Two bicycle crashes put Kent Weisner, 75, in the hands of orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists, but he remained stiff and in pain.
An active person who wasn’t ready to accept limitations on his skiing, bicycle riding or walking, Weisner found his way to assisted stretching — an old concept with a new business twist — and he says he hasn’t felt this good in a long time.
“I was so angry at not having a normal life again,” said Weisner, a retired software developer who lives in Belle Isle and still rides his bike. “What’s nice about this is immediately after you get stretched like this, you feel a lot stronger — because you are.”
Assisted-stretch studios have been popping up nationwide for a couple of years, including in Central Florida. Most promise a more active lifestyle, better health and posture and a more youthful feeling.
Weisner goes to The Stretching Room in College Park, a nearly 3-year-old business true to its name.
Clients lie on padding on the floor in the one-room studio as practitioners Elina Nubaryan and Greg Liessner gently, but firmly, pull and push their limbs this way and that while the clients resist.
On a recent visit, Nubaryan also sat above Weisner on a stool and kneaded his right hip and chest with her feet.
The businesses advertise their services for everyone — a chain called Stretch Zone boasts musician Lenny Kravitz, actor George Hamilton, NBA player Dwyane Wade and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown as clients — but most of The Stretching Room’s clients are in their mid-50s to mid-70s, Nubaryan said.
Stretch Zone, thought to be the largest stretch chain in the country, has expanded quickly in Central Florida since it opened its first studio here in Windermere in November 2016.
Founded in 2004 in South Florida, it now has shops in Lake Mary and Oviedo. It plans to open soon at Lee Road and U.S. Highway 17-92 in Winter Park.
Each business offers a technique, usually patented, that it claims is superior. Massage Envy, for example, uses something it calls the “Streto Method” that it says relaxes the mind and body.
“The assisted stretching is a whole different experience than when you’re in yoga or you’re stretching yourself,” said Fred Morrill, an operations director for Stretch Zone. “It feels great. It’s just really relaxing. You feel lighter, taller and younger.”
It’s too soon to know whether the trend will stick — think Tae Bo, step and Dancercise.
To their business advantage, stretch studios require little equipment or room. But they also offer only one service and can see a limited number of clients daily, with sessions running 30 to 90 minutes each.
The target market is a higher-income client, Morrill said. Stretch Zone offers memberships from $79 monthly to unlimited visits for $279 each month. The Stretching Room charges $200 per 90-minute visit.
The practice is not considered therapy and is not covered by insurance.
Erik Olsson, wellness coordinator at the downtown Orlando YMCA, said trainers for years have been doing a version of what’s being called “assisted stretching.” The technical term is “proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.”
The “assisted” part can come from a partner, elastic bands or specially designed stretching machines. Olsson cautioned that it’s important to learn from someone who can show the proper technique — how to push slowly one way, wait, push the opposite way and then push the first way again — to avoid injury.
“You want an experienced trainer to check your form,” Olsson said. “Anybody can force you into a deep stretch, but that doesn’t mean you’d be doing it correctly.”
No specific licensing or accreditation is necessary to become a stretch practitioner, although the businesses say their employees are knowledgeable and trained. Some offer their own certifications.
“It doesn’t have the recognition,” Nubaryan of The Stretching Room said. “Hopefully, it will come.”
Patrick Pabian, program director in the doctor of physical therapy program at University of Central Florida, agrees that stretching increases mobility, and that’s positive.
But he cautions that someone without enough education could injure muscles, tendons, joints, spinal disks or nerves. He said he’d feel more comfortable if stretch practitioners had rigorous educational requirements through an accredited program and were certified by a regional or national body.
“It’s the hands-on portion that gives me pause, especially when they’re going to the limits of soft-tissue mobility,” said Pabian, a board-certified orthopedic and sports specialist and peer reviewer for national journals. “The person needs to be well-trained.”
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