Even those of us who are active can overlook the integral role stretching and mindful movement plays in our bodies. Who isn’t guilty of teeing off without rolling out the shoulders or leaving the gym without a cool-down?
But, as mounting research touts the benefits of stretching and mobility training, classes and gyms are popping up dedicated to the practices. Locally, studios like StretchLab, Healix Center and Theorem Fitness & Jiu Jitsu Club prioritize stretching, mobility and recovery as crucial parts of a healthy lifestyle. “You don’t have to be a hardcore athlete to have the benefits of flexibility and have a better range of motion,” says Carolyn Peterson of StretchLab.
With locations in Estero and Naples—and one coming to Fort Myers in 2023—StretchLab positions stretching as the holy grail of fitness. After all, for muscles to be strong and healthy, they must be limber. Think of your seatbelt and how it extends during a collision: Pull too hard and fast, and the strap locks up. Over time, the fabric can fray and rip. Your muscles function similarly; when tight, they can’t extend all the way, causing sharp pain when you swing a racket or even step off a curb. All age groups are susceptible to preventable, mobility-related issues, and the best way to curb pains is to go on the defensive, Carolyn says.
At StretchLab, she and her husband, Scott, focus on assisted stretching, in which trained Flexologists help you get into and hold stretches. Their studio centers on the science-backed PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) method, which involves stretching the muscle to its limit, then contracting for a few seconds. “When you contract the muscle while holding a stretch, the brain says, ‘It’s ok, I see you.’ And that signal tells the muscle to relax and allows you to stretch a little deeper,” she says.
Consistent stretch sessions, she promises, help elongate and strengthen muscles, promoting flexibility and mobility and minimizing potential injury. Participants in their group classes (with no more than six people) range from child athletes to retirees. Those of us who sit at a desk for hours can especially benefit from stretching throughout the day. “There are certain things that you can do that are pretty basic,” Carolyn says, pointing to moves, like calf stretches, modified squats and hand clasps behind your back.
Assisted stretching, like at StretchLab and StretchZone in Naples, is gaining momentum for its ability to help people flex more consistently and safely and reach deeper postures. The Healix Center in Naples, offers one-on-one, assisted stretching in private rooms (plus, medical massages are available to add on). Former fitness competitor, Rebecca White-Steensma, founded Healix, where they offer FST (fascial stretch therapy), which targets the connective tissue around muscles and joints. The personal trainer and fascial stretch therapist recommends the treatment for pre- and post-op patients, since stretching increases blood flow, which is key for recovery.
While stretching is not reserved for athletes, naturally, a large sector of the local clientele involves golfers and pickleball and tennis players. To help improve their game, Rebecca recently added a Titleist Performance Institute-certified biomechanics specialist and performance coach to the team. “You can only do what you can recover from,” she says. StretchLab stocks Normatec compression equipment, which uses air-filled sleeves to push lactic acid throughout the targeted area, reducing muscle aches.
And, it’s not just the physical body that benefits. Rebecca notes many clients who suffer from trauma experience emotional release. Your emotions are carried in your fascia, so when the physical tightness lessens, the mind can let go, too, she says.
Hand-in-hand with stretching is mobility training, or range-of-motion workouts. “The better you move, the better you feel, and the better you perform,” says Dominick Nusdeu, owner of Bonita-based Theorem Fitness & Jiu Jitsu Club, which offers mobility classes. When range-of-motion for bigger muscles is limited, assistance muscles, like your vulnerable lower back, have to pick up the slack. Mobility movements (think: lateral lunges, foam rolling, ankle rolls) combine flexibility, strength and balance to gain control of the muscles around your joints, so you can bend, swing, reach and jump with ease. The ACE-certified orthopedic exercise specialist offers 45-minute strength-and-mobility classes with movements for the whole body.
Further south, Naples Personal Training teaches the Kinstretch method, which melds stretching and mobility exercises for routines you can do on the go. In one-on-one sessions, trainers guide you through exercises (fire hydrants for the hips, shoulder rotations) that you can incorporate into your routine and do for a couple hours each week.
Regardless of your approach, all the pros agree: Mobility and stretching are for everyone and should be done consistently—not just before or after a workout. That’s especially true if you want to prevent injury or lessen those pesky pains that come with age. “It doesn’t matter your age, you can always improve your flexibility and range of motion … that’s gonna help with everything in your day-to-day life,” Carolyn says.