Take one look at San Francisco 49ers five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis and it should come as no surprise that the All-Pro player takes an extreme interest in strength and conditioning.
In fact, Willis said he’s been fascinated with the methods installed by 49ers head strength and conditioning coach Mark Uyeyama.
“He won’t just give you something right out of a book, or give it to you because it’s something he’s seen,” Willis explained to 49ers.com on April 16, the first day of the team’s nine-week offseason strength program. “He actually goes through it and does the workout himself to get a feel for it. He applies it to each guy. He doesn’t force every guy to do the same thing or do it the same exact way.”
Variety is a big part of Uyeyama’s teachings with the 49ers.
As he summed it up best inside of office on Tuesday, “Many roads lead to Rome. If I have to do something different, so be it.”
Uyeyama’s strength program began last week with the opening two weeks serving as an on assessment period for where each player is at physically. Following the initial phase of the OSP, the team will move on to three weeks of football school, followed by four weeks of organized team activities (OTAs).
“Each of those phases has certain goals that we want to accomplish,” Uyeyama shared.
Initially, Uyeyama and his strength staff wanted to evaluate the player’s fitness and strength levels before moving on to preparing them for football school.
“My goal was to get them ready for the moves they’re about to do with their coaches and improve their fitness level and improve their power,” Uyeyama said. “The last thing we want to have happen is for them to not be ready to step on the field.”
[PHOTO: UYEYAMA TRAINS PLAYERS IN THE TEAM’S MORNING WORKOUT SESSION.]
Uyeyama considers himself fortunate to have players willing to trust his expertise. “You hang your hat on the players,” Uyeyama said.
Likewise, the players feel lucky to have their strength coach.
“Uey’s very detailed and he has a plan,” Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley said. “Everything fits together. Workouts tie into the field work we do. Right now, we’re getting ready for the field work… He’s really good at what he does.”
Because of that relationship with the strength staff, practically the entire 49ers roster is taking part in the voluntary workouts. For position groups like the offensive line, the opportunity to train together under Uyeyama’s guidance is something they don’t want to miss out on.
“We’re here to work out and get better,” said Staley, who enjoyed the sled work done outside which he thinks will translate to linemen playing lower to the ground. “Everybody understands that and that’s why they’re here.”
Besides working out together, the players enjoy being together on the field and in the locker room.
“Over the break, when you play offensive line, it may be different from other positions, but you start missing your guys,” right tackle Anthony Davis said.
For the linemen, attending the OSP also gives them a chance to razz teammates like guard Mike Iupati, who recently buzzed off six years worth of his long black hair.
“He told me he was going to do it a little while ago, but I didn’t think he had the guts to do it,” Davis said. “I’m proud of him.”
“I think it looks good,” Staley added. “He looks like an outstanding citizen.”
[PHOTO: LINEBACKER PATRICK WILLIS WORKS ON CLEARING HURDLES ALONG WITH SAFETY COLIN JONES.]
Uyeyama’s program is a balancing act.
Speed work, for example, isn’t going to be very high initially.
“I want great quality,” Uyeyama said. “I don’t change too much within these first two weeks. Why? Because I want them to be able to excel at what we’re doing.”
Uyeyama saw improvements already in the drills being replicated from week one of the OSP.
“It’s amazing how fast they guys adapt and excel.”
With Uyeyama gearing up to have the players ready for positional work, movements are being practiced outside aren’t solely focusing on straight-line speed. “The demands on the body are that much more different than from running straight ahead,” Uyeyama explained. “The angles, the type of contractions, the positioning, everything structurally on the body is different.”
Introducing back pedal movements to cornerbacks at the end of week two, for example, will cut down the possibilities of pulled muscles down the road.
One player adapting to the workouts immediately is cornerback Curtis Holcomb, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011, who missed the entire season due to an Achilles injury. Holcomb is fully rehabbed and participating in all OSP training.
“It’s amazing,” said the Florida A&M product who was injured prior to the start of training camp. “Just thinking about my mindset last year, I was out the whole season and couldn’t work out with the guys and I had to rehab on my own. But to be back doing everything with the guys makes me feel like I’m back with the team. Last year I felt isolated, but now I feel rejuvenated.”
Holcomb hasn’t played football, or tackled another player, in more than a year and a half.
“I’m just eager to get back on the field,” he said.
[PHOTO: CORNERBACK CARLOS ROGERS SMILES IN BETWEEN DRILLS WITH FELLOW DEFENSIVE BACKS.]
Carlos Rogers re-signed with the 49ers for four more years earlier this offseason. He liked everything about being in San Francisco, strength program included. Rogers could’ve waited to join his teammates in the Bay Area for veteran minicamps, but wanted to be there with his teammates for voluntary training.
Rogers enjoys how the 49ers staff puts the players through things that translate towards their performance on Sundays.
“Uey does a great job of mixing up things, giving you different looks,” Rogers explained. “We do a lot change of direction work with explosive and power movements with chains, with 12-15-pound medicine balls and jumping over hurdles. We do a lot of explosive things that you can incorporate into football. Defensive linemen can work on their explosion, getting off the ball. Offensive linemen have to be able to pull and explode off the ball. DBs have to backpedal, we have to explode out of our cuts.”
“With every position there are demands specifically with those positions,” Uyeyama shared. “My thinking is to take five minutes and just watch that position play. You can tell in five minutes what is going to be asked of them. My job now is to prepare them with the components they’re going to need to be successful, speed, endurance, power, ability to change direction. All the components are in, in terms of our training.”
Rogers, the Pro Bowl cornerback, also felt Ueyayma’s guidance helped him tremendously during his first regular season with the 49ers. “This last season I played in 16 games, pretty much injury free, you get your nicks here and there, but dealing with him, our whole workout staff and our medical staff working hand-in-hand, you have more guys out of the training room and on the field.”
[PHOTO: WIDE RECEIVER MARIO MANNINGHAM LIFTS A SLEDGEHAMMER DURING STRENGTH TRAINING.]
It’s just another part of the tool kit. Sledgehammers might not be commonplace in local gyms, but they’ve been well received by 49ers players.
“Love it,” Davis said. “You feel like a monster doing it. It’s like a Neanderthal workout…You know it’s going to translate on the field. You know it’s helping with football movements. Just being quick and powerful.”
So what is the exact reasoning for the sledgehammers?
“It’s just one tool and we’ve got a number of tools to get an end result,” Uyeyama said. “What I like to do is create proper movement patterns and it just so happens we’re using an implement, a sledgehammer. That is a rotational core exercise.”
Uyeyama has the players increasing their sledgehammer intensity as they go along through the strength program.
“I’m going to train it at a low intensity so they learn how to do it, then I’m going to train it at a high intensity, then finally, I’m going to train it with high intensity, over and over again.”
Players with no sledgehammer experience really enjoy the challenge of making it a part of their strength routine.
“I think for all of us, a challenge is also fun,” Rogers said. “I make it enjoyable, kind of laugh and joke with the guys throughout all the exercises to get through it, because it’s not easy. No matter how much you’ve been working out prior to you being here, once you get into actual football stuff, it’s not easy at all. And it’s going to get tiring on the field, even after we’ve been working out. Once you start going through OTAs, you’ll still be tired because you’re going through more football stuff. The whole thing is fun. It’s an enjoyable workout.
[PHOTO: MARIO MANNINGHAM AND BRANDON JACOBS HAVE JOINED NEW TEAMMATES IMMEDIATELY IN THE OSP.]
“I’m just trying to go back to where we just came from,” Manningham said on April 16. “This team has Super Bowl potential; I’m going to ride with them. This is my new team. I know they’re going to ride with me.”
Manningham didn’t waste time getting to know new teammates. The former New York Giants wideout, along with former Giants teammate Brandon Jacobs, have been working out in Santa Clara with their new 49ers teammates.
For Uyeyama, new players mean research time. The 49ers strength and medical staffs meet often about new additions to the roster. In doing so, Uyeyama gets an idea of a player’s medical background.
Uyeyama is up front with the new players about the expectations of the team’s strength program. But often, Uyeyama doesn’t have to say a whole lot to the new players. They end up falling in line with what’s being done by the 49ers veterans.
“We have guys who really set the standard for what we want to do,” Uyeyama said.
And as Willis pointed out when the OSP began, “We’re not a pride team; we’re about doing everything we need to do to get it done.”
Rogers sees the camaraderie being very special.
“It’s fun to do this especially when you have a lot of the guys around like we have here. Some guys can go on their own and workout with their own trainers, but to have the guys here together and the way this team is, it’s something special.”
Tags: Anthony Davis, Brandon Jacobs, Carlos Rogers, Curtis Holcomb, Joe Staley, Mario Manningham, Mark Uyeyama, Patrick Willis
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