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
A few months ago, I came across an article from The Cut about the potential mental health benefits of infrared saunas. Even though I was in Los Angeles at the time, the sun was still setting at 4pm, and my mood levels had definitely been suffering for it. At that point, I’d tried exercising six times a week, meditating, and gratitude journaling to keep my Seasonal Affective Disorder at bay, and frankly, sweating it out in a sauna sounded like a way more appealing option. Once I was back in my beloved NYC, I promptly booked an appointment with HigherDOSE, an infrared sauna spa with locations all over NYC, New Jersey, and Connecticut. It’s also the preferred spot of celebs like Leonardo DiCaprio, Michelle Williams, and Bella Hadid, if you’re into that. Read on to find out the alleged benefits of infrared saunas, and what I thought after my 60-minute session.
What Do Infrared Saunas Do?
Simply put, infrared saunas claim to make you hotter in every way (obviously, pun intended). Not only does an hour of intense sweating knock off some water weight, but infrared heat may actually help boost your metabolism. According to Dr. Frank Lipman, who spoke to The Cut, just half an hour in an infrared sauna could help you burn up to 600 calories. (That’s like, one million squats or an hour on the treadmill. If this is what celebs have secretly been doing instead of working out, I will never feel okay again.)
For those of you less obsessed with losing weight (tell me your secrets), infrared saunas also have major skin benefits. Again per Dr. Lipman, infrared heat boosts circulation, blood flow, and collagen production, giving you an immediate post-sauna glow, as well as long-term benefits from regular use. Lipman, along with HigherDOSE’s co-founders, also hype up the detoxing capabilities of infrared saunas. Co-founder Lauren Berlingeri claims that infrared pulls “heavy metals, environmental pollutants, and radiation” from your system, and the instructional pamphlet inside the sauna room advised that some of your sweat may come out as black from all the toxins being released. (Sidenote: I’m still not sure that I believe “detoxing” is a real thing, but I really want it to be.) Other potential benefits include pain relief (from sore muscles to chronic headaches) and a boosted immune system.
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Currently sweating it out at an infrared sauna place. If you don't know about infrared saunas GET ON BOARD! I love it so much. It's not like a regular sauna where I can only sit there for like 10 mins and then I feel like I'm melting. infrared saunas are great for deep muscle relaxation, detoxing, cardio vascular health and your skin! Michelle told me it helps skin heal faster – I don't know about that but it does feel great! But you know, obviously, I'm no doctor(right @steveagee??)
Finally, the mental health benefits: a 2016 study showed that whole-body hyperthermia (whole body heating, specifically to 101.3º F, for the non-scientists among us), could have antidepressant effects lasting up to six weeks. Claims have been floating around for years that infrared heat can influence serotonin levels or release endorphins, but evidence is tenuous. The 2016 study, however, focuses on the “stress” aspect of sitting in a sauna—the extreme heat—and how these bursts of stress can better train your brain to deal with non-sauna stressors, like anxiety or depression. Again, no one’s claiming that this is rock-solid science, but these studies, along with the fact that everyone seems to feel f*cking amazing after leaving one of these saunas, was enough to make me desperate to try it for myself.
So, What’s An Infrared Sauna Like?
I visited the 11 Howard location of HigherDOSE, and was immediately thrilled by the spa-like room I entered. Each sauna room has a private bathroom (with a nicer shower than the one in my apartment), a Bluetooth speaker system, water, chilled eucalyptus towels, and of course, the sauna itself.
You’re given a chromotherapy menu, which tells you the different light therapy colors available to you, and the benefits of each type of light. It’s pretty intuitive (yellow and orange are more activating, blue is more relaxing), but given that I’m a type-A weirdo, I spent the first half hour cycling through all of them anyway. The first 20 minutes felt like sitting in a colorful, less-hot-than-normal sauna. I was warm, but I didn’t have that slowly-being-cooked feeling I get after about 10 minutes in a regular sauna. At the 20-25 minute mark, things got really satisfying, by which I mean sweat started pouring down my entire body. Again, in regular saunas, I’ll notice a drip here or there, then walk out and be surprised at how sweaty I actually am. In the infrared sauna, there was no doubt that I was coated in sweat, and steadily producing more.
I also have a pretty short tolerance for regular saunas; I’d say 20-30 minutes and I’m begging to leave. With the infrared sauna, I was happy to stay in there a full 50 minutes (I left 10 minutes to shower), and honestly could have stayed a bit longer. Promptly after showering, I noticed a few things. My skin was baby-soft, the dull full-body ache from yesterday’s boxing class was greatly improved, and while I didn’t suddenly feel an all-around calm or “mental high,” my anxiety was noticeably tamed. I know this because my face, which is highly sensitive to many things, including heat, got some crazy red blotches about ten minutes post-sauna. But the last time I’d gotten blotches like this, I locked myself in a bathroom for two hours, crying furiously and sending my dermatologist selfies. This time, I washed my face, said “f*ck it,” and moved on with my day. See? Anxiety calming.
I’m not including a description of my blotchy face to alarm you. Any discoloration was gone within the hour, and I trust that if you have skin like mine, you already know that heat is a trigger. But it was truly remarkable to look in the mirror at something that would have typically ruined my day and be able to let it go. In terms of a mental boost from the infrared sauna, I was expecting something like a runner’s high (which I’ve also never achieved, possibly because I’ve never run long enough to get there). But the mental boost I got instead was actually way more valuable to my life—for the next few hours, at least, I didn’t get derailed by minor sh*t. As far as superpowers go, I’ll take it.
So, the only real major con of infrared saunas? The price tag. HigherDOSE sessions cost $45 and up for solo sessions, or $30 and up if you go with two people. As a one-time expense, it’s not bad, but given that many of the benefits are unlocked by regular use, I wish the experience were slightly more accessible. Given my experience, I’d love to go more often, but until my wellness influencer career really takes off, I’ll likely have to limit it to a once-monthly treat.
Images: Keziban Barry; @higherdose (2), @busyphilipps / Instagram;