Why the 49er's Love to Stretch

Why the 49ers Love to Stretch

San Francisco’s Players Believe Their Fixation With Stretching Has Given the Team an Edge


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Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith warm up.

The San Francisco 49ers’ two-year rise from the depths of mediocrity is widely attributed to ferocious defense and the dazzling running ability of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

But as the 49ers head to Atlanta favored to beat the Falcons this weekend and advance to their first Super Bowl in 18 years, here’s another possibility: Maybe it’s that they stretch a lot.

That’s not a proposition you’d want to state too loudly in the 49ers’ locker room. The San Francisco stretching program is something team officials refuse to talk about, ostensibly for competitive reasons. But let’s face it: The same 300-pound linemen who quickly brag about how much weight they can bench aren’t likely to admit that they can do the splits. That’s the province of cheerleaders, isn’t it?
Privately, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has made it clear that stretching isn’t for sissies, for good reason. Stretching, research shows, can dramatically reduce the risk of injury, and nothing about the 49ers is more remarkable than their bill of health. Since Harbaugh took over the team two years ago, Niners players have missed 159 games due to injury. (A missed game is one player missing one game.) According to Stats LLC, the three other teams left in the playoffs have had dramatically higher injury rates. Over the past two years, the Falcons have missed 29% more games and the Baltimore Ravens 94% more than the 49ers. The New England Patriots’ number is 440, an injury rate 176% higher than the 49ers.