One may wonder why anyone would need a piece of equipment to stretch, especially one that takes up the same amount of floor space as an indoor cycle. Heck, stretching is something you can do on the floor or using walls and chairs. Why indeed. Unless you are truly motivated, disciplined or pretty knowledgeable about how to do a stretch (or dedicated enough to get a book and follow it precisely), this simple steel gadget can motivate you to take a couple of minutes here and there to throw in a few good stretches – both active and passive – or simply do a 10- or 20-minute routine. Heck, position it in front of the TV and you can use the boob-tube time pretty well.
So what is the Stretch Partner? Brand new and just hitting stores in Fall 2004, it's a "chair," if you will, with handles like a bike's handlebars, that positions your body on cushions in a supported and slightly kneeling position that most anybody should be able to accomplish. From that position, you follow the instructions in a flip chart above the handles (or on the accompanying, very down-to-earth DVD) to move through a full-body (well, nearly) stretch routine. (Note, pregnant women, those with large stomachs or who are extremely overweight, or those with over-muscled legs may have some difficulty with some positions or should avoid them altogether.)
Our testers – experienced or not with exercise, and flexible or less so – found it easy to understand, to use, and to get thorough and deep stretches. Even those who were more skeptical (why do I need this to stretch?) found it helped get deeper into a stretch, find the correct position, and find the motivation to work on flexibility more often.
"Stretching has never been so easy for me," said one of our less flexible testers. "Using the diagrams and then sitting, kneeling or standing behind the chair provided an easy-to-understand and easy-to-execute series of stretches."
The patent-pending piece has a so-called "Flex Smart" pivoting system in the support bar of the handlebars so it moves forward and backward with you to make a stretch more forgiving and more comfortable.
What may feel odd at first is the hanging motion required for some of the passive stretches: You hold onto the front bars, push against them and move yourself backward on the pivoting seat, allowing your buttocks to hang toward the ground, so you are hanging from your arms while still in the seat. In that position, you stretch back, shoulders, hips and legs, depending on the position of the body before you start. The unit has "safety straps" on the bars through which you lace your wrists so if you do in fact let go or slip, the straps would cinch around your wrists and keep you from flipping backward onto your head. That said, we're not sure what that sudden impact from cinching and pulling would do to your wrists or arms during an unexpected slip. And we weren't willing to try that!
There are a few stretches that can't be properly accomplished while sitting. For those, the instructions tell you how to stand up and do them in different ways. It does lack the instructions for a hip flexor stretch – an important one considering all the time most of us spend sitting down. But there are in fact all kinds of innovative stretches that can be dreamed up on this thing that aren't in the manual.
Now, would we spend $500 on it? Not sure. Several testers questioned that outlay. But if you have an extra $500 (you'll likely find it for a bit less in stores), and you know you lack the motivation to spend time stretching each day or frankly even the knowledge needed to stretch properly, it might be worth the investment. It certainly feels good. The system has a 5-year warranty on the frame and parts, is built to hold up to 300 pounds, and has wheels so it can be moved around easily.
SNEWS® Rating: 4 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $500
For more information:www.pcefitness.com (LifeSpan by PCE) or 435- 940-1180