Love, happiness, and laughter. It can’t all be business. You have to have this ability to take a deep breath, relax, enjoy, and laugh. I came from this old school Italian mentality where my grandfather was in the restaurant business, and it was always like, you’re getting your hands dirty and you’re up all night. It’s chaos and it’s like we’re working till 4:00 am in the morning, you’re waking up and you’re exhausted and you’re showering and you’re throwing the suit on and you’re going back off to work. It was something that I always thrived on, but I’ve also realized that you got to have some balance. You have to be able to kick your shoes off and go play some golf or go for a walk, laugh, or do things where you can get lost from a mindset standpoint.
The term Blue Zones has been used to describe places where people live long and healthy lives. What exactly does it take to live a long and healthy life? What is the science and the secret behind longevity and life extension? In this series, we are talking to medical experts, wellness experts, and longevity experts to share “5 Things You Need To Live A Long, Healthy, & Happy Life”. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing celebrity trainer Don Saladino at the Strong New York event in New York City, New York.
Don Saladino has coached actors, athletes, & musicians for over 20 years. He opened his first NYC Gym, Drive 495, in 2005. After operating brick & mortar gyms for 15 years, Don expanded to a global online fitness business. He has developed a reputation for training some of the biggest names in Hollywood for the big screen. Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Liev Schreiber, Sebastian Stan, Anne Hathaway, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, & David Harbour are among his roster of clients.
Don has been tapped as a fitness expert in publications such as Muscle & Fitness, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, & Men’s Fitness. He has also been featured in People, US Weekly, Origins, In Touch, Cosmo, & Shape; and has made appearances doing live fitness demos on The Today Show, Page Six TV, People NOW, E News, & WebMD. He sits on the advisory board of Men’s Health Magazine.
Thank you so much for joining us Don! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
I started off when I moved into the city in 1999. I worked at a big box gym which was an incredible experience. I had a good solid year there. I left that training business to open my own business in 2000. At 22 years old I started becoming entrepreneurial and realized that I had a passion for the gym business. So I went on Fundraise and raised $5 million dollars — way more money than I probably should have at that age.
I opened my own club back in 2005 and then at that point I was in a 15 year lease that I just exited back in May of 2020. I opened a second club, started a digital business with a couple of professional athletes, Adrian, Peterson and Ernie, a company called Driven. The name of my business was Drive at the time that my brother and I started and really became well known in the fitness business. We went from training golfers to working with superheroes. It just shows how things can go in a completely different direction than what you imagine. I started working with golfers because my brother was a professional golfer turned amateur, and we understood golf fitness.
Looking at my career so far, close to 25 years in, it’s like one big zigzag. I couldn’t be any happier where I am and grateful for what I’m doing now. All those changes of direction are really allowing me to be pretty well rounded in this industry.
Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would say my grandparents and parents 100%. They helped me get started and bailed me out of some pretty tough times. They’re the reason why I’m still standing here. I’m definitely not self-made. I’m proud to admit that. I did receive help along the way. I did run to people with my tail between my legs. I remember at one point in the city I was burning about $100,000 a month. That’s how bad it was.
Being in those situations, it allows you to learn a lot about business. So when you’re put into a situation like that, Harvard Business School can’t teach you what we learned in that period of time. There is something to be said about experience, and there is something to be said about getting your face kicked. Looking back on it now, when you think about those moments and how bad they were at that time, it is probably some of the greatest times I’ve ever gone through.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fields of health, wellness, and longevity? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
I’ve been in the health and fitness business for 25 years. I was passionate about continuing my education, becoming great at training, nutrition and recovery.
The fact that I grew up working in a catering hall, the fact that I was cleaning toilets, the fact that at a young age I was understanding how to diffuse situations from watching my father do it underneath a roof where people were throwing parties and something was always going wrong put me in a situation to be pretty well rounded. I always surrounded myself with exceptional people when it came down to what they did. Trainers that were exceptional, physical therapists that were exceptional, and surgeons that were exceptional.
I really consider myself the ultimate connector. There’s not a day in my life that goes by that I’m not putting one person in contact with another person. It’s my hunger to want to continue to learn and continue to get better and even though my business world has fortunately expanded a lot and allowed me to do pretty well, I really enjoy continuing to learn about training, coaching, fitness, and wellness. I love what I do. I love working with people and I love watching them progress.
Based on your research or experience, can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Live A Long & Healthy Life”? A story or example for each would be appreciated.
1. Family. My wife, children, parents, siblings, and dogs. Having those moments is incredibly important.
2. Health. So health for me is obviously internal health first and then getting into how I feel about myself, how I’m moving, and my energy levels. Yes, from a vanity standpoint, I want to look good. It’s important for me and for my business. I always would refer to that as cleaning your side of the street, because a lot of people out there are looking at their own health and fitness and their workout time as something selfish. They say, I don’t have time for it. I’m like, well, you better make time for it because if your side of the street isn’t clean, and if you’re not doing what you need to be doing for yourself, how can you really be there to give to others?
3. Business. Something I’m in love with is building something that challenges me. What I love is the fact that I can never be complacent in this line of work and always find ways to improve. Last year in October, we shot our library of videos. We had a great library, but I built my new facility and wanted to shoot it with proper lighting. We reshot 600 videos. It took a lot of time. Most people would say you were fine with what you had, but I’m always trying to move forward and trying to offer a new product or something special for people to benefit from.
4. Giving. It’s very important for me not to make sure that everything isn’t transactional. I do a lot of free work and I try to help people who would never be able to afford a coach. How could we help them out? And how can we give back? How can I do things from a charitable standpoint, whether it’s my church or the cancer foundation? Giving in general is really important.
5. Love, happiness, and laughter. It can’t all be business. You have to have this ability to take a deep breath, relax, enjoy, and laugh. I came from this old school Italian mentality where my grandfather was in the restaurant business, and it was always like, you’re getting your hands dirty and you’re up all night. It’s chaos and it’s like we’re working till 4:00 am in the morning, you’re waking up and you’re exhausted and you’re showering and you’re throwing the suit on and you’re going back off to work. It was something that I always thrived on, but I’ve also realized that you got to have some balance. You have to be able to kick your shoes off and go play some golf or go for a walk, laugh, or do things where you can get lost from a mindset standpoint.
Some argue that longevity is genetic, while others say that living a long life is simply a choice. What are your thoughts on this narrative vs. nurture debate? Which is more important?
I’m not going to tell you that genetics doesn’t play in all this. Unfortunately, you hear some terrible stories of people losing their life at a young age or you’re being diagnosed with cancer. I just lost a good friend of mine about a month ago, who was only 50 years old. I lost him to cancer and then I lost another good friend of mine about three months ago at 52 years old to cancer as well. They took care of themselves. These things happen and it’s terrible. I don’t think we can abuse it and I think we need to respect it. You can live an incredibly healthy life and unfortunately the candle can burn out early for you.
On the other hand, I see people who abuse their bodies and they’re ticking into the eighties and nineties, and you’re like, how does that happen? It’s crazy. I believe we have a responsibility to ourselves, to our family, and to the people around us.
Once in a while we go eat some bad food or go out for a couple of drinks, that’s part of life. I’m not going to sit here and be a robot. People ask me, oh, you must never have a cheat day. I’m like, what are you talking about? Of course I do. They are like, oh, you must never have alcohol. I’m like, well I happen to really enjoy IPAs. I just don’t drink a lot of it. There’s certain non-negotiables like the water, protein, and vegetables. The training is always there. The activity level is always there. Am I fighting it sometimes? Am I in front of the computer too much? Sure. Am I stressed out a little bit too much sometimes? Absolutely. I think as people, we have to do the best that we can and be realistic with certain negotiables and non-negotiables.
Life sometimes takes us on paths that are challenging. How have you managed to bounce back from setbacks in order to cultivate physical, mental, and emotional health?
My favorite quote of all time, and I honestly should have this slapped on my forehead, but it was for every time in life I was feeling like I was being rejected, I was really being redirected to something else. I did not create that line. I stole it somewhere. The moment when you feel like things are just so bad, you look back on it and you’re like, no, that was part of the path. That’s really what fitness and wellness is. It’s never this steady climb. You’re going to have setbacks. You’re going to get sick, and stress is going to happen. Unfortunately, you’re going to lose a loved one. You’ve got two decisions. You can either put your head between your legs or you can turn around and say, alright, I’m gonna hold on for the ride right and try and figure out a way to rebound from this. I’ve learned to do that last part pretty gracefully with all the issues in my business.
What is your favorite book or movie? And how has that book or movie been relevant in your life?
I do like biographies. I love stories about people and I love reading about real life experiences. The books that I like are probably more trashy reads. Like I read a book, one of my favorites of all time, called Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis, the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’m a big music buff. I loved his book. It was very entertaining about someone who went through a lot of ups and downs. You look at the stories about him pawning off a guitar that he had signed by the Rolling Stones to be able to buy more heroin. You hear about people being in those dark places and then you hear about them being clean and finding this level of success and purpose. To me it’s pretty remarkable if someone can do that.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
You can visit donsaladino.com. My Instagram and Facebook is @donsaaladino. You can fire me off a DM.
This was very inspiring, Don. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.