Specialty fitness shops or studios offer all kinds of ways to exercise, such as weight training, indoor cycling, and kickboxing. Other popular options, like yoga and Pilates, are less likely to leave you sweaty and out of breath, emphasizing flexibility and measured movement. Now, a new trend has emerged: studios that focus solely on stretching. What do these studios offer and will you benefit from this orientation?
What do stretch studios offer?
These studios, which include StretchLab, StretchMed, LYMBYR and others, offer assisted stretching sessions, one-on-one or in small groups. Promised benefits range from reasonable goals of increasing flexibility and range of motion to more questionable claims, such as preventing injury and eliminating chronic pain.
“If you do certain sports that require flexibility, like dance or gymnastics, stretching can be important for maintaining range of motion,” says Dr. Adam Tenforde, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard. Medical School and Sports Physician at Spaulding Rehabilitation and General Mass Brigham.
But if you’re focused on improving your overall health, the evidence to support stretching is sorely lacking, especially when compared to the wealth of evidence supporting the benefits of regular, moderate physical activity.
“Contrary to popular belief, there is no consistent evidence that stretching helps prevent injury,” says Dr. Tenforde. And if you have an existing injury, such as a muscle or joint sprain, stretching that tissue aggressively could actually make the injury worse, he adds.
Stretch studio “stretch therapists” and “flexologists” may have certain certifications and training, but they are probably not qualified to recognize and treat health-related causes of pain or stiffness. If you have a previous or current musculoskeletal injury, you are better off seeing a physical therapist who has the expertise and training to treat you properly.
Do you feel tense and stiff?
If you’re not injured but feel tense and stiff, try a yoga class, which may provide additional benefits, such as improving your balance and helping you relax and unwind. Or consider tai chi, a gentle, meditative form of exercise that can help lower blood pressure and improve balance. Another option is to get a massage.
If you decide to try assisted stretching offered at a studio, listen to your body and be sure to communicate how you feel with the therapist working on you, advises Dr. Tenforde.
But you’ll likely do more for your overall health by spending that time taking a brisk walk or another type of exercise instead, he says. Most Americans do not meet the recommended federal physical activity guidelines, which call for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise and muscle-strengthening activities twice a week. “As physicians, we deal more with diseases of inactivity, not with diseases of inflexibility,” says Dr Tenforde.
Want to stretch at home?
Three easy morning exercises — an ABC routine of arm sweeps, back bends, and chair poses — can help relieve morning stiffness. It also works well during the day if you spend too much time sitting.
Stretching at home could save you time and money. These tips can help you get the most out of morning stretches at home or other flexibility routines.
- Warm up your muscles first. Like taffy, muscles stretch more easily when warm.
- Feel no pain. Stretch only to the point of slight tension, never to the point of pain.
- Pay attention to posture and good form. Posture matters, whether you’re sitting, standing or moving. Stretching photos only tell part of the story, so read the instructions carefully to get the right form.
- Focus on the stretched muscle. One side of your body is often tighter than the other. Work on balancing this over time.
- To breathe. Breathe comfortably while stretching rather than holding your breath.
- Practice often. You’ll get the best flexibility gains if you stretch frequently – daily or as many days of the week as possible. At the very least, try to stretch two or three times a week.
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