Now that I’ve been kickboxing several times a week, (early 2019 me would have guffawed at that sentence) my joints and lower back could use some TLC. They feel strained from overuse (getting old, amiright?), and I figured I needed to do something about it. Even though I follow my fitness instructor’s cooldown stretches after each class, my seated trapezius stretch still needs improvement. Plus, there’s only so much I can do with the few minutes I have before I rush to my next task. For that reason and more, I finally decided to hire someone to do the “heavy lifting” for me and help me stretch my sh*t out. After seeing Stretch*d, an assisted stretching space, pop up on my social media feed like an encouraging omen (or, Instagram is just listening to my conversations), I was interested to see what the hype is all about.
Social media influencers, celebrities, and athletes like The Fat Jew, Sienna Miller, and Brooks Nader have graced Stretch*d since they opened in early 2018. As the health and fitness industry grows, more people (like me!) are taking an interest in their body’s recovery. We put in so much time and effort to get our bodies into shape, and then we abandon them when they need us the most—after our workout sessions. Of course, stretching is more than recovery from stiffness and soreness. It can increase your range of motion, activate key muscle groups, and reduce the risk of injury by alleviating joint stress. It can also help people with neuromuscular diseases and motor function difficulties treat their chronic pain.
The company’s motto “Get Loose” was definitely the clincher for me; everybody from my manicurist to my physical therapist is always telling me to loosen up. It was about time that I finally took their advice.
What Is Your Problem Area?
When I first met Stretch*d’s Program Coordinator, Jeff Brannigan, he asked me about my problem areas. I told him that ever since my ankle surgery a few years ago, my left knee bore the brunt of my weight during recovery, and still feels out of whack. During our 55-minute Flex*d session (they also offer a 25-minute Quick*e and 70-minute E*longated) Brannigan mostly targeted my knees, in addition to my hips, lower back, neck, and feet. Most people, he said, have problems with their neck and lower back—which makes sense if you hunch over a desk or computer screen all day. Plus, tension and stress tend to sit in those areas like a pesky younger sibling who won’t get off your back. So, why didn’t I just get a massage, you ask?
Stretches and Massages Are Two Different Things
Before I began my session, I was curious, like many of you are, to know the difference between getting stretched and getting massaged. It turns out, Brannigan gets asked this question a lot. “This is more of a corrective exercise. It will help change the state of the resting muscle. Stretching is a more permanent fix over time. Massages are certainly helpful—it can help reduce tension and pain, but it’s more of a temporary fix,” he explains. In addition to the Stretch*d Method, many of the facility’s stretchers have degrees or certifications in physical therapy, massage, personal training, dance, and yoga. Which, by the way, you can totally tell play major parts in this lauded stretching practice.
Their Ultimate Goal Is to Chill You Out
Brannigan, who worked on me, has the hands of a healing angel. His movements were very calculated and slow, which is the method he employs to effectively stretch his clients. I almost dozed off halfway through from how relaxed I felt (according to him, no one has ever fallen asleep during a session, which I find hard to believe). The heated tables and neck pad were definitely an added bonus. Giving up control is something I’ve always been reluctant to do—but I was happily surprised to see myself *actually* relaxing and allowing someone else to move my body like a puppet. The most Oh My God moment of the whole experience was when Brannigan implemented the Hyperice Hypervolt Plus—a percussion therapy tool—to relieve any muscle stiffness and soreness in my back. It was such a game-changer that I’m even thinking of buying one to use at home.
Stretch*mmendations For The Day
After my session (still sad that it’s over), Brannigan wrote a list of target areas with 10-12 reps that I should work on stretching daily. Because yes, there is a wrong way to stretch. “If you do it the right way, it’s a simple solution to seemingly complex problems. With a little bit of time every day, you could see issues that have been plaguing you for a long time, can maintain quite easily,” His team sent over their Stretch*mmendations with accompanying how-to photos including Hello Hammies (lower hamstrings), Side Sweep*r (inside the thighs) Twist and Dipp*r (side/low back), Chest Open*r (chest muscles), and more to practice. He said:
We suggest practicing these stretches on a daily basis – 10-12 Reps / 2-3 Seconds to Hold .
Your stretch*r also recommends coming 1X/ week for a 25 min session to ensure you are getting the maximum results.
When I got off the table, I definitely felt more loose, but more than anything I felt way, way more relaxed than I did when I walked into the Stretch*d studio. If I had to rate this place, I’d give it a ten out of ten. If I continue to exercise and hunch over my computer screen through 2020 (the latter is more likely) they’ll definitely see my sore butt back on their table in the near future.
Images: Courtesy of Strech*d
All these exercises strengthen butts and legs at the same, but most importantly, without a strong core (which, in pilates, we refer to as The Powerhouse), your shoulder and hips will tighten as a result of bearing the brunt weight of your body.
These exercises are typically performed in a systematic order of the classical pilates to be more effective. Before taking on any of these exercises, make sure you’ve already exercised. For example, jogging, bicycling, Soulcycle, etc. would all work. This is to ensure that your muscles and joints are supple, to sustain and keep the form of these exercises with consistency.
Single Legs Kicks
Setup: Lie flat on your stomach, nose to the mat, and place your palms in line with your ears. Engage your abs, press the floor away with your palms into straight arms, lift your chest up and stretch it forward, bending the elbows just under your shoulders, with each hand in a fist to anchor you, and your head in line with your spine, eyes leveled.
Movement: Kick the heel of your foot to your bottom in a dynamic motion like “kick kick” and switch, “kick kick” and switch. As you kick your heels, keep your hips and butt stable by pressing the hip flexors to that mat, zip the inner thighs, and keep the knees together. Engage your glutes, and kick for 3 sets. Do not let your booty pop up, hence why you press the hips to the mat. Be mindful not to let your lower back collapse either, which is why your abs must be engaged with a pull in and up.
Modifications: Lower your abs down to the mat with your chest up and forward, with your elbows slightly forward, and your hands in a fist in line with your elbows, and kick your heels to your bottom.
Double Leg Kick
The double leg kick is the next progression after double kicks.
Setup: Remain flat on your abs after the single leg kicks, with your chest down, on the right side of the face on the mat. Keep your neck long, and stack the palms on top of each other in the small of your back, ideally in the mid back close to the shoulder blades.
Movement: Kick the heels of your feet to your butt, 1-2-3. Lift the chest forward, then stretch and reach the arms behind you, over your butt and hands folded, to further open your chest. Then, turn your head to the left side of the face, lift and reach arms again, and repeat. Abs must be engaged, and legs stretched long when straight. Repeat 3 sets.
Modifications: If your shoulders or arms are tight, and it’s too difficult to stack them on top of your lower back, rest the back of your hands on top of your butt or on the mat when kicking your heels to the bottom, and lift your arms up in line with your hips when you lift your chest up and forward.
Leg Pull down
Setup: In a plank position, put your elbows and wrist right under your shoulders, with your legs straightened out, and the heels of your feet together, toes apart, navel to spine.
Movement: Pull navel to spine. Flex toes to rock back in a straight line, and point your toes to lengthen your whole frame forward. Keep pulling your navel to the spine, and resist the gravity of your back collapsing down into the joints by lifting back up to the sky. After 3 sets of repetitions, lift the right leg and rock back and forth and repeat on the left side.
Modifications: If balancing your upper body on your palms is too much pressure on the joints, bend the elbows and rock back and forth on elbows with hands in a fist. Just remember to resist the gravity of the body upwards. Imagine you’re balancing a tray with glass on it on your back, and don’t let it slip off while moving. You have to balance it by keeping your back straight and level.
Leg Pull Up
The leg pull up is the next profession from leg pull down.
Setup: Start by sitting on the mat, knees bent, feet flat on the mat, arms stretched behind in line with shoulders, and palms on the mat. Lift your hips up in line with your knees and straighten the legs in front in two steps, heels together and toes apart.
Movement: Engage your abs and lift your right leg up, pointing the toes. Do not scrunch your feet, reach them like you’re trying touch something in front of you, and maintain the height on of your hips as you lower the leg down the mat. Flexing, lift the left leg, reaching the toes, and repeat the same motion. Repeat for 3 sets.
Modifications: To modify this exercise, keep your hips up, bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor and your feet and knees together. Keeping your knees in line with your ankles, progress to extend the right leg straight up from and in line with the hips, and with both knees leveled in even height, lower the right leg straight down to the mat to the height of the left ankle. Lift it back up to the knee’s height, bend the knee, and switch to the left. Repeat the same exercise as the right leg. Repeat this in 3-5 sets.
Caution: This exercise is very challenging on the hips and shoulders, as you can stiffen up when locking your joints. The key to sustaining this exercise is to keep the heaviest parts of the trunk (i.e. chest and hips) up.
Images: Michele Paniz Photography