In Denver’s fitness-obsessed culture, it’s not hard to find a yoga studio, bootcamp class, or CrossFit box—or to identify the people who spend their spare time in those spaces. For Dina Silverman, the owner of StretchLab, which opened in Cherry Creek in May and has two future locations planned for Cherry Hills Village and DTC, Denver’s fitness culture created an opportunity: provide a space for people to recover.
“Just going to OrangeTheory five days a week is not enough,” she says. “You need to make sure you’re also making time to recover…and you’re doing it regularly, consistently, and long enough.”
StretchLab is an assisted stretching studio franchise that started in Los Angeles. The studios—there are about 25 currently open across the U.S.—employ professionals called flexologists who are trained in StretchLab’s signature PNF stretching technique. PNF, which stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, is a science-backed approach to muscle flexibility that uses muscle engagement to increase range of motion. For example, if you have tight hamstrings, a flexologist may have you lie on your back on the stretching table and lift one leg straight up in front of you. The flexologist will press your leg toward your chest until you feel a stretch. Then, she will ask you to resist, or push back against her hand. You hold that contraction for about 20 seconds. Then, you relax and she presses your leg closer to your chest.
On top of their StretchLab training, flexologists also have backgrounds in massage, physical therapy, personal training, yoga, or Pilates. Those backgrounds influence how they approach stretching sessions, and StretchLab aims to pair clients with flexologists based on their goals (someone coming back from an injury would ideally be matched with a physical therapist).
The Cherry Creek studio is filled with rows of cushioned stretching tables, complete with cubbies to stow your things. When I visited in June, Jenn, the flexologist who worked on me for 25 minutes, started by asking me if I had any tight spots or injuries. I told her about my sacroiliac (SI) joint dysfunction, a nagging issue that’s limited my fitness activities since last fall. She targeted that issue throughout the session with stretches to open my hips and loosen my hamstrings, while simultaneously engaging me in conversation that distracted me from the fact that another person was moving my body around.
While I’m not new to stretching (thanks to my brief childhood exposure to gymnastics) and I’ve maintained decent mobility into my mid-20s, I could tell a difference in mobility after working with Jenn. Stretches I hardly felt on my right side, my left side could barely tolerate. When she asked me to push back against her with my left leg, my effort didn’t seem to translate down my leg. Imbalances like that are the kind of things StretchLab flexologists track after every session.
“We’re a lot more goal-oriented than a massage,” Silverman says. “Most people that come here have something they’re working on.”
Notes from each session are kept in a log that flexologists can reference at the beginning of future sessions to either refresh their knowledge or catch up on a client they haven’t worked with before. Flexologists also offer advice of stretching exercises to do at home, which is helpful since a basic membership includes four 25-minute sessions per month for $159 (two 25-minute sessions can be stacked to make a 50-minute session, which targets the whole body).
In the end, my 25-minute session felt good. It pointed out discrepancies in my body that need attention. A week later, I spoke to Rich Pennington, 62, a member who’s been going to StretchLab since early May, and he insisted that the assisted stretching has revolutionized his functional health. He’s now able to stay on his feet longer and walk farther distances without pain. “I’m moving better than I’ve moved in years,” he says.
StretchLab may not be the silver bullet for recovery and injury prevention, but stretching belongs in the holistic picture of physical health and wellness. And if you’re struggling to touch your toes or clap your hands behind your back, StretchLab might just give you the extra push you need to get there.