I don’t know about you, but since working from home – and leading an increasingly sedentary lifestyle throughout lockdown – my tight, hunched limbs are feeling stiffer than ever. The good news? Stretching is no longer limited to just a quick five-minute cool down post-run or HIIT session. Now, specific stretch studios are starting to pop up in London offering in-person stretch sessions to lengthen limbs, maximise performance and prevent injury.
From Flexology in Canary Wharf – where you can increase your flexibility with a ‘Flex’ class – to reformer-based stretch classes at Ten Stretch, one-on-one assisted stretching at Stretch Lab and virtual stretch sessions at Good Stretch – it seems personal stretch sessions are in as the solution to battered lockdown postures.
And with benefits of regular stretching including increased range of motion and flexibility, improved sports performance, reduced joint pain, improved posture and decrease in stress levels – plus a reduced risk of injury – perhaps stretching is the one workout we should all be adding to our 2021 to-do list, whatever our fitness level?
Stretch inc, based in London’s Seven Dials, offers bespoke one-on-one assisted stretching sessions for both fitness fanatics who religiously like to supplement hardcore workouts with a bit of R&R and sedentary souls who spend far too much time slouched over their laptop.
Founded by yoga instructor and stretchologist Rachele Gilman, the idea behind Stretch inc was to set up a space that was exclusively devoted to relaxing the sore muscles of the toned and tired.
“The reason that it’s a stretch studio and not a yoga studio is because people are intimidated by yoga in a way that they’re not intimidated by stretching,” she tells me.
The Seven Dials studio, which opened in December 2020, is the second – and flagship store – of Stretch inc (the first opened in Brixton in March 2020, and is much smaller). With huge floor-to-ceiling glass windows, the studio is fully exposed to Covent Garden shoppers and West End theatregoers passing by. The decor is stripped back and minimally designed with bare bricks and muted shades. There’s also a basement for group stretch classes downstairs.
The one-to-one assisted stretches take place on the open plan shop floor, so there’s no privacy – or hiding – but this is on purpose.
“By having it open like this, where you can see exactly what’s happening, you can see that you don’t need special clothes, you don’t need any equipment,” says Gilman. “You don’t have to know anything, and you don’t have to do anything except breathe when we ask you to breathe.
“People can look in and go, ‘ooh, I want to have that done’ or ‘ooh, that looks like it would feel really nice’ or ‘I need that’. Whereas, if you walk past a yoga class and you see someone doing a flying pigeon pose, you think ‘I’m out, I can’t do that’. I just wanted to cut through all of that and make stretching as accessible as possible to as many people.”
Part of the accessibility is that you can wear whatever you like – although you might be more comfortable in gym clothes. “I stretch a guy regularly who comes in wearing a suit,” says Gilman. “He takes off his tie and his jacket, but he keeps his shirt tucked in and he wears skinny, slim-fit suit trousers. Our very first client in this studio wore a miniskirt – we just used towels to protect her modesty.”
I opted for the 25-minute assisted stretch (£45) – which is the studio’s most popular ‘class’. Kremena, my stretchologist, explained to me that she was also a yoga teacher, and that all of the stretchologists have varied backgrounds from the health and fitness industry (some are dancers or personal trainers, yoga or Pilates instructors, physiotherapists or osteopaths), and all have been trained to perform a series of stretches from head to toe.
Before my stretch began, Kremena asked me a series of questions to find out if I had any injuries or wanted to focus on any particular muscles. I told her I was a runner – and would soon be ramping up my training (again) for the London Marathon in October – so we agreed to focus on the legs, but also do a little bit on the neck, back and arms.
To start with, I lay flat on my stomach on the stretch bench, as Kremena used a massage gun on my glutes, hamstring and calves. If you haven’t experienced a Theragun, or similar, it’s essentially a powerful, drill-like massage tool that uses forceful vibrations to relieve any muscle soreness. It hurts – but in a good way.
The idea of using a massage gun before contorting your body into various positions is that it helps to increase the blood flow to your muscles – which helps to reduce any tension.
Kremena then instructed me to lie on my back and positioned me into a hamstring stretch. She stood on the bench leaning over me while exerting pressure on my leg, feeling exactly how far to push until I started wincing.
“Remember to breathe,” she said, as I realised I’d been holding my breath. My hands were clammy, but as the session went on, I slowly started to relax into the series of lower body stretches designed to relieve tension and lengthen my muscles.
My favourite was when Kremena eased me into a deep side twist, which stretched all along my back muscles to my glutes, lengthening and realigning my spine. After my 25-minute session, I felt calmer, taller and leaner.
Of course, if you hate being touched, stretch classes might not be for you. As someone whose favourite part of going to the hairdressers is the head massage, I, however, loved it – even when Kremena found a knot with the Theragun and I loudly exclaimed ‘oooh’ for the whole shop to hear.
So whether you’re training for a marathon like me, or just looking to fix that niggle in your back, stretching shouldn’t be an afterthought. I left Stretch inc feeling massaged and limber – and I can see exactly how people get addicted. In fact, I liked my one-on-one so much that I’m already planning when I can go back. As the slogan says on the Stretch inc windows: ‘Stretch more, hurt less’.