The Minnesota Vikings have announced hiring former San Francisco 49ers strength and conditioning coach Mark Uyeyama to the same position following the departure of Brent Salazar to the United States Tennis Association.
Uyeyama has spent the past nine years with the 49ers, first as an assistant strength coach for three years, then as the head man from 2011-14. Following that, he was promoted to become the “director of human performance” until the 49ers let go of their staff this last season.
In an interview with the Province, former All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis described Uyeyama’s approach.
“He won’t just give you something right out of a book, or give it to you because it’s something he’s seen,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis explained on the team’s website. “He actually goes through it and does the workout himself to get a feel for it. He doesn’t force every guy to do the same thing or do it the same exact way.”
Chip Kelly, former head coach of the 49ers, has praised Uyeyama’s science-forward approach to strength and conditioning—something one might be able to pick up on after Kelly’s staff promoted him upon arriving.
“Uye, our strength coach, they’re cutting-edge guys that have been on top of everything,” Kelly said last May. “So there wasn’t anything I brought here that they weren’t already doing or had already tried and moved on to other things. Those guys are pretty good.”
Uyeyama creates training regimens specific to each individual—not just their positional demands but their individual physiology. To do that, he implemented data tracking as part of a larger analytical program that broke down the demands on the players and what level of workouts will best benefit them.
The team has 12 kiosks – nine in the players’ lounge and three near the cafeteria – designed to collect information on each player every morning. Each player steps on a scale to record his weight. Then, he’s asked four general questions, such as, “How sore do you feel?” The player responds using a 1-to-10 scale.
Then, the player takes a seat and attaches a sensor to his small finger to measure his heart rate variable (HRV).
According to 2015 report in Global Advances in Health and Medicine, a professional journal, the time intervals between adjacent heartbeats is “directly related to the body’s interdependent regulatory systems and ultimately, their efficiency and health.”
Not only that, players wore GPS devices that tracked their movement patterns and were given recommendations to maximize the benefits of sleep. You can read much more of his approach here. They were far enough ahead of the curve that Kelly, notorious for his insistence on bleeding-edge sports science in Philadelphia, adopted Uyeyama’s techniques.
The results haven’t necessarily borne it out, though some of that may have to do with the 49ers’ consistent approach of acquiring injury-prone players both in the draft and free agency. In Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost metrics, the 49ers haven’t been better than 23rd since 2013 — meaning they have lost more games to injury than anywhere between 22 to 27 other teams.