Why sports-specific gyms could be the next big thing to hit the fitness market

Don Saladino is a celebrity trainer and co-founder of Drive 495, a golf-specific gym based in Manhattan. He started the club with his brother Joe, a former professional golfer, in 2004. As well as being featured in the likes of Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness, Don’s current and past clients include a number of high-profile celebrities such as Hugh Jackman, Ryan Gosling, Calvin Klein and Scarlett Johansson.

We spoke to Don to learn more about Drive 495’s success and the growing demand for premium sports-specific gyms.


As demand for sports-specific gyms increases, do you feel that they are the future of the fitness sector?

I do. It’s pretty much what we’re doing with our expansion concept now. We’re opening more clubs with more of a hybrid concept, meaning less machinery but a greater amount of equipment. People train with us so they can move like a natural athlete, and we combine that with nutrition. The way they feel and move when they train at Drive 495 makes training with us a no-brainer, but part of our battle is that society is glued to a chair 8 to 10 hours per day.

It’s not always about a new trendy exercise, we’ve run out of those. You can package fitness, strength and conditioning and flexibility in different ways – look at P90x – it’s been packaged and branded in a very lucrative way, but many of the exercises have been around for years. There won’t be any groundbreaking routines that emerge; it’s about teaching people how to exercise properly. When we train someone we get them to move like they did when they were a child. If their bodies feel and move better, they’ve got to be more active; and when they’re in better shape, they’re more health conscious. It all starts with getting people out of the chair a little bit.

Doctors have said that we can’t have 80-year-old people squatting or deadlifting – why not? They have specific patterns, and if they don’t do them, they develop weak points. These weak points create inefficiency, and that’s when injuries happen. After we’ve found the asymmetry, that’s when we can start working on developing the ripped stomachs. At the beginning we’ve got to restore movement. I always say that flexibility is the ability to be more flexible; and mobility is the ability to have the strength to be more flexible.


Do you think sports-specific gyms will increase sports participation in general?


I think this is the way fitness is going now. People are starting to get bored of the big box Gold’s Gym-style gyms and the 24-hour model. Training has got to be much more than that. We work with your typical New Yorker that sits for 8 to 10 hours per day and lives a fast-paced lifestyle. It’s about their rest and recovery, as well as their training. We’re really delivering the same standards to the average Joe as what a professional athlete gets, and we’re attacking this from several angles – training, nutrition and physical therapy. It’s great to have a medical individual on staff all the time, and we also have the golf pro. It’s really a team approach.


How have you managed to work with the likes of Hugh Jackman?


Hugh was my first client, I’ve not seen him in years, but all the celebrities I’ve worked with understand I’m really about the job, not getting publicity off their names. I’ve built a great reputation for getting them functional, and my passion for diet and nutrition really gets them to where they need to be. I always respected their privacy and made it about them, and never asked them for an autograph or anything like that. The only time I mention their name is if they mention me first, and don’t do anything to try to leverage my relationship with them.


Can you talk a bit about your pricing strategy?


We have several different pricing tiers, meaning we can cater to pretty much every different wallet size. Our services include one-on-one, small group strength and team metabolic training. And different prices don’t mean one is better than the other, it’s whatever is best for the individual. All offerings come with full access to the club. The first two tiers are fully customised. Monthly memberships cost up to $299 a month but people still get full access to our club at every level. Team metabolic training is all-inclusive.

The reason we can charge at the upper end is really more about expertise than convenience. We have the best coaches in the country and phenomenal physical therapists. You might be with 100 people throughout the day, not 1000. Our facilities are clean and we offer great customer service. Like anything, you get what you pay for.


Are you seeing a big increase in the demand for group fitness classes in New York?


I think the group model has really taken off. People like the camaraderie, the social aspect, the competitive component and the level of accountability (meaning they can be pushed more). Also it’s each to their own – some work really well one-on-one.

People who relate a good workout to going in and breaking a sweat have to be really careful. A good workout has got to be purposeful. From a trainer’s perspective, assigning the wrong exercise to an individual can cause more hurt than help.


You’ve been featured in a number of different media and publications. How have you made this happen?

You’ve got to throw balls in the air. There’s not a day that goes by when I’m not giving myself an opportunity to become more successful by letting a bunch of people know who I am and what I do. The media opportunities were not ones I sought out, instead I put myself in the right situations where the opportunities were.

You’ve got to keep your foot on the throttle, even when great things happen. For example, I’ve been negotiating a contract for 5 months, but every day I’m putting myself out there, because that could get taken away at any second. I keep inviting people down to my club to check it out.

If you’re just getting started, contact every editor of every magazine, show them how you’re packaging things differently, invite them down, and don’t expect to get paid for it! Get the editor of Men’s Fitness down, and run them through a couple of sessions. What’s the worst that can happen?

You have to practice what you preach. Probably one of the reasons I get noticed by a lot of people is that they realise that I know what I’m talking about, but also walk the walk. Why would you train with someone who is not the best and can’t do what they’re teaching?

Image Credit: Andrzej Jaworski / AJ JAWA Photo


Posted in Gyms & Clubs, Interviews, The Fitness Network.