Fitness trends for 2020: Stretching labs and bone-density training
Edy Seaver, a 61-year-old artist from Venice who swims and kayaks for fitness, had osteoporosis. Yes, had — as in past tense. After four months of once-a-week 10-minute workouts at OsteoStrong, a wellness studio in Mar Vista that features proprietary resistance machines, a DEXA scan showed that her bone density improved by more than 7%. That moved her up out of the osteoporosis category into osteopenia, a less severe degree of bone thinning. “This is a radical improvement in a tiny period of time — after years of getting worse and worse,” she says. “And on top of that, I feel so much stronger that I can swim 20 laps instead of my old 12.”
Stefan Oeggi, a 41-year-old naval officer and runner from San Diego, had back pain that interrupted his sleep and limited his training. Then he began once-a-week, one-on-one stretching sessions with a “flexologist” at StretchLab, which now boasts more than a dozen locations across Southern California. After six months, the pain was gone and his personal record for half-marathons dropped from 2 hours 10 minutes to 1:50. “I used to get massage once a week, but that didn’t help,” he says. “Now, with my muscles lengthened and joints opened up, my back’s great and I can train more.”
Thinning bones and constricted muscles and joints impact health, longevity and athletic performance, but addressing them usually falls between the cracks of regular exercise training. That has presented opportunities for new franchise operations such as OsteoStrong and StretchLab, which in the last few years have emerged as key players on the fitness scene, where flexibility and strength-training programs continue to dominate.
OsteoStrong was founded in Texas in 2012 by biomechanics engineer John Jaquish, who wanted to help his mother, a lifelong tennis player who’d been diagnosed with osteoporosis.
He found some interesting information in a study from the osteoporosis research center at Jyväskylä University in Finland, which said that the world’s densest bones belong to gymnasts — due to their ability to absorb the force of 4.2 times their body weight when they “stick the landing.”
Knowing that his mom wasn’t likely to do a pike-position dismount, Jaquish set about creating a safe, doable gymnastics level of “osteogenic” loading. The result: Four super-resistance machines that cover every section of the body — a chest press, leg press, core pull and skeleton-stressing vertical lift — that resemble standard gym weight machines without weight stacks and include digital feedback monitors, which give clients instant numerical feedback on their effort.
Wearing comfortable clothes, OsteoStrong clients come in once a week, briefly stand on vibration platforms to warm up, then exert 30 seconds of all-out force at each workout station. The handlebars they push barely move, even when the data on the screen jumps. For some, that two minutes of total workout time has yielded striking and documented results.
With DEXA scans to prove it, 61-year-old Fran Lasker of Los Angeles grew bone density in her spine and femoral neck (top of the leg bone) by about 8% in 25 sessions over nine months from July 2018 to April 2019. “My doctor was shocked,” she said. “I started with borderline osteoporosis. I still have osteopenia, but growing this much bone back this fast is just not done.” She has continued with weekly visits.
OsteoStrong now has 65 locations in the U.S., including Mar Vista, Laguna Hills, Lake Forest, Pasadena and Studio City. Plans start $199 per month for weekly visits.
The idea for StretchLab, founded in Venice in 2015, came from the hands-on, cool-down stretch that Los Angeles attorney Saul Janson got from his personal trainer, Tim Trost. If personalized stretching worked for him, wouldn’t it have a wide appeal — to athletes, the elderly and anyone who works eight hours a day? So they partnered up, hired Australian stretching guru Brad Walker to design a program and trained “flexologists” to do the bodywork.
“Stretching is the thing you forget to do because you don’t know about it or are overly focused on getting a hard workout,” says StretchLab’s director of education, Austin Martinez. “A massage breaks up knots and relaxes you, and yoga’s good but nonspecific and too much work. Stretching gives you what your muscles absolutely need: elongation — where you need it.”
Muscles constrict and joints get compacted during and after hard exercise. They tighten with age. When you sit in a car or at a desk, hip flexors contract, hamstrings get imbalanced, shoulders roll forward, posture slumps and your back gets strained. The bent-over cycling position, indoor or out, can make it worse. Runners overwork their quads. Swimmers get tight neck and pectoral muscles, overworked shoulders and chronic impairments. All mono-sport athletes by definition are imbalanced. Everyone needs more flexibility.
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But getting it on your own often isn’t enough. Although Dierdre Gainor, a 68-year-old school administrator from Venice, did yoga, Pilates and stretching on her own, none of it helped a left knee that had been in constant pain for years and a shoulder that hurt whenever she raised her arm. She could not ski or hike, her passions, without pain.
That changed after one month of once-a-week hourlong sessions at StretchLab.
“It’s been revolutionary, “ she says. “My knee was closed, bound, with very limited range of motion. I couldn’t bend it below 90 degrees. Beyond a certain point, I couldn’t go there. Now I can go there.
“You know who’s happiest? My dogs. Before, I couldn’t walk them very far. Now we can go all day long.”
Stephen Martin, a 51-year-old international lawyer from Denver, has a similar story. Constant pain from years of 14-hour days, plane flights and skiing accidents left him in constant pain and led to endless visits to physical therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors and personal trainers. Six months of StretchLab changed that.
“My flexologist totally released my hips and back,” he says. “I’m pain-free and back to normal for the first time in a decade.”
StretchLab’s Martinez says stretching rebalances the body, lessens postworkout soreness and lowers recovery time. “We’re all tight and imbalanced because hardly anyone stretches on their own,” he says. “But you can’t do it on your own like this.”
Suzanne Kelley, 72, a Valencia paralegal, says StretchLab immediately improved her walking and sleep after her first session in September. “I went in lurching side to side like a drunken sailor and came out walking a straight line for the first time in 10 years,” she says. “I turned around to my flexologist and said, ‘Nick, I’m a new woman!’”
Kelley is bone-on-bone in both knees from old basketball and horse accidents. “Every step used to be snap-crackle-pop with every step. I couldn’t bend my knees to 90 degrees. I’m up to six sessions now and my knees are quiet,” she says, speculating that her sessions opened her joints and decompressed the scar tissue.
These types of results are leading other fitness centers to put more of an emphasis on flexibility and strength training, and more boutiques are popping up to fill that need. The StretchLab currently has 48 locations nationwide, including four in L.A., where 25-minute sessions start at $39. A competitor to StretchLab, for example, is StretchPro (founded by a StretchLab alumnus) which is now in three L.A. County locations, Pasadena, West Hollywood and Brentwood. A 25-minute session starts at $45.
“If you ask me, stretching is the single most important thing a human can do — and it’s never too late to start,” Kelley said.