It’s easy to forget about stretching. The results aren’t as noticeable as our weight training program, our daily run or our clean eating. But no matter the reason for overlooking stretching, it’s time to break that habit. Stretching is crucial for a variety of reasons—from honing our range of motion to getting our blood pumping and staving off chronic pain.
From the looks of it, more Americans than ever are doing just that. There’s nothing new about stretching, but stretching classes have quickly become one of the latest boutique fitness trends of the year. A process called “assisted stretching,” for example, has been making waves both on the Internet and in boutique gyms across the country. And yes, it’s different than yoga or Pilates.
Here’s why stretching is a crucial part of your fitness routine—even if it doesn’t warrant pricy stretching classes.
The rise of assisted stretching
Stretching is a fixture of nearly every group fitness class for a reason. Its range of benefits affect both our athleticism and our ability to sit comfortably in a chair at work.
You probably learned about the primary benefits of stretching in a gym class at one point. But many people don’t realize the full benefits of these gentle movements. Stretching, for example, can promote better blood circulation. It also boosts muscle recovery, increases flexibility and even improves your posture. Stretching before working out can decrease the risk of injury for exercisers at every age and fitness level.
Assisted stretching is designed to take these benefits a step further. This one-on-one stretching method helps you strengthen muscles and fascia through a series of stretches performed by a certified stretch professional, who could be either a massage therapist or a personal trainer. Reasons for undergoing assisted stretching vary from person to person. For some, assisted stretching is a form of physical therapy, a means of recovery from an injury. Others wish to improve their athleticism or become more flexible. Just as some seek out a professional trainer to optimize their fitness routine, others are turning to certified stretching experts to ensure they are getting a stretching routine designed for their body’s unique needs.
Are stretch studios the next big thing?
Ever since The New York Times ran a piece dubbing stretch the next big fitness fad, stretching studios have cropped up in Los Angeles, New York, Boston and beyond. Many express the goal of helping members increase flexibility and, as one instructor puts it, “make more space in the body.”
The idea is this: as we participate in a variety of workouts—from spin, barre and CrossFit to weight training and HIIT— our muscles are becoming taut and inflexible. Stretch classes offer an antidote to all of those high-intensity routines.
But that in-depth stretching doesn’t come cheap. Sessions at the Power Stretch Studio, a stretch studio in New York and New Jersey, run clients upwards of $90 each. While this pricing is similar to the cost of visiting a masseuse, that price-point puts your average yoga studio’s cost to shame.
Stretching classes are now also offered at many UFC gyms. These stretching classes are aimed at helping mixed martial arts fighters improve their flexibility and practice mindfulness. Eager to jump on the stretching bandwagon, many traditional fitness centers are providing stretching alongside their other offerings. In Los Angeles, for example, a quick Google search reveals a number of stretching options, from small group stretch sessions in big gyms to gymnastics-specific stretch workouts.
Are stretching classes the same as yoga?
Assisted stretching and yoga are not the same. An assisted stretching session involves a personal trainer—sometimes called “a stretch master”—who applies gentle pressure to your body to enhance flexibility or recover from an injury. Yoga typically helps you strengthen your breathing, flexibility and mind-body connection through a series of poses led by an instructor.
Stretching is an important part of keeping our bodies flexible and in good shape. It can also play a key role in recovery. With that being said, assisted stretching is most important for people coping with an injury or who have some other specialized need. Otherwise, it’s up to you whether the benefits of professionally-guided stretching outweigh the major costs per session.
With more fitness content than ever online, you can also practice your own stretching exercises from the comfort of your own home. And if you’re seeing a physical trainer or massage therapist already, they’re most likely more than qualified to help you uncover a few useful stretching techniques.