While surgeons went in on separate occasions to repair injuries to both of running back Frank Gore's shoulders, a little fine-tuning was going on back in Santa Clara in preparation for the 2006 off-season strength and conditioning program.
With the help of the 49ers grounds crew, a small 3 degree sloped hill resting on the border of practice field two was rebuilt into a new training obstacle.
"We modified the slope which was primarily utilized for downhill running, to an 8 degree slope geared toward uphill running because there are a lot of benefits to uphill running including improve leg strength and power, stride length, and burst," said assistant strength coach Duane Carlisle.
In his rookie campaign, Gore proved to be a downhill power running back who could fight for extra yards. Last Thursday, a determined Gore returned to action, this time fighting his way uphill through 14 reps on the 49ers newly crafted hill.
"It was very tough," said Gore. "It was just my first day back but you want to still compete with the other guys and you don't want to be that guy in the back. I'd say by about the tenth one I was hurting a little."
Hill training is definitely not revolutionary to football. The late Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton used to credit his leg strength to his steep hill running regimen every off-season. 49ers running back Roger Craig became a fan of steep hill and distance running also introducing Jerry Rice to "The Hill," located over in Edgewood Park in San Carlos, California. But as Gore found, not too many NFL teams are offering that type of training as part of their weekly routine.
"I talked to some of my other college teammates who play around the league and I tell them what we are doing and they are surprised because they say their workouts aren't like that," said Gore. "I'm just glad our coaches are making us work real hard and offering us a type of training that hopefully pays off during the season."
During each rep, Gore's mind was already focused on the upcoming season and with each stride he visualized himself pounding his way through and past would-be tacklers.
"I have to think like that to get through it," said Gore of his mental approach. "I tell myself that it's making me be a better player and I just keep those legs moving. It's what I have to do if I want to compete and be the starting back."
With Kevan Barlow missing the final three games of the season due to a knee injury, Gore had the opportunity to start as a rookie. With an increase in carries, Gore was able to finish the season with 608 yards rushing to lead the team, the highest yardage for a rookie 49ers running back since Craig in 1983. His rushing yardage was one of the key factors in the 49ers finishing out the season with back-to-back wins.
"I was happy to be a starting back and show my coaches and my team what I can do with the opportunities I get," said Gore of his strong finish. "I think I showed that I can take 20 or 25 touches a game and help put us in chances to win. We finished the season as a team on the right note, and I felt like I was a big part of the team at that point. I want to continue that this year."
Just like the hill, there's no where to go but up for this young, talented and hard working back.
Circle Belts (3/23/06)
Pro Days (3/8/06)
Agility Ladder Drills (12/21/05)
Getting Stronger (12/14/05)
Weight Tips (12/7/05)
Conditioned Confidence (11/29/05)
Speed, Speed, Speed (11/16/05)
Nutrition III (11/3/05)
Nutrition II (10/27/05)
Testing and Evaluating (10/18/05)