Raise your hand if you’ve found yourself getting more creative with home workouts these past two years. Or, if you’ve found yourself with five minutes to kill and plenty of steam to blow off during the course of your day.
Yes. And most definitely yes.
“The key to making exercise a way of life is to learn how to do it no matter where you are, and know what, if anything, you have available to use in your workout,” says Len Glassman, C.P.T., C.H.N., J.D., a personal trainer based in New Jersey and available virtually. Towels are a great option to use to fit in a quick workout at home.
As Glassman puts it, a towel workout, in its purest sense, is resistance training. “Pulling two ends of a towel activates your core and other muscle groups depending upon three factors,” he says. Here they are:
- Your grip. This refers to where you place your fists on either end and if you put your knuckles up or down.
- The length of your grip. “Closer grips tend to work smaller muscle groups, such as the triceps and biceps, while wider grips tend to work larger muscle groups, such as shoulders, back, and chest,” he says.
- Towel placement in relation to your body. You can place the towel in front of you, to your back, overhead, sideways, and move them down low and up high. “Towel workouts are typically isometric-based, meaning static contraction of a muscle without any visible movement. However, there are several other ways to add in towel activities to ramp up your workout through movement, such as pulsing, swinging, dumbbell simulation, and core activation,” he adds.
What size towel should you use?
“In most cases, the best towel to use is a hand towel as it can easily be rolled into a rope and be used for resistance or yoga exercises, or be folded to be used as a slider,” says John Gardner, C.P.T., a NASM certified personal trainer and the CEO and cofounder of Kickoff. If you do have a thin yoga towel, feel free to use that, too. Large, plush bath towels are best kept for after you indulge in that post-workout shower or bath. (And you don’t want to drag those on your floor or step on them, anyway!)
Below, towel moves to incorporate into the daily grind.
Biceps Towel Exercise
For this one, Glassman recommends using a dish-sized towel. Then grip it on each end with palms facing up. “Pull the towel tight on either end, while performing a bicep curl movement,” he explains. Perfect for while you’re waiting for dinner to cook.
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Squat Hold with Towel Overhead Pass
One of Gardner’s favorite towel exercises is working the biceps while holding in a squat position. Here’s how Gardner breaks this motion down:
- Roll your towel into a rope and completely stretch it out by holding it taut as you stretch your arms out in front of you.
- Lower your body into a squat position with your arms stretched out in front of you.
- Slowly lift your arms while keeping the towel taut above your head into an overhead pass until your biceps are parallel to your ears.
- Hold for a couple of seconds before going back to start position and repeat for 50 seconds.
After completing these steps, rest for 10 seconds and repeat for three sets.
Bent Over Row
This savvy towel workout move comes from Christine VanDoren, C.N., C.P.T., at SportingSmiles.com: “Start by gripping your towel on either side while standing upright. Allow a slight bend in the knees as you hinge at the hips, so you are facing the ground. Keep your back straight and start with your arms fully extended. Keeping your elbows tucked in towards your sides, pull the towel up towards your chest,” she says. “Your elbows should remain at a 90-degree angle while you feel the burn in your upper back. Once your towel hits your chest, allow your arms to release back down and continue to repeat the movement,” she continues, stressing that it’s key to focus on keeping your upper back as tense as possible throughout the entire movement to maximize effects. Aim for three-to-four sets of 15 reps.
This “towel edition” of a crunch is also one of Gardner’s favorites. It may sound easy, but it really fires up your abs. To do this special sit-up, start by lying down with your back on the mat and your knees in a table-top position parallel to your spine. “Roll the towel and hold it taut between your hands with your arms straight in front of your chest,” he says. “Without moving your legs, lift your body up by engaging your core muscles and moving your arms towards your knees.” When you’re done, return to the start position and repeat for 10-12 reps for three sets.
Back Pull Towel Exercise
Ready to stretch and strengthen your back muscles? “Stand in an upright position with your feet shoulder-width apart and your back straight,” says Gardner. Then, follow his guidelines in three simple steps:
- Roll the towel and extend your arms in front of your chest while making sure the towel is taut.
- Raise the towel into an overhead position and bend your arms to allow the towel to go behind your head and pull down to your back.
- Straighten your arms and return to start position and repeat for 10-12 reps for 3 sets.
Triceps Towel Exercise
Ready to tone your triceps? Try this move. “Place a towel behind your lower back. Grip the towel on each end with palms facing up, while arms are fully extended behind and away from the body,” says Glassman. “Slowly raise arms upward in a fully extended position to activate the triceps, being mindful not to raise too high, to avoid shoulder activation.”
Brisk Walking with a Towel
You can also take your towel on the road as a lightweight fitness aid. “Brisk walking while pulling the ends of a towel in various directions—front, back, overhead, sideways, low and high—serves to tone your midsection and upper body,” says Glassman. “Static towel pulls tend to work better while actively walking, from a safety and proper gait standpoint. Towel activities that involve movement (swinging, arcing, pushing, pulling, etc.) tend to work better when walking in place,” he adds.
Who’s ready to ditch those hand weights and make “towel walks” the workout trend of the year?