You go to the gym to use the treadmill, elliptical machine and weights but would you join a gym just to stretch? The latest trend of boutique stretching studios is betting on it.
Too often, stretching is an afterthought — and often the first thing you skip if you’re tight on time — no matter how tight your muscles might be. Stretching studios prioritize the practice and Dixie Stanforth, PhD, FACSM, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin and an American College of Sports Medicine fellow isn’t surprised the concept is popular.
“The importance of recovery is hot right now,” Stanforth says. “More people are training at higher intensities thanks to the increased awareness of the value of [high-intensity interval training] and, as more people train intensely, the need for targeted recovery strategies also increases and stretching gyms are part of that trend.”
Stretching isn’t just trendy, it’s important. Stretching studios offer members 30–60-minute sessions of dynamic movements designed to increase range of motion, reduce post-workout muscle soreness and improve flexibility.
Does that mean you should stretch your budget to purchase a membership? Consider these three factors before joining:
You might be able to skip a standard gym membership if you join Barry’s or a boxing studio where workouts include a combination of cardio and strength training; but a membership at a stretching studio cannot rev your heart rate or build muscle.
“Being fit and healthy requires multiple factors such as diet, strength, balance, cardio and flexibility,” explains Rachel Straub, certified strength and conditioning specialist, exercise physiologist and author of “Weight Training Without Injury.”
While stretching is important, it’s not a replacement for an old-fashioned workout, so don’t abandon the gym.
The science behind stretching and performance are mixed, but a few studies show performance benefits ranging from improved vertical jump to reduced muscle stiffness. For stretching to be effective, Straub notes it must be done regularly and correctly, which is where a stretching studio comes into play.
“Using a professional can be useful to help ensure you’re stretching correctly and not overlooking possible problem areas,” she says. “Sometimes we don’t notice we have a problem until someone else points it out.”
Stanforth warns that even a low-impact activity like stretching is not without risk, explaining, “There are always concerns about stretching inappropriately or holding stretches too long, which could affect ligament length and joint stability.”
Like all fitness professionals, the staff at a stretching studio should have the right education and training to provide a safe and effective experience. Straub recommends looking for credentials from organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association or the American Council on Exercise. Ask for references and watch a few sessions before signing a contract to ensure each is tailored to the client.
“Unfortunately, there is a tendency for people to develop a one-size-fits-all stretching routine for all of their clients, which can lead to trouble,” she adds.
Whether you join a stretching studio, ask your personal trainer to incorporate stretching into your workout or take a DIY approach, Straub offers important advice: “Poor flexibility can contribute to knee pain, low-back pain, [poor posture] and worse exercise performance … Stretching is one of the simplest things you can do … and just a few minutes a day, over time, can make a huge difference in your life.”