Move over, high-intensity workouts. A gentler group-fitness class is trending—stretching. Flexibility focused training offers professional guidance and group camaraderie to this once-neglected fitness component. Get ready to groan and “ahh” in sync.
Stretching is simply lengthening or elongating muscles. Although there are many different ways to stretch, they can all be grouped into two categories: static or dynamic. Static stretches are performed without movement. You get into the stretch position and hold it for a specific amount of time. Dynamic stretches are performed with movement to extend the range of motion and flexibility.
Although stretching is low-impact, and should not be painful, if it is not done properly, it can cause injury. If you are not feeling a stretch at the right location, you might be doing it wrong or compensating with your joints. Proper body alignment and posture are essential.
The appropriate distance to stretch varies greatly from person to person. The good news is that your body will tell you when enough is enough. Every muscle in your body contains nerve endings called muscle spindles, which protect your muscles from overstretching. When you are nearing the end of your range of motion, these spindles will send a message to your muscle telling it to stop stretching. If you feel resistance as you push deeper into a stretch, that’s your spindles at work. If you keep pushing beyond that point, you can risk tearing or straining your muscles.
“Relax; don’t do anything that hurts, and breathe,” is the mantra of Stuart Robson, tai chi and stretch instructor at the Honolulu Club (honoluluclub.com). The popular class is a combination of tai chi, physical therapy and classical stretches set to an ever-changing playlist of fun and inspiring music. “Stretching keeps you limber, flexible, improves your balance to prevent falls and it’s good for the mind,” he says. “ You can do it at any age.” In his soothing voice, he tells his class, “Stay in your comfort zone. If you have injuries, know your body.”
““Stretching itself is not a warm-up,” says Christine Keller, P.T., D.P.T., C.M.P.T, owner and operator of Metaphysio Hawaii and yoga instructor at Still and Mov- ing Center (stillandmovingcenter.com). “To avoid injury, never stretch while the body is cold. As we ‘warm’ our tissues, they become more pliable because the viscous gel-like consistency of fluids in our cells and connective tissue liquefy, allowing more freedom of movement. A proper warm-up, which can be isometrics, body weight activities or a light cardio routine, should be done before stretching. Don’t bounce while in a stretch. It can cause micro-tears that could lead to scar tissue in the muscle, which weakens the muscle and can predispose you to larger tears.”
It seems there’s more to stretching than alleviating next-day soreness. That’s why stretching classes are gaining popularity beyond high-level athletes and senior citizens.
“A knowledgeable teacher will give you alignment tips and point out what you should feel—and when you should feel it,” Keller says. “A good stretch class will also incorporate breathing, counteractions and oppositional movement, while you are stretching.”
Classes at Still and Moving Center include: Stretching for Rejuvenation, which is intended to increase flexibility and range of motion, is a series of slow stretches that also help calm the nervous system, stimulate healthy lymph drain- age and release toxins within the muscle layers. The Functional Flexibility class uses static, active and dynamic stretches to lengthen and activate muscles and find release and control in movement.
Stretching is also expanding from the classroom to the spa.
Alexandra Rankin, L.M.T. and Massage Envy (massageenvy.com) corporate resident Body Care Specialist, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, describes the assisted stretch treatment available at Massage Envy franchises in Hawai‘i: “Along with elongating tired, sore and overworked muscles, Total Body Stretch will allow for potential increased circulation in the muscle tissues. This helps aid in correction of poor posture or injury, decrease pain or dysfunction, increase range of motion and a sense of overall wellbeing.”
Total Body Stretch is available in a 30- or 60-minute sessions, and can be paired with a massage or with Rapid Tension Relief using the Hypervolt massage percussion device.
The Spa at Fairmont Kea Lani (fairmont.com) on Maui takes stretching high-tech with the WaveMotion Massage. The massage table tilts, rotates and rocks to create a weightless sensation like you are floating on water. The table’s three-dimensional movements allow therapists to use joint-release techniques and stretch your muscles more effectively. The 60- or 90-minute treatment is both therapeutic and calming.
“The therapist holds each extremity one at a time, using the momentum of the body in conjunction with the table until the entire body is stretched,” says The Spa director, Christianna Claghorn. “The table stops its motion at the muscles’ stretch point, so not to over stretch. The rocking of the table relaxes the central nervous system, which helps the guest to release subconscious holding of muscles, which then allows for further stretching. Due to the deep relaxation from the rocking, these therapist-assisted stretches allow for a gentler deep stretch and safely opens the joints.”
Keller notes: “Before starting a stretching program, it is a good idea to have a professional assessment by a physical therapist, yoga teacher or stretching specialist. This is most important, if you have any underlying injuries or medical conditions that may be exacerbated by stretching.”