Fitness / 06.03.2020

Class crashers: Assisted stretching

By Hattie Parish
It claims to lengthen and strengthen muscles while improving flexibility – so did assisted stretching live up to its claims?

I, sadly, am not flexible. I haven’t touched my toes since my teenage dancing days, and am the annoying one huffing and puffing, struggling to hold downward dog at the back of the yoga studio. And it’s no wonder – whilst I’m generally fit, joining in the cursory three stretches at the end of an exercise class is about as far as my flexibility goes. And I don’t think I’m alone in that – we’re all working and playing harder, chained to desks before we rush to social engagements – so where’s the time to stretch? It doesn’t exactly make for happy, supple muscles.

Enter Flexology, London’s first stretch-dedicated studio. A session here sees a specially trained therapist guide your body into stretches deeper than you’d manage on your own. Aside from the satisfaction a good stretch brings, this prevents stiffness and soreness, stimulates the fascia (connective tissue), improves posture, lengthens muscles and strengthens major muscle groups. And these aren’t just short-term benefits – assisted stretching can bring about permanent change in muscle length.

So when an invitation to try Flexology pinged into my inbox, I was all for it. The studio is located in the mall under the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, so not what you’d call a tranquil location, but the space is an unexpected oasis amongst the hubbub. Memory foam massage beds are individually curtained off with floaty white drapes in their own ethereal cocoons, while a small café serving up wellness-crowd-approved snacks and drinks (think matcha and adaptogenic mushrooms) greets you on arrival.

I change into fitness gear (stretchy clothes make things easier) and chat to my therapist Laura about my concerns. Given I sit at a desk and cycle, I want to work on my hip flexors, plus constantly crunching shoulders and tight hamstrings (my Dad insists it’s genetic, I’m not so sure) means I throw them into the mix too. We start with a couple of tests so we can measure progress at the end of the session. Laura gets me to attempt to touch my toes (no dice), get into a deep squat with feet flat on the floor (no worries), and do a couple of arm stretches behind my back.

We start with a hamstring stretch. On my back, Laura lifts one leg up straight until I’m as far as I think I can go without passing the pleasure/pain threshold – which for me is an unimpressive 90-degree angle. She has my leg rested against her shoulder, her arms wrapped around, holding it straight. We stay there for a couple of minutes, Laura reminding me to breathe deeply, then I push in to her shoulder on an in breath, and on the exhale, she pushes me further the other way. We do this a few times, each time my leg inching closer, then do the same on the other side.

Still on my back we do a glute stretch, with one leg bent to the side as Laura pushes down. My glutes are flexible, but I note that I feel this more in my hips, so we move on to work on those. On my side, I bend my top leg and Laura pulls it backwards, away from my body, as far as I can manage. As with the hamstrings, we stay hovering on the pain brink for a few minutes, then I press forwards into Laura’s grip, and release backwards, stretching further than before. This is honestly so satisfying I would happily spend the whole 25-minute session doing this one move.

Then I’m face down for a few arm and shoulder stretches following the same pattern. Laura tells me I have good range of movement here, so I can’t go a lot further, but the stretch itself feels great. Then it’s face up again for a deep stretch across the pectoral muscles. 

Each exercise follows this resistance and release method, and I’m surprised how much extra mobility I gain in the moment. But the real test comes at the end – we try the toe touch again, and to my incredulity I fold like a deck chair, fingers greeting my toes like a familiar friend. This is a genuine revelation for me, and I wistfully wish I could have Laura push and pull me every day. My whole body feels loose and light, the usual niggles forgotten. Laura even suggests some exercises I can do at home, using resistance bands, to keep up my newfound flexibility – watch this space.

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Class crashers: Assisted stretching
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Class crashers: Assisted stretching
It claims to lengthen and strengthen muscles while improving flexibility – so did assisted stretching live up to its claims?
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Healthy Magazine
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