Labs for Elongation: Stretching Studios Gain Traction

By Martha Michael

Tricks of the Stretch

From hot yoga to candle-lit spin classes, there’s never a lull in the lineup of fitness practices hoping to gain traction. And the latest “thing” with a growing fan base is assisted stretching studios.

With names such as StretchLab and Racked, they resemble yoga classes but are entirely devoted to stretching.

Because of such benefits as improved flexibility and increased relaxation, you see classes at stretching studios becoming a fixture on the schedules of health-conscious individuals.

More than 80 percent of Americans get less exercise than they need, which probably includes stretching, says an article in Fast Company. And those who do work out regularly can incur injuries when not stretching enough. The implication is that regardless of a person’s commitment to exercise -- fitness fans or couch potatoes -- they could benefit from the new, slow-paced trend.

A Growth Industry

A couple of years ago, ClassPass Fitness Studios produced data showing that recovery classes were the fastest growing trend in the industry, reporting a 16 percent rise in restorative and recovery class attendance.

Part of the attraction is connectivity, says the director of product development for the American Council of Exercise, Lauren Shroyer.

“Our minds are always on the go, increasing the amount of adrenaline in the body,” she says. “That cycle is exhausting. All recovery is a respite for the mind and the body; perhaps what people are looking for is mental recovery as much as they are looking for muscle recovery.”

The owner of fitness chain SLT, Amanda Freeman, says she noticed that group workout participants would routinely leave classes early, right before the end-of-class stretching exercises. But by contrast, people working individually with trainers were committed to the stretching portion of the workout. What she concluded was that clients want to stretch with another person, one-on-one, but tend to avoid it in the context of a class.

Freeman opened Stretch*d in New York, a studio with an emphasis on both exercise and self-care. Trainers work with individuals for the purpose of more effective stretching.

Anthony Geisler, CEO of Xponential Fitness, anticipates a huge future for stretching studios, comparing its success to the popular practice of Pilates.

Geisler’s optimism is due, in part, to the complementary nature of stretching, which is easily combined with other forms of fitness as well as the health spa industry. For example, Massage Envy, a national chain offering both facials and massage therapies, has added stretching to its services.

The Act of Stretching

An article in Shape Magazine points out some observations about the prevalent practice of stretch studios. While they promise such benefits as elongating muscles, rejuvenating the body and fending off injuries, there are debatable issues associated with the relatively new emphasis on stretching.

You can target trigger points with assisted stretching and reap such benefits as:

  • Improved posture
  • Better digestion
  • Increased range of motion
  • Decreased achiness

The article says it’s a good idea to add dynamic stretching before your workout and static stretching afterwards for maximum function. But it warns against relying on stretching as the only form of recovery from injuries. Also, you want to be sure that anyone providing you with health services is professionally trained to perform the kinds of practices you receive.

Stretching and Chiropractic

What stretch fitness studios offer is a health benefit, but it’s limited in scope. There are additional methods of increasing range of motion and minimizing the effects of aging such as chiropractic care.

“Some research does suggest that stretching can indeed increase your range of motion,” the article says. “And there is certainly research to support the use of chiropractic soft tissue work such as active release technique -- a massage-like, stretching therapy performed by a chiropractor to break up scar tissue and restore proper range of motion.”

Most chiropractors encourage stretching, particularly when treating patients with pulled muscles or areas of chronic pain. Because stretching increases blood flow and promotes flexibility, your chiropractor will likely recommend it as part of an injury recovery plan.

And similar to structuring your time to include stretch classes, routine chiropractic visits offer the kind of maintenance that precludes eventual setbacks to your health.

Making healthy choices a priority should improve body function, and trying something new may be more mentally stimulating than the routine you’ve been following. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine a boost to your range of motion and a healthier, more active lifestyle.

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