The doorway pectoral stretch could be used if you have difficulty raising your arms overhead:

  1. Stand in a doorway with one foot in front of the other.
  2. Extend your arms from your sides so your forearms contact the doorway equally.
  3. Lean forward with your weight on your forward foot so you feel a stretch in your pectoral muscles.
  4. Relax and return to starting position.

Up for a Challenge?

The towel stretch is a static stretch. You can also use dynamic stretches that involve movement and can be used as part of a warmup for an activity. One dynamic stretch for the pectorals exaggerated clapping with your arms extended.

  1. Stand with your arms extended straight out in front of you, palms together.
  2. Move your arms back as far as you can, keeping your arms straight and at chest level.
  3. Return your arms to the front until the palms clap.
  4. Repeat with increasing speed, for five to 10 reps.

Safety and Precautions

If the stretch causes any lasting pain in your chest or shoulder muscles, stop the stretch immediately and see your doctor.

Be sure to speak with your doctor or physical therapist before starting any flexibility exercise program. Seek their aid if you are having shoulder pain or are having a difficult time maintaining an upright posture.

Try It Out

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

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