Q&A: Equinox President Sarah Robb O’Hagan

The new president of the luxury gym chain stopped by the Boston magazine offices to talk fitness, sneaker collections, and the new spot in Chestnut Hill.

By | Hub Health |
Photo of Sarah Robb O'Hagan by Aviva Klein

Photo of Sarah Robb O’Hagan by Aviva Klein

With the opening of Equinox in Chestnut Hill, Sarah Robb O’Hagan, the company’s president, was making the Boston rounds and we asked her to come into our office for a chat. The former Virgin Atlantic, Nike, and Gatorade executive has been on the job at Equinox (the parent company of the luxe gyms in addition to SoulCycle, Pure Yoga, and Blink Fitness) for about a year and a half. We talked to O’Hagan about the new club, her massive sneaker collection (50 pairs!), and those darn advertisements.

Why Chestnut Hill?

Because we really believe in Boston as a market. Period. [Equinox] is most successful when we tend to have both an urban and suburban footprint, so you know we have a couple of clubs downtown, and we’d been looking for that right market in the suburbs. A lot of our members are asking for it, too, the ones downtown will be saying I live out that way, when is going to open out there?

So you’ve been in the position for just over a year. So do you have any specific goals? 

I’m learning a ton! I understand just holistically what athletes and fitness people are looking for. Obviously, I understand sport nutrition from my last job [Gatorade], and you know apparel and footwear [Nike] and all that stuff. So now that I’m at Equinox, I’m certainly not the expert on the science behind exercise physiology, but that’s what I’m learning from the team in a huge way. I am into fitness. I run a lot because it’s convenient and it wasn’t until I got to Equinox that I spent time with the fitness team that I understood that I was being way too one dimensional in my own workouts. And now I’ve actually changed my whole routine completely, and it’s definitely had a huge impact on how I’m feeling.

How did you change up your routines? 

I used to just be into running, and that was because of convenience. I certainly worked out everyday but all I did was run. And now, I throw in at least one session of Pilates per week.

Reformer or mat?

Both, but mostly reformer. I love reformer. It’s also changed my running completely. It’s made it so much easier, made me a stronger runner. And I also try to do a personal training session once a week.

Did you go for a run here in town?

Yes! I did this morning, actually.

Where?

I did run on the Charles this morning because I particularly love this run, especially in the summer when everyone’s out early in the morning rowing. It’s so inspiring. I love it. I actually try to make a point when I come to Boston to obviously work out at Equinox, and I try to make a day for a run as well.

You travel a lot for your job. What are some of your traveling tips? 

Well, I’m really disciplined around my sleep, and I have learned a lot about sleep since I’ve been at the company. So when I’m at a hotel room, I cover my alarm clock, because if you don’t the lights will actually disturb your sleep, especially when you are in a different time zone. So I cover the alarm clock, and I also don’t look at devices a half-hour before I go to bed, which is hard but it makes a really big difference. I also work out with my own body clock. I always work out here [in the States] in the morning, but over there [in London], I work out in the evening because it’s kind of like the American morning. You know? So I usually find it’s just easier for your body to not get startled.

Right, that makes sense.

It’s funny, too. We are studying sleep a lot in terms of programming for our members. We’ve learned that there’s such a huge connection between good sleep and good, healthy bodies. And in terms of even people who are trying to lose weight or get in shape, having a good night sleep is a huge part of making that happen because if you don’t, and you go into the club to work out, you’re actually making it harder for lean body muscle mass to develop because you haven’t recovered properly.   

When it comes to Equinox’s advertisements, the past couple of campaigns have been really hypersexual. Why is that? Do you think sex sells?

If your question is are we targeting someone specific, then yes, we are. And that is what we know about our members is they are people who lead what we call the high-performance life. Which means they are successful, they are driven, they’re…

Already fit? To me it’s clear that you guys are targeting a very specific audience. Would you agree?

You know when you come to Equinox you are not the person who is needing motivation to go to the gym, you already take yourself to the next level whether you’re a banker, or a professional, or a soccer mom. We have very driven and successful individuals in all walks of life. So when we think about our advertising we tend to think about the lifestyle that fitness allows you to enjoy more than the actual piece that you are doing in the gym specifically. We think the Equinox lifestyle is very multifaceted and it tends to lean towards fashion and active sports and all the things you can do if you have a great healthy body and life. 

I’ve heard that it’s quite the process to become an Equinox instructor, one of the hardest vetting processes in the biz. Is that true?

Well there’s a very rigorous audition process to get in to be an Equinox instructor, and we generally take people who have already been teaching for some years. We have a number of internal people who watch [trainers] audition. But on the personal training side, people come in and they are actually qualified as personal trainers but we actually put them through a very rigorous education because we have a very specific methodology.  

I see you’re wearing the JawboneUp. Are you a fan of wearables?

Yeah, I have the new one actually; it’s the Bluetooth one so you don’t have to plug it in to sync it. I always travel with this because I use it, I do monitor my sleep, carefully. I also love it. I don’t know if you have yours set that way, but it has the alarm that if I’ve been sitting still for 45 minutes, it buzzes me just to make me get up to move around.

What is your favorite kind of sneaker?

I’m an old-school Nike girl. I have Air Pegasus. I always run on Pegasus.

How many pairs of sneakers do you have?

Fifty probably. I have to make room for them in the closet. I have them all over the place, like I won’t go anywhere where I don’t know if my sneakers are nearby. Like they are in the office, they are in a locker room in the club, they are in my house. But I always take the oldest pair when I travel, and if I’m on a long trip, I leave them in the hotel and it’s the space in my bag for shopping.

You just leave them there? Why not donate?

Great idea!