As someone who covers health, I’ve tried my fair share of fitness centers—everything from boxing to squash to dancing. So when a marketing person reached out to me about checking out a new active stretch therapy program, Stretch Science, I was intrigued. A gym where all you do is stretch? I’ve tried worse.
Stretch Science isn’t the first of its kind. Active stretching is a growing fitness trend that’s popping up in boutique fitness formats in California, Florida, and elsewhere across the country. Stretch Science was launched in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2016 and opened the doors to its DC studio in June. Intended to help clients maintain mobility, prevent injury, improve recovery, and manage conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia, Stretch Science offers 30 and 60-minute one-on-one stretching sessions with co-founder Jeff Brannigan, who has his masters in health promotion management.
When I arrived at Stretch Science’s address for my 30-minute session with Brannigan, I might have missed it if I’d been looking for a traditional gym. Instead, the practice is housed in a Dupont row house. Brannigan met me at the door and led me up the stairs, past a couple floors he told me are used by an unrelated physicians’ group. While Stretch Science doesn’t sell itself as a workout, by the time you’ve climbed the last creaky flight of stairs to the very top floor of the building, you’ve gotten in your exercise for the day.
After I followed Brannigan into the stretching room, I paused to take it all in. One wall was a floor-to-ceiling mirror and a chandelier—perhaps a relic from when this row house used to be a home—hung in the center of the room over a cushion-topped table with a long black strap across it. Brannigan asked if I had any specific I wanted to spend the session on, and I told him I often carry tension in my lower back after working at my standing desk all day.
Next, Brannigan told me to kick off my shoes and to lie down on the table, and then he proceeded to buckle the strap and tighten it across my hips. By this point, I was feeling pretty nervous. Half my brain was thinking Is this the part where you murder me? (it wasn’t), while the other half was thinking Oh my gosh am I wearing the leggings with the rip in the crotch? (I wasn’t).
Brannigan started by taking my feet in his hands and lining them up at the end of the table, which I later learned was to see how even the hips are and the alignment of the legs, which can be a tell as to which side of the body is tighter. Turns out, my left leg was a little shorter than my right before Brannigan set to work.
The first few exercises were fairly basic—lifting each leg and pulling it up toward the face—but were done in short intervals with repetition, rather than one long, deep stretch. Brannigan moved from there into looping one leg over the edge of the table while he pulled the other out to the side, checking intermittently between exercises to see where my feet matched up at the end of the table.
Though the movements were all fairly light and gentle—I rarely felt anything like the painful pulling I normally associate with stretching—but I could slowly feel the tight, compacted muscles of my lower back letting loose. Before we finished, Brannigan had me sit up at the end of the table, interlace my fingers behind my head, then twist and reach for the opposite knee with my elbows, which created an amazing stretch through my side and down to my lumbar. By the time I hopped off the table, I felt like a new woman.
Brannigan sat and chatted with me about the business for a few minutes following my stretch session, though I had surprisingly difficult time concentrating, as to my surprise, all I could think was I feel soooooo good. Oh man, I feel SOOOOO GOOD.
I returned to work feeling limber and relaxed. But would I do it again? Probably not; a single 30-minute session costs $65 (though there are discounts for bulk packages), and I’m in my 20s with no chronic pain or injuries to complain of. But for anyone suffering from arthritis, scoliosis, fibromyalgia, sports injuries, weekend-warrior addiction, or general pain, it could be worth a try—because even though I didn’t come in with much pain, I was amazed at how much better I felt when I left.