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

·3 mins

Move over CrossFit, yoga and Peloton. Stretching sessions are the hot revival fitness fad. Studios like StretchLab, Stretch Zone, Lymbr and Stretch’d are popping up in strip malls and street corners, offering one-on-one stretching sessions with ‘flexologists’ and ‘stretch therapists’ for $100 or more per appointment. In a one-on-one session, an instructor will assist people with back, hamstring, shoulder and other stretches. High-end gym chains and budget options are also trying to capitalize on the stretching trend, adding specialty stretching classes for small groups and devoting more space to stretching. Reservations to stretching classes at gyms increased 91% in 2023 from the year prior, according to data from ClassPass. Stretching is also making its way into the cultural zeitgeist. Stretching studios and gyms make claims such as ‘perform better,’ ’eliminate chronic pain’ and ‘relieve soreness.’ But these claims are overblown, sports medicine doctors say. In fact, there is little evidence that stretching prevents injuries. Some sports medicine doctors say functional and strength training and cardiovascular exercise offer wider benefits for most people than stretching. Each of the stretching studios use their own stretching methods. At StretchLab, for example, employees stretch out clients using ‘proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching’ techniques, or ‘push and release’ — 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. EOS Fitness, with more than 100 locations around the country, now offers group stretching classes and personalized stretch sessions. Stretching has become more popular in recent years partly in response to the surge in weight lifting — particularly among women. Planet Fitness and other gyms have scaled back treadmills and elliptical machines in gyms to create more room for weight training and stretching areas. Other workouts such as Pilates and barre have also become more popular. Some see stretching as complementary to these types of classes. ‘We’re seeing it across the board,’ said the president of Xponential Fitness, which owns StretchLab and boutique brands like ClubPilates and Pure Barre. ‘We see all ages from young athletes to elderly to those that are trying to improve their golf game or swimming.’ Stretching can help people increase flexibility and range of motion. But stretching is not a panacea for preventing injuries or helping people improve their overall health, doctors say. For people who are injured, stretching could make things worse. ‘There isn’t strong evidence that prescribing stretching as an isolated treatment is going to prevent injury or optimize recovery,’ said a medical director. Instead of spending time and money on a stretching class, most people would be better served going for a brisk walk or some other moderate physical activity. ‘I would much rather see people work on strengthening than stretching,’ said a physiatrist.