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Why you haven’t tried a stretch class (and why you should)

Sue Hitzmann MELT Method
Sue Hitzmann demonstrates the MELT Method


The unsung hero of the gym roster is the lowly stretch class .

Repeatedly passed over for spin and boot camp, stretching can prevent injuries, relieve tension, improve alignment and has other health benefits. But fitness-focused New Yorkers don’t seem to care.

Until we get hurt.

“It’s the dirty little secret of fitness,” says Sue Hitzmann, creator of MELT. “Everybody is in pain.” MELT, which uses a long foam roller, is one of the biggest-name stretch methods in New York. Another is Yamuna Body Rolling, which uses small balls of varying size. Both have been around for years.

But while Yamuna’s flagship studio is right here on Perry Street, creator Yamuna Zake says the method is growing much more rapidly in other cities and countries. MELT is popular among senior citizens at the JCC. But young, fit New Yorkers rarely seek it out—unless they’re injured.

When SoulCycle and Flywheel put stretching on their studio schedules, neither lasted more than a few months, even though Flywheel’s foam-rolling class was headed by Holly Rillinger, one of their star instructors.

Yamuna body rolling stretching
Yamuna Body Rolling, with a West Village flagship studio, is growing more rapidly outside New York City

So why won’t New Yorkers fix their bodies before they break?

The obvious answer is our fitness calendars are too maxed out with Barry’s Bootcamp and Flybarre to devote real time to stretching. But there are other possibilities:

One: The classes are just plain boring. Type-A New Yorkers expect entertainment (a charismatic instructor, thumping club music, etc.) with their workout. And rolling back and forth is a drag. Sure, my body felt great after I tried MELT. But during the class, my only thought was “Is this over yet?”

Another possible reason? The workout perks of a stretch class are harder to grasp than a dropped dress size. (Though both Hitzmann and Zake are slim with long, lean muscles.)

Which brings us to the third reason: New Yorkers do a lot of yoga—and isn’t yoga both stretching and a workout?

Stretch classes fall somewhere between fitness and bodywork—a gray area Zake calls “body sustainability,” which we haven’t really come to value. Until, of course, we slip a disk.

Unless we can grasp the benefits of this kind of exercise, kind of like we’ve done with Pilates, Zake says, we’re kind of living in the well-being dark ages. –Lisa Elaine Held

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Do you keep meaning to sign up for a stretch class? What’s your excuse? Tell us in the Comments, below!