Meeting Stretch Rayner changed the course of my life.

I was 29 and had no strength, no mobility, I felt disconnected from myself and my lifestyle was leading me to an early death (sleeping an average of 3 hours per night, working 15 and eating desserts exclusively).

At the time he co-owned a Crossfit box in one of the new hip areas in London, the prices were prohibitive but I had decided to make a change and invest in my health and well-being. I started attending the 6 am classes, which meant I kept sacrificing sleep to be able to get my daily dose of movement, and I did that for a while: I got stronger fast, like all beginners do, and I got injured equally quickly. I used to be under the impression that rest was not necessary and that training was all about pushing harder every day, the way beginners mindset. It took many injuries and setbacks to rethink that belief.

One trait distinguished Stretch from all the other coaches in the gym: he was not ashamed to show vulnerability. There were things he was good at, yet he would spend a considerable amount of time practicing what he struggled at. He was the owner and head coach of a successful gym, and there he was kicking and falling out of handstands dozens of times,chasing tennis balls and face planting many times a day. I came from a family with a closed mindset who ingrained in me the idea that we should only focus on skills we are naturally talented for, that failure is shameful and that it’s always too late to start anything.

Stretch inspired me to change, to fail so I could succeed and to keep trying. One feature that distinguished the gym from most others was the quality of the programme design, and Stretch was in charge of that. The training phases would follow cycles, focus on different aspects of physical development and show progressions for beginners, intermediate and advanced athletes. I made astonishing gains following the classes and figured that if he could make me achieve that much with a general group programme he could help me much more designing a programme that was tailored around my specific strengths and weaknesses. One day I found the courage to walk up to him and say the unthinkable: “I want a muscle-up.” He said: “How about we get you one pull-up first?” It sounded good to me.

That’s how my journey began. I left group classes for ever and focused on my goals. Stretch gave me everything I ever wanted and everything I had never even dared dreaming of: rings routines and pike rope climbs, front splits and thoracic spine extension (probably the single most useful tool for everything gymnastic-related) and above all the possibility to change and improve. I have been training with him for years now, my journey has not been linear and I did get injured again and again. Stretch has been rehabbing me and making me stronger again, and he’s always been there for me, even after moving to the other side of the world.

Stretch is everything I could possibly look for in a coach: he’s knowledgeable, caring and passionate. I never had another coach so I couldn’t compare him to anybody else, but again I am so lucky that I found the very best on first attempt.