Once reserved for warm ups and cool downs, stretching sessions are now the main event.
In the depths of a shopping centre in east London, a glassy fitness studio glows with orange lights. Inside, rows of white massage beds are each cordoned by a curtain. The purpose? A good stretch. “Some people come in and tell us they want to do the splits,” says Tim Kayode, sports therapist at Flexology, the UK’s first assisted stretching studio, which opened in Canary Wharf in November. “Other people are tense and aching from being hunched over a computer all day.”
The solution involves private sessions ranging from 15 to 45 minutes, where one of 13 sports therapists will address areas that feel tight. For office workers, there’s the Executive Stretch, which targets the neck, back and shoulders, or the Unwind Stretch, which aims to relax clients and release tension.
Or you can build your own, like I did. After the instructor asked me to do a series of movements to identify tightness (hips and neck in my case), the stretching began. My legs were pulled, my neck bent; it felt odd at first, like places I didn’t know could be stretched were loosening up.
Stretch studios have been A Thing in America for some time. In New York there is Racked, which offers a menu of stretches for cyclists, runners or tennis players, and Stretch*d, which gives clients the chance to “loosen up” with CBD-infused sessions. In Los Angeles, you can visit StretchLab for a one-on-one class to target specific muscle groups and “reclaim your freedom”.
On this side of the pond, Virgin Active offers Stretch and Tone classes, for destressing and increasing flexibility in a floor-based yoga-esque fashion. Similarly, the health and fitness centre Ten offers the reformer pilates-based stretching class TenStretch, while Pure Stretch provides training courses in stretching across the UK.
But does it actually do us any good?
According to Strong Women ambassador Tess Glynne-Jones, it’s all about meeting long-term fitness goals. “Stretching increases your range of movement, which in turn allows you to load your muscles with more weight as they lengthen. When you’re working out, you’ll find you’re able to move heavier weights, which means that eventually muscle gains will be on their way. Think performance, health and aesthetic progress,” she adds.
“The better you move, the better your results.”
There’s also been a rise in our interest in recovering quickly after a workout. Last year, ClassPass named restorative and recovery-based classes as its fastest growing trend, with a 16% increase. “Often, clients will come directly from a Barry’s Bootcamp class and we do the proper warm-down stretch for them,” says Kayode. “After vigorous exercise the body needs time to slow down to aid recovery both mentally and physically. By having a one-to-one stretching session post-workout, a professional can identify and assess your specific trouble zones and imbalances, making your warm down more efficient and effective,” he continues.
For him, though, the real benefit is how it makes people feel. “After a session, people feel relaxed, taller, less stressed. When you get a massage, for example, you feel good but the problem might return the next day. When we’re stretching the body in the right way, it’s actually a corrective practice,” he says.
“It’s designed to maintain health long-term.” Here’s to expanding horizons, or should we say muscles, in 2020.
The three must-do stretches
Tim Kayode, sports therapist at Flexology, talks us through the three stretches to incorporate into our daily routine
FOR YOUR NECK
“Sit in a chair, keeping your core stable and clasp both hands behind your back. Lower your left shoulder and tilt your head toward the right side until you feel a stretch. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat the same sequence on the other side.”
FOR YOUR GLUTES
“Sit upright in a sturdy chair and place your right ankle on your left thigh, just above your knee. Then place your hands on your shins. Keep your spine straight and lean slightly forward to deepen the stretch. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.”
FOR YOUR LOWER BACK
“Stand up straight with your feet flat on the ground and shoulder-width apart. Reach over your head with your left arm and towards your right side. Hold the pose for 20 to 30 seconds and then repeat the same sequence on the other side.”
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Hannah Keegan is the features writer at Stylist magazine.