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Health Club Management

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New trends: Assisted stretching

A combination of being hunched over desks and dynamic workouts have led to a new trend in assisted stretching studios. Is this the next big thing and should health club operators be adding it for their members? Kath Hudson reports

By Kath Hudson | Published in Health Club Management 2018 issue 8
StretchLab is a new stretching concept from global franchise business Xponential Fitness
StretchLab is a new stretching concept from global franchise business Xponential Fitness
Recreational athletes come to improve performance - Diane Waye, Stretching in the Bay

Stretching every day is as important for self-care as sleeping, eating, flossing and bathing,” says Diane Waye, owner of Stretching in the Bay, San Francisco. “For those with sedentary jobs, it mitigates the effects of limited movements, compromised positions and repetitive actions. While for those who are active, it optimises performance, restores the body and brings it back into balance.”

Waye has offered Assisted Isolated Stretching (AIS) for 21 years at her San Francisco clinic, and says interest and awareness is growing. “People are waking up to the importance of shedding stiffness every day. Not just Baby Boomers either – young people come to me to work on their flexibility and posture, knowing they need to move beyond a sedentary lifestyle if they want to stay really well.

“Recreational athletes also come to improve performance and the longevity of their activities; some people come to save their joints – tight muscles compress joints and wear them out too soon, and muscle imbalances create problems and pain. Some people come just because it feels so good to be stretched!”

Good for neurological conditions
According to Waye, AIS is also helpful for people with neurological conditions including Parkinson’s Disease, stroke and Multiple Sclerosis and challenges such as fibromyalgia, functional leg length difference, kyphosis and scoliosis.

Flexibility training is also a good place to start for sedentary people who are starting to exercise, because it increases the range of movement, allowing them to go on to exercise and build strength more safely and without injury.

Lou DeFrancisco, president of the Californian-born chain of stretch studios, StretchLab, says it’s not surprising that stretching is becoming so popular. “If you asked 100 people if stretching was good for you, 100 people would say yes,” he says. “It’s also been driven by the boom in group exercise and HIIT over the last 15 years – people are following the example of pro-athletes and showing more interest in active recovery.”

So why are people paying to be stretched, rather than just stretching themselves? Many are put off stretching because they don’t know what to do, or it feels painful, but mainly it’s because assisted stretching is more effective, as the body can be eased past the point of natural resistance. Even people who do yoga and pilates are buying into stretching services because it gives them so much more flexibility in their practice.

Educating the public
Entrepreneur Kika DuBose who has developed her own method of assisted stretching and is franchising her Kika Stretch Studios, says stretching is not the next big trend, but assisted stretching is. “In 2011, when I first opened my studio in New York, no one was into the assisted stretching concept. People thought I was crazy for having a studio that offered one-to-one stretch sessions,” she says. “But, after educating the public and showing them how much better their results would be if they allowed someone to help them, they were hooked! Once people started seeing that a stretch studio could help them feel better in life, they jumped on the idea.”

Independent entrepreneurs like Waye and DuBose have driven consumer awareness and created the demand, and now the trend has caught the attention of big operators.

StretchLab – which was created by a PT with a client who liked to be stretched – has been acquired by Xponential Fitness (see box on previous page) and billion dollar spa franchisor Massage Envy launched its own stretching concept, the Streto Method, about a year ago. Developed in conjunction with an acclaimed chiropractor, a massage therapist and an ergonomist, this involves 10 stretching sequences that work from the top down, helping to improve flexibility, increase mobility and boost everyday performance.

Part of a wellness routine
Lead stretch therapist and trainer for Massage Envy Kevin Ramsey says: “Although the stretching category is gaining momentum, only about one third of people know the proper stretching techniques. As consumers become more aware of the benefits of stretching, they’ll need more products and services, which will not only help to educate them about proper stretching techniques, but also help them to seamlessly incorporate stretching into their wellness routine.”

Unlike a massage, assisted stretching doesn’t make people feel sleepy, as it’s an active rather than passive experience. Although some studios have one-to-one space for clients who need privacy, treatments typically take place in a communal room, with conversation between therapist and client as they ask them to interact and engage certain muscles. “People leave feeling invigorated, taller, with better posture and ready to attack the rest of the day,” says DeFrancisco.

Given that everyone can benefit from assisted stretching and that both being active and being sedentary necessitates the need to stretch, and that even yoga and pilates isn’t enough to undo the postural problems we create for ourselves, this does indeed look like a trend that is here to stay. So how can health and fitness operators engage?

The main challenge is to ensure staff are correctly trained, as wrongly stretching a client could lead to injuries. It’s important to fully research and vet any training programmes and collaborators before making any investments.

It won’t be long before assisted stretching becomes as popular in the UK as it is in the US. Ten Pilates is already offering the service, StretchLab is on the hunt for a master franchisor, while Virgin Active has added a stretching and self massage class to its menu, which includes trigger point therapy, dynamic and static stretches.

StretchLab

StretchLab is one operator that looks set to bring stretching into the mainstream. Founded in California in 2015, by Saul Janson and Tim Trost, it was acquired by Xponential Fitness last year, to create a franchise business. This year will see the launch of 30 to 40 sites in the US, with 150 more in 2019, as well as overseas expansion. It’s a simple business model and straightforward fit-out, with open plan studios and 10 stretch benches. As a result, it has the lowest cost of entry in Xponential’s portfolio, costing $150,000 to $225,000.

Two treatments are offered, both of which have been developed in-house by director of education and stretching expert, Brad Walker. The 25 minute stretch works the major muscle groups and and 50 minutes treats the whole body. Price points vary per location, but the average is US$65 for 50 minutes.

Three main target groups have been identified: Warrior Wayne and Wendy, who are in to MMA and Crossfit, know the benefits of stretching and are interested in active recovery and performance. Then there is Nimble Nancy and Nathan, who are active, empty nesters who use stretching as part of their fitness and wellness puzzle. Finally, Holistic Heather and Husband are yoga and pilates fanatics, who want to stretch to improve their performance in the poses.

StretchLab has a simple set-up, with 10 stretch benches. Franchises are US$150k-US$225k
StretchLab has a simple set-up, with 10 stretch benches. Franchises are US$150k-US$225k
Stretching in the Bay was a stretching pioneer, launching 21 years ago
Stretching in the Bay was a stretching pioneer, launching 21 years ago

Streto

Massage Envy’s Total Body Stretch is an assisted stretching service that uses the proprietary Streto Method – 10 stretching sequences that work from the top down, helping to improve flexibility, increase mobility and boost everyday performance. The movements help muscles to move beyond their natural resistance, allowing a deeper, more effective stretch than the individual can typically achieve themselves.

Streto is the latest offering from Massage Envy and was introduced about a year ago. The franchise has already launched in Australia, where the first three locations have been established by an Australian master franchisee. Other priority target markets include Canada, the UK, Germany, Japan and other advanced economies in Europe and Asia.

Massage Envy has developed a stretch protocol called Streto which has 10 stretching sequences
Massage Envy has developed a stretch protocol called Streto which has 10 stretching sequences
Massage Envy sees its Streto stretch concept as improving yield and room optimisation
Massage Envy sees its Streto stretch concept as improving yield and room optimisation
Kika DuBose opened her stretch studio in New York City in 2011
Kika DuBose opened her stretch studio in New York City in 2011
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A combination of being hunched over desks and dynamic workouts have led to a new trend – assisted stretching studios. Should health clubs get on board? We take a closer look...
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