When Rodrigo Garduño, fitness trainer and founder of Miami-based workout 54D, was watching President Biden’s televised inauguration on January 21, he saw one of his own students, former Yankee Alex Rodriguez, accompany performer Jennifer Lopez to the ceremony.
“We didn’t think he was going to make it to class that day because he was in D.C., but he was here at the training the same day, on time, which really shows commitment,” says Garduño.
Roughly 54 days later, the former Yankees shortstop was a proud graduate of the high-intensity group fitness regimen, 54D. From supermodel Adriana Lima, to Latin singers Juanes, Fonseca and Carlos Vives, 54D is a who’s who of celebrity fitness lovers who have joined or completed the “human transformation program.” The workout costs $3,900 and meets for 9 weeks, 6 days a week, for 54 days.
“We only rest on Sundays,” says Garduño. “It’s a human transformation program, it’s not just about fat and muscle.”
54D is much more than a sweat session. It consists of four pillars: high-intensity training, customized nutrition, recovery therapy and community. “The on-site program feels like a university where you start the same day as the rest of the team and go to the same hour class every day until you graduate,” says Garduño. Up to 35 students (25 during Covid-19) are able to join a cohort at the Miami studio.
When the pandemic started, Garduño, a former soccer player with 1 million followers, began filming workouts from his Miami backyard, then began streaming them daily via Instagram live. Some 40,000 people from all over the world were tuning in for inspiration during lockdown.
The engagement on Instagram inspired Garduño to launch an online program, 54D ON, which costs $385. The virtual version now has 20,000+ graduates and active members from more than 75 countries. Going digital has helped him grow 54D to a fitness company with roughly $8 million in annual revenue, according to Forbes estimates.
As for the in-studio program, students delve into a mix of indoor and outdoor classes combining cardio, boxing, HIIT, weightlifting and more. All 24 full-time trainers are, like Garduño, former professional soccer players. “They have 15 years in stadiums dealing with pressure, building stamina and they know how to manage groups,” he says. 54D also works with more than 20 certified nutritionists serving on-site and online students.
After the class, members engage in recovery therapy, ranging from compression boots to cryotherapy chambers that help to reduce the build up of lactic acid in muscles that cause soreness. Online students are given stretch regimens.
Community plays a big part. And with community comes rules by which all members must abide. “At the beginning [A-Rod] didn’t talk to anyone, he would come in then leave right away,” says Garduno. “But over time in class you start dealing with this family helping you, cheering you on and suddenly there’s synergy with other people. He experienced that.”
The founder adds that celebrity clientele often approach him with special requests. “They always come in and ask for private classes and it doesn’t matter who you are, you have to come in with 30 other human beings who start the program at the same exact start line and same rules.”
There are other rules: If you are more than three minutes late for class, you’re locked out and marked absent. If you miss three sessions you are expelled from 54D and the company will issue a full refund.
“Discipline and rules are everything for this brand and its results,” says Garduño. “I don’t want this to be a brand just because we have famous people. We deliver results because we follow our own rules.”
But this code of conduct is what made it tough to launch 54D as a business nine years ago in Mexico. The idea of issuing a full refund to dropouts and not relying on monthly membership fees made the venture unattractive to investors. But the founder was adamant about not becoming a typical gym, in terms of business model and culture. “People go the first month, then never go, yet continue to make payments,” he says. “They’ll go once in a while for a short workout and a long shower and that doesn’t lead to results.”
Garduño first learned the value of discipline by playing soccer as a toddler, then went on to become a professional soccer player by the age of 17. He has played for some of Mexico’s leading first division teams such as los Rayos de Nexaca and los Monarcas de Morelia, as well as other teams in the U.S. and Chile.
He retired from professional sports at 29. “I’ve been a long carrier all my life so when I had to retire I suddenly didn’t know what to do with the next part of my life. I was about to turn 30 and go into anxiety and depression,” he recalls. He found a new purpose as a motivational speaker, traveling to mostly Spanish-speaking countries to deliver keynotes about how to deal with life from a sports mindset. He loved how attendees were invigorated by his talks during live conferences, but sensed that the magic and motivation fizzled shortly after the events.
“I wasn’t helping them the way I wanted to,” said Garduño. “What if we take all our knowledge from the pro side of sports and push people mentally and emotionally? What if we cross a bridge in a period of time where they work up the perfect amount of endorphins to adopt permanent behavior patterns that achieve physical, mental and emotional changes?”
Without investors, he bootstrapped the first 54D studio in Mexico City in 2012, followed by two additional locations in Mexico and one in Bogota, Colombia. He opened his first U.S. location two years ago in Miami Coral Gables. Last year, he raised $15 million from family and friends to further expand in the states, including a second spot in Miami’s Design District to be completed this winter.
Another perk for completing 54D’s $4,000 program is gaining 24/7 access to Steel, a high-end gym curated by Garduño to reinforce the good habits learned and the goals achieved during the 54-day program. Trainers offer personalized guidance and entry is only granted to 54D graduates.
A-Rod isn’t the only former Yankee with access to Steel. “What 54D did for me at 50 years old I couldn’t do at 30 years old, I’m in the best shape of my life,” former New York Yankee catcher, 5x All-Star and 4x World Series Champ Jorge Posada says of his 54D experience.
Whether you’re a baseball legend, a supermodel, or a global singing sensation, all members must also pass 54D’s ten-day rule, which scans for attitude more than athleticism.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete or a hot shot in class,” says Garduno. “Show us you’ll be humble and dedicated with everyone and supporting everyone because attitude and human relations are very important to us; it’s how we build our ‘forever 54D family.’”