I don’t stretch. There. I said it.
Maybe I’ll do a perfunctory hands-over-head-and-lean sort of move. Or perhaps I’ll do the pull-the-foot-to-the-butt maneuver, that old chestnut. But when I finish my workout, I want to be done. Adding 15 minutes of static stretching doesn’t feel as urgent as getting home to cook dinner (or back to my desk to finish this article).
As I approach another birthday, things feel…well…tight. So when StretchLab in East Greenwich invited me to try out a stretch session, I reached for the chance to get some professional guidance.
Tucked into the Dave’s shopping plaza on Division Street, StretchLab has a small recovery-focused boutique in the front. Two lines of cushioned benches, similar to massage tables but lower to the ground, are in the back. This is where the trained flexologists work their magic.
New clients start out with a Physmodo MAPS screening, which is a biomechanical movement screening that assesses muscle weakness and imbalance. I did a series of three squats with arms overhead in front of an iPad-like device. This gave my flexologist, Jon Franklin, clues to my problem areas. They do this assessment monthly, so clients can track their progress.
My problem areas were not a surprise – a sedentary desk job means my shoulders and arms are tight. My age and weight training workouts (sans stretching), along with said desk job and the
lopsided way I sit, has done a number on my hips.
After the assessment, Franklin guides me to a bench and we get to work. And I mean work. A stretch session may sound like an hour at the spa, but to do this properly, I had to bring my workout game.
I started on my back on the stretch bench, with a comfy pad supporting my head. Franklin began the session with some easy traction on my right leg, giving it gentle tugs before moving it in slow circles until my range of motion began to open up.
Continuing to work on my lower body, Franklin now had me focus on my hips and glutes. With my lower body twisted like a pretzel, Franklin asked where I felt the stretch. “My groin?” I tried.
Wrong answer! Franklin noted in my MAPS screening that my glute activation was weak and this was showing up on the stretch bench. He led me through some muscle activations to wake them up.
Surprisingly, muscle activation is a big part of stretching. While Franklin tugged and shifted my limbs into various stretches, he explained that StretchLab was devoted to PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretching, which is a contract-and-relax method. At certain points, Franklin would stop the stretch and direct me to push against his hand, which provided resistance. Active stretching, he explained, challenges the nervous and muscular systems. Sometimes what we assume are tight muscles are actually pointing to weakness in the antagonistic muscles (for example, my tight quads may actually be due to a weak posterior chain).
“Just holding a stretch and relaxing will give you a range of motion. But by adding an active portion, adding resistance, makes sure you have strength in that range of motion,” he says. “Some people will come in, for example, and they’re hypermobile. Instead of an increased range of motion for them, we increase sensation and strength.”
Franklin then moved me through upper body stretches, loosening my shoulders and straightening my hunched back. When we wrapped up, the nagging body aches that haunt me most days were gone. I was more limber, and I felt stronger during my weight workout later in the day.
This one stretching session was not a cure-all. Rather, stretching has a cumulative effect. StretchLab offers a variety of packages to encourage clients to keep their limbs limber, which, in turn, will keep them active longer.
Tom Brady credits stretching for keeping him in the game well into his 40s, a superhuman feat for a footballer. After my 50-minute session at StretchLab, I’d argue that it’s important for us mere mortals, too.
StretchLab • 1000 Division St Unit #30 • East Greenwich
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