Stretching studios are the hot new thing. But can they help triathletes?

Stretching studios are the hot new thing. But can they help triathletes?

Stretching exercises are the next big fitness fad, according to a recent article in The New York Times. There are no fewer than 35 so-called “stretching studios,” where employees help you stretch, splashed across the country right now with names like StretchOut, Stretch Zone and Stretchlab. You have every right to be skeptical, but stretching studios aren’t about paying someone to show you a few simple yoga poses. Here’s what triathletes need to know about the trend.

“There are certain stretches that we do that are really difficult or near impossible to do with a yoga pose for most people,” says Tim Trost, one of the owners of Los Angeles-based Stretchlab. Stretching techniques vary by studio, but Stretchlab utilizes PNF stretching, or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching, aka the “push-and-release” method. It’s an advanced form of flexibility training that involves both isometric contraction and static stretch-and-hold—and requires the aid of a partner (or an inanimate object, if you want to try it on your own). It improves active and passive range of motion, Stretchlab reports, and has been shown to help improve athletic performance by increasing muscular strength and flexibility which, in turn, can help prevent injury.

Stretchlab’s clientele ranges from athletes (about 80 percent) to people simply looking to stay more flexible, mobile and better balanced, as well as clients who suffer from Parkinson’s disease or have paralysis due to stroke or cerebral palsy. One-on-one sessions with Stretchlab’s “flexologists” range from 20–60 minutes, and packages start from $119 for five 20-minute stretches.

Triathletes train so often and use their whole body, so “they can get extremely stiff,” Trost says. “Biking and running are such repetitive movements that the hamstring, IT bands and hip flexors get really tight.” Stretching can help address those issues. He recommends IT band stretches to help with running, hip flexor stretches to help with cycling and a shoulder or scapula stretch to help with swimming, done at least three times per week and ideally after a workout when muscles are more pliable, which will help reduce muscle soreness.

“People are learning that prehab is a very important part of the fitness regime and all-around general health,” Trost says. Stretchlab’s owners believe the rise of stretching studios is a natural result of the last decade’s personal training boom. “Stretching is an often over-looked but critical part of performance and recovery for athletes, but also for general mobility, balance and movement for everyone.”

Feel the Stretch

Lauren Leitner, manager of Stretchlab in West Hollywood, Calif., on three stretches perfect for triathletes. 

For swimming: Flexible shoulders will help with overall upper-body strength, in addition to aiding your swimming. Do a Reaching-up Shoulder Stretch by placing one hand reaching up behind your back and the other reaching over your shoulder, trying to touch your hands between your shoulder blades.

For biking: Cycling can cause over-active hip flexors, which could lead to restriction in the movement of the hip’s extension and, eventually, back pain. To stretch the hip flexors, get into a lunge position with the back knee down, sitting tall and sinking into the front hip. For a deeper stretch, you can extend the opposite hand from the forward leg to the ceiling and lean toward the front knee.

For running: The IT band stabilizes the knee joint, so when it’s tight, it can cause pain all around the knee. In addition to foam rolling to keep it lubricated, you can stretch the IT band by standing tall with your right leg crossed over left. Lean to the right (toward front leg) until you feel a stretch along the side of your left leg.