We are great fans of finding the nearest fencepost, wall, railing or curb to prop up a foot or lean against to stretch, and have often asked, why do you need anything else?
OK, so we can be wrong. We have now found that something else that not only encourages you to stretch better, but allows you to do all your movements in one place rather than continually searching for another object that’s the right height or position.
The Stretchmate – we have dubbed it The Web around the offices – looks just like a really big spider web, sort of a slightly concave, dish-like shape that’s about 6 feet high and tucks into a corner of a room. The “spokes” of the web are made of a very tough and slightly flexible thick cord (the same cord that is used to catch landing airplanes on ships), while the frame is steel. The combination creates a forgiving network of places to place your feet and/or hands while in different stretching positions and a strong enough base and support system that you can hang away from it or pull on it and still feel safe.
Members of the SNEWS® team have tried all different kinds of stretch paraphernalia, including tubes, cords, balls, cages, etc., etc., and we can’t say we haven’t liked others. But the Stetchmate’s cord system’s slight flexibility feels really good when you stretch on it, sort of moving with you rather than fighting your moves. And the thick cords feel great in your hands as compared to steel tubes (like you might find on a playground Jungle Gym).
Sure, you can do specific hamstring, back, shoulder, chest, leg and arm stretches – as shown on the poster-like guide to six key stretches, illustrated for reference – but you will find that once you get the swing of leg and hand placement, your body will just move until it finds a tight or tense spot that needs a few moments.
We used the “home” unit – the Stretchmate 500 – which is only 4 feet wide, and one of our taller and more flexible testers found that she was often using the frame to hold onto or found the need to move her body and feet to one side more to get the full stretch range. The Stretchmate 700 is 6 feet across and is usually recommended for clubs or other facilities, but if you have space in your home – and the extra few hundred dollars to invest – we’d recommend that one, especially if any user is tall. The piece actually encouraged one of our mesomorphic and perpetually unlimber editors to loosen up each morning since its right there and screaming “stretch on me please!”
Still, despite being all about just moving and finding what needs to be stretched, it’s not totally intuitive at first. Because the inner spokes radiate from a center, the lower ones angle downward slightly. One of our testers has less flexible hamstrings and at first was frustrated that it was a bit of a battle to keep his foot from sliding down and away from him – until he was informed he could stand with his opposite hip nearly touching the opposite side of the web instead of facing the web straight on. That kept the leg being stretched from sliding.
In addition, the poster has little arrows that indicate how a user can turn his or her hips to move the focus of a stretch. How this is done and why is should be done isn’t totally clear. In fact, it took three weeks before our resident unlimber editor figured out that by rotating a body part this way and that, he was actually maximizing the stretch and loosening up tight joints he thought were beyond help. We’d love to see a short introductory DVD demonstrating the equipment’s use and some insider tricks, discussing some stretching tips, and going through a range of stretches, including some of the ones that are not included on the poster of six. There is a 20-page guide that has apparently become available since we received the unit, so we haven’t seen it.
But we don’t want to pick nits. This is a great piece that we find ultimately motivating and a superior aid to good stretching. In fact, one of our testers has gone so far to say that since using the Stretchmate, his running performance has improved dramatically, and his susceptibility to pulled or tight muscles has all but vanished.
SNEWS® Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $1,500 (Stretchmate 500); $2,000 (Stretchmate 700)
For more information: www.stretchmate.net