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How to Be Superhero Ready, Celebrity Trainer, Don Saladino, RKC Team Leader, Interview

Don Saladino Muscle And Fitness Magazine Cover

Dragon Door: You’ve got quite an athletic background, how did you get started?

Don Saladino: From an early age I was from a very athletic town. In my graduating class of 110, at least half went on to play college sports. I played baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and I swam. My best sport was baseball, and my worst sport was soccer. We won two state championships in soccer and a big portion of my class went on to play collegiate sports. Our school bred athletes!

In college, I focused on my true passion—baseball. But after graduation, professional team tryouts didn’t go my way. Then, believe it or not, I even got an offer to play professional baseball in Europe. I turned it down to chase training. I was just so obsessed with nutrition and fitness and had been educating myself on these topics myself all through college—it was a natural fit. I became a personal trainer for a year, then started my own business. Five years later, I got funding to start Drive495 in NYC. From then it's just been business venture to business venture. It’s been really fun.

Dragon Door: How did you start training celebrities? Your client list is incredibly impressive!

Don Saladino: About eleven years ago I was introduced to actor Hugh Jackman, and got him ready for his roles in Australia and Wolverine. Since then I’ve worked with literally a melee of celebrities. Now I’m known as the guy who gets people "superhero ready" for movie roles. I’ve worked with Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Blunt, Billy Crudup, Morgan Hoffman, Keegan Bradley, Ryan Gosling, Michael J. Fox, Calvin Klein, Liev Schreiber, Sebastian Stan, Maggie Grace and on and on and on. By now I've worked with about fifty celebrities to get them ready for movie roles. Many publications have coined me "the superhero trainer".

I help celebrities get ready for their roles with an entire team here at Drive495. So, while we may have started as a golf fitness club, we’re really about all aspects of sports performance. The kettlebell is one of our big tools here, along with simple movements like farmer carries. In fact, everyone I work with does some type of weighted carry. We’ll typically use kettlebells for carries in the rack position, for one-arm farmer carries, overhead carries or get-ups.
Dragon Door: Backing up a little bit, your phrase "superhero ready" caught my ear. How would you define "superhero ready"?

Don Saladino: Being able to do it all. A superhero is someone who aesthetically looks the part, but who is also able to perform and function. A superhero like Superman or Batman is someone who can do it all. They're super strong, super functional, they've got endurance, and they can recover. They’re the whole package.

To get someone superhero ready here at Drive495, we put them through a specific screening. Charlie Weingroff is our Doctor of Physical Therapy and runs our entire physical therapy program. We have a team for nutrition, and another team for our strength approaches. We give our clients our full attention—and if during training their shoulder nags them, we send them to the PT room where they can get hands on them almost immediately. Getting someone superhero ready is training them for the ability to do it all.
Don Saladino Superhero Ready

Dragon Door: You mentioned farmers carries—those are a real favorite of mine, and feature in my training and that of my clients. Would you say that carries are your favorite kettlebell exercise?

Don Saladino: No. When I think of kettlebell moves, I think of the standards: swings, cleans, presses, double kettlebell squats, get-ups, snatches... I don't even know if I could pick a favorite kettlebell move! The swing and get-up are pretty vicious—you can get incredible physiques with them. I think it really comes down to what someone’s goals are, but all in all I can get someone superhero ready with just a kettlebell and pull-up bar.

Dragon Door: Given your experience training celebrities and pro athletes, what are some of the biggest challenges they face when working towards high performance?

Don Saladino: Managing stress. I think the program is actually the easy part. Any coach who says that the program makes the individual is probably an uneducated coach. As I get older and more experienced, my program design gets less and less sexy—but there’s more going into the dynamic warm up and moves that get the body athletic. We also make sure that the core lifts are really strong.

So, I think that success comes down to managing the individual's stress. For example, Ryan has Deadpool 2 coming out and will be flying all over the place. And because of that he’ll need to manage the stress that comes with extra travel. Anyone who thinks that the program alone will make the individual needs to get out of training. There are so many different programs that it really comes down to managing stress.
Don Saladino Be Extraordinary

Dragon Door: What are some of the stress management strategies you’ve found to be particularly helpful?

Don Saladino: There’s several—some you’ve heard of and some you probably haven’t. Right now, I'm using a system called Bemer—they just signed a deal with NASA. The theory behind the Bemer systems is microcirculation. If you were to spread out the cells in the human body, you'd probably be able to cover two football fields. Bemer helps to regenerate the cells. It's a long process that takes weeks of eight minutes in the morning and at night. In time there are improvements like faster recovery, healing of the skin, improved digestion, and sleep. It's a very expensive system, but I've been playing around with it for a while and am enjoying it a lot.

I also have a cryotherapy chamber at the club, and after members finish their training, a three-minute session really helps them. Of course we also use breathing, meditation, and recovery modalities with our physical therapist like scraping, cupping, and dry needling. Infrared sauna is another one of my favorite tools—I even have one at my house.

We also use standard stretching and recovery work, ice baths, massage.

Dragon Door: It was exciting to see the cover of Muscle and Fitness for March, it immediately caught my eye at the airport—here was someone holding the kettlebell correctly on the cover of a magazine!

Don Saladino: It's kind of funny that I’m holding it in the rack position. I’m not a model—most models won’t hold the kettlebell correctly! I think it might even be one of first issues of a magazine at that level where someone’s using a kettlebell correctly. In my five-page article there are people doing get-ups, trap bar carries, handstand work—I’m trying to bring a different package to the table. I train people like I train myself, and this means I use a lot of different tools.

I teach my clients that they need to perform everything as an athlete. Ryan Reynolds is on the big screen doing his own stunts, so he’d better be ready and resilient. We accomplish that by committing to a specific block of training—a specific program—but we also add variety. We don’t add so much variety that the body can’t improve, though we do need enough to build resilience.

I don't like it when people are stuck on just one type of training. Even guys training with kettlebells who say everything else is bad—I think it's a little ridiculous. So, while kettlebells are at the top of the list in my training, I also want people to understand that they aren’t the end-all-be-all. At a certain point, we've got to rip a really heavy weight off the floor or do an extremely heavy carry. Otherwise, the kettlebell is pretty damn close to being a perfect tool.

Dragon Door: What's next for you and your various projects and partnerships?

Don Saladino: About eight months ago I launched a digital platform with a $9.99 monthly subscription called the Playbook App, and it’s doing incredible. With it I am able to sell my workouts—suit-up workouts for the guys, tone-up workouts for the women and then we have about ten bonus workouts each month. Users get workout routines for the month, and the bonus workouts which are often designed by request. People message my team when they want cardio, ab, kettlebell, mobility, or workouts for when they’re traveling. Then, we design those workouts and launch them to the public.

Two years ago, Garden of Life brought me on board to create their sport line which launched last year. We did about 40 million in revenue, so they’re allowing me to make more products. I have a couple more partnerships including a meal delivery company called Epicured which features food that’s all incredibly delicious, non-GMO, and low on the FODMAP chart. We just made a deal with Mt. Sinai hospital. Epicured is out to show people that healthy food can be delicious, inexpensive, and delivered to your doorstep. Lastly, I'm partners with Greyson Clothiers. We just got into our 400th store and have only been open about three years.

My main bread and butter, Drive495 has about 400 active members, and now we're looking to add about 50 members before we make the club completely private. Otherwise I’m busy with my commute, digital work, and continuing to have fun with all of this work.

Don Saladino Drive495
Dragon Door: That all sounds very exciting. What’s your secret for balancing an intense workload?

Don Saladino: Not to sound selfish, but I prioritize my own training—it’s the one thing day that I won't give on. I will cancel an appointment or a client before I neglect my own health and my own body. Because if I do neglect it, then everything else will suffer. Kim Nunez handles all my scheduling and understands that she has to block out 90 minutes a day for me to warm up, train, shower, get a meal down.

Other than that, I work as much as possible as long I can still get seven hours of sleep a night. I am incredibly disciplined and don't believe anyone should say they're too busy to work out. If your health, wellness, and mental outlook are not optimal because you aren’t taking care of yourself then everything else will suffer.

I have to lead by example which is a big reason my business has been so successful—it’s why I look the way I do on the cover of Muscle and Fitness, can press the Beast, run, and jump and I’m 40 years old. You can’t neglect your own health and wellness.

Dragon Door: It’s always encouraging to see this type of high performance example, and congratulations on becoming an RKC Team Leader.

Don Saladino: The RKC made a really good impression on me. I was first RKC certified close to ten years ago in San Jose. There was a great sense of community at the course and I loved the master instructor, Chris Holder. He’s been a very dear friend of mine and someone I just love being around. I look forward to continuing to be an educator and supporting a program that I believe in.

DonSaladinoMF CoverThumbnailDon Saladino, RKC Team Leader is a performance expert and the owner of Drive495. Learn more about his programs and projects: