Why a Towel is Your Most Important Piece of Exercise Equipment

Yes, you read that right – a towel. Not weights, not stretchy bands, not a treadmill or stationary bike, not the large exercise balls (while they all have their place). Much like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I feel as a physical therapist that a towel is a versatile item that can be used in a variety of ways when performing exercises. Sometimes all the fancy bells and whistles in a gym can be confusing and overwhelming when exercising anyway, so let’s get back to basics. Here are some ways that I recommend a towel can be used while exercising.

  1. To maintain elbow contact with body during rows, or internal/external rotation shoulder exercises. This helps to improve form.
  2. To perform a stretch (ie hamstring stretch, ankle stretch, shoulder extension stretch) with increased resistance. It’s a nice substitution for a strap to help increase range of motion during stretching.
  3. As a lumbar support when laying on your back to do exercises. Roll the towel in a ball and put it under the small of your back to maintain the arch and avoid back pain.
  4. As a prop/support for babies who have difficulty with sitting balance or pushing up on elbows while on their belly. A rolled towel underneath a baby’s armpits can give their shoulder girdle a little extra support and allow their heads to lift up a little higher. And giving a baby a folded towel to rest their hands on can help them sit up a little straighter.

  5. To activate intrinsic foot muscles by doing towel scrunches. Towel scrunches are my #1 exercise that I recommend for patients who have excessive foot pronation or need to develop more of an arch in their feet.
  6. As a forearm strengthener during towel twists. Towel twists are great for lateral epicondylitis and generally to strengthen your forearm muscles, to perform tasks such as opening tight jars.
  7. To perform isometric exercises such as shoulder separation. I always tell patients that during shoulder separation, the most important thing is to activate the muscles even though nothing is visibly moving. The muscles are still doing work, and the towel provides an outlet for this!
  8. As a chest-opener to get a pec stretch or increase thoracic extension. Using a towel vertically is a great way to substitute a foam roller during exercises to do a chest/pec stretch, or increase your extension in your mid-back.

These just skim the surface, the options are endless with a creative mind and the proper size of towel! A towel is one of the cornerstone items that I use with my patients. It’s something that everyone has in their house too, which makes carrying exercises over into a home exercise program easy. So next time you’re by the pool or getting out of the shower, think about the item you’re using as more than a drying tool – it can be used for exercise too!