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


For years, health media has solid Don Saladino as “the superhero coach.”

It was a moniker the 22-year trade veteran scoffed at initially however finally embraced as a advertising device to spotlight his work with a handful of movie star purchasers at his fitness center 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 of us who’d wind up starring in superhero flicks, which is a undeniable fact that makes it a a lot cooler origin story.

Saladino was comfy in his behind-the- scenes supporting position. He loved being the piece to the puzzle that helped Stan add dimension for “The Winter Soldier,” Harbour prep for “Hellboy,” and Reynolds get minimize for “Deadpool.” Nonetheless, there was a part of him that eyed a by-product for his personal profession. Saladino’s curiosity wasn’t in growing 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. Each time he’d revisit the thought, the questions he encountered boiled all the way 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 pressure his hand.

On March 16, 2020, Don Saladino was at residence in Lengthy Island when he realized 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 develop into a world pandemic. In consequence, many East Coast states adopted related restrictions as New York. On the similar time, the federal authorities’s “15 Days to Gradual the Unfold” marketing campaign requested People to remain residence, keep away from giant gatherings, and journey provided that needed.

From two weeks to method 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 no less than a number of weeks,” he remembers.

He, his spouse, and two children deliberate to hunker down in Chilly Springs Harbor, a hamlet on Lengthy Island’s north shore located roughly 40 miles outdoors 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 fitness center, Drive495. The longer the doorways stayed shut, the extra the 15,000-square-foot bi-level well being membership in fashionable Soho turned a stress-producing cash pit. Although the thought had crossed his thoughts every so often, the writing on the wall was too huge 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 remembers about his preliminary hesitancy to depart the fitness center. “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 shortly secured a Paycheck Safety Program mortgage to cowl lease and wages for his employees by means of the tip of his lease, after which he hit the bottom operating.

“For the primary time in my profession, I had no distractions,” he says. “I didn’t need to 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

Don Saladino performing a kettlebell press in the gym
M+F Journal

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, donsaladino.com. The difficulty he confronted now, nevertheless, was the place to supply his coaching content material now that he was a person with out a fitness center.

“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, on the lookout for some route as a result of they didn’t have entry to any or all of the tools that they had been utilizing on the fitness center.”

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 troublesome time for lots of people who had been making an attempt to remain wholesome and preserve their health routines going,” he says. “I used to be already giving at-home and body weight packages away at no cost, so I didn’t thoughts sharing them with health shops to succeed in extra folks.”

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

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

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

Nevertheless, this created an inflow of latest prospects for digital coaches: Downloads of residence and health apps grew by 46% within the first half of the yr, in keeping 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 throughout the fall and winter. Most actions — work, faculty, train, physician’s visits, even relationship — remained digital.

In December, the nation’s COVID-19 loss of life toll surpassed 300,000. Come the brand new yr, instances 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 fitness center

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

Don Saladino noticed this as a possibility to do one thing that prolonged past the health bubble. All these gestures usually are not out of character for him. In reality, those that know him nicely can and can attest that private 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 greatest to stay by the Golden Rule in hopes of setting a constructive instance for others, most notably his kids. It’s why he visits hospitals dressed as Santa to carry spirits throughout the holidays and laces up his skates for ice hockey video games to lift cash for most cancers analysis. And it’s why he tag-teamed with Sebastian Stan earlier this yr 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 residence fitness center was extra of a stocked business fitness center. And, at age 44, he’d gotten into the very best form of his life. Bother was, he had already outgrown the area.

Building for “The Barn” broke floor in April. The lately accomplished 2,000 square-foot yard facility now serves as a fitness center, 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 carefully with — Life Health, Hammer Power, and Carry out Higher,” Saladino says. “It should have all the things from a purposeful coaching and restoration standpoint, proper all the way down to an out of doors infrared sauna, chilly plunge, and an space to shoot video and report 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 Fitness center 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 consultants, bodybuilders, and powerlifters. It’s most of these tasks that Saladino had needed to do for years however by no means might as a result of he was tethered to his NYC fitness center,

In the present day, almost 200 million People are absolutely 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 the very best of any state of affairs — can function your superhero script to make sure your sequel is simply nearly as good or higher than the unique.

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