How Safe Is It for Someone Else to Stretch You?
The latest studio craze isn’t a workout. You probably won’t even break a sweat. Instead, put on your workout clothes and get ready for some one-on-one… stretching.
In major cities across the country, you’ll now find stretch labs dedicated to helping you increase range of motion and de-stress. Many massage studios and on-demand apps also hopped on this trend and now offer stretching sessions. And of course, personal trainers have pretty much always stretched clients post-workout.
Since many of us often skip stretching on our own, having someone else do it for us could make sense. But some situations also bring possible risks, and is stretching really something someone else should do for you? Here are the questions you’ll want to consider before you hire another person to stretch you out.
Do You Really Need Someone Else to Stretch You?
“It’s not absolutely necessary to have someone else stretch you, but it can be helpful,” says physical therapist, personal trainer, and massage therapist Keats Snideman, PT, DPT, CSCS, LMT. “It’s hard sometimes to really stretch your tight areas. Somebody who understands how to apply a stretch can get you into a range of motion that you can’t get into on your own.”
They do this by feeling the tension in your muscles and using that to know how far to stretch you, explains personal trainer Pete McCall, host of the All About Fitness podcast. “If I take you to the point of tension and then have you contract the muscle, when you relax it, it allows me to move you into a new range of motion.” This is called PNF stretching, which is slightly more intense since you are actively contracting rather than passively letting someone else stretch you.
What If the Stretcher Is Your Personal Trainer?
The pros: The main benefit of the after-workout stretch your personal trainer may offer is that you’ll probably feel better, McCall says. “Plus, theoretically you are helping the muscle return to its normal resting length, which helps with range of motion,” he adds. Lastly, stretching may improve your circulation, helping remove some of the metabolic byproduct of working out.
The cons: If your trainer isn’t skilled in stretching, you risk being stretched too far, which can make you more sore or even damage the tissue, McCall says. “Personal trainers are not necessarily trained to really understand anatomy, and some may understand anatomy pretty well but are not specifically trained in the safe application of things like stretching,” Snideman adds. This is especially risky if you have any injury or issue in certain areas.
Get your best stretch: Stay safe by making sure your trainer is at least a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), or a personal trainer with an ACE, NASM, or ACSM certification. Even better is if they’ve done a course on neuro-muscular stretching, McCall says, so ask for all of their credentials.
What If the Stretcher Is a Stretch Lab Specialist?
The pros: You get a complete session — which may last 30, 45, 60, or even 75 minutes, depending on the studio — targeted toward stretching and mobility.
The cons: Both McCall and Snideman express concerns about the qualifications of the providers at stretch studios. “You can teach trainers how to stretch clients, but it can take time to learn the technique and feel,” McCall says. If they don’t know what tension in the muscle feels like, they may push you too far and damage your muscle and even the tendon. “Plus, some techniques can be pretty advanced. I fear some trainers may not know what they don’t know and may do something without fully understanding it.”
Get your best stretch: Snideman recommends asking the person you see at a stretch studio what their background is. “There is no substitute for having a baseline knowledge of anatomy,” he says. “If they’re not a trainer or massage therapist, I’d be a bit leery. There’s greater chance that they have less awareness and knowledge when it comes to special conditions or injuries.” So be sure they do a proper intake, and tell them about any injuries, issues like joint replacements or past shoulder dislocations, or even if you are hypermobile, which could lead to overstretching.
What If the Stretcher Is a Massage Therapist?
The pros: “Massage therapists are more experienced in applying pressure and touch,” Snideman says. “They learn anatomy, the muscles, and basic range of motion, and they get hands-on experience, plus they also have to pass a state or city test.”
The cons: Even though they know anatomy, there are still risks if you have any conditions or health concerns such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or a joint replacement, Snideman says. Unless the therapist has experience and knowledge specific to your issue, they may just stick to the protocol stretch massage they learned.
Get your best stretch: If you have any conditions or concerns, tell the massage therapist and ask if they can modify the massage to best suit you. If they seem hesitant, decline their service.
What’s Most Important? Communication.
If you have anyone else stretch you, don’t just lie there. “Communicate,” McCall says. “As soon as something doesn’t feel comfortable, let them know. You should not feel pain.” Even if they think you can stretch farther, you know your body best. A properly trained stretcher will meet you where you’re at.