Don Saladino: How to Get Hollywood Ready

Don Saladino is one of the fitness world’s most in-demand trainers. A specialist in strength and physique for over 20 years, Don is perhaps best known for getting some of Hollywood’s biggest stars ready for massive on-screen roles: Hugh Jackman, Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Ryan Gosling, and more. Don is also the founder and owner of Drive 495 gym in Manhattan.

In today’s episode, Don joins host David Thomas Tao to discuss building a list of Hollywood clientele, setting realistic expectations for physique and performance, and why some of the most celebrated trends in wellness can be downright harmful. 

In this episode of the BarBend Podcast, host David Thomas Tao talks to Don Saladino about:

  • Establishing himself as a fixture of New York City’s fitness scene (2:10)
  • Getting started in performance/fitness for golf (3:10)
  • Building a list of Hollywood clientele and getting movie stars ready for major roles (5:10)
  • Becoming Hugh Jackman’s trainer (7:02)
  • Helping JK Simmons get jacked (8:30)
  • The timeline of getting stars into action-ready shape: Ryan Gosling, Drew Powell, David Harbour, Blake Lively, and more (9:00)
  • Reps schemes and overcomplicating training (12:00)
  • Realistic expectations and coordinating with production companies (14:40)
  • The most impressive actor transformation for a role (15:20)
  • Methods for client assessment (17:35)
  • Ryan Gosling vs. Ryan Reynolds: Don has trained both (20:30)
  • Great people in fitness Don loves learning from (22:30)
  • Person Don most wants to converse with on a podcast (23:49)
  • Recovery methods and sifting through the nonsense (26:00)
  • Why we shouldn’t glorify super early-morning workouts (27:20)
  • Don’s career mistakes and looking back on business decisions in hindsight (28:35)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

Even with David Harbour in “Hellboy,” you have certain people coming to you with certain physiques. When I started training Harbour, he was 250 pounds. He was coming off of “Stranger Things.”

 

I got a call from the production company, I think, a few weeks in. They’re like, “He’s losing too much weight. He’s got to stop training.” I’m like, “No, he doesn’t have to stop training. He hasn’t lost any weight. He lost one pound.” They’re like, “What do you mean he lost one pound?” I’m like, “His physique is taking shape. My main goal with Drew right now is strength.”

 

When I mean that, I don’t mean how much he can bench press. I mean that I need to make sure that when he goes into this role with you guys and we’re shooting over in Bulgaria or wherever — I think that’s actually where he did shoot — that his body’s resilient.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast”, where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

 

Today, I’m talking to Don Saladino, one of the most in-demand and well-known trainers in the world. Don is an entrepreneur, cover model and the founder of Drive495 gym in SoHo, Manhattan. He’s, perhaps, best known for training Hollywood’s elite for massive roles.

 

Names like, Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt and Hugh Jackman are just some of his big-name clients. Their on-screen physiques have a lot to do with Don’s guidance. In today’s episode, we chat about getting actors movie-ready, the ups and downs of fitness entrepreneurship, and how training methodology has evolved over the past 20 years.

 

I want to take a second to say we’re incredibly thankful that you’ve listened to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend podcast in your app of choice. Now let’s get to it.

 

Don Saladino, thanks so much for joining us today. Thanks so much for hosting us today, I should say.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

This is awesome.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You have an awesome space here in SoHo. How long have you been in SoHo, New York?

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

SoHo’s been 15 years this May.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s like three lifetimes in the gym world.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 It’s a long time. It’s unbelievable. I still feel young, but I’m 42. I opened the gym when I was roughly, whatever the math is, 27, 28. Reason why I don’t know an exact number is because on top of that 15 years, I actually had about a year construction, which is a long time. It’s New York, dealing with that shit is crazy.

 

We had to prep. We basically had hiring expeditors and architects and contractors and dealing with unions and all that fun stuff in the city. It stretches out where a job could potentially take maybe six months. That obviously doubled. That was part of early on some of the mistakes you end up making, but we’re still here.

David TaoDavid Tao

I won’t talk about the gym space just because it really is a special place. What you have here right on Broadway in New York. How is the focus of the gym changed, if at all, and how has the clientele changed, if at all?

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

The clientele hasn’t really changed, which is what’s so special about it. The focus has changed because when we initially opened, this was a golf fitness performance facility. My brother, who was a professional golfer, turned back amateur. He was down on the Nike tour. I think the Hooters tour played for a while.

 

He was just really young, realized it just wasn’t for him, and he came back up here and became one of the most well-known amateur players in the whole metropolitan section. Super proud of him. We were working with TPI, the Titles Performance Institute right around the time when Tiger Woods came on tour and really started making his dent.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Late ’90s were a good time for golf.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

They were a good time for golf. Tiger was killing it. Suddenly, this guy goes from being a stick figure to putting on some muscle. My brother and I really rode that wave so we have him to thank. We have Dr. Greg Rose with TPI to thank.

 

It was about a trip that we took out there for an experience that we went through over the weekend. We went and met Greg and Dave Phillips and Rob Yang, one of my one of my close buddies, who’s a brilliant nutritionist and power coach.

 

We went through their experience, and we said we should be able to do this in New York. When we opened, it started around that. It’s everything started around, the Mackay golf grip, and doing things in golf posture and five-iron posture.

 

We really got away from that because our belief is you build a better athlete for golf. You don’t have to use golf specific exercises to get golfers better. There’s still a little bit of a tug of war in the industry right now because of that. Because you do have your golf specific guys that have to market themselves as that. They need to show things that are a little different.

 

Even TPI now, it’s funny to see how everything was in golf posture 15 years ago, and now it’s Rob doing an Olympic snatch.

 

You’re like, “All right. There you go. That’s how we want to develop some speed.” That’s how it’s changed. Now it’s about our readiness. It’s about recovery. It’s about screening, and not saying that we didn’t do a screen back then, but the screen’s a little bit different.

 

It’s about really kind of creating something that’s for that individual, but more in general fitness rather than just doing it for golfers.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah. The one thing that I think a lot of folks…When you when your name comes up, whether you’re on a magazine cover, or if it’s in the general fitness conversation, I feel like every time a big blockbuster movie comes up, I just hear a spike in your name.

 

Because you’re, for better or for worse, probably better, known for training a lot of Hollywood’s elite and getting them ready for very demanding roles and getting them in shape. How did that start coming about? Because I know those don’t just fall on every trainer’s doorstep randomly.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

Oh, yeah. No, I just emailed Hugh Jackman and said, “Come on down for a session.”

That’s not what happened.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Hey, Hugh. Hugh, I’m your guy. I’m your guy. I’m your guy. Trust me.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

Well, listen. It was somewhat dumb luck. I think the thing I had in my favor was that I always practice what I preach. I always kind of lived in this area of I call performance physique. I was an athlete out of college. I always focused on being strong.

 

On the other hand, I wanted to take my shirt off and be on the cover of Muscle and Fitness, which fortunately, I was able to experience that. I think having those traits and having those focus is really already put me in a specific spot that a lot of…Strength coaches a lot of times are in one area and the bodybuilders are in another.

 

I really fell in the middle early on and said, “Why can’t we both be friends?” There’s got to be a way [laughs] that we could all kind of work together here. Hugh was a total mistake. I had a buddy of mine. His name was Rico Wesley. Smart coach. Someone I’ve known for 20 years since back at Equinox.

 

He was training Hugh. He called me up. He asked to come into my gym to work with him. We didn’t allow outside people, but Rico is a friend. It wasn’t about the celebrity because even today celebrities will come in and they’ll stay at hotels and they’ll ask to bring coaches in. It’s just not something that we do.

David TaoDavid Tao

It can throw off the vibe.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

It can throw off the vibe.

David TaoDavid Tao

If you want to build a community…

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

100 percent. It’s not that I want to be an ass. I met one of my close buddies Derek Hansen from allowing him to come in with Benicio Del Toro but it really is a per case basis. With Hugh, it was dumb luck. It was Rico, ended up having triplets. I think it was triplets with his wife. He found out that she was pregnant.

 

He was like, “We’re moving.” Hugh was like, “I’m want to work at with Don.” It was that simple. I own the gym. He saw me work out. He knew what I was about. There was no social media back then. No one was doing Instagram. This was 12, 13 years ago.

David TaoDavid Tao

Which X-Men movie was this he was prepping for?

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

I think this was Wolverine. Whichever one launched right around the time the movie Australia. Because I was prepping him for the Wolverine movie. Then what happened was his right when he was leaving, he’s like, “Do you want to come to Australia?” I’m like, “I can’t. We’re having our first daughter or our first child. That’s not going work out.”

 

They threw a movie at him with Nicole Kidman called Australia. He ended up shooting that movie. Technically, if you want to break it down, that was the movie that he really came in from my training from. I thought he looked amazing. Then, he worked with one of his buddies out in Australia for Wolverine.

 

I had a great relationship with Hugh for about a year. He ended up moving, but then it just opened the floodgates. I met Scarlett Johansson, who then I met Ryan Reynolds, and then at that point, it was just…I probably worked with 50 to 100 people prepping for either a role or a Broadway show or a TV show.

 

For me, it’s fun. JK Simmons, the actor, just left here. He was working with one of my coaches because I’m, fortunately and unfortunately, able to take on many people anymore to train because there’s only so much time in the day and I’m focusing on business.

 

JK came in. Charles Cooperman and I, we put together a program, ran JK through it, and he did a tremendous job. We were able to send him off. I’m still part of the process, but not with everyone that comes in because there’s just too much volume. I just can’t handle it all.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Let’s talk about timeline. I’m not in the movie production business day in and day out so when an actor is coming to you and they need to get in shape for a particular role, obviously different physiques, different goals are going to take different amounts of time. It’s very individualized. What kind of timeline are you often working with or is presented to you when it comes to…?

I’m sure it’s always shorter than you want.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

Three days. I’m kidding. It really bounces around. I had Ryan Gosling come to me once and he had two weeks. I was like, “Oh my, God. You got to be kidding me.” Fortunately, Ryan’s in good shape. I had Drew Powell who, isn’t obviously as big as Ryan Reynolds, but Drew is a great friend and an incredible actor.

 

Done some work on the Ray Donovan series and played Solomon Grundy in a show called Gotham and Drew is football-built and…

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I’m a comic book nerd. Solomon Grundy is this jacked zombie basically.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

He’s this jacked zombie, but heavy. We had to trim him down in about seven, eight weeks to get him ready for a role where he basically walked practically naked out of this swamp and I was proud of it. Listen, we knew in that period of time, we were not getting Drew to look like an Abercrombie and Fitch model. It’s not happening. I was very clear about that early on. We had a lot of laughs.

 

Even with David Harbour in Hellboy. You have certain people coming to you with certain physiques. When I started training Harbour, he was 250 pounds. He was coming off of Stranger Things.

 

I got a call from the production company, I think a few weeks in. They’re like, “He’s losing too much weight. He’s got to stop training.” I’m like, “No, he doesn’t have to stop training. He hasn’t lost any weight. He lost one pound.” They’re like, “What do you mean, he lost one pound?” I’m like, “His physique is taking shape. My main goal, with Drew right now, is strength.”

 

When I mean that, I don’t mean how much he can bench press. I mean that I need to make sure that when he goes into this role with you guys and we’re shooting over in like Bulgaria or wherever — I think that’s actually where he did shoot — that his body’s resilient.

 

Because at the time he had such bad back problems that he couldn’t pick up a 24-kilo kettlebell. Nine weeks later, we had him pull 400 pounds off the floor at probably about a 90 percent lift. Why go any heavier? There’s no point. That’s why I’m not going to blow him out before going to Bulgaria.

 

I think it’s understanding with every actor that you work with. It’s like every individual. It’s by a per case basis. Ryan Reynolds, fine. Getting him ready for a movie, if he’s at his absolute worst shape, I can have him Muscle and Fitness ready, cover ready, in two to four weeks.

 

The guy is one of my favorite human beings. He is so dialed in. When it’s time to do what he needs to do, he’s able. He’s just one of those guys. He’s just able to flick the switch. He’s like, “This is my homework. This is when I’m going to have a meal, a cheat meal, or do what I want to do.”

 

He’s very disciplined. He gets the goal in mind, and he’s able to attack it. For everyone, it’s by per case basis. I always say I always want more time with someone because we do everything naturally. We do everything through diet. We do everything through sleep.

 

Just like you probably have as well. They all work and they all serve their purpose. There’s so many other components that go into this that people don’t realize. If it’s three sets of ten or three sets of eight, does it really matter? The answer is no. It really doesn’t matter. Especially, when you’re focusing on someone who has that type of goal.

Training is a component of it, but as you guys know, the program. Come on. I’ve written about a thousand programs in my life, and they’re all good.

David TaoDavid Tao

Research study actually says, Don…

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

Exactly. All right.

I always like to say that. I’m like, “Listen, guys. If we train this way for a year, we train that year away for a year, we will get the body look different. I understand that.” Sometimes, we obsess a little bit too much. I see it with a lot of my online programs. “I don’t have access to this.” I’m giving a bad example because I very rarely will put a preacher curl on a routine.

I remember one time seeing a question come in and they’re like, “I don’t have a preacher bench.” I’m like, “It’s OK.” [laughs] “Just go grab some dumbbells and do some standing.” “Well, wait a second I’m going to hit the peak.” his a totally different conversation right now. I don’t believe that…

David TaoDavid Tao

I didn’t realize I was talking to Phil Heath as he was prepping for the Olympia.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

That’s part of the problem, too. You have a lot of these bodybuilders that are on such heavy anabolics. I do believe that bodybuilding is about creating tension. I’m friends with Ben Mikulski. We were on the phone yesterday. We talked nothing about bodybuilding, but tension is what body building is about.

 

Do I believe that one specific exercise is going to make a natural individual be able to create more height of their biceps? The answer is no. I don’t believe that. I believe that if you’re able to sit here and have a mind and muscle connection, you’re able to create tension in that area. Let’s find the movement that you’re able to create the best tension with.

 

When am I going to change that up? Before you get bored because I don’t want boredom to set in. When we stop receiving that type of response that we’ve been receiving, and that’s where coaching comes in.

 

If you’re on a program and you’re working on strength, and you’re continuing to get stronger, then all right, dude. It ain’t broke. [laughs] That make sense? I can ramble about it for a while.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You mentioned that conversation that a production company had. “Oh, he’s lost a pound. He’s losing too much.”

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

They thought he lost like 15, 20 pounds. I’m like, “Guys, he lost a pound.” It was crazy.

David TaoDavid Tao

[laughs] What kind of conversations, and is it a regular thing to have conversations with a production company, with a studio, because you’re helping this actor craft a certain physique, a certain look, and does it take communication to kind of align expectations between…

100 percent

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

100 percent

David TaoDavid Tao

…what they expect and what is real?

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

100 percent. At the end of the day, they’re the customer. The celebrity isn’t even the customer. I’m not just saying that because they’re flipping the bill, but they have in mind a specific physique that they want you to achieve, accomplish, whatever it is.

 

Whether the person on the other end listens, some of the people I’ve spoken to know a lot about what they’re talking about, and don’t know that area much because it’s not what they do. They have a perception in their mind of what they want when that actor has to come out on that horse…

 …or in that boxing movie or whatever it is. You better be willing to listen and take some criticism and do the best you can to get them in that shape. I’m also not a miracle worker. I also understand like if a production company calls me and they’re like, “We need to put 15 pounds on the next week.

I’m like, “Listen, that might not be the healthiest approach and why? What are you trying to achieve out of this?”

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You should maybe talk to your graphics department on that one.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

100 percent. Listen, get a tan, carb up, get into some good lighting, do some pushups. We may be able to accomplish a lot more than you think. Yeah. Good question.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

What is the most impressive, to you and obviously you’re biased, because you’re involved in it, the most impressive transformation you’ve seen when it comes to preparing for a role? Still talking about the actor bend here? I want to go some other directions after that question.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

Yeah, sure. Most impressive. God, I’ve had some good ones.

David TaoDavid Tao

Maybe the one that surprised you the most.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

The one that surprised me the most.

David TaoDavid Tao

Oh, if you do this for long enough, nothing’s too big of a surprise.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

I think what Blake Lively did for The Shallows was really interesting. She didn’t have a lot of time. I could talk about this. Blake isn’t one of these people that are gym goers. She’ll be the first to admit it. She’s openly admitted she doesn’t like to sit there and eat chicken and broccoli. That’s not what she does. When I first met her, she says I love delicious foods.

 

It was interesting because she gave birth to her first child, I think it was. We just got her moving. We really just paid attention to what was going on with her hormonally and how she was feeling. The fact that she wasn’t sleeping, and she was going through things that every working mother would go through because that’s what she is. She was a working mother.

 

That to me surprised me because we both relaxed. I think instead of calling these crazy audibles a few weeks in. We just allowed nature to take its place. I think a lot of times that stress hormone ruins a lot of progress. What she did do is she said, “Listen, I’m going to do the best I can. It is what it is.”

 

Honestly, when you look at the amount of time, I don’t even remember the amount of time that it took her, that was extraordinary. Now, her second child, she threw a post out there for me. I think it was a few years ago. She says, “I lost 63 pounds after my pregnancy, and it only took me something like 15 or 16 months.”

 

Her point to that was is this time wasn’t as easy and this time I battle with certain things. That’s why I have so much respect for her because she’s so real. She’s not one of these people are like “I’m a diehard gym person.” No.

 

When you’re up all night with your child, or your children, and you’re breastfeeding, you’re doing all the stuff that moms do, getting up in the gym isn’t always the first thought. I think that was the one. It surprised me because I think we just relaxed. We both relaxed. We just allowed the process to take place.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

If I asked 10, and I have, having asked 10 or so different trainers their favorite methods for a client assessment before they start working with a client, I’ll get 25 different answers sometimes.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

Sure: Yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

What’s your approach to that generally? How’s that evolved over your 20 years in the industry?

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

Early on, I was using the TPI assessment. That was something that we used for golfers. I got heavy into FMS at one point. Everyone does. I also understand that FMS, nor am I saying, and I’ve gone out to dinner with Lee Burton and I’ve gone out to dinner with Gray Cook and I know that, and no one’s claiming that this is a perfect method of screening.

 

It bothers me sometimes. You’ll have strength coaches out there. The first thing they want to do is they want to go and they bash it. What Gray and Lee will admit to is that this is an assessment for trainers.

David TaoDavid Tao

For the folks who might be listening and might not be familiar with FMS and that protocol…

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

It’s a functional movement screening. It’s seven tests. I think it’s seven tests. It can be done in under 10 minutes. It’s really simple. This is a great test for trainers for them to see if any red lights go off.

 

The reason why Tribe’s so special downstairs is that we have three physical therapists that work with us. Led by Dr. Charlie Weingroff, who I think is one of the brilliant medical minds in the field. The guy had an 800-pound squat, his training has definitely changed, but he understands power force production. He understands how to heal the human body.

 

I know by using an FMS, when we see a red light go off, which a lot of times it might, that it’s right into Charlie’s office. It doesn’t mean we can’t train the individual, but now the assessment increases. Now Charlie might use an SFMA, which are Selected Functional Movement Assessment or another form of screen that they have.

 

For us, it’s not one specific type of screening. We have our general to see what avenue we want to put them on. At any point, if there’s a red light that goes off, then we know we have a solution on where to send them and how to receive more data.

 

Sometimes we just come in with these crazy methods of screening and it’s like, “All right, well, this angle is off by about three degrees,” and you’re like, “Relax, man, we all have asymmetries. It’s OK.” It’s my job to make sure, number one, with anyone I’m working with, I don’t care who it is resiliency. I’m always working with a PGA tour player.

 

Am I trying to get them to hit the golf ball further? Yes. What’s more important? If Morgan Hoffman, or if Rory McIlroy…I’m not saying I work with Roy, but I know him very well. If Roy hits the ball 310 yards or 315 yards, is that going to matter?

 

Is it going to matter that on month 10 of his PGA tour season if he on a scale of 1 to 10, he’s feeling like a 9 or 10 rather than the 60 he felt like the year before? Sometimes we have to start looking at also, “What should the main objective be?”

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah. You can’t perform if you’re injured.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 Injured or just tired or feeling like shit or not coping with stress a specific way. Let’s even put injury aside. There’s so many other variables that are so important for an athlete or even an actor in a movie role. Ryan, when he was shooting early on, like 12 years ago when I when I met him…

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Is this Gosling or Reynolds? I got to ask which Ryan. [laughs]

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

Sorry. I always say Ryan because Ryan’s my guy. When I refer to someone, I say Ryan. I expect everyone to know and I shouldn’t.

Sorry. He would do low-carb diets, and then he found out. He was shocked that, wow, implementing the right carbohydrates. He was actually able to get fuller, much more energetic, and it almost changed whole life when movie prepping. Making changes like that aren’t small. They’re huge, but they last a lifetime.

David TaoDavid Tao

Where do you look in the fitness space, or even maybe outside the fitness space, for inspiration to continue your own learning and expand your own knowledge base?

 

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

You know what? Anytime I could sit with a doctor, a therapist, a power coach, someone who’s educated. I just got off the phone, a really good friend Derek Hansen. I don’t know if you know Derek. He’s a world-renowned sprint…running coach. I don’t even want to say sprint, just running coach, out of Vancouver, studied under Charlie Francis, who is Ben Johnson’s coach.

 

People like that, people like Jordan Shallow, who always come in with a little bit of an interesting approach. Charlie Weingroff. I can keep going on about him. I’m friends with guys like Mike Boyle and Brandon Marcello with recovery and sleep.

 

Fortunately, because I do run podcasts, I do have access to a lot of good people. We’re able to bring individuals on and ask good questions, too. It’s always exciting for me to continue to learn so that’s the best part about this industry is I feel like what you put into is what you’re going to get out of it. God, in an industry where there’s this much to learn, I feel the smartest guy knows this much.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Who’s been your most memorable podcast guest? If people can listen to one Don podcast…

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

I can’t even. I don’t even know how I’m going to answer this. Because there’s so many different topics and categories. It’s what did we want to discuss? I don’t even know. I would have to really sit there and think about it. Charlie’s a great person. Jordan’s fun guy to have on. Allie Gilbert was a lot of fun because she talked a lot about…

 

We were joking around about more boners and biceps, and talking about the set of sex hormones, but what goes on in men opposed to females. That’s fun. Like I said, Brandon’s a great guy because that’s such a topic that I know is always general, but people are missing out on so many basic points that are just so valuable. Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, in reference to nutrition and hormone function.

 

There’s just so many different people. I do run the Reps podcast with Editor in Chief, Zach Ziegler, from Muscle and Fitness. I run a podcast called D&D, which is and Derek and Don. I’ll give Derek’s name first.

 

Derek and Don, D&D Fitness Radio. Every time we have a guest on, it’s something new and interesting and fun. I actually had Derek on the Muscle and Fitness podcast. That was a lot of fun. I’ve had people on podcasts where you’re like, “Wow, that was a royal failure.” That’s another conversation.

David TaoDavid Tao

 [laughs] We’ll talk about that off-recording maybe.

 

Who’s your dream guest who maybe you don’t have access to or you have been able to get them on? Literally anyone. It could be in the fitness space, could be corollary to the fitness space. Someone you just want to talk about movement, movement culture, and wellness with.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

Movement, movement culture, and wellness. Maybe not boys over there.

 

Fortunately, I get access to a lot of people when it comes out of movement and movement culture and wellness. That’s one thing. I think it’s just sitting and speaking with maybe specific politicians. I think interviewing Bill Clinton would be really interesting.

 

Tony Robbins, there’s been a lot of positive and negative about, I think that would be interesting also. I did go to one of his seminars. I understand why. It is incredible about the mind and how when you leave an event like that how for four weeks your mind is geared to think a certain way that just great things start happening to you.

 

When people hear the positivity of the mind, they start laughing at you like, “All right. Let’s burn incense.” It really is the truth.

 

It really is like the magic carpet.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

It’s easy to write that off just like it’s easy to write off when you first hear about a mind-body connection to the first time. If you’re not used to the fitness space, or if you’re new to training, and your trainer says, “Oh, if you feel better, you’re going to think better or something like that.” It’s easy just to be like, “Nah.”

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 It is. I don’t know. Arnold, of course, I’d love to interview Arnold. This is more selfish personal reasons. Fortunately, when I want to bring someone on, we have access to these people. I think it’s more about understanding how they think and understanding. Hearing, not only the successes, but hearing how hard was it?

 

A lot of times you start looking at these people, and you’re like, “Oh, God. They’re worth millions of dollars. It was easy.” Every one of them had a struggle. That’s what’s great about it. What kind of bothers me a little bit is there’s so many self-help books now. There’s so many experts. There’s so many people who are just claiming to be they’re doctors.

 

You didn’t go to medical school. You were writing this book. I understand. I get it. You’re very smart. That’s fine. I think there’s a lot of stuff being put out there. Let’s talk about a morning ritual. How long you’ve been here about morning rituals and the importance of mourning rituals.

 

Everyone talks about it. Every great person was like, “Oh, I do a morning ritual.” I was talking to John Berardi the other day. I had him on a podcast. He’s like, “I wake up every morning, and I burn incense and drink green tea.”

 

 “I read and I meditate.” I’m like, “That’s awesome. I’m just so jealous of you.” When I a car picking me up at 5:00 AM in the morning, and I have to get breakfast and take a shower and…

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Sneak out without waking up everyone else in the house maybe.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

Yeah. Do my morning routine which doesn’t allow me to do 15 minutes of meditation. If it’s me getting extra 15 minutes of sleep, or 15 minutes of meditation I’m taking the sleep. I’ll try and find another time to meditate.

 

I think what happens sometimes is that a lot of these young people who are coming up the ranks start reading the routines of these moguls. They immediately start thinking this is what they have to do. To be honest with you, no, I’m telling you. Arnold did not do a routine 14 years ago, a morning routine, like a ritual.

 

John Berardi was not doing this when he was building his business. Tony Robbins, when he’s living out of a shoe box, he was not sitting there jumping into cold punches and taking crowd therapy sessions. I think sometimes it gets a little discouraging.

 

Oh, best one. This was the best one. The Huffington Post turned around, and they list an article of 20 moguls, 30 moguls, whether it was health and entertainment, whatever it was, who wakes up before 5:00 in the morning.

David TaoDavid Tao

I think I saw this. I think I know what you’re talking about.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

I don’t want to curse on the air because I know I’ve done it already.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Go for it.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

What the fuck is the Huffington Post doing posting this nonsense? The fact that we’re glorifying that Mark Wahlberg is waking up at 2:00 AM to get his workout, play a round of golf before his kids go to school, I think it’s the dumbest fucking thing this society can possibly be doing. The fact that Mark’s even doing that, yes, I’m saying it’s stupid.

 

Mark, no one has ever won that war. You will get cancer. You will die some terrible sickness will come upon you if you continue to wake up at [laughs] 2:00 AM. You’re looking at me like…Yes, I’m saying it. This is asinine. The fact that we’re glorifying this stuff, it’s very fucked up.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You talked a little bit about folks who have failures, and maybe skirting over those, or the things we don’t always see. Those struggles.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

Sure.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

What is one in your career that you maybe come back to or think back to as a point where you really had to dig deeper and maybe own up to some mistakes?

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

Sure. How long we have?

David TaoDavid Tao

[laughs] The spark notes version.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

You know what? When I opened the club at 27, it was too big. I raised too much money. I put too much in to the build out. It’s not about having fusion floor. It’s about the people. It’s about the training, and it’s about the culture. That’s number one.

 

I launched a company called Driven with Adrian Peterson, Dwayne Wade, Ernie Els, did exceptionally well out of the gate. We couldn’t find a way to bring engagement to the consumer, and we had exit from that with the loss.

 

A gym I bought once Drive 443. Probably bought a little too prematurely. Didn’t really fit into our model. I’m grateful I did it because I learned a lot about group training and small group training in the market. Was it a waste of time and money? Yeah. It was. [laughs] Yes.

 

Did I get a lot of positive out of it? Absolutely. If I was to go back and do it again knowing what I learned from that, I wouldn’t do it again.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s an awfully expensive education.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

That’s an awfully expensive education. We don’t need that yet. There’s also a lot of good things. I remember when the economy was crashing in ’07, and I’m running a golf performance facility with hosting events for Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns.

 

I realized when the markets started getting a little dicey that we were going to lose our event space because we weren’t going to be able to book events, which is a huge part of our revenue. It was almost like we were able to protect that early. We’re able to go in and get some capital to cushion us while we were making that transition.

 

There’s a lot of things where I’m like, “Wow, I pat myself on the back for.” A lot of things I’m looking back on I’m like, “Dude, what were you thinking, man?” [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

I do want to talk about the actually the financial crisis a little bit because I’ve talked to a lot of folks who are former gym owners and they’re former gym owners because of what happened in ’07, ’08, ’09.

 

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

Because of what happened?

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Yeah, well, maybe if not directly because they had very high end clientele. People weren’t spending as much on training. It could have been the trickle-down effect.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

You’re saying they opened up places because of the crisis?

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Oh, no.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

Oh.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

They are former gym owners because…

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

Oh, oh, oh.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I’ve talked to a few people who basically…

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

 

Oh, they lost it. I’m sorry.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

…have lost facilities. Look, it’s easy to point fingers. I’m not sure all the time it was directly because of that. Maybe they were just running an unsustainable business. You talk about going out and getting capital to cushion the business through that. What are some other things that you had to change about your business or did you during that period?

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

Just jumping into their comment. Did I make it through that period? Yeah, I did, but I also lost a lot of money. Maybe shutting down at the time would have been the right decision. I don’t want this at all to be like, “Well, I made it through and you guys didn’t.” No, not at all.

 

I do know if you have a good business, and I don’t think at that time my business was a great business. I think it was an OK business. You should be able to last. A good business should be able…The one area, even through the financial crisis, people are still…

 

Listen, no matter what, people are still trying to be healthy. There is a level of self-care that specific people are putting into. Are they blowing $10,000 a night at a Goldman Sachs event at Drive? I’m just using them as an example. No, that’s where things started changing.

 

What we really fell back on was the fact that we were really into performance. We really had to go that route. To answer your question, I answered your questions of what did we do wrong. What did I do right?

 

I just don’t want those gym owners that didn’t make it…I’m very humble because there were a lot of conversations that I had where I remember walking out of this place being like, “I think this is it.” That’s really scary. That’s probably why I have a good reputation in the industry. That is I’m never walking around saying, “My spot.” No, it’s not about that.

 

I can lose this at any day is my thought process. That’s what kind of scares me, but also pushes me to take that next step, and we have a lot of great next steps coming up.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

What are some of those? What’s next for drive? What’s next for you?

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

We are definitely transitioning the model to even more of a bespoke model. In the industry right now where everyone’s going more into boutiques, and they’re making things fluffy and very rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, and I’m seeing it. You have to have a good heating bill and good lights and good music and some good-looking coaches. You have a model. I’m looking to go in the other direction.

 

I’m going in the next five months when my lease expires. I’m either going to stay at this location, move. We are going to throw in a great recovery component in there with infrared saunas and cold plunges and compression boots and probably using Norm attack because I love Gilad over there. We’re going to do that.

 

We’re also going to design the gym, the performance area, to be much more conducive to what we have now, not what we were trying to create 15 years ago. We’re going to do that through measuring readiness. I’m not ready to talk about…

David TaoDavid Tao

[laughs] Right.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

…which device we’re going to use. I could tell you one thing we’ve been doing a ton of research over the last year or so. We’re going to design something for individuals that want to come in, and they want an exceptional product. Not about, “Whoa, this is OK.”

 

No, we’re going to do something that’s geared for you, and then we’re going take that digitally, which I have the power to do because I’ve definitely done that before, and have aligned myself with some great people. When I say power, and I don’t mean, “I have the power.”

 

I know what we have to do in those steps. I have myself aligned with an amazing business partner who’s done this in the digital space. He’s going to be helping me at the candle areas. I should not be focusing on right now.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s the mark of reaching a certain level of maturity in business is knowing what your core competencies are and doing which they definitely aren’t.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

It just happened.

 

Probably, my best quality is that I have no problem with asking for help.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Don, what’s the best place for people to keep up to date with what you’re doing? It could be in the content space or could be with what’s going on here at the facility.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

Awesome. You can check my Instagram handle out. It’s donsaladino, @donsaladino. Facebook, Twitter, all the same. My club is called Drive 495. You want to check out the website.

 

[background music]

 

It’s www.driveclubs.com. www.donsaladino.com. It’s all my name. It’s easy enough. Anyone’s ever in the area, New York City, pop on in. We have a private club, but I have people pop in daily, say what’s up, and check out the club really quick and like to say what’s up also.

David TaoDavid Tao

Great facility. Thanks so much for hosting us today. Appreciate it.

Don SaladinoDon Saladino

I appreciate it.

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