Stretching studios are popping up everywhere. Are they worth it? | CNN Business


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Go through CrossFit, yoga and Peloton. Stretching sessions are the fashion of the fitness revival.

Studios like StretchLab, Stretch Zone, Lymbr, and Stretchd are popping up in malls and on street corners, offering tight, sore people one-on-one stretching sessions with flexologists and stretch therapists for $100 or more per appointment.

It is not yoga, physical therapy or massage these sessions focus only on stretching. In a one-on-one session, an instructor will help people with back, hamstring, shoulder and other stretches.

High-end gym chains like Life Time and budget options like Planet Fitness are also trying to capitalize on the stretching trend, adding specialty stretching classes for small groups and devoting more space to stretching. Planet Fitness is adding dedicated stretching areas to its gyms for the first time.

Bookings for stretching classes at gyms increased 91% in 2023 over the previous year, according to ClassPass data. StretchLab opened its 400th studio in November and has franchise agreements for 900 more studios.

Stretching is also making its way into the cultural zeitgeist. Larry David recently told Seth Myers that he doesn’t feel any difference after someone comes to his house to stretch him. The character Roman Roy from the TV show Succession has an awkward stretch meeting with his trainer.

Stretching studios and gyms make claims like better performance, eliminating chronic pain, and pain relief. But those claims are exaggerated, say sports medicine doctors.

In fact, there is little evidence that stretching prevents injury. Some Sports medicine doctors say functional and strength training and cardiovascular exercise offer broader benefits for most people than stretching.

Each of the stretching studios use their own stretching methods.

At StretchLab, for example, employees stretch clients using proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching techniques, or push and release by resisting during the stretch and then releasing.

Studios also have different training requirements for instructors, who are often certified massage therapists, physical therapists, yoga instructors, or have other backgrounds in health and fitness. Verified Flexologists with a StretchLabs background must complete a 70-hour proprietary training program, which includes an in-person workshop.

Life Time has launched Dynamic Stretch, a one-on-one assisted stretching program with a company-certified stretch specialist. Executives said in a recent conference call that they expect the program to reach $50 million in revenue this year. EOS Fitness, with more than 100 locations nationwide, now offers group stretching classes and personalized stretching sessions.

Stretching has become more popular in recent years, partly in response to the rise of weightlifting, especially among women.

People are more interested in weights now than years ago and less interested in cardio, Craig Benson, CEO of Planet Fitness, said recently. Planet Fitness and other gyms have reduced treadmills and elliptical machines in gyms to create more space for weight training and stretching areas.

Other workouts like Pilates and barre have also become more popular. Some see stretching as complementary to these types of classes.

We saw it across the board, said Sarah Luna, president of Xponential Fitness, owner of StretchLab and boutique brands like ClubPilates and Pure Barre. We see all ages, from young athletes to seniors to those trying to improve their golf game or swimming.

Stretching can help people increase flexibility and range of motion. But stretching isn’t a panacea for preventing injuries or helping people improve their overall health, doctors say.

For injured people, stretching can make things worse.

There is no strong evidence that prescribing stretching as an isolated treatment will prevent injury or optimize recovery, said Dr. Adam Tenforde, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and medical director of the Spaulding National Running Center.

If people spend 25 to 50 minutes on paid stretching, they may not get the same health benefits if they focused on aerobic or high-interval training, he said.

And even for people who feel they lack flexibility, stretching doesn’t address the root cause of their pain or stiffness. It’s likely a sign of muscle weakness or other impairment and should be seen by a physical therapist or qualified health care provider, he said.

Instead of spending time and money on a stretching class, most people would be better off going for a brisk walk or some other moderate physical activity.

I’d rather see people work on strengthening than stretching, said Dr. Jesse Charnoff, a physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. If you spend the same amount of time and energy on walking, cardio, and strength training, you’ll probably get more benefits.

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