Len Robbins


Science has finally caught up with the Robbins braintrust.

I harken back to the early 1990s.

My father was the head coach of the Clinch County High Panther varsity basketball team. They were in the playoffs. During pre-game warm-ups, I noticed the other team was going through a litany of highly-orchestrated stretches and exercises. The Panthers were shooting jumpers and lay-ups.

“Hey, Dad, why isn’t your team stretching like the other team?,” I asked from my seat behind the bench.

“I’ve never seen a high school kid pull a muscle during a basketball game,” he replied. “I have seen them shoot.”

His point was well taken, and well proven, as we won by 20 that night. And later won one of two state titles during that era.

Fast forward two decades.

I’m coaching my son’s Pee Wee football team a few years ago. The other team of 9- and-10-year-olds is going through a barrage of stretches on the other side of the field. My team is running through our play (notice that’s singular), hitting each other lightly.

One of my players excused himself from our pre-game ritual to pose a query.

“Coach, don’t we need to stretch like the other team?”

“Do you stretch in a game?,” I asked in return.

“No,” he replied after hesitating to think about it.

“Stretching doesn’t help you play football,” I said as I steered him back to our drills. “Practicing football helps you play football.”

We lost by 20 that day, but it had nothing to do with stretching. It had everything to do with coaching.

Just like that other time, I have been proven correct.

A series of studies released over the last few years supports the Robbins’ thesis: Stretching before an athletic activity doesn’t help your performance. Furthermore, it hinders it.

Experts at the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in pouring over 100 papers on stretching studies, found that people who stretched before exercise were no less likely to suffer injuries than those who didn’t. According to a story on the matter by the Associated Press: “Traditional stretches, like when people bend over to touch their toes or stretch their legs, often cause the muscles to tighten rather than relax – exactly the opposite of what is needed for physical activity.”

When stretching, the story states, your body may think it’s at risk of being overstretched, and compensate by becoming more tense. When muscles are tense, they don’t perform as well, and are at greater risk for injury.

“It’s like weight training to become stronger,” said Kieran O’Sullivan, an exercise expert in Ireland, who studied various types of stretching and its impact. “You wouldn’t do a weight session right before you exercise, and you shouldn’t stretch right before either.”

Instead of stretching, experts recommend warming up with a light jog or sport-specific exercise, like shooting for basketball, throwing a ball lightly for baseball, or mimicking actions of a sport at half-pace.

Hmm. Sounds familiar.

Obviously, stretching can help with flexibility. The scientists, and the Robbins’, can agree on that. But having kids, or even high school athletes, stretch before a football game, or basketball game, or baseball game, is just a counterproductive waste of time.

So says the Robbins braintrust. We try to document when we’re right for historical purposes. This makes two.

LEN ROBBINS’ syndicated newspaper column appears in more than 20 newspapers in the South. He and his wife and three children live in Homerville, Georgia (population: 2,890), next to the Okefenokee Swamp.

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