Spin class on Monday and Friday. Strength training on Wednesday. Saturday morning yoga. A weekend run in the park. Now, where to fit in an hour at the stretch studio?
Just when you thought you had all your workout bases covered, another fitness fad is making a claim for a regular spot on your schedule.
Studios with names like Stretch Zone, Stretch Pro, StretchLab, Motion Stretch, and Stretch*D are opening up across the country, offering one-on-one sessions with a “flexologist” who will guide you into pretzel-like positions you never could achieve on your own.
The price of being pushed and pulled runs from $40 or so for 25 to 30 minutes to $100 or more for a full hour (with package discounts common).
The purported payoff: unkinked muscles, boosted blood circulation, reduced pain and risk of injury, greater mobility, improved posture, and, in general, a more chill disposition.
Before you sign on to assisted stretching, here’s what you need to know.
Why stretch in the first place
Kesh Hayashi, a certified personal trainer who owns four StretchLab locations in Los Angeles, one tucked inside his physical therapy clinic, sees stretching as the key element of an essential weekly “recovery day.”
What we need to recover from, he says, are rigorous workouts like Soul Cycle, boot camp classes, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which leave your muscles compressed, shortened, and riddled with micro tears.
Then there’s what’s been dubbed “text claw” and “text neck,” the stiff, strained, and sore fingers, arms, and spine that come from the hours spent on digital tasks, head titled at unnatural angles, shoulders hunched.
“If you want to maintain a healthy, active life,” Hayashi says, “you have to reverse the effect of what you do all day by opening everything up.”
The science behind stretching
There is research that supports the benefits of stretching consistently, especially as you put more mileage on your muscles.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Exercise, Sports & Orthopedics, for example, found that when older active adults followed a regular stretching regimen for one year, their flexibility and muscle strength improved significantly.
In a 2009 study that appeared in the journal Gerontology, this one of a small group of women with an average age of 65, just 12 sessions of stretching exercises over four weeks reversed age-related changes in their gait; the length and speed of their strides resembled those of much younger adults.
Still, there’s no consensus among experts on the best way to stretch.
A recent review of studies published in the Journal of Aging concluded that while flexibility training appears to offer older adults benefits like increased range of motion, there’s no single “prescription” for the types of stretches to do, how long to hold a stretch, and how many repetitions are ideal.
How old are you in “stretch years”?
Even if the science of stretching isn’t conclusive, you’ll hear some lofty claims about the practice.
Hakika DuBose, or Kika as everyone calls her, helped launch the trend of stretch-dedicated studios in May 2011, when she rented 200 square feet of a real-estate office in Montclair, N.J., and opened a space devoted to helping everyday people achieve the grace of a professional dancer, which she was herself.
“When a dancer walks into a room, it’s an experience,” DuBose says. “You can see right away that they’re in tune with their body and their bodies are free of tension.”
She claims that after a single 60–minute session at a Kika Stretch Studio you’ll lose “two-and-half inches of tension.” In other words, after working with a Kika stretch coach—typically a certified personal trainer, massage therapist, or dancer who’s been taught the Kika method—you’ll be able to extend your fingers and toes farther than ever before.
As your range of motion increases, DuBose says, you become younger in “stretch years.” At one of her two studios in New Jersey, an hour-long private session costs $85; at her midtown Manhattan location, you’ll pay $120.
Putting a stretch studio to the test
But here’s the thing that’s beyond debate: stretch therapy feels great.
I can attest to that from my own session with Hayashi at the StretchPro studio in a West Hollywood shopping center. I was guided to a padded massage table in a large open room where I reclined on my back while a belt was tightened across my body to keep me stable.
During my 25-minute, lower-body session (cost: $39), Hayashi moved me through a series of extensions of my hamstrings and glutes, quads, and hip flexors, holding a stretch for five seconds or so and repeating each a half-dozen times.
Hayashi urged me to “let go and relax” and alert him when I’d reached seven or eight out of ten on the “please stop” scale.
I left my session feeling taller, energized, and eager to return.
When you should skip a stretch
Still, assisted-stretching has its limits. For one, it’s not a substitute for physical therapy.
When I told Hayashi I was recovering from a knee injury I’d suffered doing lunges during a fitness class, he declined to offer any advice, noting “that would require a thorough exam and a whole different protocol.”
Sadly, for me, that means going back to those tedious rehabilitative lunges and side steps with a resistance band around my thighs.
And paying someone to stretch you isn’t your only route to better flexibility. If what you’re looking for is a safe, down-to-earth stretching regimen that you can do on you own, you can follow this simple program from the Mayo Clinic.