After two hours of pickup basketball the previous evening, I woke up on Friday morning last week feeling pretty sore. It was the perfect segue into my next story assignment: trying out Stretch 22, a new Seattle startup that promises to make you feel better with “stretch therapy.”
Indeed, after a 25-minute lower body session with Stretch 22 co-founder Ja’Warren Hooker, I felt a little looser, a little lighter, and ready to ball out again.
But are these new stretch studios, part of what The New York Times described last year as the “next fitness fad,” worth the cost?
At least one big name investor is betting on it.
“People are stressed, busy, and tight,” said Rich Barton, co-founder of tech giants such as Zillow and Expedia, who is a Stretch 22 investor. “Tech workers, especially, work at close quarters. Sneaking out for quick stretch to limber up and recharge is much healthier than another caffeine jolt, I’m sure.”
Hooker is a former University of Washington track star and U.S. Olympian who grew up in Ellensburg, Wash. He became a personal trainer after graduation and started his own company, operating corporate wellness programs and working with entrepreneurs across the Seattle region to improve their health and fitness.
The idea for Stretch 22 came about after conversations with his chiropractor, Dr. Kris Sasaki. The entrepreneurs wanted to bring the concept of assisted stretching — something that elite athletes get on a daily basis — to the masses.
“We believe we can help people move better on a consistent basis,” Hooker said. “We have people that come in here for flexibility and mobility issues, and for sports recovery. But it’s also people that are just looking for the pause button in their day so they can feel good from a stress reduction standpoint.”
You’ve likely stretched out your legs, arms, neck, back, and other body parts before or after physical activity. But having someone help loosen those muscles definitely makes a difference, based on how I felt after my session. Assisted stretching is also safer and more effective, said Sasaki, a doctor of chiropractic who practices at his other Seattle-based company, Vida Integrated Health.
There are a bevy of stretch-focused studios already in the market, with companies such as Stretch Zone, Stretchlab, Lymbr, Racked, and even another Seattle-area shop — Athletic Stretch Therapy — all offering something similar. Massage Envy launched its own stretching service in 2017.
Stretch 22 differentiates with its own stretching technique. It offers a form of flexibility training called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, which mixes stretch and contraction, with a handheld device called VibraCussor that looks like a wood sander and is used for “focal vibration” to relax a targeted muscle.
“As we’re stretching people, we’re actually massaging them at the same time,” Hooker said.
Experts agree that stretching can provide benefits.
“The theory is that stretching affects one of the main characteristics of muscle: extensibility, or muscle’s ability to lengthen,” said Dr. Sarah Shultz, chair of the kinesiology department at Seattle University. “So routinely stretching can improve a muscle’s ability to lengthen over time, and increase range of motion, which can also help a person (of any age) move and function better.”
But stretching isn’t necessarily beneficial for everyone, said Elliot O’Connor, a physical therapist at the University of Washington’s Sports Medicine Center. He said people should have a purpose when they are stretching — “not just stretch to stretch.”
“There are times when stretching is good for people and is something they definitely need to do,” O’Connor added. “But there are times when people’s problems can come from too much of that.”
Sasaki and Hooker are well aware that stretching too much in one direction can cause imbalances. The company’s “stretchologists” are trained to “balance out the client,” Sasaki said.
Dr. Dale Cannavan, an associate professor of exercise science at Seattle Pacific University, said stretching can be particularly effective for people as they get older and muscles become tighter, which can lead to poor posture and increase risk of day-to-day lifestyle injuries.
But while Cannavan was intrigued about the combination of PNF with vibration, he isn’t convinced that Stretch 22 and other likeminded studios are worth the money or better than something like yoga, especially for those just looking to increase energy levels.
“You would probably get more of a stimulatory effect going for a walk than just stretching because you get more oxygen with walking, since it’s an aerobic activity,” Cannavan said.
Customers at Stretch 22 can pick from three membership packages: $67 per month for up to two 25-minute sessions, $149 for up to five sessions; and $279 for up to ten. There’s also the option to do a 50-minute full-body session — Hooker calls it “the meltdown.”
Stretch 22 opened its first location in downtown Seattle and is already expanding with another studio in the Madison Park neighborhood. The company’s eight “stretchologists” have gone through more than 600 appointments.
Over the next year, Hooker said he expects to open an additional eight studios around Seattle and look to expand across the country.
Stretch 22 is part of a swath of wellness-related businesses gaining popularity in recent years. The Global Wellness Institute estimates that the global wellness industry, which includes everything from fitness to nutrition to spas, grew from $3.7 trillion in 2015 to $4.2 trillion in 2017. It pegged the fitness/mind-body segment at nearly $600 billion.
“Discretionary spend on health and wellness is just beginning,” said Barton, the Stretch 22 investor.