Frissons of excitement raced through the wellness world this week at the announcement that Sarah Robb O'Hagan was appointed as the new CEO of Flywheel, a brand that has pushed fitness enthusiasts to new heights with its addictive, in-class leaderboard (allowing you to compete with fellow classmates) and adrenaline-pumping pace. A commitment to moving fitness forward in a way that's not necessarily harder, but smarter, has been at the heart of the work she's done at Gatorade, Nike, and Equinox, where she ushered in innovative technological advances. As CEO of Flywheel, we can expect the beloved brand to branch out into new territory this year. O'Hagan is planning to meet fitness consumers' needs across new digital platforms, bringing the Flywheel experience into a new tech-enabled future. We caught up with the Kiwi entrepreneur to learn more about the habits that help her stay active.
mindbodygreen: Flywheel is famously competitive and we hear you are, too. Where do you get your competitive spirit?
Sarah Robb O'Hagan: That would be very fair to say! I think that comes from being the youngest of a bunch of type-A personality children. I tell people being competitive doesn't necessarily have anything to do with sports. I think you're either wired that way or you're not. If I'm playing monopoly with my kids I'm competitive.
mbg: How do you harness that competitive nature for good?
SROH: The most important thing is to channel it into your own self progression instead of worrying about those around you. The older you get probably the easier it is to do that. But if you get caught up either as a person or a business trying to beat others you never play as well as when you're playing your own game. For me I really try to channel that into pushing my own performance to the next level.
mbg: What turned you on to fitness?
SROH: I was an average sports kid. I played a ton of sports when I was younger: field hockey, tennis, skiing, waterskiing—pretty much anything active I was into it. But I never ever made the A team. I wanted to be very good at sports but I just couldn't make it. I didn't get the talent. But I'd say somewhere around my early teens I was doing pretty poorly at field hockey and I kept getting told by the coach that I was lazy and that I should go for a run. I remember going for my first training run was around the time of the first Sony Walkmans so you take your music with you and that would make it tolerable. That began what has pretty much been a daily ritual that has been ongoing for the last 35 years.
mbg: What does your daily fitness regimen look like?
SROH: It started as running, and then in college and my early 20s I discovered the gym and group fitness classes and weight training. Fitness has become such a huge part of who I am in my life, no matter what format it's in it happens every day.
mbg: How do you approach food? What does a typically day of eating look like for you?
SROH: I'm not the clean perfect eater and I am a big believer in work hard to play hard. I'm very conscious of eating wholesome, natural ingredients but I absolutely love to drink my glass of wine, and I'll have a great burger when the time is right. I believe in everything in moderation. I typically get up and work-out every morning. I'll have oatmeal for breakfast, a salad for lunch. I very, very lucky to be married to a lead parent who happens to be a great cook. That's my favorite part of the day, as a family we try very hard to sit around the table and have a home cooked meal every night.
mbg: How do you wind down?
SROH: I am a big believer in sleep. I think people who try and get away with pushing themselves hard and not sleeping usually end up burning out. I try very hard to get to bed at a decent hour, and I always read. I love biographies; they help take your mind off the day and those thoughts spinning around. I'm minimum 7-hour girl. I really believe that if you sleep well and work out well you will have more energy to be more productive and get more done. I have experienced periods of my life especially when my kids were infants where I wasn't sleeping enough and I was going through incredibly stressful work times and was sleeping 4 hours a night. You do eventually burn out, run out of steam, and it's not good for anyone.
mbg: Do you you see the rise of boutique fitness and the demise of gyms as a trend we should expect to continue?
SROH: I don't know if it's the demise of the gym so much as the demise of fitness businesses that don't deliver a really meaningful experience that help people get results. We all remember the classic cheap gym model from many years ago that would charge you a very small fee and hope you didn't show up. If you're a consumer there's not a really good value proposition there. Whereas the high-end gyms, the boutiques, they're putting a lot more time and thought into the full experience to help you as the rider really get the best out of your own performance and get results. Ultimately that's why we all work out.
mbg: We've heard rumors about your plans to build out the Flywheel experience across new platforms. What can we expect as the future of Flywheel?
SROH: I can't really talk about specifics—in the coming months we're going to have really exciting announcements. What I can say is that we are very bullish on boutique fitness in general. I think of Flywheel not as a boutique cycling company but as a fitness company that is creating content that can be delivered through multiple channels. What I find really exciting is what's going on across the full fitness landscape, from the boutiques to the apps to Strava, the social network for athletes. Everywhere you turn there are digital technologies that are enabling people to engage with their fitness lifestyle across many platforms wherever they are. That's what we intend to do with Flywheel. We have this beautiful community of very fiercely committed fitness participants and they want more out of us. We want to be able to deliver our experience to them in many more places.
mbg: You've been a great advocate for women in sports. Why is that cause so important to you?
SROH: I used to be on Billie Jean King’s Women’s Sports Foundation and learned that 80% of Fortune 500 executive women played sports in high school and that is not lost on me. The lessons of winning, losing, as well as the physicality of building your body to be strong and powerful are extraordinary enablers for women who want to lead in life. I try to focus on helping to remind women whether they're young girls or even my age of the importance of building our bodies. That strength and power can give you confidence.
mbg: What music keeps you motivated?
SROH: Music is so important to be when I think about fitness. Like I said, I was lazy and useless at running until Walkmans came along. I can still remember being 13-years-old and listening to Pat Benatar and that's what got me going, "Oh, runnings not boring and awful if you're listening to great music." Now I always run with music. At Flywheel that really attracted me to the experience. I listen to everything from Eminem's "Lose Yourself" if I'm trying to pump myself up for a meeting, or Hamilton, I'm listening to a lot of that right now.
Elizabeth Inglese is a writer living in San Fransisco, California. She earned her bachelor’s in english literature and cultures from Brown University and her master's in writing from The University of Southern California. She's the former Deputy Editor of mbg, and has also worked for Vogue, Architectural Digest, Bon Appetit, and Good Magazine covering food, health, and culture. A collector of curious facts and an avid puzzle solver, Inglese is happiest when cooking for her family and friends.