Health clubs have begun aggressively marketing one-on-one stretching sessions as part of their personal training menus.
Wisconsin Athletic Club members may think signing up for Pro-Stretch will help them touch their toes. And it will. But it will also open their eyes. "People don't realize how quickly they can see results," says Nick Neitzel, director of fitness for the WAC, which boasts six Milwaukee-area locations. "The greatest changes come through some type of assisted stretch."
Some professional-assisted stretching techniques, such as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), have been around for decades and used mostly on elite athletes. However, health clubs have begun aggressively marketing one-on-one stretching sessions as part of their personal training menus. The majority of the WAC's nearly 100 personal trainers possess the requisite skills to perform assisted stretching, and 15- and 30-minute sessions are currently offered for $10 and $20, respectively, with multi-session discount packages available.
That's a bargain, according to personal trainer Loretta Lynn, owner of Dynamic Body Stretch in Santa Monica, Calif. Lynn sets up shop at a Powerhouse Gym location, where clients pay $250 an hour for her stretching assistance. "Trainers stretch their clients all the time, but now it's becoming more of a separate thing," Lynn says. "People work out and then get a full-body stretch."
That old workout mantra - no pain, no gain - also applies to assisted stretching. "We tell people it's a seven or eight on the pain scale," Neitzel says. "They just need to deal with it and push through it."
Clients are expected to push, quite literally, during PNF. An assisted hamstring stretch using PNF, for example, puts the client on his or her back with one leg in the air. The trainer maximizes the stretch and then holds the leg in place as the client contracts the hamstring muscles. After a deep breath and a relaxing exhale, the trainer can typically advance the leg a full three to five inches farther. "You see people's faces, and it's like, 'I can't believe it. How does that happen?' " Neitzel says. "You're shortening the muscle, so you do the stretching for us. When you exhale, your body relaxes. I just take what lengths your body has given me."
Such gains aren't possible when stretching solo, adds Neitzel. Neither is the optimal "wet noodle" mindset - PNF notwithstanding - that clients should carry into assisted stretching sessions. Of course, those leading the stretch need to know what they're doing, too. "I actually teach courses on how to stretch people, because a lot people don't really know how," Lynn says. "You're pushing somebody else's body to an extreme, so if you don't know what you're doing, you could hurt somebody."
That may be one reason why some clubs have been slow to implement an assisted-stretching program, Lynn adds. Still, the return on investment in education - for both the stretchers and those being stretched - can be substantial. "I charge twice as much money for stretching as I do for training," says Lynn, who in 10 years in the business has stretched athletes, children and the elderly, including one 84-year-old man who no longer requires assistance when walking. "Basically they're lying there and I'm doing all the work. I stretch every muscle in the body, and it's not easy. But once they've had it done, they're like, 'I don't know how I can live without this.' "