Episode #69: Sean Sinisi Brings New Strategies to Tony Ferguson’s Strength and Conditioning Plan

This week, we talked with Sean Sinisi, who has been helping UFC fighter, Tony Ferguson, improve all aspects of his strength and conditioning for the past year.  Sean education and organized approach have really transformed Tony into a more well rounded and dangerous fighter.


In This Episode We Discuss:

  • Assessing a New Athlete
  • Discovering Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Communicating with Your Athletes
  • Coordinating with Other Coaches
  • Organizing various aspects of training
  • and more!

Sean Sinisi, BS, CSCS, USAW, FMS

Sean is from Costa Mesa, California and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Kinseiology from California State University, Fullerton. He is currently earning his Master’s Degree in Strength & Conditioning from CSUF as well. Sean is the former Director of Strength and Conditioning at STARS SoCal – Sports Training and Rehabilitation Services – where he managed the coaching staff, all teams and training as well as incoming athletes and their training programs. He has trained various levels of athletes ranging from youth to professional in multiple areas ranging from performing arts to contact sports. During his time at STARS, Sean has coordinated multiple NFL Off-Season, NFL Pre-Season and NFL Pre-Draft Combine Training which included scheduling, programming, training, and collaborating with medical professionals, nutritionists, psychological, skill and position coaches, media correspondents and other professional resources. He is currently working with top UFC Lightweight Contender, Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson for Strength and Conditioning and focusing on his academic career. Sean is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), a certified USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coach, and FMS certified in the Functional Movement Screen. His own athletic background includes wrestling, 6 years of soccer, 8 years of football and 9 years of baseball as well as years of non-traditional sports such as skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing. Currently, Sean is learning MMA and plays rugby with the Huntington Beach Rugby Football Club. He employs an evidence based approach to both his programming and coaching and believes in using science to maximize safety and efficiency to reach athlete specific goals. Sean’s motto is “Work Hard, Train Smart and Live Strong”

Full Transcription of Our Podcast with Sean Sinisi

Interview with Sean Sinisi the New Strategies to Tony Ferguson’s talking about his Strength and Conditioning Plan

Corey Beasley [00:00:01]: Hey guys, is Corey Beasley with fight camp conditioning. I’m on the phone with strength coach Sean Sinisi. Sean, how you doing?

Sean Sinisi [00:00:07]: Doing great. Thanks for having me honest. Pleasure to be here.

Corey Beasley [00:00:10]: Of course. Guys, just so you realize Sean’s a strength coach out here in Southern California and then working with Tony Ferguson over the last what year or so?

Sean Sinisi [00:00:21]: Yeah, but last year I’ve been with him for the last three, five camps.

Corey Beasley [00:00:26]: So Sean’s doing some really cool stuff. I had the pleasure of meeting him out there a couple of weeks back and definitely wanted to have him on the show. So it’ll be an interesting top to say the least. So Sean give everybody a little idea of where you started in a strength program?

Sean Sinisi [00:00:44]: So grew up out here in Southern California and went to Cal state Fullerton for kinesiology degree and I always went there originally for physical therapy stuff, found strength and conditioning just kind of fell in love with it. I took an internship at a performance train facility in Anaheim and at the time of my internship was over, I actually replaced the head director there, so they brought me on as their director of strength and conditioning. I had the privilege of working there for a few years running and managing the college combine training program as well as the NFL preseason and off season training programs. So it’s kind of where I started was really just jumped on NFL guys. It was kind of right into the fire, which I prefer it that way. It just kind of hit the ground running really. But then Tony’s management brought him into stars. That’s where I was at. And so Tony wanted some training. So that’s actually how we met was just a really random, coincidental thing. And to be honest I hadn’t really done a lot of MMA and really a lot of combat sports training and Tony came in and kind of gave me a chance to kind of show him what I could do, show him what I know and kind of just ran with it. So Tony brought me on to work with his last few five camps as a result and I couldn’t be more stoked.

Corey Beasley [00:02:05]: Very cool man. So from your perspective, I mean, I know at being at Cal state Fullerton, you probably studied with Andy Galpin and some of the other professors, they got a top notch crew that over there. So I mean you obviously came out of school with more knowledge than most. Those guys put you to go put you through the ringer, I’m sure. Is that helps?

Sean Sinisi [00:02:28]: I’ll just say that the program over there, it’s really evidence-based, really science-based. So a lot of the stuff we do is route improvement science and a lot of stuff, it’s not a lot of guesswork. It’s go out there and follow the basic concepts of training methods we’ve learned or kind of methods are many concepts review, if you follow the concepts of speed or strength or power muscle growth or muscle endurance any method you choose and there to essentially work the same way. Just follow the concepts and you’re good. So having that coming out of school was huge.

Corey Beasley [00:03:06]: Will you say that again? Because I think it’s an important piece that a lot of people over-complicate and it’s important?

Sean Sinisi [00:03:15]: Yeah, absolutely. With Dr. Galpin, he has these laws of strength and conditioning and I mean, they’re so simple, but they resonate so well and so deeply. And one of his laws of strength and conditioning, his methods are many concepts are few. So the concepts are guided and rooted in science. So, for instance, if you’re doing speed, power, strength training the concept for those is usually really to lead low rep ranges could be high set ranges max effort. And then if you’re doing strength, it’s got to be heavy. If you’re doing speeds, it’s got to be light. If be doing power stuff, it’s got to be kind of right in the middle 30, 40, 50%, maybe of one rep max. But it’s got to be an explosive movement. You don’t move fast, you don’t get fast, you don’t lift heavy, you don’t get strong, you don’t do a lot of stuff, you won’t get a lot of endurance. So the method you choose within that principle, whether you’re doing, barbell training or dumbbell training or band work, medicine, ball work, those are all just methods. And so whatever you use as your method, whether it’s prowlers or whatever, for conditioning, you can do sprints. You can do prowlers, you can do the Aerodyne and you ban work. I mean, as long as you do low rest periods. And a lot of work, you’re going to get that conditioning. So as long as you fall, follow the concepts, whatever method you choose it not necessarily irrelevant because a lot of fighters or coaches have their methods, certain fighters respond better, certain athletes respond better to certain methods and all of them have their preference. So that’s important to make a note there. But I mean, as long as you kind of followed the principles of the concept, then you should get that adaptation you’re looking for.

Corey Beasley [00:04:53]: Yeah. So coming from your college experience and then working with a lot of the NFL guys’ right out of shoots now working with Tony. What are some of the things that you did have to tweak because it’s a completely different beast working with the MMA fighter than an NFL guy?

Sean Sinisi [00:05:12]: Yeah, most definitely. I mean, I think when you’re working with any fighter, what you want to recognize is, what that athlete or whoever you’re training what they like and what they respond to. So there were certain things I would do with Tony that I did with my NFL guys, there are different athletes and they’ve been used to different styles of training. So I had to adapt some of that, some of the other stuff for strength. I do adapt more for Tony, he likes more dynamic type movements. So I would kind of do strength and mixing in with dynamic movement. And Tony is such a unique athlete in a beautiful way, but he always moves. He’s always staying, moving, always staying active. So one thing we do with strength or speed or power training, which was some of the more dominant things we do, but those typically require longer rest intervals so that you can make sure that the next set is strong or explosive or whatever, that we’re not fatigued. So coming up with different things in between sets that would keep him active, keep him moving, but wouldn’t necessarily compromise the exercise adaptation. So that was one thing that active recovery. Active recovery, like maybe a foam roller, a stretch or some sort of balancing in between, like a heavy strength set.

Corey Beasley [00:06:23]: Yeah. So you’ve been with them for now for three camps. So the biggest thing I’m working on with him has been what?

Sean Sinisi [00:06:34]: So one thing I learned with fighters and with training is you’re never going to make a weakness into a strength. So I think that’s one mistake a lot of coaches say, this guy’s already really good at this, so all we’re going to do is this, there’s a certain point of that. But I mean, Tony is such a gifted athlete and so many ways, but he has incredible endurance and incredible conditioning and that’s a credit to himself, his training, that’s what he’s used to. So if you left him alone and he said, train yourself, that’s what he’ll focus on. And that’s what he does because that’s what he does and that’s what he really good at. So I didn’t want to take that away from him. You definitely want to encourage that. And anytime you’re working with new fighter, you got to make sure they’re comfortable and they’re doing things that they’re familiar with. So we played into that and then as a result, if a lot of the things that he didn’t do or some of the things that I was really good at and some of the things that I specialize in, especially coming from football was a lot of the speed, strength and power stuff. So my focus for Tony was when I was with him, I wanted to do what only I could do. So I did a lot of focusing on speed, strength stuff and some explosive stuff. Because I know that’s, what he could use and that’s what I had a lot to offer. And then obviously also making sure that we stay on top of these conditioning and endurance stuff and stuff that he likes to do.

Corey Beasley [00:07:49]: Very cool. So when you guys do work and they come in for a session what’s a typical session look like? What’s the rhythm or a template or stuff that you wanted to hit each hour when you guys meet up?

Sean Sinisi [00:08:05]: Yeah, so I mean there’s a lot of stuff that Tony does if we’re in the weight room, whether we’re on the mat or something, but obviously we started with a warm-up dynamic warm up. He’s got some stuff that he likes, he hits a couple of drills to make sure his body’s nice and loose and then he’s a fighter. He prefers to kind of warm up and build into things. So that’s something I had to adapt with Tony because typically, for scientific guidelines, you follow a certain order of exercise, you do all your speed stuff first, your power stuff next, then your strength stuff and your muscle stuff, and then your endurance stuff. Do you want to make sure that you’re not fatigued from the last workout into the next workout. So they don’t be counterintuitive. Tony, we kind of do to kind of do some dynamic movement, get the muscles activated and then kind of jump into what we focused on for his last fight camp really was getting him strong for it could be so that he could you know, match that intensity and match that a strength in the octagon. So we did a lot of dynamic movement and then we jump into some traditional type movements. We hit bands and we hit squad and we hit our dead lifts and big compound movements that are going to affect the body in a total sense where that he can use all those things on top of all the skills that he already has. So we did a lot of that. And then later on in the workout, would you conditioning always makes sure that we hit our core, but typically follow the more traditional style with our heavy stuff first, our muscle growth to be stuff next followed by whatever endurance stuff we’re doing and then a cool down or some sort of a foam roll or stretch or balanced off kind of towards the end.

Corey Beasley [00:09:44]: Now how many days a week are you guys training?

Sean Sinisi [00:09:49]: I mean with me alone, we were hitting four days a week or so. And that’s in the weight room hitting weights. But Tony is such an extraordinary athlete where he’ll train six, seven days a week. But all the training stimulus is a little bit different. So he’ll do jiu jitsu a couple times a week, he’ll do his wrestling couple of times, hit his boxing a couple times, he do muay thai couple of times. And then he’ll do call it a audible and he run his own thing. And he’ll take the reins and he’ll run the session with what he thinks his body needs. So that’s another thing I had to adapt to was knowing that your athletes going to know their body better than anybody else that’s important you listen to them and make sure that if they need to call an audible, if they’re feeling some type of way about what you’re doing and they think what they didn’t do that day is better than more times than not. And they’re probably right. So hit some Tony style work or even like on an active rest day, Tony’s really big with active rest and pretty much that’s working out without really working out, you’re going to the beach, hit a run where you’re moving and you’re staying active, but it’s not in a traditional workout setting. So I mean, we would train what felt like six or seven days a week, but it was really well varied.

Corey Beasley [00:11:06]: It’s important that you guys do anything to monitor recovery between sessions or throughout the week or is that more just a subjective thing from him?

Sean Sinisi [00:11:17]: Really subjective I like to be around with him when he’s going from session to session. And I think one important thing as a strength coach that we can do for all our athletes is be more than just a strength coach. More than just somebody in the weight room is it, which is great and they need that. But almost like a global load manager or like a global output manager. So if there’s a session he’s doing or something that they’re working on where we have a pretty good understanding of the body as coaches and if we can monitor a lot more of those outputs where they’re on boxing and running or whatever he’s doing with us session is just kind of realizing if it’s a high intensity or a low intensity session and then you can match that with your workout where you to set something up and vice versa. But kind of make sure everything kind of flows so that you’re not being too taxing on the body. You don’t really want to string together a lot of high intensity workouts because that’s really taxing on the central nervous system. So kind of doing things like that, making sure to focus first on their skill training. I mean that’s the most important part for these guys is, the jiu jitsu, the boxing, the muay thai, the wrestling, all that stuff is got to come first because it’s such a skill based sport. And, I mean, PJ said it best and easiest. Like, I’ll be the first person to back off if I noticed they’re getting tired of fatigue through their body of workouts. He’s like, I’ll be the first one to say today’s going to be recovery light with stretch foam roll and do dynamic muscle activation stuff. But I really don’t want to tax you too much because I don’t want to make you miss two skill workouts just to get my one strength workout. I mean like say you got two sessions plan the next day and he sore from his accumulated work that week and whatever we do and now he’s got to miss one or two days worth of workouts, which could be four sessions. So how valuable was my one session to his four other sessions? So things like that we try and monitor.

Corey Beasley [00:13:11]: Well, when you talk to people that are from like a NFL background or college sports, a lot of times there’s a team of people that are working towards that athlete’s success. And they’re all communicating and they’re all on point. And I think, talk to people for the last couple of years. And it’s the biggest mistake that MMA guys make as well as some other combat athletes. But MMA for sure because they have so many skillsets that they have to work as well as the strength and conditioning guy. And there are probably a handful at best places in the country where everything’s under one roof. So it’s super common for these guys. It’s cool that you’re able to go and visit and observe skill sessions. So you can really, truly, if your people aren’t doing that strength coaches aren’t doing that and go into sparring and other sessions and stuff like that, communicating with the coaches, they have no idea. And they could say, I was getting drilled today, you guys freaking went flat out for 20 minutes trying to kill each other.

Sean Sinisi [00:14:09]: 
100% it’s really important that you get opportunity to recognize those things and seeing the outputs that they’re going through wrestling session. Were you full speed sparring, where you just drilling, where you just sitting there observing, learning. Those are little things are big things to consider. So I mean I was fortunate to have the time to do that because I mean we’re almost, I would say full time work hours with Tony because he always go and always got something happening. But it does take a lot more time out of that coach his day to go to all those different sessions. Because some days we’re hitting two or three sessions a day and you were traveling in between each one. So if you do have the luxury of your having that time and its way worth it especially with your fighter and the importance of that next fight coming up. So I definitely recommend being able to, but it is a luxury for sure.

Corey Beasley [00:15:01]: Now, Sean, for you guys, I know that last fight got canceled. What’s the next step? Have you guys get another dates yet?

Sean Sinisi [00:15:10]: Not officially as far as I know. We definitely taken some time off and enjoy some family time. We put a lot of work into this camp. I mean, you’re preparing for a championship fight and so everything is a little bit more, we worked a lot harder. We put more work into it, more sessions and he’s like that. So just give some time to relax. I think there was a rumor as far as I know, maybe getting on that international fight week card, with GSP coming back. So it looks like we’re going to be prepared for a summer fight.

Corey Beasley [00:15:44]: Cool man. Well, good stuff. I look, I really appreciate you sharing with us and really look forward to seeing what you’re doing here in the next couple of years and best of luck for sure.

Sean Sinisi [00:15:56]: I really appreciate you having me on, man. Thank you so much.