Stretch Is The New Massage


Do you know the smell of a gym at summer camp? All unlacquered wood beams, foam and rubber, the fresh, green air of somewhere that’s not Manhattan floating in through open windows? That’s what the inside of Outer Reach’s newly-minted Tribeca studio smells like, almost exactly. The nostalgia is relaxing—but it’s not spa-like. And anyway, Outer Reach isn’t a spa, nor does its definition of restorative bodywork include laying down while someone irons out your aches and pains. Instead of massage, it’s all about stretch—because according to OR’s method architect Toni Melaas, we’re already sitting still enough. “Never before has the demand for productivity been higher, or our lifestyles more sedentary,” explains Toni on the phone. “Sitting at a desk for eight to 10 hours a day amplifies the toll gravity takes on our spinal health. For me, stretching is an active thing, and it should be regenerative as well as preventative.”

Toni was trained as a professional dancer, yoga teacher and Pilates teacher before teaming up with OR founder Aimee Cho to create something of her own. If you’ve taken a yoga or Pilates class, or have been stretched by a trainer somewhere like Equinox, a session at Outer Reach should feel a little familiar. “Outer Reach offers bits and pieces of all these modalities,” says Toni, “and many Outer Reach instructors teach yoga and Pilates, and have been teaching these things for 10, 15 years.” Instructors also come to stretch with ample dance training, like Toni. Ever met a person who grew up dancing ballet, and has maintained perfect posture into adulthood? That training tends to stick with them. I’m often envious. I wish something would stick with me.

The method works well for athletes who wish to stay limber between workouts, but I am not an athlete—I am a desk creature, a covered-in-bruises caricature of a klutz, a person who can’t even touch her toes. And I often leave my workout classes before the stretch portion, because I find it boring. It’s frustrating when I can’t go as deep into the pose as the people around me. And I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of yoga where ‘downward dog’ is a rest pose. Massage is great, but it’s expensive and only fixes my achy back for a day or two. Encouraged by Toni, I was excited by the idea that stretch would not only do that, but also increase my flexibility and prevent it from getting so bad in the first place. I’m too young to already feel this way, you know? At best it’s uncomfortable and at worst, frightening.

When I arrive at Outer Reach on an early morning before work, I’m greeted by Nikki Calonge, my Stretch Lead for the hour. She’s around my height (read: small), but strong—something I learn is necessary for Outer Reach’s active stretch method, which involves a lot of pushing against another body. We start off by going over my goals for the session: Where did I feel any tightness? Where did I think I could improve? “A common discomfort Outer Reach clients share is tightness in their hamstrings. Almost everyone mentions it specifically,” she tells me, “and it has to do with sitting at a desk all day, leaning over a laptop.” Are you doing it right now? I am—and my hamstrings are tighter than a pair of leather pants. (Sorry, Nikki.) “This posture also leads to tightness in the upper shoulders and an under-engaged core, which contributes to low back pain and spinal compression.”

In our session, Nikki starts by having me do a few easy stretches that feel familiar and comfortable—calf stretches, cat-cows, figure fours, you know. Then. Nikki has me lay down on one of the aforementioned cork tables, and we really get to work on those hamstrings. Nikki arranges my legs and leans her whole body into a hamstring stretch that makes me yelp—strangely, like when I’m laying on the table for a Brazilian wax that I full well know I’ve chosen and paid good money to do, I start to laugh. I’m so inflexible! And there’s a human stranger lying on top of me! In the moment, I don’t think at all to be self-conscious. “Flex your foot,” Nikki tells me. Or: “Keep kicking into my arm!” Sometimes, I’m not even aware of what my body is doing until Nikki points it out—a hip slightly out of balance, my core lax and disengaged. “In our culture, I don’t think we have systems that teach us kinesthetic awareness,” says Toni—a fact I think about as Nikki gently nudges me into correct postural alignment. With each tweak or burst of activity on my end, the stretch deepens.

At the end of the session, I feel like there’s a lot more room in my body. I’m not sweaty, but as I tell my roommate upon my return home, “It was definitely work.” And throughout the week, I noticed myself checking my posture more often, sitting straighter, and taking free moments to practice what I’ve learned. “I really feel like our job is to give people tools to reach their fullest potential,” says Toni. “You can walk out the door with something you’ve learned to apply.” If you can’t get to Outer Reach, and are sitting at your desk with poor posture right! this! very! minute! just give the two stretches she demonstrated at ITG’s offices last week a try. Both will combat poor workday posture, and both will leave you feeling amazing. Feel free to do as often as you'd like. I’ll let Toni walk you through them.

Seated Figure Four With Twists

For a straighter, more comfortable back—repeat on both sides
Stretch01 V2 op

Seated Neck Pull

A respite from tech nech that feels oh so good
stretch2 V02 op

—Ali Oshinsky

Gifs via ITG