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
Do you struggle with balance and flexibility? If you do, first off, you should seek care from a medical professional, since there are many potential causes of balance and flexibility issues other than just “I can’t touch my toes and I’m clumsy”. There could be an actual medical issue, so you want to speak to your doctor to make sure you identify the cause of your balance issues in order to receive proper treatment. That said, you can also improve your balance and flexibility by performing certain exercises. Your doctor may even recommend you look to direct access physical therapy. Working with an expert will ensure you’re working safely and within your abilities.
If you’re struggling to improve your balance and flexibility, give the following moves a try.
Alternating Arm Plank
A plank simply involves modifying a typical push-up position so your elbows rest on the floor. When looked at from the side, your arms should appear to form as close to a 90-degree angle as possible.
For this exercise, you may need to rest on your palms (like a typical push-up) when you first attempt it, as it can be difficult to maintain balance otherwise. That’s because this version of a plank requires you to balance on just one arm for a few seconds, before switching to the other arm. As you get more comfortable with the exercise, you can try balancing on your forearms or extending your opposite leg.
BOSU Ball Split Squats
A BOSU ball is a piece of equipment you may have seen people using at your gym. It essentially looks like half of a stability ball. Instead of being a complete sphere, it has a flat base running through what would otherwise be the middle of the sphere.
Using a BOSU ball when performing split squats can be a very effective way to improve your balance and flexibility. For this exercise, step forward with one leg far enough so you have to raise the heel of your back foot. The toes of your back foot should rest against the BOSU ball. With your torso straight, bend your front knee so your back leg almost rests against the ball, before returning to a standing position. Alternate sides for the best results.
Pistol squats are useful when BOSU ball squats start to feel too easy. For this exercise, stand on one leg and bend the knee of that leg until its thigh is almost parallel with the floor. Try to extend your other leg in front of you as you do so. The straighter you can keep it, the better.
Return to a standing position and repeat to your comfort before switching to the next leg. This is a difficult move to perform, but it can be very helpful if you struggle with balance issues.
Standing Crunch With Clap
This is another exercise you may need to work up to. However, it is a very effective way to improve your balance and flexibility.
To perform it, stand up straight on one leg, with your other knee bent to form a 90-degree angle. Keep your hands raised above your head. Your raised leg’s thigh should be parallel with the floor.
Next, bring your stomach forward to your raised leg as if performing a crunch from a standing position. While doing so, bring your arms below the leg and clap your hands together, then raise your arms back up as you return to your original position. Repeat to your comfort, then switch to the next leg.
Again, it’s important to see your physician if you have balance and/or flexibility problems. An underlying medical condition may be the culprit. However, it’s also helpful to perform these exercises. They’ll provide you with the strength you need to stay balanced and comfortable throughout life.
Rae is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined International Relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to NYC to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Rae is passionate about travel, food, and writing, of course.
Images: Shutterstock (3); Giphy; Unsplash