By Joie Goh
Feeling sore, tight and full of tension? Skip the spa, and head to the studio for a stretch class instead.
As someone who spends way too much time hunched over a computer, I suffer constant pain and tightness in my shoulders and back – even despite observing proper posture and alignment (thanks to Fundamentals!). In order to alleviate the discomfort, I thought my best bet was regular massages to knead and rub the kinks and knots away.
So I did, and spent a small fortune on spa massage packages. But even with weekly massages (sometimes even twice weekly), the pain and tension in my shoulders never really went away. Immediately post-massage, I’d feel great, but the tightness always came back within a day or two.
Then I went for a Stretch & Technique class, and my life changed. Well, at least my shoulders and back did. 60 minutes of stretching, twisting and rolling myself into various pretzel shapes actually did more to relieve my achey spots than an hour of being rubbed down, and I didn’t even have to deal with greasy, oiled-up skin afterwards.
In fact, after taking regular Stretch & Technique classes, I haven’t been to the spa in over a month and my shoulders haven’t complained, once. That’s when I discovered the ways a good, physical stretch session trumped getting a massage at a spa, as indulgent as it sounds.
1. It reduces pain
“Exercise improves your pain threshold,” says Anabel Chew, WeBarre’s founder. “With chronic pain, your pain threshold drops – in other words, it takes less pain to make you feel more uncomfortable. With strengthening (the Technique part of Stretch & Technique), and flexibility exercise, you can improve that pain threshold, and over time, release tension and ease discomforts.”
Stretching also boosts blood circulation and in turn, improve nerve health. Pain and tension is usually caused by a contracted muscle around a nerve, which creates pressure that constrict the blood supply to the nerve. Stretching the contracted muscle encourages it to relax and regain elasticity, relieving the pressure and pain.
“When you get in a mean workout, your muscles build up lactic acid,” Anabel adds. “And dynamic stretching after exercise for any athlete helps reduce lactic acid accumulation, and reduce soreness.”
2. It improves flexibility and fitness
While you can also argue that massage helps with pain relief, it definitely can’t help you achieve the splits. Flexibility is one of the main pillars of fitness, and only physical stretching, and not manual massage, can effectively tone and stretch your muscles and joints. Plus, it encourages lengthening and release, so you look and feel longer and leaner too!
Repetitive movements can also cause damage to the body, but stretching, even in small amounts, can help counteract the damage and prevent injuries. Increased flexibility means increased mobility in the joints as well, allowing you to execute exercises with better precision and help you achieve those fitness goals. “Strength and flexibility go hand in hand,” says Anabel. “Without strength, you can’t get flexible, but without flexibility, you can’t get strong either.”
3. It encourages mindfulness
Alignment and breathing is a key component of good stretching. Being conscious of proper alignment improves one’s body awareness, while proper breathing calms the mind and triggers the body’s parasympathetic nervous system to release muscular tension, allowing one to stretch deeper and further.
However, more than that, a stretch class is more than just physical stretching. Done to the beat of down-tempo music, with the calming scent of an aromatherapy candle wafting across the studio, it’s a chance for you to re-centre and recover mentally and emotionally, whether it’s from the stress of a hard day or from the adrenaline of a pumping HIIT class. While you can argue that a massage can achieve the same thing, it’s really not: most times, a relaxing massage would send you off to the land of ZZZs, but a restorative stretch allows you to unwind consciously, bringing you to awareness of what’s tight or tense, and gives you the satisfaction of actively feeling those achey parts release!