If the San Francisco 49ers win the Super Bowl, as many predict, it may not just be the result of a fierce defense or a stellar quarterback.
According to a Jan. 16 Wall Street Journal story, the secret to the 49ers’ success may be they stretch a lot.
Although they don’t like to talk about it for competitive reasons, the 49ers have made a serious commitment to stretching before weight lighting and before, during and after practices and games. And this may be the reason they have stayed so healthy this year.
In the past two years, 49ers have missed 159 games due to injury. A missed game is one player missing one game. Compare that to their playoff competitors. The Atlanta Falcons missed 29 percent more games, the New England Patriots had a 176 percent higher injury rate and their Super Bowl rival, the Baltimore Ravens, had 94 percent more injuries.
Cortney Myer, supervising physical therapist in Orthopedics and Sports Rehabilitation at Akron Children’s Hospital, hopes the secret is now out. Stretching is a good thing and she wishes more of her patients – mostly young athletes – took it seriously.
“It’s great to see NFL players stretching because they have so many fans watching their every move,” said Myer.
In the world of physical therapy, stretching has long been and continues to be a topic of debate – mostly regarding when and how to stretch to maximize athletic performance and minimize injury.
According to Myer, the current buzzword is “dynamic” stretching. That means moving while stretching rather than striking a pose and pushing hard to hold it in place for a minute or so.
Two of Myer’s favorite dynamic stretches are walking lunges and “worms.” To do a “worm,” start in a plank position and then walk your feet to your hands, then walk your hands back out to the starting position.
“Dynamic stretches get your heart rate up and warm up your muscles,” Myer said. “You should move not only in a functional way but think about moving in multiple planes or 3-D. For example, runners should not only do forward lunges – in the direction their legs are used to moving – but also sideways.”
While all athletes will benefit from stretches aimed at the core and big muscle groups, stretching routines should ideally be tailored to each sport and athlete’s unique biometrics. Gymnasts, ice skaters and pitchers should stretch to pamper and protect the muscles they use the most.
Myer was pleased to read in the Wall Street Journal story that the 49ers do 10 minutes of cardio activity before lifting weights. But, unlike NFL players, most young athletes will be better off focusing on exercises and stretches that use their own body weight, such as planks and push-ups, rather than heavy free weights.
“I am glad to hear more people are catching onto the value of yoga, pilates and good stretching programs,” said Myer. “As the story notes, it takes patience. Youth athletic programs are often pressed for time in practices, which are typically after school. But investing time in building strength, balance and flexibility is a worthwhile investment.”
Read the Wall Street Journal story