You’ve been sat crumpled over a laptop for the best part of year and now you’re hitting the gym hard (perhaps against your better judgement).
The result? Serious stiffness. The remedy? An assisted stretch.
We first wrote about the rise of stretching studios in the capital back in January 2020, yet another wellness trend that arrived on our shores via LA. But now, after what feels like a century of being sedentary, a stretch session is what your battered lockdown posture is crying out for.
Flexibility and mobility are the neglected pillars of fitness for many of us, who instead focus on cardio or strength - and have the tendency to skip the odd warm up or cool down. But investing in your suppleness will pay dividends, both now and down the line.
The benefits of regular, proper stretching are three-fold, says Kunal Kapoor, founder of StretchLAB, which has just opened a second studio in Notting Hill. “You can prevent injury as flexible muscle is at less risk of getting hurt; you perform better as stretching, assisted or otherwise, decreases muscle stiffness and increases your range of motion and muscle activation – that applies to anything from spinning to boxing and lifting weights.
“It aids recovery too – after a hard workout, stretching your muscles helps keep them loose and reduces the shortening and tightening effect that can lead to post-workout aches and pains, allowing you to bounce back and be ready for your next session sooner.”
Aida Yahaya co-founder of group stretching studio Good Stretch in South Kensington adds: “The more we take care of our muscles before and after a workout by stretching, the more it will increase your muscle efficiency and increase gains in strength, power and shape.” A lack of flexibility can lead to muscular imbalances, and as a consequence, joint stiffness, muscle tightness, lower back pain, poor posture and eventually injuries, she says.
Kapoor launched StretchLAB last year after noticing his own muscle tightness was getting in the way of life. "London's fitness scene is booming, which is great. People are paying more attention to exercise than ever before, and with the rise in popularity of HIIT, people are training more like athletes. But they aren't recovering like athletes, which is where we come in," he says. "Doing it yourself isn't the most enjoyable or interesting activity either. Something changes when it's taken out of your hands and it's done for you."
What happens in a stretch session? I popped in for a taster session with StretchLAB stretchologist and part-time contortionist Giovana in Fitzrovia one evening after work. From the outside, the studio looks just like another boutique gym in Soho, with its neon lights and branded merch for sale at reception, while treatments taking place downstairs on padded leather benches in an open plan space. She warms up the muscles on my calves, back and chest with a Theragun before we get to the stretching. From the feet up, quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, shoulders, neck, you name it we flex it out - and just when I think I’ve reached my limit in terms of flexibility, somehow she’d get a little bit more stretch out of me. I’m sure I left a few inches taller.
While assisted stretching should probably be a part of the wellness routine of athletes, marathoners and HIIT devotees alike, Kapoor’s mission is to make it a part of everyone’s self-care routine. "We've become the place where fitness professionals go to recover alongside executives who might be desk-bound for much of the day, as well as everyone in between."
Where to get a stretch in London
Loosen up from head to two with the help of your own personal stretchologist. The brand’s newest outpost in Notting Hill is now home to sports chiropractor Brett Gibbens who can also tend to specific concerns. Your in good hands here.
Where: Notting Hill or Fitzrovia
Price: £28 for 25 minutes or £55 for 50 minutes
Opt for either a snappy 15-minute quick release of daily tension or go in for the whole shebang, a full-body stretch to iron out kinks, knots and hunches. At Seven Dials you can now also book into 45-minute group classes, which include stretching, mobility, recovery and meditation - (from £10). Walk-ins and advance bookings both welcome.
Where: Seven Dials or Brixton
Price: £25 for 15 minutes, £45 for 25 minutes or £75 for 50 minutes
Those people who used quarantine to master a skill, like learning to do the splits? They’ve probably got Good Stretch to thank. The studio launched virtual classes in lockdown to keep people limber and lithe while WFH to huge success and the team have just relaunched their in-person group classes in South Kensington. For a taster of what to expect snap up the 7-day free virtual trial.
Where: Aquilla Health & Fitness Club South Kensington
Price: £20 for one in-person session, £80 for five or £160 for 10