‘Do you fantasise about being able to drop into the box with the same finesse as a Moulin Rouge dancer? Do you envy Barbie and her rubber limbs?’
Well, do you? Because that’s the selling line for Splitz classes at London Dance Academy (LDA) on their website. Indeed, cool New York clubs like Equinox and Physique 57 (so hot right now) are offering hour long classes dedicated solely to stretching muscles deeply so LDA are on to something.
Just off Old Street, in a small basement with three studios, the Academy specializes in pole dancing. The class before mine was in a studio with eight poles in and featured women flying up the pole, hanging upside down and coming back up like circus athletes with incredible bodies, not least because of the muscular and core strength it requires to fly up and down a pole and make it look easy. There are plenty of moves where one leg is in the air and the other is pointing towards the floor, so you’re literally doing the splits along the pole.
That’s where LDA’s Splitz and Extreme Stretching classes come in. 30 minute power stretching classes designed to help you improve strength and flexibility for the pole. But also great for cardio refugees like me who are feeling contracted and stiff and need a good long stretch out (after doing minimal stretching after most of the workouts this week, my muscles felt tight and tense).
My Splitz class had only four people in it and was in a tiny room at the back of the academy, an intimacy I quite liked. The teacher, Sophie was a gorgeous dancer-y type but warm and unaffected.
We started in partners, sitting with our legs apart in a V-shape pushing against our partners shins to open up their stretch. Ouch on the inner thighs. Taking eight breaths with each move, one partner leaned backwards as far as she could, pulling the other partner’s body forward into their stretch then vice versa – continuing the slow push/pull effect for three counts of eight for each partner. The bittersweet inner thigh stretch left both myself and my partner groaning orgasmically. Neither of use are experienced in extreme stretching (she had never been before either) and we did fine. Sophie ran around checking positioning and supporting us though the pushing and pulling.
The class continued with the deepest stretches in had ever done and there indeed were a versions of the splits including an attempt at the full whack (and no I couldn’t get near the floor!). There were props such as bricks and blocks as used in yoga that Sophie used to support parts of the body like shins or groin to either intensify a stretch or make it easier depending on our levels (mostly the latter for me). Be ready to feel your muscles flexing and lengthening and probably hurting…But – who knows I am probably a masochist – it’s such good pain! Plus, as is the thing with old school yoga and stretch classes, when Sophie would come up behind me and push on my hips or torso to intensify each stretch it felt just delicious.
There was little breathing instruction though. Stretching is all about breathing correctly and using the breath to get into the stretch – I know this as a bit of a yoga nut. That means, if you don’t know how to breathe during the stretching in this class (inhaling deeply to open the body and exhaling deeper to move into the stretch, you might find this difficult and jarring).
Still, being moved into the stretches by another person holding their weight on your back, pushing or pulling your muscles into a more open position if it’s done safely is incredibly freeing and relaxing. My orgasmic groaning continued and I found myself getting more and more narcoleptic with each deep breath and even deeper stretch. When I said to one of the girls in the class, ‘God stretching is so relaxing,’ she said, ‘Sophie, you have another addict.’
Why does stretching muscles deeply feel so delicious and relaxing? I asked a yoga teacher mate this once. Here’s what happens: when we breathe quickly in short inhalations/exhalations, it stimulate adrenalin and gets our sympathetic nervous systems working, which are the part of the brain that fights stress. This is what happens in the fight or flight response and why people pant when they’re having panic attacks. It’s self-perpetuating. You get stressed, you start to pant and that makes you more stressed so pant more and then you panic. The opposite effect is when you take long, slow breaths, ideally increasing the length of the exhalation, something we’re you’re encouraged to do when you stretch, you’re increasing the action of the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the brain involved in relaxation. The big exhalation has a calming effect on the mind and relaxing effect on the body. That works to your advantage when you’re stretching your muscles too because the more relaxed and calm a body, the more it can stretch and open. The more relaxed you are, the deeper and longer you breathe and the more relaxed you stay.
In fact, Kit Laughlin, author of Stretching and Flexibility has proselytised about the emotional and mental effects of stretching muscles. Once a session is over you’ll have a strong session of completeness or closure, it’s a feeling of balance achieved and complete satisfaction.’ See, orgasmic.
Splitz class PROS Deep and relaxing dedicated stretching, your muscles will feel stretched and open. Warm and encouraging atmosphere CONS No warm up, no breathing instruction
Where? London Dance Academy, The Basement 49-51 Central Street
London EC1V 8AB
What time? Thursdays 8.15pm – 8.45pm
How much? £6
Did I pay? Yes
Calories burned (it was stretching and basically lying about) 94 Calories calculated using the Ki Fit Body Monitor