What do Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson all have in common?
Today, we’re here with Don Saladino, one of the most in-demand and respected trainers in Hollywood. For over 20 years, Don has coached actors, athletes, musicians, and titans of business. Scarlett Johansson, Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Hugh Jackman, and David Harbour are just a few names of clients he’s trained recently.
Today Don’s going to spill the beans on topics that will definitely raise some eyebrows. Including the fact that he gets shredded eating over 500 grams of carbs a day.
On this show with Don, we’re chatting about:
- How to steer clear of self proclaimed experts on social media and the web
- How A-list celebrities show up in real life
- The difference between an expert and a professional
- How to use technology as a tool instead of a mind-control device
- How David Harbour went from Stranger Things to Hellboy
- And so much more…
Don Saladino: The Meaning of Resilience
Thanks for having me. This is exciting.
Abel: There are so many things that we could talk about today, but I’d like to start with this softball question.
What’s more fun, training good guys or bad guys?
I don’t know if I can answer that.
That’s probably the only question that I’ve been asked on a podcast that I’m a little tongue-tied on.
Abel: Maybe it wasn’t a softball then.
Yah, it wasn’t really softball.
Good guys or bad guys? Good guys. Come on, we all want to see the good guy come through.
Oh man, I can’t even talk about this. I do have an actor right now that I’m really close with that’s going to be playing a villain this next year. And I’m going to be rooting for him.
But, come on, man, we all want to see the good guy come through.
Abel: Totally. And then there’s David Harbour. He’s kind of the good guy in Stranger Things, and then good/bad guy in Hellboy, right?
I don’t even know how to categorize that, but it was a fun process getting him ready. We really had to take someone who was being portrayed to live an incredibly unhealthy lifestyle, and then we had 9 weeks to just flip him and get him a suit ready, super suit ready.
Abel: I was checking out your blog, and saw a couple of the before pictures which are quite compelling.
Yah, but what was interesting with him was when we started getting into the process, we’re probably 2 – 3 weeks in, and he called me up.
He’s like, “The production company is telling me to slow down. They’re telling I’m not going to fit in the suit, and we’re actually making too much progress.”
I’ll still weigh people as gauges. I don’t like using the scale, but I like it for my own records from week to week, monitoring what’s going on with their weight, what’s going on with their strength.
If I see a big drop and a big strength dip, then I know there’s some red flags going on especially with their energy levels.
And I said, “Dave, you started this process at 250. You weighed in today at 249. We’re not dropping body weight.”
We maybe lost a half a pound. It wasn’t even a pound.
He’s like, “Well, I’m not fitting into my suit the right way.”
I said, “Okay, then I’ll make some adjustments.”
But we were actually showing too much progress early on. For his role, we didn’t want him to look like an Abercrombie model.
When I typically sit down with actors, they’ll pull up a picture of almost the vision that they have or the director has on the direction they want to go in.
He pulled up a shot-putter. It was like a Russian shot-putter. He had to have that “don’t mess with me” thick neck, beefy look.
And I think that’s what we achieved. I think he did a great job with it.
Abel: And he’s a big dude, isn’t he? He’s tall.
He’s probably 6’4″, 250. He’s a big guy.
It was funny because my main focus with him, and I didn’t tell him this, was getting him resilient, and developing a level of resiliency.
When we went in there, his back was bothering him and I put him through a screening process.
His deadlift early on was really weak. He had a pretty good bench press. He was a big guy.
And I just told myself, if we can get his deadlift good—and he moved really well for a big guy—and we can get his squat good and his core lifts good and strong, and develop that level of resiliency, then he’s going to be fantastic.
And that’s basically what happened.
I think, on week one, he was deadlifting a 24-kilo kettlebell, and we were really tentative with his back.
On week nine, he pulled 400 pounds off the floor.
Abel: That’s a beast.
Yah, but it wasn’t even a max effort pull. I’ve got to be honest, it was maybe an 80% or 85% pull. There’s always risk reward.
And my whole thing was just to show him, “Listen man, you’re going into this role, you’re going to shoot this role. Psychologically now, you belong in that suit.”
And that’s part of what people don’t realize.
When Ryan Reynolds is training for Deadpool, yeah, he’s in a suit, but he’s got to get into that suit with that mental outlook of, “I belong in this suit. This is how I look.”
And I think that’s what makes them so believable as actors.
Abel: Right. And there are completely different body types, or at least the results are different, right?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve heard that Ryan Reynolds is extremely fierce when it comes to training. And obviously that shows up on screen later on.
Oh, yeah. What’s funny about Ryan, Ryan is like one of the most complete people I’ve ever met.
He’s got this incredible personality. He’s incredibly giving. He’s a good friend, but when he gets into the gym, it’s not, “Alright, we’re throwing weights around to have fun.”
It’s more like, “What’s the objective? What’s the game plan?”
He knows his diet. And with him, he’s almost the easiest person for me to train because he’s like, “Alright, Don, it’s time to go.”
And I just kind of look at him like, “How is the diet?”
He’s like, “Same.”
I’m like, “Okay.” He got on it.
Immediately, day one, I know what he’s eating. I know what time he’s having each meal and training, and everything becomes very monotonous. Which I think it’s kind of his switch.
Then in the off season, it’s maintenance work. It’s mobility, and we adjust things to make sure that he’s living a healthy lifestyle.
Abel: What’s the difference between on-screen peak shape and then off-season maintenance, as you said?
It’s funny. I kind of coined this phrase, “I want you two weeks out.” It’s almost a body building terminology.
Bodybuilders will say, “I’m 6 weeks out. I’m 4 weeks out.” Referring to how many weeks they are from being on the stage.
So, what I tell all the actors that I work with is, “I want you two weeks out of being able to get a phone call from a major publication and be able to get on a cover. Okay?”
The ones that I work with never really slip that far off. They’re always about 2 – 3 weeks out.
But for me, my main focus is energy and movement. If I focus on energy and movement, their bodies look great.
They’re not bodybuilders. They don’t have to get on a stage, and it doesn’t matter how much medial delt they have, or how much sweep in their thigh, or how wide their lats are or their posing. That stuff is irrelevant.
If I can get them resilient, if I can get their energy level optimal and I can make sure that their movement is good and they’re really strong, everything else takes care of itself through diet.
Listen, we’ll always throw a little pump work in there to make sure that psychologically they’re feeling like, “Okay, we’re doing what we need to do.”
But I live in this performance physique world.
I always say this, you’ve got strength coaches that live in the strength and conditioning world, and you’ve got the physique coaches or the bodybuilding coaches, and they live so far away from each other.
I live right in the middle. I might go into blocks of training where I’m powerlifting or doing kettlebell training, whatever it might be, and then I might go into what I like to call a deload bodybuilding phase of three to six weeks.
It’s like, “Alright, we’re going to run 8 x 8’s on 30 seconds rest, or we’re going to do some time under tension, or we’re going to really focus on creating tension in that muscle or body parts.”
I don’t run a lot. For me, it’s fun. For my clients, it’s fun. It’s fun not living with that one method.
I found that, in the long run, your body and your mind feels pretty good from adapting to different types of stimuluses.
Abel: Yah, you avoid the monotony if you are cross-training, and it’s better for your body. You avoid overtraining certain pieces and putting a lot of stress on certain ligaments or part of your body.
I would imagine that someone like Ryan Reynolds is probably extremely experienced at this point, in the gym and getting into shape. Whereas David Harbour, was he trying to put on weight for roles?
He knew for Stranger Things that he had to be an out of shape cop.
For him, it was just kind of living and letting himself go a little bit, which he needed to do for his role.
That’s what people don’t think about. He wasn’t like on a walker and out of shape, but when he got into shape, I think he realized, wow, there was a feeling that he had that felt really good.
It was like, “Alright, how do I feel this way but always look like I’m ready for this role of Stranger Things?”
And to me, that’s what was interesting. I was happy to see that because we brought him over into a healthier lifestyle even though his role had put him into this characteristic of being out of shape.
But getting back to the stimuluses, when you see powerlifters, when you see cross fitters… I like all training. I just don’t like when someone overstays their welcome.
So, when you have someone just doing CrossFit all year long… And I’m not talking about the CrossFit Games, guys, because they train probably more like how I train. I’m talking about the people going into the group all year long, all year long, all your long.
The first three, four months are like, “I’ve never felt this good in my life.”
And then, six, seven, eight months in, they’re like, “Shoulder’s hurting me a little bit. Hip’s hurting me a little bit.”
I’m like, “Alright, man, that’s your body telling you something.”
They keep hammering steel, it ain’t going to move. You know what I’m saying?
You’ve got to change your way of thinking and maybe say, “Alright, you know what, I’ve got to change my style of training a little bit.”
I think if people did that a little bit more, rather than saying, “This is the be all, end all,” I think our bodies are going to feel a lot better.
Abel: So, if someone is listening to this and they’re running marathons, triathlons, doing really intense CrossFit or what have you, and they’re feeling sore, a little bit run down, what would you recommend? How do you handle rest?
You don’t have to completely rest, but I think you have to back off.
I’m going to give you a perfect example. Last week, it happened to me. I’ve been in a very heavy training phase for the last probably six to eight months, maybe even longer. I got ready for the cover of Muscle & Fitness. I was on the cover in March.
Abel: That looked awesome, by the way.
Thank you very much. I did that on 300 grams of carbs a day.
Abel: That’s unique.
Yah. 275 grams of protein, 300 grams of carbs, 90 grams of fat, and I didn’t do that on keto.
I was playing ice hockey when I was prepping for it. I’m an athlete.
But just last week I looked at my training partners, I’m like, “I’m feeling it.”
And they all looked at me and they laugh. We’re not recovering the same right now, our bodies are getting sore a little bit longer. Not the motivation to train, but the motivation to do specific lifts.
So, we were like, “Alright, rather than calling it a deload, let’s get into more work capacity stuff. Let’s automatically lighten the weights up for the next three to four weeks.
We’ll work more on work capacity, get some different movements that we haven’t gotten in in a while, stay away from some things that we were overstaying our welcome on a little bit.
Rather than upper-lower splits, or full body splits, or more frequency training, maybe let’s start going to some more body part work. Let’s start doing some agility work.
And now we started mixing this in, “Wow, my body’s feeling really good.” Things are starting to loosen up, but it’s not one or two days.
I give myself a couple of weeks to this to the point where I’m like, “Alright, man, I can’t wait to get back to this other stuff.” And then that’s when I jump back into it.
Abel: Rest and recovery has really evolved in the past few years as well, hasn’t it? Especially when I was growing up, it was always rest and ice.
The thinking has changed a bit, where now it seems like you do want more of that light activity, right?
I like it because it speeds up the recovery process. I don’t mind a week here, or maybe two weeks max, but I think as we start taking too much time off, I think a lot of times the response that I get is that you start feeling too sluggish.
Remember, there’s an effect from training, gets the endorphins up, gets the blood pumping.
Training makes me feel good. I just finished a leg session, I got into a shower, I feel great. My energy level is optimal. My brain clarity is great, or good for me at least, and I’m ready to roll for the rest of my day.
So removing that, it’s not good for me mentally. Physically, yah, maybe it’s my body telling me I need to get away from certain things.
But if you’re so beat up from traditional powerlifting or weight training, then get on a strict bodyweight and kettlebell program, get on the movement, start doing some light gymnastics work or some flow or whatever the heck that you want to call it.
A lot of CrossFitters come to me and it’s normally like, “Alright, my body doesn’t feel good. What do I do?”
And I’m like, “Listen, I’m not telling you not to do CrossFit. I’m here to make you more resilient for CrossFit. I will make you better, I will make you stronger for CrossFit. So when we get you back there, you’re going to be more of a machine.”
They’re like, “I love it.”
And then I spend a few weeks or a month or a couple of months diving them into that training phase, and focusing on characteristics that they may not be great at.
And then by the time we go back, it’s go time, baby.
What Happens When Athletes Stop Working Out
Abel: You brought up something I’d really like to dig into a little bit. A lot of people would assume for someone like you, training stars, being a trainer for decades, that you just love exercising, every single time. And you want to go really hard and that’s just your personality type.
But what I find is that, especially for folks like us, is that you’re almost running away from not exercising, because you feel so bad and trapped inside your own head, trapped inside your own body. I’m speaking for myself right now, but if I don’t exercise too long, that’s exactly what happens. What happens to you?
You know what? Same thing.
I never take a lot of time off. I’d probably take a week off here. And when I say here and there, might be one to two weeks a year.
And I’ll normally mix that in, if I’m doing like a family trip or we’re going to a specific area where I know I’m not going to have great access to a gym.
Or we’re going to Disney, “Alright, I know the gym I’m going to be at it’s going to be junk. I know the food’s junk.” I’m just going to give my head a little bit of clarity, and I’m going to let things just reset a little bit.
So, I’ll force myself to do that. But it’s not a lot.
I think it’s less about taking on and off. It’s more about really learning to wave your intensity levels.
And it’s getting down to the question of steady state cardio or HIIT training.
I like to separate cardio training, or energy systems or metabolic, or whatever you want to call it, into three categories.
HIIT training, which I think there’s a big misconception on what HIIT training really is. Medium intensity intervals, which is your typical 30 on, 30 off, one minute on, one minute off, which most people think that’s HIIT training and it’s not.
And then steady state cardio, which I like to categorize anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes at a heart rate of 120 to 150 to help get waste out of the body.
And what is better?
The problem with a lot of the science and research that we have out there is that you might find that HIIT training is fractionally better and it’s something everyone’s jumping into HIIT training. And they’re not taking into consideration the nervous system, or they’re not taking into consideration how hard you’re training with resistance.
What are your weight training days like? Or are you a dancer? And that’s really high intensity. Are you traveling a lot? What’s your sleep schedule? What’s your stress level?
I have people that I’ll turn around to, and I’ll never have to do HIIT training, because it’s just too intense.
I’ll say, “Wait a second, whoa, whoa, whoa, we’ve got so many external stresses in your life, steady state is what we want, because that’s going to speed the recovery process up. It’s going to get us into a little bit of a fat-burning state, it’s going to get waste out of the body, and I think it’s low intensity enough to where we’re going to be waking up the next day not feeling too taxed.”
And for those of you out there who are listening, who have gone high intensity for a couple of days straight, then I don’t know where you’re waking up and you’re almost feeling hungover and walking into walls, could be because your nutrition isn’t good enough, you may not have enough carbohydrates to support what you’re actually doing. Your training intensity could be way too high all the time.
And this is why we have devices out there, like heart rate variability, or omega wave, which a lot of people don’t use, which is another conversation. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all. I think it’s really a simple approach.
Listen to your body. If you’re getting up and your program says that you have to do HIIT training today, and you know you’re a dedicated person, but you’re exhausted, don’t do HIIT training.
It’s like, okay, if you’ve got to do some type of cardio, because you have a show coming up or you got a movie coming up, or you’ve got to look good for the beach, either take off or do some slow steady state cardio, where you get your heart rate into those zones or you could speed up the recovery process.
We have to use the research as a guide, but I think we have to understand that each of us are individual. And moving is better than nothing.
Abel: You mentioned HIIT, but that wouldn’t really include Tabatas, according to your definition. Would you mind expanding on that a little bit?
HIIT training is categorized as a form of cyclic repeat, a form of cardio where you’re able to maintain a maximal level of output for that period of time.
If you can max effort sprint for five or six seconds, and then after that, that intensity or that speed starts diminishing, you’re not at optimal intensity. You know what I’m saying? It starts declining.
Now, am I going to turn around and say, “Well, wait a second, I got timed outside on the pavement and I was able to maintain my max speed sprint for five seconds. Are you saying eight seconds isn’t HIIT?”
I’m not going to be that rigid with it, but I think you’ve got to fall in those guidelines and those parameters where you’re trying to maintain that maximal level of effort.
When you’re grabbing a set of battle ropes and you’re saying go as hard as you can 10 seconds, I literally want you to swing a kettlebell till you feel like your body parts are going to detach. I want you to create as much speed and tension as possible. We can’t maintain that for 30 seconds.
It might feel like our heart rate is getting up, but to me that’s not the highest intensity. I categorize things a little bit differently.
And I say we’ve got our medium intensity, like Tabata, which might be 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off.
But if you think about it, we’re not giving enough recovery and enough rest for us to be able to get maximal amount of output.
I would still consider Tabata a medium intensity form of cardio. Now, just because I’m saying medium intensity doesn’t mean it’s not hard.
Abel: Right. It’s a different kind of hard.
If I’m getting on a track and I’m maintaining a 150 heart rate for 30 to 40 minutes, 150 might be really high for some people. You know what I’m saying?
It might not sound high, but for some people who are in really good shape, you might be cruising.
If I’m at 150, I could be running at 8, 8 1/2 miles an hour on a treadmill for 30 minutes. That’s not easy. Does that make sense?
I think there are ways that we need to categorize things, but I won’t be so rigid. And I think following those parameters and understanding what is the goal of HIIT training, what is the goal of medium training, and what is the goal of steady state.
Abel: I think that’s a really important differentiation, because the way that I like to do Tabata style workouts is I’ll usually do that 20 on, 10 off with burpees with a push-up. And I’ll do that for usually 10 or 11 times in a row.
And I am so gassed at the end of it. Maybe even by the fifth or sixth rep or set time going through those. Once I get about halfway or three-quarters of the way through, it’s much more like a really high-intensity cardio workout than it is like you were saying, swinging that kettlebell with all of your strength.
Because once you’re that tired and you’ve been going for that long, you’ll get hurt if you really try to go 10 out of 10.
Right. That’s what I like so much about the bell is that you can create a form, a cardiovascular effect. But I’m trying to create tension.
That’s why I like hard style kettlebell training rather than sport.
I’m not saying sports is bad. I’m just saying it’s completely different. I’ll call sports style kettlebell training, which is really slow, but not this deliberate.
One of my training partners is considered a sport expert, but I consider that marathon training for kettlebell and I consider hard style more sprinting. That’s how I believe that we could build a better athlete, a more resilient athlete with sprint training, rather than marathon training.
If someone wants to argue, that would be fine.
Abel: Having done both, I will vouch for that.
I want to build a fast, intense athlete. Someone that could create speed and tension, that’s my goal. I don’t really want to make someone slower.
I also look at physiques. You look at your typical marathon runner, you look at your typical sprinter. I want to look like the sprinter.
I’m not talking trash about the marathon runner. I’m not talking trash about the sport kettlebell person, but my love and my passion and my beliefs will steer me more into that hard style direction.
Abel: Yah, and for a lot of people who haven’t tried multiple types of training like that…
Abel: Especially over periods of times, they don’t know that there is such a big difference between those two things.
When I was running marathons, long-time listeners will know this, I got down to 148 pounds. And I was still low body fat, but I was small, the smallest I had ever been, because I was running 20, 30 miles most days. I just wanted to see what would happen.
In the months that followed, I started training more for 10Ks and shorter races. So, I stopped all the long running and just started sprinting.
And in a few weeks I put on 10 pounds of muscle, got a lot faster, dropped body fat, and was eating a bunch more. And I just felt better.
I think it’s great that you take that approach. Obviously this is what you do for a living, you are a fitness professional, so it’s important for you to be able to test different waters.
When I say “experiment,” I don’t mean experiment for a week. I mean, I’ve done the ketogenic diet. I had Ben Pakulski on my podcast yesterday, and we talked about the ketogenic diet and we talked about becoming fat adapted.
Ben loves carbs. He believes the majority of us athletes should be on a higher carb diet. But he also believes, what I believe, that a specific time during the year, maybe two to four weeks, we should focus ourselves on getting a little bit more fat adapted.
Now, is two to four weeks going to put us into a negative hormonal response? No, it’s not. It’s going to trick the body up a little bit. It might improve some brain clarity. It might get your body to adapt to metabolizing fats a little bit better.
My goal all year long is consume 300 grams of carbs, I want to then get up to 450, 500. I want to consume more and more. I want my body to learn to burn that food off.
I feel like that my recovery is better. I feel like that my training is better, and at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I don’t feel like I need to take a nap. I’m jacked up on maybe a cup of coffee, if that’s it a day.
But I do recommend to people, listen, if you’re asking a lot of questions, “Oh, is intermittent fasting good?”
Well, what are your goals? What are you trying to do?
If you’re a competitive CrossFitter, I would not recommend intermittent fasting. You need to be a machine, you need to recover. You’re already putting yourself under an incredible amount of strain.
If you do IF for a week, are you going to feel great? Probably. After two, three weeks of it, are you going to start feeling not so great? Probably.
What happens is we jump into these diets and these training methodologies or approaches, and you feel so good any time you try something new. In the beginning, and you remember that.
But then you almost forget that, four months down the road, “Well, I don’t feel so great about being a vegan now. I gave up animal protein four months ago, I felt great, but I don’t feel great now.”
I’m like, “So, you don’t feel great now.”
“But I felt great then.”
“You’re right, you felt great then. That was then. This is now. That might be telling you need to switch things up.”
Abel: Yah, and it’s not a failure if you switch things up. It’s listening to your body, like you just said.
I think it’s important. I think it’s important to understand how your bodies respond. I think it’s important to eat seasonally. I think it’s important to change your training up seasonally.
People ask me, “When do you change your training up? How do you know?”
I’m like, “There’s two factors when I change my training up. When your motivation starts dropping, your energy starts dropping, or when you stop getting stronger.”
Even if strength isn’t the main focus of it, if you’re on a work capacity program and you’ve done this, maybe CrossFit guides, in the first few weeks, your time is improving, you’re getting stronger, your time is improving, you’re getting stronger.
Week three, your time is improving and you’re getting stronger.
Week four, oh, you tapped out.
Week five, “Oh, I’m losing time now.”
Week six, “Oh, I’m losing reps now.”
Abel: Then you get sick.
Yah, then you get sick. Then the shoulder starts bothering you. Dude, you’re done.
People don’t listen to their bodies. It’s like hitting a hammer on a wall, it’s not going to change.
You’ve got to like, alright, week three you’re in. Week four, it’s starting to dip. “Alright, man, we got all we wanted out of that, it’s time to move on.”
If I want a powerlifting program for four months, and I’m having fun with it and I’m continuing to get stronger, I’m going to keep doing that program.
This all depends on so many factors. Are you traveling? Are you fighting with your spouse? How’s work going? Are you sleeping at night?
All these variables can turn around and determine whether one week you’re having a phenomenal week of training and you feel like you can conquer the world and you’re the Incredible Hulk, and then suddenly one day you wake up and you’re like, “I’m exhausted, I don’t feel good.”
And then I don’t know whether it’s this downward spiral where it’s like every day it’s just getting worse and worse and worse. “Alright, man, look at what’s going on here. There’s a pattern, we need to switch things up.”
Abel: Yah, you’ve got to change things up.
It seems like there’s so much hype about stuff now. I think technology has changed. There’s social media now. Everything is super saturated and in your face, but there’s so much hype around whatever is new, and I’m using air quotes here because the ketogenic dieting has been around for a very long time.
My god, so true. Probably more than a million years. It’s crazy.
Abel: It’s really going nuts again now, but not necessarily in the way that it was in the ’70s and ’80s when ketogenic dieting was being used by a lot of bodybuilders in a cyclic way.
They called it cyclic ketogenic dieting, because, like you said, you might go really low carb for a while there, a few weeks, as part of a cutting program usually, but then you go back on the carb train and you train a little bit differently, you switch it up because you want your body to be able to handle that.
I went from 450 – 500 grams of carbs a day, and I got a call December 20th, “You’re going to be on the cover of Muscle & Fitness.”
I’m like, “Great, how much time do I have?”
And they’re like, “We’re shooting January 10th.”
So, I walk around all year long, two weeks out. My body fat is low all year long.
I knew I can do it, but whatever it was, it was a four to five-week span, where I said, “Alright, I’m not dumping my carbs. I’m going to bring them down a little, and I’m going to watch my body from week to week.”
Dr. Ben House was helping me out a little bit with it. I became really friendly with him, and I’m like, “I just don’t want to cut heavy carbs. I’m working. I’m playing hockey. I’ve done this before. I’ve done a million photoshoots. I don’t want to put myself into that.”
He’s like, “You don’t have to. You’re up at 450 to 500. Bring it down to 300.”
And I’m like, “What about fats? Should I drop fats?”
And he’s like, “Dude, keep them at 90.”
I’m like, “Yah.”
Everything he was saying made sense, and I just needed to hear it from someone else.
And I did that, and week one, it was like I was down 5 pounds.
And it was like, “Alright, I’m losing weight.”
And he’s like, “Yah, don’t change anything.”
And every week it was just staying there. I’d lose another pound, and another pound, another pound. And I was getting stronger.
And I think I was getting stronger because I was ridding my body of any inflammation that I had in there. And my brain clarity improved.
Remember, I’m not a big drinker, but I did not have a dessert, not a treat, not a binge food for five weeks, which that in itself will take care of so much inflammation.
People trying to lose weight, I’m like, “Your diet looks good, but you’re just eating garbage. You’re having this monster cheat meal every Sunday and you’re having a drink Saturday night.”
Which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s catching up. Get rid that for three weeks and tell me what happens.
And they’re like, “Oh, my god, I lost 10 pounds.”
I’m like, “I told you, you don’t have to make this huge change, but I think we have to start recognizing that what we’re doing isn’t the right thing to do.”
For me, carbs are your friend, and I wish people believed in them a little bit more.
I like that whole line about cyclic keto.
But I think a big problem today, and this is something I could talk to you about for hours, I know we don’t have that type of time, but I’ve been a personal trainer and coach, I feel like they’re two different things.
For 20 years, I’ve accumulated dozens of certifications. I’ve taken hundreds of courses. Most of the certifications I never even kept up with because it just didn’t even matter anymore. Now, I do continuing education every year.
I’ve coached different people, and I’ve realized that what works for one person doesn’t work for the other. And part of coaching is adapting the individual.
What’s happening now is you get these influencers that get on social media, they get a large following, and they just turn around and they say, “Well, this is what works for me. Look, I have abs. I have great glutes. This is what’s going to work for you.”
And they start selling a product, and they start selling keto or intermittent fasting, because it’s something easy to sell, and it’s not a long-term approach.
You can’t work with someone who’s an influencer like that. Work with a coach. Work with someone who’s made this their life passion.
And they’re like, “For me, it’s my passion to help improve people’s lives.”
I’m speaking in Chicago next week, and I will sit there and go to lectures, and listen to Mike Boyle, listen to other people. And I will learn from these people that I’ve still been learning from for the last 15, 20 years of my life.
That’s what’s frustrating, is that you’ll have these influencers who will paint this picture to people out there that it’s not their job to understand what’s good or bad in fitness.
But they’re watching these people preach, and they’re taking their advice like it’s the be all, end all. A lot of times, it’s the wrong message because they’re always showing themselves in this great light. They’re always showing themselves with their shirt off, their abs, their mood’s great, “My life is perfect.”
Life is not perfect, man.
I’m waking up in the morning some days at 4:00 AM, and I’m getting on the train. I love what I do, but I’m like, “Damn, it’s early. I am tired.” Or, “Man, I’d like to have slept in today.” Or, “You know what, I had a bad night’s sleep,” or, “I’m stressed out because my landlord just bumped my tax bill up $150,000 a year.”
These are things that you have to deal with in life, and I think rather than painting this picture that everything is great, start letting people know.
It gets debilitating for people out there.
When someone is sitting there, and they’re in Ohio, and they’re like, “My life’s not so good,” and they’re watching some woman throw her hair and show her perfect butt and her perfect abs and her perfect boyfriend, that’s not a good message.
That’s not how it is for a lot of people out there.
Abel: You’ve been doing this for a long time, and Instagram really hasn’t had the influence that it’s had for more than a couple of years.
But now, because someone has a pretty butt on Instagram, they’ve got millions of followers and millions of people are listening to their half-baked advice, which usually is sponsored out by some keto company that sells some sort of garbage.
Because somehow they’ve convinced people into thinking that you’re keto if you eat a bunch of keto products. They don’t understand what you’re doing at all.
It was like the gluten-free thing the last couple of years.
Suddenly, I’m getting, “It’s a gluten-free muffin.”
I’m like, “A muffin is a muffin. A cookie is a cookie. I’m glad it doesn’t have gluten in it.”
And lately you’re starting to see articles come out over the last year of women who are like, “Well, look, I gained 30 pounds on a gluten-free diet.”
Well, I’ve gained 30 pounds during marathon training. You didn’t do any resistance training. There are so many benefits to resistance training that you’re not gaining in this stigma of, “If you lift, you’re going to get bigger.” It’s nonsense.
If I wanted to try and get bigger right now, you know how hard that would be for me to put size on? It’s not easy. It’s not an easy thing to do.
Abel: I was reading an article about you, just to prepare for this interview, and I’d like to take out this quote where you say, “I’m a professional, not an expert.”
I think that’s really important. Would you mind digging into that a little bit?
Yah. Again, a lot of these influencers are trying to coin themselves as fitness experts.
And I think the problem is that I surround myself with so many people. Don’t get it wrong. I know a lot in this industry, I take my craft really seriously. But the people that I surround myself with are people who may have such an expertise in one area.
Dr. Charlie Weingroff is of one of the smartest human beings in this field that I’ve ever met. I don’t even know what to call him. He’s a physical therapist, but he’s got a powerlifting and strength and conditioning background, and speaks all over the world.
You sit in a room with that guy for an hour, you can leave there feeling pretty stupid. I’ve made it a point to surround myself with people in areas that I may not be nowhere close to the area that they are in. And I sit there and I try to learn from them.
They’re still not considering themselves experts.
And people consider me one of the more knowledgeable guys in the world when it comes down to combining transformation and strength and conditioning business, all the stuff. And if I’m surrounding myself with these people saying, “Man, I got a lot to learn,” how am I an expert?
I feel like when you’re an expert, you’re almost at the end of that.
I’m a professional. I’m incredibly passionate at what I do, but I want to continue to learn and I want to continue to get better.
My driving force is that every day I am reading an article, I’m surrounding myself with someone, I’m getting on a podcast with someone like yourself or Ben yesterday, and I’m asking questions. And I like to listen a lot more than I used to and absorb and take that information.
When you’re young, you want to talk, talk, talk, talk, and it’s like, “Dude, shut up, man. You’re sitting with one of the best guys in the world when it comes down to body training. Ben Pakulski knows more about body composition and transformation and creating tension than most people do. Sit down and listen to this guy.”
Charlie Weingroff knows more about physical therapy than anyone I’ve ever met. The guy is squatting 800 pounds. Sit down and listen. Ask questions, but listen.
Don’t tell them what you know. Don’t try to impress him with what you know. Ask questions, and we don’t do that enough.
Abel: There are a handful of experts in this world.
A lot of people are pretty quick to call me an expert sometimes and I really don’t like that, because I think it’s important to be a generalist.
If you do what we do, which is more coaching people, you need to be able to interface with the real expert, the people who are specialists.
Experts should mean specialist, I think, in whatever it is.
I agree. That’s a great way to put it.
Abel: These days, it seems like it’s more influence or the amount of followers that you have on a given platform, combined with what you may look like superficially on those platforms.
That’s a real big problem that hopefully we’ll start to grow out of in the next few years. I think it’s a phase, but it’s something that anyone who’s listening, you really have to watch out for that these days. It’s pretty easy for these people to fake it. And now they’re being propped up by companies themselves.
And there’s no quality control on all this. You could take an individual who has an incredible physique and that guy or woman, can have an incredible voice, and you can merge them with the best marketing team on the planet. And he’s going to become a millionaire now. It’s just how it is.
I feel like it’s that simple of a formula. You surround yourself with a good enough team that can help you in the areas of marketing and business, and if you have that gift to gab and you’re able to turn around and sell you, man, I feel like it’s pretty easy.
And that’s why you’ve seen, with timing, and you see some of these fitness experts, here I go, people that the public considers fitness experts out there with five, six, seven million followers. Listen, you can’t get mad at them. They’re making the most of what they have, and there’s a lot to learn from them.
You turn around and you look at a woman like Alexia Clark with 1.3 million people, she grew that pretty quickly. Go watch what she’s doing. Knock her all you want, but she’s doing something. She’s got a consistency, she’s got a cleanliness of her posts.
There’s this level of attractiveness that’s going on, sexiness, call it. There’s sexiness when you look at her posts, and people are like, “Oh, wow, that looks cool, I want to try it.” And she’s growing her brand because of that.
So, I think rather than us knocking them, we have to learn from them a little bit.
But for the people out there who are following or trying to find someone to follow, find a coach, find someone who actually has worked with people for a period of time. Find someone who is really passionate at what they do, that practices what they preach.
And find a thought leader, someone who is humble enough to say, “I’m still learning. I didn’t invent this exercise, and you know what, I took this from so and so.”
Or, “I’m sitting down with Ben Pakulski to learn more about his methodology and his approach to creating tension in the muscle.”
That, we need to do more of.
How to Spot a Fake Expert
Abel: Are there any other things that really stand out? If someone is following the wrong person, like a fake coach or a coach who may not quite be there yet, are there any dead giveaways for you?
Well, I think the proof is in the pudding.
Listen, you can follow a terrible coach, you get on their program and see good results off of it.
Someone turns to me and goes, “People are criticizing him as a terrible coach. But this guy got me off the couch, and I lost 15 pounds and I’m moving better than I’ve ever moved, and I love it.”
I’m going to say, “Great, then keep doing it.”
But at a certain point, it’s one size doesn’t fit all.
You’re going to start throwing that ball on the wall, it’s going to keep bouncing back to you, it’s not going to work anymore.
Maybe some injuries are going on, or maybe you feel like you’re going in reverse shape, and then at that point, I think it’s time to start following someone else.
I’ve worked with people before where I’ve just turned around to them and I said, “Listen, you should be working with someone else.”
It’s not that I can’t work with them. It’s that they need a certain level of attention that, at this point in my career right now, I can’t give. I am not getting started. I’m 20 years in. I’ve run several businesses, I work with several brands, I’ve got a digital platform, and I’ve got to focus on things that are important to me like my family.
I can’t be sitting here holding one guy’s hand every month, every day, because he’s like, “Well, I can’t eat berries because they don’t have them, what about apples?”
So, I’ll hand him off to one of my coaches, or a friend or whatever it might be.
So, I think it really just comes down to being mature as a client and saying, “Listen, this is working in the beginning, it’s not working now.”
I want to do some research, but I’ll follow some people and I’m going to find out are they an influencer or are they a coach. And I think you can ask that question, or you can go do some research or Google them. Or if you’re looking at Jim Smith, I’m making this name up, and you see that he has a great gym in California, he’s got a great build, but he’s not actually a coach, he’s just someone that can lift a ton of weight and he looks awesome and whatever. You could try doing what he’s doing, but it might not work long term.
Abel: Yah. Man, I can’t believe it, but we’re already coming up on time. I want to make sure we talk about this though. And it dovetails with the influencer, I think.
We live in a celebrity or influencer-worship culture, yet you work very closely with a lot of these high-profile people. Would you mind talking just a little bit about what they’re actually like in real life? And it doesn’t have to be anyone in particular, but real life compared to on the screen.
First off, I’ve been very blessed, I’ve probably worked with over 50 celebrities, big screen names. It might be a lot more than that, for what I know, but I currently still work with probably 70 – 80% of them.
I’ve had a good relationship with these people for over a decade. But, god, most people don’t realize that when celebrities are acting in movies, they’re acting.
I don’t want to say it bothers me, but what I feel bad about is a lot of these actors got into acting because they had a love and a passion for acting. Yes, they wanted to be successful, but a lot of them just want to be people. They want to go out to dinner.
When you hear stories about a client going out with his wife and children, and people are bothering him for pictures, and they’re very gladly obliging and taking pictures and signing autographs, to me it’s still an invasion of privacy. And it’s at a time that I feel like we need to respect those people.
Like Meryl Streep, who I love. I heard this Meryl Streep story from one of my celeb clients, that someone approached her on the street and said, “Oh, my god, Meryl, I love you.”
She goes, “Thank you.”
“Can I have a picture and your autograph?”
She goes, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I’m not working today.”
And a lot of people would look at that like it was something bad, like, “Meryl, just take the picture.”
No, don’t take the picture. You’ve got to live by these rules and laws, respect this woman’s privacy.
If she’s on set, if she’s doing a premiere, if she’s going to a charity function, fine, that’s her time to work. But respect that she’s walking down the street with her kids or whoever it might be.
A lot of people think that just because we’re seeing people in the movies, Sebastian Stan for instance. One of my good friends is Sebastian Stan. He’s not Bucky.
I know a lot of people get upset about that, but he’s not. He is the guy that I train with, and the giving, loving person that likes to give back to others. He’s a great person, he’s an incredible human being, but he’s not this character that we fall in love with in movies.
I think that’s what people need to think about, and I really wish they would respect more of the celebrities’ time, because they are human beings and they do need to live somewhat of a private life.
Abel: Yah. And just because they’re playing a character doesn’t mean that they are that character, or even that they like that character. A lot of times, they play the unlikeable characters because it’s more challenging, right?
I can’t mention names, but I’ve had clients of mine who have been casted to play rapists or serial killers. And they’ve either done it, or they’ve turned down roles because they say, “I’ve got daughters now, I can’t do this anymore.”
And I’m like, “Really?”
And they’re like, “Yah, you’ve got to get mentally into that role.”
And I work with some really talented actors who really get into that role, and when you hear them say that, you gain such a respect for them. Because they take such pride in their job and being great at what they do, but they’re putting family first and they’re trying to set a good example for their children.
“I don’t want my daughter to see me raping six women one day in a movie. That’s terrible. That’s a terrible thing.”
I work with a special group of people, I’ll tell you that.
How to Properly Carb Up
Abel: Before we go, I do have one more quick question. With the amount of carbs that you said that you’re eating, up to 500 grams, what’s the source? Where are you getting those from?
Sweet potato, a lot of sweet potato. I’ll also do white rice. I still like a jasmine rice or a basmati rice.
Abel: And you eat it probably with not much fat on it?
No. Well, my fat sources, when I was at 455 grams of carbs, I was up at about 125 grams of fat.
Abel: Oh, wow.
Yah. So, I was higher than most people would recommend. I think it takes time.
Now, if you’re not used to consuming that much carbs and fat, and you just suddenly start consuming that, you’re living a sedentary lifestyle, you’re going to get fat.
But I was talking to one of my cousin the other day and he called me up, and we have him at about 220 grams of carbs, he was probably consuming 100 grams a couple of months ago.
And he’s like, “Wow, I’m getting leaner. My body is getting fuller, I want to put on a little bit more size.”
I’m like, “Alright, bump it up 25 grams this week.”
So, I had him bump it up from 220 to 250.
He said, “Well, how long do I stay with that for?”
I’m like, “Let’s keep it about a week. Let’s see what your body does, let’s see what your weight does.”
He goes, “Well, what if it doesn’t move?”
I’m like, “I might bump it another 25 next week. You don’t want to put size on, we’ve got to put you in a caloric influx.”
People are like, “You always have to be in a deficit to lose weight.”
Well, not necessarily. If your calories are really clean and you start eliminating the cheats and the alcohol, that’s inflammation.
I can keep someone’s macros the exact same and remove inflammatory foods, and they’ll drop weight.
That’s what I like to go after first, because I really don’t want to take an athlete or an actor or someone trying to drop a little bit of weight and put them into this deficit, or this drastic deficit to where like, “Wow, I’m looking better, but my energy, Don, I’m tired.”
“No, man, I want your energy to go up.”
So, my approach might take a little bit longer, but for the long run, it’s way better.
Abel: Because sometimes adding those extra carbs will give a little bit extra energy, a little bit extra motivation to the person such that they’ll want to workout harder, they want to workout more, and they’ll be in a better mood.
And muscle fullness, what about muscle fullness? What about what that glycogen is doing for you post workout?
Listen, depending on the individual, I might manipulate their carbs around workout time. Unless someone is an endurance athlete, I don’t really like having someone get heavy carbs in before a workout, because a lot of times I find that that gets them sluggish and slows up brain function.
Like getting a good bench workout, getting a good carbohydrate source during the workout, getting a heavy amount of carbs post workout. And then actually, I like having some carbs in the evening.
I love it. I’m completely against the no carb before bed. I feel like it improves sleep quality.
Abel: Yeah, I eat some carbs at night.
You wake up a little fuller, a little more energetic. There’s different approaches. That approach may not work for everyone. Someone like me, I could consume carbs with every meal if I wanted, still stay lean all year long.
So, it depends on the person.
Abel: I like them at night, and I’ve been doing that for a while, mostly because of the sluggishness thing that you mentioned. If you have them before a big workout, you don’t want it to be dragging you down and make you feel heavy. But feeling heavy and sleepy at night is perfect.
My main goal is if I can go into a workout feeling really energetic and getting underneath my weight or my set or my sprint or whatever I’m doing, and feel like I can put maximal output into that and feel strong, that’s all I want. That is my whole goal with training.
It’s that optimal level of energy going into that workout. You know what I’m talking about.
When you’re running and out of nowhere you get that adrenaline burst, or you’re lifting and out of nowhere that weight goes up easily, and you get off the set and you literally want to start punching the wall. It’s a good day.
Imagine having that day in and day out. Think about that. I think if you can get your energy level to that point, I really think a lot of other things clean up.
Where to Find Don Saladino
Abel: Totally. Well, before we go, would you mind telling people where they can find you and what you’re working on next?
I’ve got a bunch of great projects. I launched my playbook app over a year ago. This is a way that I could deliver a Netflix model of training. I assign roughly one to two bonus workouts every week. I answer every question coming in with myself and my team, and just the engagement end of it. We’re going to start launching contests on there, a lot of great stuff. There’s a free trial, so come try that.
I’m working with a company called Garden of Life. I created the support line. They’re all organic, non-GMO products, phenomenal product. The whey protein we actually can’t say it’s organic. It’s made over in Ireland, but it is organic even though it doesn’t have the verification.
Working with some other companies. Epicured meal delivery service, we just got them outside a hospital, phenomenal low-bloat food. Non-GMO, we’re getting it probably about 70% organic now.
Other brands, like On Running, I’m starting to work with, doing a deal with them right now. It’s an incredible Swiss company that I’m going to be almost heading their X division, which is their cross-training sneakers.
Other small projects I have going on. We’re merging with a pretty big name right now, doing some licensing deals. Hopefully that works out, but I won’t put the cart before the horse.
And just focusing on what I do every day, just loving what I do and my family, and all good stuff.
Abel: Very cool. Well, anyone who’s listening out there, if you’re looking for a real coach who can give you real results, please check out Don’s work. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s been doing this for a long time.
Man, I really appreciate how easy this has been to talk to you and how full you are of solid information that people really need to hear, so thanks so much for coming by.
Before You Go…
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