With a slew of stretching studios popping up around London, we explore the benefits of stretching and how it is just as important as exercise itself.
Can’t touch your toes? There’s professional help for that. Assisted stretching studios, which offer one-on-one sessions with trained ‘stretchologists’, are on the rise.
Stretching is actually a form of exercise, deemed just as important to health and bodily functions as regular fitness. It’s very important for flexibility and injury prevention, as a specific muscle or tendon is deliberately flexed in order to improve its elasticity and tone. It also relaxes your muscles and increases blood flow and nutrients to your cartilage and muscles. While it’s most common to stretch before and after exercise, it can be beneficial to incorporate stretching into your daily routine, whether you’ve worked out or not.
You can easily stretch alone but there are extra benefits to assisted stretching. What exactly is assisted stretching, you may ask? Well, it involves another person doing the stretching for you. You simply relax your body and they’ll pull you this way and that, giving way to a deeper stretch than most people can achieve when self-stretching.
“With assisted stretching, you’re going to get benefits faster, and they’re going to last longer. Someone is helping you to take your body a little bit further than you can,” says stretch inc founder, Rachele Gilman.
Pandemic living has led to stiffness, the result of sitting on bad furniture, physical and mental exhaustion and home workouts without correction. “Stretching is one of the first things on people’s to-do lists. Most want to get more flexible, but their actual reasons vary wildly,” says Suzanne Wylde, founder of Moving Stretch, which offers a type of resistance stretching that has a range of self-stretching videos online. “A lot of people think of stretching as getting longer muscles, tendons and ligaments, but when you resist and you move, you improve the quality of the tissue in the body. That’s a more important improvement than flexibility,” she explains.
Stretching is something we should all be doing; science backs up the benefits assisted stretching can offer, including ones we can’t see, like better cardiovascular health. However, as one of StretchLab’s founders Kunal Kapoor, says: “It’s one of those things everyone knows they should be doing, but they don’t because to do it by yourself isn’t that easy. However, this changes once you’re in the hands of a professional.”
Stretchologists are a varied bunch: dancers, physiotherapists, yoga teachers, massage and sports therapists are all drawn to the field. While assisted stretching may once have catered mostly to high-intensity athletes, studios like StretchLab and stretch inc are all about accessibility and inclusivity. They both use percussive therapy (massage guns) to activate muscles and get blood flowing at the start of each session.
These stretching studios offer more than benefits for the body — they soothe the mind, too. Kunal had a client who was coming daily not because of mobility issues, but to ease anxiety.
After a year where we’ve been so starved of socialisation, assisted stretching offers something else: human contact. “I think a lot of people just miss being touched. It’s a connection, but it’s not passive like a massage is,” says Suzanne. However, she warns that clients should be aware of getting overstretched and says it isn’t a replacement for seeing a doctor. But with improved mood, posture and performance — as well as sessions from just 15 minutes — assisted stretching has an undeniable appeal in our always-on lifestyles. “I think there’ll be an assisted stretching studio in every neighbourhood soon,” says Rachele.