There's a scripture that can be read in the 49ers weight room. It sets the tone for what the franchise's offseason program is all about.
"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."
Of course, the saying emphasizes players working to improve their abilities, but it also stresses the importance of team unity.
When the 49ers embarked on their 14-week offseason program in mid-March, head strength and conditioning coach Duane Carlisle understood his role in aiding head coach Mike Singletary's vision for his team.
Carlisle also knew from his four previous years of experience with the franchise, that he had a group of willing apprentices ready to put in the work to be a playoff-bound team in 2009.
"Coach Singletary set the tone for what the expectations are for this team and for our offensive workouts. It's up to us as his strength and conditioning staff to continually enforce that message," Carlisle said. "He stressed to us what our identity is going to be, and that's going to be a physical, tough, disciplined, smart, relentless football team. That's how our guys have been training."
With nearly perfect attendance so far during the offseason program, Carlisle and his staff have had no problem getting the players to take heed to what Singletary's vision for what the team requires.
"This year the first thing you notice is the participation that we have in the program," said starting center and team captain Eric Heitmann, an eight-year veteran. "I don't think we have many guys who have even missed a day. As an offensive line, our guys have been here every day. We're all getting better."
During the program, players have been broken into two groups consisting of linemen and skill-players. Each group works out for two hours Monday through Thursday, with a makeup workout on Fridays that consists of weight lifting and boxing.
Primarily, each session is focused on running and weight lifting. At 8 am, the linemen lift first, while the skill-players do movement drills on the field turf practice field. After an hour, the two groups flip-flop, with the linemen finishing their workout doing movement drills and the skill-players finishing up in the weight room. For players unable to make the 8 am start time, an alternate workout at noon is available as well.
Because of the nature of the positions they play, linebackers, fullbacks and tight ends run with the skill-players, but do a linemen's strength workout.
"It's tougher this year than it was last year," wide receiver Jason Hill said. "It seems like the volume is up. We're doing a lot more and it's definitely been getting me better. All of the guys are getting in great shape for training camp."
Carlisle has the 14-week program broken down into four phases of training with different goals established for each phase. Most recently, the players have been put through the first phase which established a comprehensive regeneration program.
The first phase allowed the players to start adopting training methods that helped them recover from the initial workouts.
"When you're working out four straight days, you're going to be fatigued by the end of the week," Carlisle said. "But if we can minimize that fatigue by the end of the week by adopting proper nutrition strategies and by the players getting adequate rest – it will help them perform at a high level for each and every training session."
Just like their performances on Sundays, the players are pushing themselves during the offseason program to get ready for the upcoming season.
"When we're outside, we have general and specific workouts. We try to establish a base-level of stamina and fitness during the first three-week block," he said.
Just like on the practice field, the goal for the weight room was to prepare the body for the subsequent training blocks during the program.
"The goals in the weight room in the first block of training were improving lean body mass, improving structural balance and improving the muscles that work with the bigger muscles," Carlisle said. "Often times after the season, guys might be a little banged up. During the 11 weeks they had off, they may not have engaged in any corrective exercises to address any of the muscles imbalances that took place as a result of going through a 20-plus week NFL season."
Aiding in the success of the offseason program are some of the new additions to the 49ers facility, which includes a remodeled weight room, a cardio room and a man-made hill adjacent to the practice fields which Singletary dubbed "pain."
"The organization has given us a lot of different tools to help us run the best strength and conditioning program we can run," Carlisle said. "The offseason program has a big emphasis here and the team really benefits from it."
The remodeled weight room has already been appreciated by the players according to Carlisle.
"It gives the guys more privacy when they're working out. In turn, it has allowed the guys to take part in more focused sessions," he said. "By enclosing the weight room, the guys realize this is the 49ers weight room. It's taken on much higher importance, because they realize this is our dedicated area."
The cardio room has also been a hit, because it allows Carlisle and his staff to run group workouts with the players.
In the midst of all the changes made to the offseason program, the competition that exists amongst the players has not.
As each week passes and the team gets closer to training camp, every participant in the program is dedicated to sharpening one another and making sure they're ready for a successful season.
"The best part about working out here is the competition that you create with your teammates," Heitmann said with intent. "Honestly, for us that's why we work out here. You're constantly trying to out-perform your teammates, which ends up making everybody better in the long run."