S-t-r-e-t-c-h out for next fitness fad

A stretch coach at Power Stretch Studios in Manhattan cupping her hand over the tight muscles on a client's shoulder blade, to compress it and help it stretch and release. Coaches help clients loosen overworked and contracted muscles (above) and also
A stretch coach at Power Stretch Studios in Manhattan cupping her hand over the tight muscles on a client's shoulder blade, to compress it and help it stretch and release. PHOTO: NYTIMES
A stretch coach at Power Stretch Studios in Manhattan cupping her hand over the tight muscles on a client's shoulder blade, to compress it and help it stretch and release. Coaches help clients loosen overworked and contracted muscles (above) and also
Coaches help clients loosen overworked and contracted muscles (above) and also provide one-on-one sessions.PHOTO: NYTIMES
A stretch coach at Power Stretch Studios in Manhattan cupping her hand over the tight muscles on a client's shoulder blade, to compress it and help it stretch and release. Coaches help clients loosen overworked and contracted muscles (above) and also
Coaches help clients loosen overworked and contracted muscles and also provide one-on-one sessions (above).PHOTO: NYTIMES

Ms Nazare Rodrigues is 41. But she learnt recently, as she sat on the floor, extended her legs and tried valiantly to touch her fingertips to her toes, that she is a lot older - 56 - in stretch years.

"I feel very stiff, you know?" said Ms Rodrigues, a legal assistant who signed up for a 45-minute session at Power Stretch Studios in Manhattan, New York. "I have problems bending down and picking things up."

The firm's owner, Ms Hakika V. DuBose, is a former actress-dancer who opened her business in 2011 to address what she saw as a gap in the exercise market - facilities devoted exclusively to relaxing the bundled muscles of the tired and toned.

"There are all these peak fitness places that have popped up," said Ms DuBose, 32. She has three Power Stretch outlets in New Jersey and one in Florida.

"People come here five times a week and their muscles are very overworked and contracted."

She is not the only entrepreneur who is confident that stretching is the new big thing in fitness.

StretchOut Studios opened seven months ago in the Boston area, specialising in a technique called active isolated stretching.

In the Los Angeles area, Stretchlab, which opened in 2015, has three studios and offers one-on- one personalised stretch sessions.

Stretch Zone, which says on its website that it can "re-educate" the muscles of baby boomers, appears to be the largest national chain. It has 31 outlets in California, Florida, North Carolina and other states, with locations about to open in Houston, Detroit and Milford, Connecticut.

"Stretching is especially important in our modern world because we don't have as many slow movements integrated into most of our lives anymore," said Ms Diane Waye, the owner of Stretching By The Bay, a studio in San Francisco.

"We need to keep our range of motions open to prevent joint disease, pain and posture issues, and to improve athletic performance."

JUST ANOTHER PASSING TREND?

However, these stretching emporiums have an uphill climb. The fitness industry has seen its share of fads - step classes, Callanetics, dancercise, Zumba - and failures.

In December, for example, David Barton closed its gyms in Boston, New York and elsewhere. Real estate prices are high, customer loyalty uncertain.

"Just like any small business, there are definite challenges to operating a health club," said Ms Meredith Poppler, vice-president for communications at the Inter- national Health, Racquet & Sports- club Association, a trade group.

"Competition, especially in urban areas, is often fierce and member retention rates keep many club operators up all night."

Ms DuBose and her peers face a particular challenge: Their programmes are meant simply to supplement a workout.

Also, stretching may hurt so good, but it still hurts. "You have to let your body get used to it," said Mr Rick Charron, the manager of StretchOut Studios.

"This is something that may start off painful. But you give it a couple of times and the pain will decrease as your range of motion increases."

To relax those taut muscles, the stretch coaches work one-on-one with clients in customised sessions that are part-massage, part-chiropractic and part-dancer's warm-up.

"It's all about creating space within the body," said Ms DuBose.

Her target audience - the sedentary souls perennially slouched over their computers and fitness enthusiasts who view pre- and post-workout stretching as time better spent in transit or in the shower.

"Whether you work out or don't, your muscles contract throughout the day," Ms DuBose said. "That keeps on happening and, over time, it will put pressure on your nerves and bones."

Whether speciality stretch studios can compete with stretching options offered at fitness clubs and elsewhere is another question.

"There's nothing unique about passive stretching," said Ms Arlen Zwickler, the general manager of the Athletic and Swim Club at Equitable Centre in Manhattan.

"Trainers who are well-schooled can do it. A massage therapist can do it."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2017, with the headline 'S-t-r-e-t-c-h out for next fitness fad'. Print Edition | Subscribe