I tried assisted stretching as a 'non-fitness person' – here’s what I thought
By Alice from Urban
When I first heard about assisted stretching I thought: nice, but it’s probably not for people like me.
The trending treatment sees an expert stretch your body for you, giving you a deeper stretch than you can get alone, performed with you variously lying and sitting on a massage table. Athletes swear by it, citing the fact it speeds up the recovery time between workouts.
So far in life, that’s not been a huge priority for me. I’m in my early 30s, semi-allergic to gyms, fully allergic to exercise classes, and in complete denial that my ‘desk set up’ (a kitchen bench, laptop and stool) is gradually sculpting my spine into the shape of a question mark. And yet I also ran the London Marathon this year, so somewhere deep within there’s an athlete waiting to swear by something. Could assisted stretching be it?
Things I wondered before my session...
Before my treatment, I voice-noted my internal monologue so I’d remember all the things fellow people like me might wonder about before a stretch session. Here’s what I now know in case you find it useful.
What should I wear?
Will assisted stretching make me too hot? People are wearing long sleeves in the photos, is that better?
I had my at-home stretching treatment at my flat in April and settled on a long t-shirt and my stretchiest (rather than my newest) leggings. I’m not one for turning up the thermometer mid-day, so I’m pleased to say you do warm up as the treatment goes on – a t-shirt was perfect. I was really glad I went for comfort and trousers that I could move easily in, and a t-shirt that was long enough to cover me when stretched in the child’s pose yoga position.
Do I need to be flexible? I can’t touch my toes…
When I say I can’t touch my toes, I mean it: there’s a good 30cm space between my fingertips and the floor at best.
Turns out assisted stretching is great if you’re inflexible and it’s nowhere near as intimidating as you might imagine.
Your pro really is a pro: they can sense your body’s limit and stop just before it to make sure your muscles are only ever stretched within safe limits. It meant I felt deep, satisfying stretches in my hamstrings and sides of my legs, without straining or crucially feeling any sense of inadequacy flexibility wise.
50 minutes seems like a long time for just stretching, will it be boring?
Honestly, I wanted it to be longer! Unlike massage treatments where sometimes you find yourself clock-watching and telling yourself to relax, because you’re actively involved in assisted stretching, your mind’s nicely distracted.
"Unlike massage treatments where you find yourself clock-watching, because you’re actively involved in assisted stretching, your mind’s nicely distracted."
You’ll be asked to hold your therapist’s wrists for certain stretches, told when to breathe in deeply before larger muscle groups are tackled, when to let your weight melt into the table, when to sit up or turn around… It’s absorbing and in that sense, I found it even more relaxing than a massage. It’s not at all boring.
Will there be any massage involved?
My experience was a bit of an anomaly as my therapist just so happened to carry a Theragun massage device with them, which isn’t a standard part of Urban assisted stretching treatments. But it did mean they were able to warm my muscles up over my clothes at the start with the gentle thudding of a massage gun.
There weren’t any other typical massage techniques involved, but I got the same relief from tight shoulder knots and sore muscles nonetheless.
Will the therapist be super sporty and judge my level of fitness?
On reflection, this was a silly thing to worry about as of course the answer’s no. My pro told me they mostly see non-athletes and desk workers for assisted stretching, which makes total sense as we’re the ones in most need of a good stretch. They were lovely, approachable and non judgemental.
Will it hurt? Will I be sore the next day?
There were stretches that felt uncomfortable the longer they were held, but on release that discomfort went away quickly. If you can tolerate the occasional soreness of a deep tissue massage, you’ll be fine with assisted stretching.
Will it help my shoulder pain?
My kitchen bench ‘desk’ has led to recurrent shoulder pain that I mostly choose to ignore.
The over-the-head stretches my pro performed were incredible for releasing pain under my shoulder blade. They held my arms and elbows above my head and used their body to twist mine up and to the side, leaving my whole upper body feeling more free.
Will it help with knee pain from running?
I mentioned to my pro that I’d been experiencing runner's knee from marathon training, so they adapted the session to focus longer on my legs. While I didn’t notice a significant improvement after one session, my legs felt lighter and bouncier immediately after the session, which was unexpected. I felt like I was literally walking taller, because I probably was: your muscles get longer as they’re stretched out.
Should I warm up beforehand with pre-stretch stretching?
I did some half-remembered yoga poses while I was waiting for my therapist to arrive but honestly I don’t think they were needed. They’ll start by warming your muscles up gently before going into deeper stretches anyway, but I suppose if you wanted to get to the chase faster, stretching beforehand as well wouldn’t hurt.
Will it be awkward?
I found assisted stretching to be nowhere near as awkward as I thought it might be. Your pro is busy moving their body to stretch yours a lot of the time so there’s no sense you’re being watched or judged at any point, even in some of the positions you might think of as more vulnerable, like cobbler’s pose. Plus, we chatted for a lot of it which felt more natural to do than during a typical massage treatment as you’re facing each other for a lot of it.
My final review? Don't overthink it
If your work sees you sitting down for a lot of the day, give assisted stretching a try. I felt like I’d really invested an hour in my wellbeing, like I’d done my muscles, my spine, my poor shoulders a huge, nourishing favour. And I could really see the benefit in booking a series of treatments to get the most from it, too.
Most surprising of all was how relaxing and uplifting the session was, it felt like a cross between a nap and a workout. Dreamy.