SANTA CLARA Ricky Jean Francois' personal best in the squat lift is 700 pounds, which is about the weight of a grand piano. What may be more astounding than the heft, however, is the 49ers defensive lineman set that mark Monday.
The dog days of January which follow training camp, four exhibition games and 16 regular-season games usually are when NFL bodies start to break down and the clatter of the weight room typically tapers off.
The 49ers, however, have turned that notion on its head this season, and personal bests known as PBs to serious lifters have been set every week lately as the 49ers prepare to open the playoffs.
For that players credit Mark Uyeyama, 35, who took over the 49ers' weight room and conditioning program this season. Uyeyama's mission is to make his players strongest when games matter most, and perhaps more important, when their opponents are starting to succumb to the rigors of a long season.
"Why, when your performance should be at its highest, should you be at your weakest?" Uyeyama said. "Why would you let your body go down the tubes when you're supposed to be at your best?"
The approach meshes nicely with the 49ers' might-is-right, on-field philosophy.
For years the 49ers drafted big men with the belief they would withstand injuries better than their smaller, quicker counterparts and would be more effective in December, January and if everything goes as planned February, when field conditions deteriorate and fatigue levels increase.
The philosophy also was designed to take advantage of a league that has grown more pass-happy and more finesse-oriented in recent seasons.
The three other teams in the NFC playoff hunt the Packers, Saints and Giants finished in the top five in passing yards during the regular season. But two, New Orleans and Green Bay, also finished in the bottom 10 in defense.
Known as "Uye" (pronounced Oooeee) in the locker room, Uyeyama quickly has become a favorite for the individual attention he gives players "he has an understanding of what each person's body needs," linebacker Parys Haralson said and for making them stronger than they've been.
"I think what he does matches, especially the defensive line, the attitude we want to have," said defensive end Justin Smith. "We want to come in there and we want to be strong and physical. And those things carry over from the weight room."
Smith is a good example of the change in the 49ers weight room.
When he arrived in San Francisco in 2008, he was a 275-pound defensive end used to playing in a 4-3 defensive scheme. Today, Smith is 296 pounds, a weight better befitting a 3-4 defensive end who has to fend off double teams on the inside of the defensive line.
He said the idea of lifting more weight as the season progressed initially was foreign to him after doing essentially the opposite in college and then with the Cincinnati Bengals. But the results have made him a believer.
"He's extended my career and helped me get to the level I'm at," Smith said. "I've done it seven years the other way, and in college the other way. I mean, in college we didn't lift as heavy as we do now, and I was 18 years old."
Left tackle Joe Staley said he's set personal bests in every weight-lifting category. Center Jonathan Goodwin said his legs are stronger than they've ever been at this point in any of his previous nine seasons.
"Hat's off to him, and (Uyeyama) he does a great job," Goodwin said. "And the one thing I appreciate about him is he listens to you. You tell him how your body's feeling, he doesn't ignore what you're feeling. He works with you."
Patrick Willis, perhaps the most well-known 49er, could train with anyone in the offseason and has had offers to do just that. But he said he trusts Uyeyama implicitly.
Uyeyama virtually became Willis' shadow as the linebacker rehabilitated from a hamstring injury last month. Now Uyeyama is working with defensive end Ray McDonald, who has a less serious hamstring injury than Willis', and tight end Delanie Walker, who is recovering from a broken jaw.
One of the triumphs of the 49ers' season is that nearly every player on the active roster Walker is the only exception is expected to be healthy enough to play against the Saints on Saturday.