Profile: Castro is a trainer of champions, in his garage

Tony Castro is the strength and conditioning coach of UFC fighters Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier. 

Some people refer to Tony Castro as the trainer of champions. As the strength and conditioning coach of top UFC fighters Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, it’s little wonder Castro has gained that moniker.
A Hollister resident since 2001, the 51-year-old Castro trains athletes in the spacious garage of his Ridgemark home. Along with Velasquez and Cormier, Castro also trains up-and-coming MMA athletes whom he says will be well known to the public in the coming years. That list includes Justin Willis, who recently won a MMA bout in Tokyo.
A former professional lifter in the snatch and clean and jerk, Castro said he made the Junior Olympic National Championships in 1985 and earned a silver medal in the American Championships that same year. When Castro won the silver medal, he competed as a 148-pounder and snatched over 250 pounds while clean jerking over 300.
Castro’s personal-records in competition include 352 pounds for the clean and jerk and just under 275 pounds for the snatch. Castro said he had personal-bests of over 600 pounds in the squat and over 500 pounds for both the front squat and bench press. Despite never making the Olympics, Castro lifted weights on par with some of the Olympians of his era.
“I was good enough (to make the Olympics) but never could put together (my best lifts) at the right time,” said Castro, who is also the general sales manager at Tiffany Ford. “At one point I was doing American records in the gym, but I could never put it together in a contest. I was a very high-skilled guy and qualified for nationals many times, but I could never put it together.”
However, it’s apparent Castro has put together strength and conditioning plans for his athletes to get them over the top. Castro, who has lifted and trained with world-class athletes in a variety of sports, started working with MMA athletes after training under Terry Haney and MMA legend Ted Sotelo, who is a grandmaster.
“I learned quite a bit from Ted, and that’s when I put strength and martial arts together,” Castro said. “I knew I could help guys like Cain because I know how the body works. I do my own studies on kinesiology, and I also work on guys’ muscles with acupuncture and making sure everything is working and firing.”
Since April, Castro has been training Roy Sims, who recently competed in the Sumo World Championships.
Javier Mendez, who is the head trainer and primary owner of the renowned American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) gym in San Jose where Velasquez and Cormier train, said what makes Castro special is his ability to keep his fighters injury-free. Velaquez has been injured periodically throughout his career.
“Cain hasn’t been injured since he started working with Tony,” Mendez said. “Cain had a pre-existing injury when he started working with Tony, but hasn’t had any new injuries since.”
Mendez added that Castro provides plenty of practical details that make a huge difference.
“I pretty much base a lot of things on what Tony tells me,” Mendez said. “If Cain comes into AKA having already worked legs with Tony, I’ll lay off on a legs workout because I know Tony has worked him pretty hard. Or Tony might tell me Cain’s hands are really sore, and that’s great to know because the fighters don’t say anything even if they’re hurting. That’s where Tony is an incredible help.”
AKA is one of the premier gyms in the country, a place where some of the best talent in the UFC train, along with dozens of other fighters who compete in various MMA organizations. Castro and Mendez started working together a year ago, resulting in athletes like Velasquez gaining an added dimension in their arsenal.
“Cain’s strength has increased and his explosiveness has improved quite a bit with Tony,” Mendez said. “Tony looks at the body and knows the exact lift an athlete needs for their specific sport.”
More importantly, Castro focuses on an athlete’s weak spots; by shoring up weaknesses, an athlete is less prone to injury.
“One of my specialties is I’m really technical,” Castro said. “I make sure guys do things without getting hurt. I enjoy coaching; for me, if I can just be that piece of the puzzle that completes that picture I’m happy.”
In many cases, Castro has proved to be more than just a piece of the puzzle—at times he’s the missing link to take an athlete to the next level.

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