A couple of years ago I was invited to stay at Nubeginnings, a luxury boot camp in Devon (here's my review). Of the many things that have stayed with me from this experience and helped me become healthier, one of the most significant is how I've incorporated assisted stretching into my daily routine. Quite shortly after arriving at Nubeginnings we were sent to our first session with a personal trainer to assess where we were with our fitness and flexibility levels. It was my first experience of assisted stretching, and I'm not gonna lie - it was super weird having a man I'd just met leaning over me whilst I'm on my back, stretching my legs towards my head see how flexible I was. Awkwardness aside, it amazed me how good it felt to be stretched out, in a way that I couldn't do myself by having strong external pressure applied to deepen each stretch. When I had a second assisted stretching session later in the week the personal trainer and I were saying that it was probably more effective than the vigorous sports massages we were having to prevent muscle stiffness. Those probably worked deep down somewhere, but boy did they leave me feeling sore rather than relaxed, elongated and ready to be more active like the stretching did.
Recently I was reviewing a facial at Claridge's spa, and saw on their menu they offered assisted stretching sessions in the gym. I was so tempted to book one, though I couldn't face the awkwardness of the receptionist looking at me like I was mental and saying "they're for after a personal training session...". I do regular pilates, and enjoy the stretchy benefits of this, but there's nothing like being assisted with stretches to really work the muscles. I've read some articles by personal trainers who say conflicting things about assisted stretching - some think it encourages their clients to workout more, and some avoid it as they think their clients see them as physiotherapists or masseuses, and want more stretching than workouts. I think it's all a bit weird and awkward, but does wonders, especially at a place like Nubeginnings where you're a.) likely to arrive with a poor fitness levels and b.) perhaps a bit of a disconnection with understanding what your body is capable of (I know I was). Being stretched can show you how flexible you can actually be, help flex and tone your muscles, leading to an overall healthier sense of being, a better emotional connection with your body, and improved posture.
I also thank Nubeginnings for introducing me to the Limber Stretch (top picture), although I vaguely remember using these in yoga classes. We were shown how to do assisted stretching on our own, and although it's not as good as having someone else apply pressure, it's still probably the greatest exercise I've ever been taught. I pretty much ordered one off Amazon the day I returned from boot camp, and I've been using it almost every day - with a few patches of non-use here and there, though I always come back to it. Just ten minutes in the morning is all you need to stretch out the biggest muscles in your legs, strengthen your spine, and keep hip and knee joints working well. My favourite stretch we were taught is to lie on your back with the Limber Stretch under your foot, and then holding the rope in either hand roll your leg around in huge circles. This really opens up my hips and makes me feel so much taller. When you feel good, and your posture is great at the start of the day you're more likely to make good decisions when it comes to food and being active. The Limber Stretch comes with an illustrated guide on how to use it, and there's also some useful YouTube videos on deep stretches you can do yourself.
I really recommend assisted stretching (with a trainer or with a yoga band or stretch strap like mine), for fantastic fitness and wellbeing benefits. Thanks, Nubeginings - it's not easy to make me love exercise this much.