The Homedics Stretch XS is a massage mat designed to move your body through a series of yoga-inspired stretch sequences to release tension and improve flexibility. Unlike most massage chair designs, the stretch is delivered via inflating and deflating air chambers, it folds into a compact, portable package when not in use.
The Stretch XS is suitable for "all shapes, heights and sizes", and Homedics says it's ideal for the new working from home era, to help your body stretch out and unwind after a day sat in front of your computer. But does it really work? And is it any better than the rest of the best massagers around today? Here's our Homedics Stretch XS review.
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Homedics Stretch XS review: design and features
The main body of the Stretch XS mat contains four precision-controlled air chambers that inflate and deflate to varying degrees to shift your back, shoulders and hips into different stretches. It's suitable for use on "any firm surface", but in reality, we think the only practical place would be the floor.
There's a small bolster at one end, which can be positioned either under your neck or at the top of your thighs, depending on whether you want to focus the massage on your hips or your shoulders. There's also a separate pillow, made of comfy foam, to rest under your head. This has an 'aromatherapy tab' that you can add a couple of drops of essential oil to if you fancy.
The whole thing is made from soft-touch stretchy fabric in shades of grey, with lime green highlights. The general look is smart and modern, and the lack of mechanical workings means it generally seems less intense and somehow more 'natural' than other massagers – although it is of course mains powered, and needs to be plugged in for use.
The mat is controlled via a remote control that's attached to the mat with a cable (we'd say it's a good thing it's not wireless, as it feels like the kind of thing that could easily get lost, and you'll only ever need it when you're laid on the mat anyway). There are four different cycles to choose from – twist, flow, energise and stretch – each of which can be dialled up or down in intensity through three different levels.
Each sequence lasts between six-and-a-half and 11-and-a-half minutes, depending on the intensity level you pick. It's long enough to be satisfying, but short enough that you're not going to get bored and wander off halfway through. There's also the ability to pause the mat mid-cycle (if the doorbell goes, for instance), and you can always pop on another cycle back-to-back if you're in the zen zone when the first one finishes.
When not in use, the mat folds / rolls up with the pillow in the middle, and there are velcro straps to keep it in place. A carry handle makes it pretty easy to tote around. While not teeny-tiny, the packed-up mat is nice and neat and can easily be tucked into a cupboard or – Homedics suggests – under a desk. The setup process is simple and intuitive: undo the straps, roll out the mat, connect the power cable, position the pillow where you want it and off you go. The controls are also nice and easy to use.
Homedics Stretch XS review: who's it for?
Homedics is vaguely targeting this at anyone who spends their days sitting at a desk. To get a rounded view of what it can offer, I tested it out (32, no mobility problems, regularly does actual yoga), and so did my mum (60, hypermobile, dodgy hips, has to build up momentum to get off the sofa).
The first thing I'd say is that the Stretch XS really does stretch you out. I thought it might be too gentle for me, but even on the lowest intensity setting it felt like a good range of motion. That said, the 'yoga' link is tenuous – it's closer to a gentle Pilates if anything, but really this is its own experience. Because you're laid down on the mat you can relax right into the motions in a controlled and supported way, confident that you're probably not going to do yourself any damage (although caution is advised, of course, especially if you have back problems).
For me as a relatively fit and able-bodied person, it was simply a relaxing way to unwind after long hours sat in front of a screen. Since I've had it in my possession I've been motivated to get it out a few times at the end of the day, but I do wonder if it's the kind of thing that might eventually end up gathering dust in a cupboard, once the novelty wears off.
My mum was a big fan, and found the mat eased the aches and pains in her hips and helped to loosen up her joints, which tend to feel stiff at the end of the day. A look at the reviews online for this product echo her sentiments. It seems the Stretch XS is proving the biggest hit with those suffering from back or shoulder pain: there are rave reviews from users saying it's effective at providing pain relief. Do note, it's not sold as a medical device. And obviously at a minimum you'd need to be mobile enough to easily get up and down off the floor to use it.
Homedics Stretch XS review: performance and usability
There are a couple of pros and cons worth expanding on here. The main down side to be aware of is the noise. The sound of aggressive inflation and deflation, especially in such close proximity to your ears, isn't the most soothing – although it is, we'd say, more pleasant than many mechanical massagers. It has a bit of a respirator / Darth Vader vibe, and isn't constant enough to fade into the background like white noise. It also means any background chimes, whale noises etc. you might have hoped could soundtrack your chill time will likely be drowned out, unless you use headphones.
On the plus side, the variety of programmes extends the mat's usefulness and keeps things interesting. The possibility of changing the mat's orientation for a different experience of the cycles, extends your possibilities further (although we would say that it works best with the bolster at the top – when it's under your thighs the mat seems to spend a lot of time massaging your bum cheeks; an odd sensation).
Another big plus point is the portability. In use it's probably in the same kind of category as those massage mats that you can hang on the back of your chair, but those are unwieldy and bulky when you're not using them, whereas this one packs away very neatly.
Homedics Stretch XS review: verdict
With its clever pneumatic mechanism, the Homedics Stretch XS does seem genuinely innovative. It delivers controlled stretches that you can really relax into, and is intense enough to be satisfying even for the fit and flexible. There are enough cycle options and intensity variations to keep things interesting. The design is smart and modern, and the ability to easily pack it away into a compact and portable package is a big plus. While it's marketed at anyone who spends their days sitting at a desk (and it is indeed a nice end-of-day perk), we suspect this will be more of a hit with anyone struggling with mild joint problems or other daily aches and pains.