We tried it: Stretch*d
It's no secret that stretching is a crucial component in a successful workout or training session. Stretching is necessary for the prevention of injury, to increase performance and maintain flexibility. However, many of us scurry out when it's time to cool down post-workout.
Armed with this info, the four Stretch*d co-founders decided to create a space where clients could come in for one-on-one sessions to help rehab, combat aches and pains, or unwind. "Stretching is a fundamental modality for general well-being," explained Stretch*d co-founder Vanessa Chu. "The goal of the Stretch*d method is to reset the body to its general state of balance. The wear and tear of our lives throw us off balance and stretching brings it back into alignment."
Concerning my fitness regimen, I'm a bit all over the place -- I alternate between high-intensity interval training, traditional spin, Pilates and, most recently, AQUA (a water-based cycling class). I try my best to stretch, but to be transparent, I could be doing much more. Stretch*d, located in New York City, seemed like the perfect opportunity to start on a progressive path.
What is Stretch*d?
I arrived on-site in a T-shirt and sweatpants because I was instructed that comfy soft clothes were the standard. Upon arrival I was greeted by Chu, who is typically on-site. I immediately noticed the option to select how much interaction you want with your Stretch*r, the person who guides you through the experience, and said a silent prayer of gratitude. I can't tell you how many massage sessions ended up in full-blown conversation when all I wanted was to decompress. Since I was reviewing for this story, I opted to chat it up versus selecting the "silence is golden" option.
The brightly lit studio is made up of eight semiprivate rooms that are very Zen-like. "We like to keep a relaxed vibe at the space but at the same time keep it playful and delight your senses in all ways," said Chu, a former competitive gymnast and collegiate springboard diver. The waiting area included a self-stretch space boasting recovery tools like vibrating foam rollers, an inversion table, massage chair and more.
Service options range from 25-minute ($45) to 75-minute ($135) sessions, which are all enough to enjoy a full-body stretch, but your time can be tailored to target a particular area. You might think 55 minutes is too long to dedicate to stretching. Trust me, it's not. "Most people are surprised at how long they can spend stretching when we do the work for them. The most common complaint we get was that people wished their stretch was longer," Chu said.
"The most common areas that people mention are hips, lower back and neck," she said. "What we see most often is pain and stiffness from the constant use of phones, tablets, computers and being stuck at a desk. This is creating an alarming amount of issues for our clients."
Stretch*d also uses cannabidiol (CBD), which is a naturally occurring cannabinoid constituent of cannabis, as a tool. The front desk has an array of CBD-infused waters, gummies, brownies and more. "We're all about feeling good and relaxed at Stretch*d. We find that CBD is a natural, gentle yet effective means to achieve this," said Chu, who describes her clients as early adopters. "They are seeking the latest, newest, natural ways to feel good and they come to Stretch*d to find it. There's a lot of buzz around CBD lately, and we carefully selected the brands we used based on quality and sourcing."
Let's get limber
My Stretch*r was Jeff Brannigan, another co-founder. He received his master's in health promotion from American University and has been working in sports therapy. Brannigan has stretched out numerous college and professional athletes, including NBA player Emeka Okafor, 2014 Boston marathon winner Meb Keflezighi and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dominic Leone, to name a few. I was in good hands.
The whole experience is pretty intimate. Lying down on the cushy Stretch*d table -- using hydraulics, it gently lifts you up and down so the Stretch*r can be in the perfect position per stretch -- I quickly had flashbacks of spending time with my waxer with my legs up in my air. Can you say awkward? But the initial squeamishness quickly faded to bliss as my tight quads, hamstrings and calves were gently stretched after a pretty tough Pilates class I took the day before. Cute phrases like "Are you pulling my leg?" or "Loose plans" stamped on the ceiling also minimized my initial panic.
Unlike what I'd traditionally practice at home, the Stretch*d method is made up of controlled repetitive movements in which each position is held briefly for multiple reps to isolate specific muscle groups. "There is a long list of reasons that we do things a certain way," Chu said. "We find that when people stretch on their own, they are often holding positions with their weight into the stretch. The problem with this is that they are putting a lot of weight and pressure into the same muscle that they are attempting to stretch. This creates a lot of stress in that area and will prevent the muscle from relaxing and lengthening properly."
To conclude my session, Brannigan gave me a mini head and neck massage with, you guessed it, CBD-infused lotion. "People love the extra "Get R*laxed" upgrade where we apply CBD cream as we traction your neck at the end of every stretch," Chu said.
The morning after
Maybe it was the CBD-infused water, but I felt like I was walking on sunshine after one session. I felt longer, taller and much more relaxed than when I arrived. I'd compare the experience to a great massage without the grogginess or fumbling around in the dark to get dressed. I emerged onto the streets of Manhattan feeling like a new woman ready to conquer my day.
Of course, I didn't want the feeling to end, which is why Stretch*d sends a follow-up email with recommended positions to put into practice before your next visit. I asked Chu if she had a favorite stretch to share. "If I had to choose one single stretch for everyone to do each day, it would be for the back," she explains. "Several recent studies have found back pain to be the most common and debilitating issues we see worldwide. Almost 80 percent of people will experience back pain in their lifetime."
The home stretch
This is what Chu dubs the "twist and dip," a full-body stretch to try at home:
Place your hands behind your head. Interlace your fingers with your elbows out. Rotate your upper body in one direction until you have twisted as far as you can go. When you feel loosened up (after three or four repetitions in one direction), rotate, hold and then bring your elbow toward the outside of the same side knee. Return to an upright position. Work one side at a time, completing all repetitions before beginning on the opposite side.
Janell M. Hickman is a freelance beauty writer and branding consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She occasionally dabbles in fitness classes, but you can mostly find her writing on her laptop for Elle, Allure, Lonny, Well + Good, Man Repeller, Essence and more.