Don Saladino used the pandemic to rebuild his physique – and his enterprise

For years, Don Saladino has been referred to as "the superhero trainer" by the fitness media.

It was a nickname that the 22-year-old industry veteran initially derided but eventually used as a marketing tool to highlight his work with a handful of celebrity clients at his lower Manhattan gym. He's never devised an elaborate plan to attract actors like Hugh Jackman, Ryan Reynolds, Sebastian Stan, David Harbor, Zachary Levi, and Anne Hathaway – all people who would star in superhero films, which is a fact that makes it a lot cooler origin story.

Saladino felt comfortable behind the scenes in his supporting role. He enjoyed being the puzzle piece that helped Stan increase size for "The Winter Soldier", Harbor Prep for "Hellboy", and Reynolds for "Deadpool". Still, there was a part of him who had a spin-off in mind for his own career. Saladino was not interested in developing a cloak and robe alter ego for the big screen, but rather spending time in his busy schedule to focus on creating content to expand his personal brand. Whenever he took up the idea again, the questions he encountered came down to how and when.

Of all the scenarios he had outlined in his head, the one that was never considered in his mind became a reality: a pandemic that only happens once in a century would essentially compel him.

On March 16, 2020, Don Saladino was at home in Long Island when he learned that New York State officials had ordered nationwide closings of casinos, bars, cinemas, indoor dining at restaurants and gyms.

The novel coronavirus, the highly communicable respiratory disease identified in late 2019, had officially become a global pandemic. As a result, many east coast states have introduced restrictions similar to New York. At the same time, the federal government's "15 Days to Slow the Spread" campaign urged Americans to stay home, avoid large gatherings, and only travel when necessary.

Two weeks too long

The mention of a two-week timeline made Saladino's Spidey-Sense tingle. "I thought New York City would take at least several weeks to close," he recalls.

He, his wife, and two children planned to settle in Cold Springs Harbor, a hamlet on the north coast of Long Island about 40 miles outside of Manhattan, until conditions improved.

Two weeks came and went, and in that time things had gotten worse in New York City, which at the time was the epicenter of the pandemic. For those with hope, it was now clear that no Avengers, X-Men or Defenders would intervene to save humanity from the insidious pathogen. We've been there for a long time.

Saladino felt growing pressure to make a decision about the future of his Drive495 gym in NYC. The longer the doors stayed closed, the more the 15,000 square meter two-story health club in trendy Soho became a stress-inducing money mine. Though the thought had occasionally crossed his mind, the writing on the wall was too big and too bold to ignore: It was time to close the shop.

“Fifteen years is a long time to immerse yourself in a place,” he says of his initial hesitation about leaving the gym. "I had to think about whether it was part of my identity."

Once he made up his mind, he stopped thinking about it. Saladino quickly secured a loan from the paycheck protection program to cover rent and wages for his employees until the end of his lease, and then he went on his way.

“For the first time in my career, I didn't have any distractions,” he says. “I no longer had to deal with an annoying landlord or commute 12 to 15 hours a week. All I had to focus on was my health, the health of my family and the revision of my business plan. "

A total renovation

M + F magazine

Before COVID-19, Don Saladino had steadily built more than 250,000 followers on Instagram. He also routinely hosted Transformation Challenges on his website, donsaladino.com. w, however, he was faced with the question of where to produce his training content since he was a man without a gym.

“When the NYC lockdown began, I was doing exercise demonstrations or social posts in an empty room in my house,” he explains. “It was really naked – no mats on the floor and just a few devices. But so many people were in the same situation looking for a direction because they didn't have access to all or any equipment they had used in the gym. "

Fitness publications were also looking for home routines that used minimal equipment or body weight movements, and bombarded Saladino with inquiries.

"Especially in the first few weeks of the pandemic, it was a tough time for a lot of people trying to stay healthy and keep their fitness routines going," he says. "I've already given away home and bodyweight programs for free so I didn't mind sharing them with fitness outlets to reach more people."

With a captivating audience and increased circulation, its social fan base, and its signups for challenges – boom! Phew! Kablam! – explodes.

More Change The fitness industry, especially boxing and boutique gyms, had an incredibly tough 2020. By spring, almost all US gyms, studios, and health clubs were closed. By the end of the year, about 17% of these facilities would never reopen and about 44% of the workforce had lost their jobs, according to statistics from industry watchdog IHRSA.

And the gyms that were allowed to open could if mandatory security protocols were enforced, e.g. The stubborn showed up, but wearing a mask while exercising was a deal breaker for many casual athletes.

However, this led to an influx of new customers for virtual trainers: home and fitness app downloads rose 46% in the first half of the year, according to loyalty company MoEngage.

Don Saladino used this to his advantage, and with less overhead, his strategy resulted in far higher returns.

Even so, the virus continued to spread around the world. After their peak in midsummer 2020, coronavirus infections steadily decreased before flaring up again in autumn and winter. Most of the activities – work, school, sports, visits to the doctor, even appointments – remained virtual.

In December, the country's COVID-19 death toll topped 300,000. In the new year, cases have risen over 20 million.

But after a slow rollout of the vaccine that began in December, sales picked up in February. More Americans were vaccinated than infected with the virus this month. States began to relax restrictions and it was slowly starting to seem like things were returning to normal.

Superheroes in and out of the gym

Don Saladino is doing a pull-up in the gymM + F magazine

Don Saladino saw this as an opportunity to do something that went beyond the fitness bubble. These types of gestures are not unusual for him. In fact, those who know him well can and will attest that personal gain is seldom his only priority. Yes, he is a businessman who wants to be successful. But above all, he is a husband, a father, and a man who does his best to live by the Golden Rule in hopes of setting a positive example to others, especially his children. That's why he visits hospitals disguised as Santa Claus to lighten the mood during the holidays, and puts on his skates for ice hockey games to raise money for cancer research. And that's why he teamed up with Sebastian Stan earlier this year in a four-week charity challenge for the benefit of Ronald McDonald House New York, a non-profit organization that supports pediatric cancer patients and their families.

The dynamic Saladino and Stan duo raised an impressive $ 20,000, half of which came from the Saladinos.

Meanwhile, Saladino's home gym was more of a packed commercial gym. And by the age of 44 he was in the best shape of his life. The problem was, he was already out of the room.

In April the groundbreaking for the construction of "The Barn" took place. The recently completed 2,000 square meter backyard facility now serves as a fitness studio, media studio and physical rehabilitation and relaxation center.

Saladino now plans to revamp the exercise library in its app (accessible through its website) and host four to six live classes per week.

"It's stocked by brands I work closely with – Life Fitness, Hammer Strength, and Perform Better," says Saladino. "It will have everything from functional training and recovery standpoints to an outdoor infrared sauna, a cold dive, and an area to record videos and record podcasts."

While he was waiting for the finishing touches to his new workshop, Saladino took to the streets with his show. First he opened a local store at Bev Francis Powerhouse Gym in Syosset and Siege Athletics in Mineola to shoot social media and training content. He then jetted off to a week-long West Coast swing to record interviews and produce workout videos with celebrities, fitness personalities and experts, bodybuilders and powerlifters. It's those kinds of projects that Saladino had wanted to do for years but never could because he was tied to his NYC gym.

Today nearly 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated. Nevertheless, COVID-19 variants have emerged and have increased the infection rates among the unvaccinated, so that a repeat of 2020 cannot be ruled out. Should that happen, Saladino's approach – staying positive while making the most of every situation – can serve as your superhero script to ensure that your sequel is as good or better than the original.

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