As much as we all wish there were, there are no shortcuts when it comes to physical fitness. Just ask Don Saladino, the trainer who got Ryan Reynolds “Deadpool”-ready, Emily Blunt in shape for “Mary Poppins Returns,” David Harbour prepared for “Hellboy,” and a smattering of Avengers in form for the upcoming “Endgame.” Saladino spoke with Backstage about the dangers of overtraining, how fitness plays into on-set and onstage stamina, and his advice for actors on staying fit on a budget.
How do you generally prepare an actor for a project?
The first thing I do is a consultation, so they get an understanding of who they need to look like. It’s a combination of understanding their goals, putting them through a functional movement screening, understanding how they operate from a joint-by-joint approach, and simply [seeing] how their body is moving. Are there any inefficiencies? Is there a “parking brake” that’s been applied in the body that could be holding them back? And then it’s designing a program that’s going to fit their lifestyle based on what I think they need. If it’s someone like Ryan Reynolds, who’s coming in maybe a little skinny and we have to train him for “Deadpool,” we’re going to be doing some really basic heavy compound lifts; we’re going to get a lot of blood into the body. If I’m training Emily Blunt for “Mary Poppins,” we need her to feel very athletic and vibrant. So, it really depends on the individual, but there is a process and you can’t just throw them into a class and expect them to drop body fat. It’s not that easy.
Since the training period for actors is often concentrated, how do you make sure they get into the shape they need safely?
I have been doing this for many years, so I’m in a position now where they’re coming to me and they’re almost in a little bit of a vulnerable position. They understand they’re coming to me for help and advice and they’re going to listen to what I tell them to do. There are times when they’re telling me, “I can keep going,” and I have to say, “No, I said that’s it,” and there’s a reason why. One is [avoiding] injury, another is because they were on a 16-hour flight the day before and they’re dehydrated and we’ve got to shift down a little bit when it comes to training intensity. We’ve got to take into consideration their central nervous system, their heart rate variability. You’ve got to listen to your coach. A big problem with fitness nowadays is everyone thinks it’s this “Rocky” mentality, and then they wonder why they’re not getting into better shape. It’s more about consistency and frequency, not about volume and intensity. Every actor has to look a specific way, but they have to be able to function a specific way, too. And, most importantly, their energy and recovery must be optimal.
Is physical fitness in general important for actors in order to maintain stamina through 14-hour days on set or eight shows a week in theater?
It is necessary. But I’m training a couple of Broadway actors right now, and I think a big problem becomes that they almost turn into athletes now. What a lot of coaches don’t take into consideration is that they’re doing eight shows a week, and it’s incredibly demanding. If you’re beating the shit out of them during their sessions, it’s going to take away from their performance onstage that night, and it’s going to take away from their recovery the next day, and that’s when they can get sick [or] irritable; their mental awareness isn’t going to be there. When you’re training these actors, you’ve got to take a little bit of an 80 percent approach. There will be days when you go in there and maybe it’s a Monday, so they’re off that night and they’re feeling great, so we can turn around and really put our foot on the gas. But the reality is, a minimalist approach is what works for a lot of actors. When you start pushing too hard is when it starts taking away from the focus at hand, which is playing a role in that movie or performing on Broadway—and then you’re doing that person an injustice.
What general fitness advice would you offer to actors who can’t afford a personal trainer?
The first question is, what are you trying to do? Just because Ryan Reynolds does it doesn’t mean that’s what you need or that’s what’s going to work for you. I had an actor come to me this morning who is shooting a pilot. He doesn’t have a big budget [for training], but the adjustments we have to make to what he’s doing are minimal. We’re going to be able to do it in two weeks, because he looks great with his shirt off—we just have to tighten his waistline up a little bit, which is going to come to some dietary changes, and make sure that he’s training. I put him into a semiprivate bottle, which is him working with a coach and two other people, and it’s going to be much more fairly priced. Now, I’ve also created an app. It’s a little more universal, but you get customer service, and you get my nutrition plan for men and women and you don’t need a scale. It’s something I’ve created over the last two and half years; it’s $14 a month, and [users] are doing the same stuff that Ryan Reynolds would be doing or John Krasinski or Emily Blunt. We made sure we picked specific movements that are universally safe for everyone, but just as effective as anything else you’re ever going to do.
What about advice for someone who wants to pursue becoming a trainer?
It’s not about the certification. Obviously, you have to get a certification, but you’re not a trainer once you have a certification. Put it this way: You’re a trainer, but you’re not a coach. Getting a training certification is easy; you can do it in a week. Becoming a coach is making this your life’s craft. I have over 20 years’ experience and I’m approaching it right now with the same perseverance as when I first started. I have that same eagerness to learn, that same love of helping people, and that same desire to give back. If you’re going to become a trainer, don’t make it quantifiable by one certification. That is the first step, but continue your education with courses that you may never receive a certification for. Some of the best courses I’ve ever taken, you never got a certificate afterward. There was no validation, but it was me adding tools [to] my toolbox to apply to people I work with.
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