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Health & Wellness

Podcast No. 33: Don Saladino, Gym Owner, App Creator & Superhero Trainer

July 30, 2019

On today’s episode my guest is Don Saladino, owner of the Drive 495 gym in Manhattan, creator of the Playbook app, and one of the most in-demand and respected trainers in the business.

By Will Ahmed

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Don was featured on the cover of Muscle and Fitness magazine earlier this year, and is well known as the guy who gets actors “superhero ready” for upcoming movie roles.

His list of celebrity clients includes Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, and many more. We discuss what it takes to make them look like superheroes, and why more is not always better when it comes to fitness and weight training.

Don and I also explore the importance of eliminating negative stressors in your life, the effect mood can have on physical appearance, and the ultimate goal everyone should have when working out.

I really learned a lot from chatting with Don, and this conversation is loaded with great training advice and fitness tips that just about anyone can take advantage of.

Don Saladino Podcast Show Notes:

3:26 – Describing What He Does. “I consider myself more of a fitness entrepreneur. I’m still a coach, but I like getting my hands into different projects.”

4:12 – Why Fitness? As a college baseball player, Don realized “I was almost more concerned about getting my workouts in than other things, it was taking away from my play a little bit.”

5:12 – Building a Business. “After a couple years I realized it wasn’t about the money, it was about the thrill of what’s that next step, how can I continue to educate myself? … How do I scale this and get in front of more people?”

6:03 – First Celebrity Client. “Hugh Jackman was my first. It was really kind of by mistake.” After working with Hugh for about a year, it opened the door for many others.

8:56 – A Typical Training Session. “During the first 5 minutes of every session I come in and start targeting areas of the body that the man or women needs to improve. … The bulk of their workout is all designed around what their goals are. What are they training for? The energy system work at the end really depends on what type of stress do they have in their life?”

11:03 – Jacked Jackman. How did Don help sculpt the Wolverine? “Lower body training is the key. That’s probably where people mess up the most. … If you want to have that superhero look, your legs better be yoked.”

12:51 – Overtraining. “I do not believe in going far beyond an hour. .. Your testosterone, energy level and focus will start declining” if you push yourself in the gym for too long.

15:54 – Eating to Putting on Muscle. “You have to get out of a caloric deficit.” In terms of protein, “I always want it from a good source.”

20:21 – Don’s Diet. “Every meal pretty much consists of a protein source, a carbohydrate source, and a vegetable.” He likes to cook eggs in avocado oil. “I have such a fast metabolism that if I’m not eating and consuming, I get flat.”

23:23 – Breathing & Visualization. “I’ll go do 5-10 minutes of breathing,” shortly after he wakes up each morning. “I’ll try to visualize specific things in my day.”

25:29 – Positive Thinking & Daily Gratitude. “I do prayer every night no matter where I am. I also try to stop into my church every day, just to pay some gratitude and say thank you. … I believe it’s important to have something.”

31:11 – Social Media. “It can become overwhelming, I’ve been reading a lot about people developing anxiety from being on social media too much.” Don notes it can be terrible for your posture too. “It is something that I need to engage on daily. … I’m pretty much trying to offer a solution to people,” with his posts. “Everything is always giving some type of information.” Check out his programs on the Playbook app.

35:22 – Drive 495 in Soho. “It’s really a family in there.”

36:26 – Picking a Good Coach or Trainer. “It’s tough because someone can have all the credentials and certifications, but the bedside manner could be bad.” What should you ask them? “What’s your long-term plan? What is your focus?”

39:09 – Don’t Train Like Rocky. “Training is a stress, and too much of that stress can put your body into a really negative spot.” Rocky is one of his favorite movies, but it’s not an example of smart training. “I train really hard, but I also know how to downshift.”

40:31 – Under-resting. “If more was better I’d be working out 3 times a day. Is it really overtraining, or is it under-resting?” Consistency over a long period of time is key. “It’s not about crushing it for 3 months, then being so burnt out you can’t do it for another 3 months.”

41:58 – 15 Minutes Can Be Enough. “If 15 minutes is all you can handle, then I’m going to design your program to be 15 minutes. I’m going to have you coming back in everyday wanting more. I think that’s really what fitness is all about.”

42:34 – Getting on WHOOP. Don started using it about a month ago, “I have not taken it off. I think the area I’m enjoying it the most right now is the sleep. … I think the No. 1 ingredient for success is sleep. If your sleep is crappy, you can have the best diet or the best training program in the world and it doesn’t matter.”

43:29 – Using WHOOP with Clients. “You had 3 drinks last night, look what happened to your recovery?” He quotes Paul Chek, “The best fat burner is sleep. … And it’s free.”

44:26 – Alcohol. Don does drink from time to time. “I’m less worried about the calories from the alcohol than what it’s doing to your sleep and your hormones. … I’m not going to get fat from having a couple beers once a week.”

45:13 – Evening Routine. “I make sure when I get home I’m putting my phone down and not doing emails. … I think you need hours to calm down [after work].”

46:48 – Blue Light Blocking Glasses. “I’ll wear them from the second I get home, a few hours before bed.” Will discusses wearing them before red-eye flights. “When you’re exposed to blue light, your body stops producing the level of melatonin that it should be producing. I feel myself calming down a lot quicker [when I have them on,” Don says.

49:44 -Temporarily Off Caffeine. “I think finding a good organic source of coffee is incredibly beneficial,” but when he becomes too dependent on it he gives it up for periods of time.

50:48 – Infrared Saunas. “I bought one for my house. It’s one of my favorite recovery modalities, I’d use it every day if I had time.” He does it 3 days a week for 20-45 minutes. “It heats up your internal core temperature to force out a lot of the toxins from your body.”

52:09 – Golf & Rory McIlroy. Don hasn’t found that weightlifting affects his game. He’s a big Rory fan and recently shot a Golf Channel video with him. “I think what’s he’s doing now [in terms of training] is phenomenal.”

54:31 – Ryan Reynolds. “Ryan has been kind of my show pony for the last 12 years. He’s been like a brother to me and has helped me out more in my career than I can even tell you.” Don thinks Ryan needs about 4 weeks to look like a superhero for a role. “If his energy level is optimal and his mood is really good, we’re in good shape.”

57:02 – Mood’s Effect on Physical Appearance. “The stress hormone I’ve seen destroy bodies in 24-hour periods of time.”

58:14 – Do Actors Use HGH/Steroids? “I don’t know. I’ve had people ask questions where I can tell they’re thinking about that direction.” Don always says to do it naturally, and tells a story of a close friend of his who took testosterone and died at an early age.

1:00:33 – Eliminating Bad Stressors and testing how it affects your body with WHOOP. “The body has to overwork to detoxify, and then you’re not really sleeping you’re just detoxifying. … That grind when the sleep and rest starts diminishing, stress levels will increase. If my sleep, training and eating is good, everything else is gravy.”

1:03:05 – Train Men & Women Differently? “You have to pay attention to energy levels. Hormones are different, they’re just different. … I think a lot of women will get into that vicious cycle of cardio, cardio, cardio because they are afraid to put muscle on.”

1:04:25 – Don’t Stress Over Nutrition. “A lot of times you can stress out so much over nutrition (especially when you’re traveling). The stress is worse to your health than eating a piece of non-organic chicken.”

1:05:22 – Fitness for All. “The biggest problem I think is everyone is taking this no-pain, no-gain approach.” It’s OK to just “break a sweat, move around for the very least. Be active, take the stairs. Start there.”

1:07:39 – How to Increase Energy Levels. “Sleep is No. 1.” Don’t overdo stimulants to fight being tired, Don says. “If I was able to give the power to have optimal energy, all day every day, that’d be a gift, wouldn’t it? … That to me is the ultimate goal.”

1:09:52 – Find Don Online. His Instagram is @donsaladino.

1:10:06 – Closing Thought on WHOOP. “You are giving people a solution to live a better life.”

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.