Article updated June 2023.
Any fitness professional will agree that flexibility and mobility are crucial in maximising overall performance and for injury prevention. There are a number options available when it comes to stretching equipment, but some people ask the question – do you need equipment when it comes to stretching?
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Are stretching machines worth it?
When we talk about stretching equipment, it can include simple tools such as stretch straps and yoga blocks, right through to specially designed stretching machines. Whereas for other areas of fitness, such as strength, you might start with bodyweight movements and progress to adding weights, when it comes to stretching, sometimes equipment can be more beneficial in the early stages for those who have the least mobility.
For those people with very limited mobility or who are working around injuries, many stretching positions are simply unavailable to them. If even getting into the stretch starting position is beyond possibility, the road to increasing flexibility is going to be uphill from the very beginning!
Stretching machines often provide clear metrics for the user to be able to measure any improvements or progress. While this feature isn’t entirely necessary, it can be motivating and encouraging for the user, just as tracking heart rate and performance on a smart watch can be a driving force for runners.
Stretching machines can be pretty pricey and also take up a fair bit of space, so this is worth taking into consideration, particularly for the home gym. In a commercial setting, particularly where the target clientele might struggle with floor-based exercise due to mobility, stretching machines can be very popular.
When budget or space restrictions are a factor, there are some excellent training aids and tools available that can be used to assist with stretching.
Whole Body Stretching Equipment
The term “whole-body stretching” is a loose one and has been interpreted in many ways over the years, with a range of contraptions hitting the market. From inversion tables to vibration plates, there are several options out there, each with its own pros and cons, so it’s important to do your homework. We’ll go over some of the contenders here:
Technogym Flexability Stretching Machines
Global powerhouse Technogym have developed a couple of stretching machines that target different muscle groups. The Flexability line (yep, that’s FlexAbility, not Flexibility), allow for initial assessment of flexibility, plus accurate monitoring of improvement. The machines have been designed to reduce muscular tension and help prevent back pain (often associated with flexibility issues). These machines are popular among physiotherapy clinics as well as corporate wellness centres.
The two machines – the Flexability Anterior and the Flexability Posterior, use a patented system that allows stretching to be controlled with gradual involvement of the user’s weight, avoiding the risk of micro traumas.
Pilates reformers for whole body stretching
Pilates Reformers are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment when it comes to whole body stretching. Not only are reformer beds great for stretching but they can be adapted for strength and conditioning of the entire body as well. Reformer Pilates classes are one of the hottest fitness trends going at the moment, with both boutique fitness studios and large gym franchises offering reformer Pilates to their members. There are also many “fold-away” style reformer options that are perfect for the home gym enthusiast.
These are one of those contraptions that can be quite polarising, that is, people either love them or hate them! The gravity effect of being suspended upside-down can help to decompress the spine and relieve pressure. This gravitational force can increase the space between vertebrae, counteracting the pressure that is applied throughout the rest of the day. This pressure relief can be almost euphoric for some people with back issues.
Tonic Vibration Reflex: The i-Shape® TVR-8510E
The Magtonic i-Shape unique tonic vibration reflex (TVR) technology uses vibration to simulate muscles and tendons to induce involuntary muscular contraction, known to enhance flexibility, strength, and explosive force. Other benefits of vertical whole-body vibration training may include: improved range of motion, better athletic performance and shorter recovery time from injury.
This unit features an intuitive, virtual LED coach to guide users through multi level workouts performed on the unit’s distinctive stretching cage and dual vibration platform.
Who should not use a vibration platform?
It’s important to note that vibration platforms are not considered safe for everybody. Vibration platforms should not be used if:
- You have or have had cardiovascular issues (such as people with heart disease or who have had a heart attack in the past)
- Pregnant women
- Persons fitted with a pacemaker
- Anyone with a blood clotting disorder
Other stretching aids and equipment
When it comes to increasing flexibility, it doesn’t need to be complicated. There are a number of excellent tools available to assist with increasing range of motion. Some of the most popular and versatile stretching aids available include:
- Yoga blocks
- Stretch straps
- Swiss balls, and
- Foam Rollers
These items are all inexpensive and easy to use. Any fitness professional can advise clients on how best to use this equipment to achieve their goals and stay within their safe working range. These fitness aids aren’t essential for stretching but can be incredibly helpful for either those with very limited mobility to begin with or for those who are more advanced and want to step it up a level. Lightweight and compact, they are great tools for any trainer to have in their arsenal and can be utilised in many different ways.
Whole body stretching machines definitely have their benefits, particularly for clients who might struggle with performing a stretch routine using ground-based positions. It’s important to consider the individual’s goals, limitations and any contraindications before using some types of equipment such as vibration platforms and inversion tables. Pilates reformers are an excellent, versatile piece of equipment to assist with flexibility and there are many low-cost and valuable training aids such as stretch straps and foam rollers that can assist with stretching.
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