FT Undercover checks out three stretch brands

StretchLab aims its services at athletes and older clients who want to maintain flexibility.

First there was Jazzercise, in the 1980s, then Jane Fonda-led VHS tapes in which everybody wore sweater-like cream-colored leg warmers. What followed in my quest to fling the flab? Kickboxing, Cardio Blast, Tabata, spinning, Zumba, Step, BodyPump, African Cardio (don’t ask), hot yoga and so on. As for stretching, that was a thing we did for 30 seconds, or not, at the end of class. So color me surprised when I learned about StretchLab, a franchise devoted entirely to stretching. Turns out I’m one of two targeted demographics of the concept—elite athletes and the chronologically gifted—unfortunately the less flattering one. When I arrived at StretchLab’s studio and purchased my special socks ($29), my stretching professional Beth got right to work, firmly pushing each limb into an awkward position until it registered as a six on a scale of one to 10, 10 being painful. Each pose felt goooooood. Beth proclaimed me "surprisingly" flexible in the upper body but with tight hamstrings and adductors, and recommended I come once a week for a 25-minute stretch ($149 for four times a month.)

The upshot: A session at StretchLab feels great, but the first studio in Chicago needs a better location, preferably near complementary fitness concepts so one can get a boxing workout, say, plus a stretch back to back. — BE

Assisted stretching concepts are gaining traction in the franchised wellness space, as evidenced by the other two brands featured here, and Massage Envy decided to angle for a piece of the action in 2017 when it introduced its Total Body Stretch service. It seems like a bit of a stretch (pun intended) for the massage brand, which is also expanding more heavily into skincare treatments and products, but in the name of research I booked a 30-minute appointment. After changing into comfortable clothes and hearing about Massage Envy’s proprietary Streto Method, only about 20 minutes remained for the actual stretching. My massage therapist (she took the optional training to perform the stretch service) made good use of the time, though, moving my arms and legs into different positions and occasionally using a yoga block or spiky massage ball to address muscle trigger points. She gave me high marks for flexibility and range of motion but noted my shoulders were especially tense—not surprising given my keyboard-centric occupation. Not a revolutionary experience to be sure but my neck thanked me.

The upshot: For $26 a pop I could see adding on a 30-minute stretch session before a massage but as a standalone service it didn’t quite meet my must-have threshold. — LM

In a nice, wealthy suburb of Atlanta, a friendly young woman named Rachel explained how she was about to strap me to a table and push on my knee. It was slightly awkward at first, but the Stretch Zone procedure promised to push and pull me every which way to help me stretch better than a quick toe-touch could. And after a long day of travel, I could certainly use it. For the next half hour, Rachel contorted my limbs in a series of three moves to get a light stretch, a good stretch and a deep stretch. On a scale of one to 10, I told her when I was at three, five and seven, respectively, with each move. By the end, I was loose all over and felt like I had just done some light yoga without the actual exertion. It was a good feeling and I didn’t need a shower afterward. But was it worth the $55 cost? Not yet. Namely, I’m just not the ideal demographic. Typical customers are middle age or older and looking to maintain their range of motion or avoid stiffness, or are athletes looking to get an edge in routine stretching sessions. I, thankfully, don’t need any of that quite yet.

The upshot: As good as Stretch Zone’s service was, I think I’ll save my money and stick to living room yoga for those sore days. — NU

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