Don Saladino Used the Pandemic to Rebuild His Physique — and Enterprise

For years, health media has forged Don Saladino as “the superhero trainer.”

It was a moniker the 22-year business veteran scoffed at initially however ultimately embraced as a advertising and marketing software to spotlight his work with a handful of superstar purchasers at his health club in Decrease Manhattan. He by no means hatched an elaborate scheme to draw actors like Hugh Jackman, Ryan Reynolds, Sebastian Stan, David Harbour, Zachary Levi, and Anne Hathaway — all people who’d wind up starring in superhero flicks, which is a incontrovertible fact that makes it a a lot cooler origin story.

Saladino was comfy in his behind-the- scenes supporting function. He loved being the piece to the puzzle that helped Stan add measurement for “The Winter Soldier,” Harbour prep for “Hellboy,” and Reynolds get lower for “Deadpool.” Nonetheless, there was a part of him that eyed a by-product for his personal profession. Saladino’s curiosity wasn’t in creating a cape-and-cowl-donning alter ego for the silver display a lot because it was clearing up time in his busy schedule to concentrate on creating content material to increase his private model. At any time when he’d revisit the thought, the questions he encountered boiled right down to how and when.

Of all of the eventualities he mapped out in his head, the one which by no means factored into his ideas was the one which turned a actuality: a once-in-a-century pandemic would primarily drive his hand.

On March 16, 2020, Don Saladino was at house in Lengthy Island when he discovered New York State officers had issued statewide closures of casinos, bars, film theaters, indoor eating at eating places, and gymnasiums.

The novel coronavirus, the extremely transmissible respiratory illness recognized in late 2019, had formally grow to be a worldwide pandemic. Consequently, many East Coast states adopted comparable restrictions as New York. On the identical time, the federal authorities’s “15 Days to Sluggish the Unfold” marketing campaign requested People to remain house, keep away from massive gatherings, and journey provided that mandatory.

From two weeks to manner too lengthy

The point out of a two-week timeline had Saladino’s Spidey-Sense tingling. “I believed the New York Metropolis shutdown was going to final at the least a number of weeks,” he recollects.

He, his spouse, and two youngsters deliberate to hunker down in Chilly Springs Harbor, a hamlet on Lengthy Island’s north shore located roughly 40 miles exterior of Manhattan, till situations improved.

Two weeks got here and went, and in that point, issues had gotten even worse in New York Metropolis, which by then was the epicenter of the pandemic. By now, to these holding out hope, it was clear that no Avengers, X-Males, or Defenders would swoop in to rescue humanity from the dastardly pathogen. We had been in it for the lengthy haul.

Saladino felt mounting stress to decide about the way forward for his NYC health club, Drive495. The longer the doorways stayed shut, the extra the 15,000-square-foot bi-level well being membership in stylish Soho turned a stress-producing cash pit. Although the thought had crossed his thoughts from time to time, the writing on the wall was too massive and daring to disregard: It was time to shut up store.

“Fifteen years is a very long time to be immersed in a spot,” he recollects about his preliminary hesitancy to go away the health club. “I had to consider whether or not it was a part of my id.”

As soon as he made up his thoughts, he by no means gave it one other thought. Saladino rapidly secured a Paycheck Protection Program mortgage to cowl hire and wages for his workers by means of the tip of his lease, after which he hit the bottom working.

“For the primary time in my profession, I had no distractions,” he says. “I didn’t must take care of a pesky landlord anymore or spend 12 to fifteen hours every week commuting. All that I needed to concentrate on was my well being, my household’s well being, and revamping my marketing strategy.”

A complete rebuild

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Pre-COVID, Don Saladino had steadily constructed a following of greater than 250,000 on Instagram. He additionally routinely hosted transformation challenges on his web site, The difficulty he confronted now, nonetheless, was the place to supply his coaching content material now that he was a person with out a health club.

“When the NYC lockdown started, I’d shoot train demonstrations or social posts in a vacant room in my home,” he explains. “It was actually bare-bones — no mats on the ground and only some items of apparatus. However so many individuals had been in that very same place, in search of some course as a result of they didn’t have entry to any or all of the tools they’d been utilizing on the health club.”

Health publications had been additionally on the hunt for at-home routines that utilized minimal tools or body weight actions, and so they bombarded Saladino with requests.

“Particularly throughout these early weeks of the pandemic, it was a tricky time for lots of people who had been attempting to remain wholesome and maintain their health routines going,” he says. “I used to be already giving at-home and body weight packages away totally free, so I didn’t thoughts sharing them with health retailers to achieve extra folks.”

With a captive viewers and elevated distribution, his social following and signups for challenges — Growth! Pow! Kablam! — exploded.

Extra change The health business, particularly field and boutique gyms, had an extremely tough 2020. By spring, practically all U.S. gyms, studios, and well being golf equipment had closed. By the tip of the 12 months, about 17% of these outfits would by no means reopen, and roughly 44% of the workforce had misplaced jobs, in line with stats from business watchdog IHRSA.

And the gyms that had been permitted to open might achieve this if mandatory safety protocols were enforced, corresponding to requiring facemasks and limiting the variety of company allowed in at a time. The diehards confirmed up, however sporting a masks whereas figuring out was a dealbreaker to many informal gymgoers.

Nonetheless, this created an inflow of recent prospects for digital coaches: Downloads of house and health apps grew by 46% within the first half of the 12 months, in line with buyer engagement agency MoEngage.

Don Saladino used this to his benefit, and with decrease overhead, his technique translated to far higher returns.

That stated, the virus continued to unfold globally. After peaking in mid-summer 2020, coronavirus infections went into regular decline earlier than roaring again in the course of the fall and winter. Most actions — work, college, train, physician’s visits, even relationship — remained digital.

In December, the nation’s COVID-19 dying toll surpassed 300,000. Come the brand new 12 months, circumstances shuttled previous 20 million.

However after a gradual vaccine rollout that kicked off in December, distribution picked up steam by February. That month, extra People had been vaccinated than contaminated with the virus. States began to ease restrictions, and slowly it appeared as if issues had been returning to normal-ish.

Superheroes out and in of the health club

Don Saladino performing a pullup in the gym
M+F Journal

Don Saladino noticed this as a chance to do one thing that prolonged past the health bubble. Some of these gestures should not out of character for him. Actually, those that know him nicely can and can attest that non-public achieve is never his sole precedence. Sure, he’s a businessman who needs to succeed. However above all else, he’s a husband, father, and a man who does his finest to stay by the Golden Rule in hopes of setting a constructive instance for others, most notably his youngsters. It’s why he visits hospitals dressed as Santa to carry spirits in the course of the holidays and laces up his skates for ice hockey video games to boost cash for most cancers analysis. And it’s why he tag-teamed with Sebastian Stan earlier this 12 months on a four-week coaching charity problem to learn Ronald McDonald Home New York, a nonprofit that assists pediatric most cancers sufferers and their households.

The dynamic duo of Saladino and Stan raised a powerful $20,000, with half of that sum coming from the Saladinos.

By now, Saladino’s house health club was extra of a stocked industrial health club. And, at age 44, he’d gotten into one of the best form of his life. Hassle was, he had already outgrown the house.

Development for “The Barn” broke floor in April. The not too long ago accomplished 2,000 square-foot yard facility now serves as a health club, media studio, and bodily rehab and restoration middle.

Saladino now plans to revamp the train library on his app (accessible by means of his web site) and host 4 to 6 stay courses per week.

“It’ll be outfitted by manufacturers I work intently with — Life Health, Hammer Power, and Carry out Higher,” Saladino says. “It’s going to have every part from a practical coaching and restoration standpoint, proper right down to an outside infrared sauna, chilly plunge, and an space to shoot video and file podcasts.”

As he waited for the ending touches to be accomplished on his new workshop, Saladino took his present on the highway. First, he arrange store domestically at Bev Francis Powerhouse Gymnasium in Syosset and Siege Athletics in Mineola to shoot social media and coaching content material. Then he jetted off on a weekslong West Coast swing to seize interviews and produce coaching movies with celebrities, health personalities and specialists, bodybuilders, and powerlifters. It’s these kind of tasks that Saladino had wished to do for years however by no means might as a result of he was tethered to his NYC health club,

Right this moment, practically 200 million People are totally vaccinated. Nonetheless, COVID-19 variants have emerged and despatched an infection charges surging among the many unvaccinated, making a repeat of 2020 not out of the query. Ought to this occur, hopefully Saladino’s strategy — staying constructive whereas making one of the best of any state of affairs — can function your superhero script to make sure your sequel is simply pretty much as good or higher than the unique.

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