Can you reach down and comfortably touch your toes, then place your palms on the ground with legs fully extended, and just, relax? Not me! I’ve just never been flexible but always felt so relaxed and happy after stretching. I’d think, “Why don’t I do this more often?”.
So when I heard of StretchLab and the idea of passive stretching, it sounded amazing. I relax and someone else takes care of the details? Sign me up. So I did! For three months, twice a week I was stretched in 50-minute sessions; and my body loved it.
I was introduced to how StretchLab works from a longtime massage client. She raved about how good she was feeling and since she’s kind of a tough cookie who is not easily impressed, my interest was piqued. I’m a long-time vegan, I only shop at health food stores, I only eat organic, I use all holistic medicines, and I practiced massage for over 30 years. I write all that to set the stage that people are always surprised to hear that I hate yoga. I should love yoga, totally fits my vibe, but, I just.. don’t. I don’t like the attention to minute detail that it takes, “palms up, fingers relaxed, shoulders down, relax your neck, chin down, stomach pulled in, low back should be relaxed but tail bone tucked….” That’s just not relaxing to me. However, I know it feels so good for my body to stretch.
What is StretchLab?
The environment is a quiet, relaxing large room with roughly 12 low stationary massage tables spread a few feet apart from each other where you get stretched wearing comfortable yoga or workout clothes. The sessions are performed by a ‘Flexologist’ who has received many hours of training with hands-on experience using a variety of techniques and follows a stretching sequence that is customized to fit your individual needs or problem areas, no matter your shape, size or age. The one-on-one sessions are either 25 or 50 minutes in length and for the most part, you get to just relax and enjoy the stretch. They also offer group classes which are a bit different.
What makes the stretching that they use special is the use of Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF). PNF is a popular advanced method of deep stretching. It typically involves passively stretching a muscle (or muscle group), then performing an isometric contraction of that muscle while under stretch, and again passively stretching that same muscle group at a deeper stretch at a greater range of motion.
What does that mean?
The Flexologist puts you into a stretch at about 60% of your pain level. He/she holds that stretch then pushes past that stretch level just a bit and you resist, for three seconds. This is repeated three times per body part; moving it into a slightly deeper stretch each time. It’s how you keep progressing to increase flexibility and range of motion. It’s a ‘stretch-contract-relax’ sequence. Contracting a fully stretched muscle against resistance inhibits the stretch reflex and allows a muscle to stretch farther than it normally would. This is useful during rehab after an injury as well is during post-workout deep stretching and I found it incredibly effective.
My StretchLab Experience
I tried a handful of Flexologists because I’m particular about who I connect with and who touches my body. I’m looking for “something” and I know when I find it. I found a great guy, Frank, who stretched me to the perfect level, was friendly and created a connection, but he kept the focus to the task at hand. The depth of the stretches was based on feedback I provided to him and I was never encouraged to go beyond my comfort level. It felt amazing to experience new levels of comfort within a deeper stretch over time.
What were my results of receiving PNF stretching twice a week for three months? My chronic low back pain went away completely! My flexibility increased to a level I’d never experienced, I felt stronger in my workouts because I was more connected to my muscles and my body.
As a massage therapist for decades, I saw many bodies with shoulder, low back and neck pain who could benefits from regular stretching. Myself included. Athletes work very hard on building muscles, but rarely take time away from their workouts to unwind and relax those muscles. Athlete or not, we could all use what they offer - a customized assisted stretching sessions with the goal of improving flexibility, increasing range of motion, relieving pain, and even correcting imbalances that they find when they do their proprietary initial assessment. As their website states, StretchLab is a unique wellness concept - and it's true.
If you want to give StretchLab a try, and I highly recommend you do, you can either pay a drop-in fee or sign up for a membership with options for four or eight visits per month and you may benefit with improved flexibility, range of motion and pain reduction. An investment that will pay you back.