Robin Arzón on Empowering Women as They Move Through Pregnancy
A self proclaimed “firestarter” and “professional bar raiser”, Robin Arzón, Vice President of Fitness Programming and Head Instructor at Peloton, turned a traumatic experience into triumph. The athlete and mom-to-be is a total force—unapologetic yet inspirational in all things. She’s on a mission to change the way we think about physical fitness during pregnancy, launching a new pre and postnatal program that will help women prepare for one of the greatest physical feats of their lives.
Here, Robin Arzón talks to The Bump about her desire to empower women, the best pregnancy advice she’s received (it was from Eva Longoria) and what’s on her delivery room playlist.
You have an incredible story, turning a traumatic experience into a passion and a career. Can you share how you found your calling in the health and wellness space?
I was not an athlete growing up and I definitely did not anticipate making a career out of movement and sweating. But for me movement ended up becoming a real source of healing and catharsis after a really trumatic hostage situation. I was entering my senior year at NYU and was unexpectedly held up at gunpoint—I ended up becoming a pseudo negotiator with the NYPD. I had to decide if I was going to become a victim or victor of my story. Through my runs, I found strength.
So did you just decide to lace up your sneakers one day and go for a run?
That is exactly what happened! I decided to jog to law school from my apartment, it was about a mile and a quarter, and it just slowly took off from there. It started with a curiosity.
And then your curiosity turned into over 20 marathons!
Yes! I’ve done 26 marathons as well as 12 ultramarathons so I definitely have a lot of running under my feet.
Do you have plans for more?
I did plan on doing a marathon this year, but then COVID happened and most races were canceled. That was an interesting thing I had to unpack for myself, because in my mind I was going to do one more marathon before I got pregnant. And then, as we all had to do, I had to pivot and adapt and repackage that story for myself. Instead of being disappointed that I wasn’t going to run another marathon, or that I wouldn’t be able to have this achievement before I got pregnant, I decided to treat my pregnancy like it was that 27th marathon.
I have approached my whole pregnancy as I would an athletic journey—that includes getting the right fuel, getting the right sleep. When I’m training for a marathon or an ultramarathon, it really is a team effort. The folks closest to me know I’m in training mode, this is what I need, these are the boundaries I’m setting for myself. And I’ve been training for the event—labor. I have been running cycling and strength training every single week, five to six days a week, since the beginning of my pregnancy up until now, the beginning of my third trimester.
I’ve approached pregnancy with both the permission to create boundaries and establish standards for myself, but also with the excitement of knowing that my body has done amazing things and this is going to be one more amazing thing it does.
In your opinion, what are some of the most common fitness myths related to pregnancy?
Two main ones come to mind, the first being this idea that women need to approach pregnancy from a place of limitation or fragility. Assuming it’s an uncomplicated pregnancy most folks, especially folks who were athletes before they got pregnant, can train pretty vigorously and create strength before one of the most physically demanding things we can ask of ourselves—delivery.
The second is the broader message of limitation or this idea that we should only be doing very gentle things, which I don’t actually think prepares us for something that is not gentle, right? It feels like we are ill preparing women by sending the message that they should only be taking long walks and kicking their feet up if they are able to do more. I’m a professional bar raiser, so I always encourage folks to do more.
What is your advice for women who want to stay active during pregnancy but may have trouble achieving the motivation needed? Especially when the unpleasant symptoms of pregnancy show up.
That’s a real reality. We have to give ourselves grace. I think it’s important to acknowledge how we feel without indulging it.
I had it good so I can’t compare myself to folks who have really bad morning sickness. But in the mornings if I felt queasy, I gave myself a ten minute rule. I told myself to just move for ten minutes—I could always hit the adjust button and if it wasn’t working, or I could stop the workout, no shame, and just go on with the day. Most of the time, if I moved for ten minutes, I was able to work through the discomfort and finish my workout.
Remember you can always modify the intensity of the workout, the length, or your expectations entirely. If you just say, ‘for ten minutes I am going to move more than I was sitting on my couch or lying in my bed’ that can feel like a real win.
You’ve been a vegan for quite some time. Has pregnancy changed your diet at all?
I haven’t had to change my diet whatsoever. I get more than the recommended 70 grams of protein—much more. And that’s a myth anyway, the protein myth. That’s probably the number one question that vegans get asked the most and that’s actually the wrong question. Most folks in the western world are not deficient in protein, they’re deficient in fiber and micronutrients.
Any non-vegan cravings—and if so, how are you handling them?
Unfortunately I don’t have any fun cravings! I have been eating a ton of fruit. I definitely have moments where I am very particular about what fruit I want on my plate. In the summer it was honeydew, but now its apples and they have to be crisp, cold apples. My poor husband is scouring NYC for the perfect apple for me.
The one thing I did introduce that I normally don’t eat are saltine crackers. I started eating those in my first trimester and that has become a very peculiar snack for me.
Given you’re Peloton’s Head Instructor and a proud fitness brand ambassador, how are you planning to integrate pregnancy and parenthood with your Peloton family?
Well, I announced the pregnancy on our platform—on the bike—so that was definitely a huge moment. Hundreds of thousands of people have joined that ride so it’s kind of wild to think that was our baby announcement! But it was such a light for folks who know us or who don’t know us in such a complicated, heavy year. There are ways to find the joy in anything and we have definitely found our joy.
I am also creating a pre and postnatal program, specifically for our Peloton mamas. The cornerstones of the program are strength and hustle. We’re using strength training and interval training to prepare women for the most physically intense feat most of us have ever experienced.
In researching the fitness marketplace, there’s a lot of solid advice and a lot of ways to move when you’re pregnant, But I didn’t actually find the way I train. I became pre and post natal certified even before I was pregnant, and I really wanted to create a program for someone who is an aspiring pregnant athlete or an existing athlete who became pregnant. Someone who wants to exercise safely but also efficiently, dynamically, vigorously. I think there’s a lot of fear and misinformation out there. I’ve done lots of research and I consulted with OBs while creating the program. I think women are ready for the challenge. And if there’s someone out there ready to be challenged, this is the pre and post natal program for them.
Anyone who rides or runs with you through knows you don’t take no for an answer, ever. How has this mantra shaped who you are and how do you use it to empower others?
They say you practice what you preach, but I actually think you preach what you practice. Who I am on the bike is no different from the standards I set for myself in my everyday life.
Pregnancy is a journey and you’re getting close to that finish line. What are you and your partner Drew most excited about when it comes to “Baby Pequeno”?
Oh my gosh, I feel like I already know this baby. We’re very spiritual people and we really feel like this soul is an old soul that maybe we’ve even known before. We are being ushered in as guides but I also think we’ll be guided. Every parent has an awe inspiring experience when they meet their child for the first time, so I suspect ours will be no different and magical. But I feel like what we’re creating is a foundation for an already realized soul to have an amazing human experience. I’m excited to be a guide in that journey.
How do you and Drew plan to approach and share the roles and responsibilities of parenthood?
Drew and I are really fluid. We don’t have traditional roles in terms of gender constructs in our home. We are a team and we ask for help when we need it. And neither of us feels like we need to be a hero. Some things are going to be delegated out and that’s totally fine—we’re both going to continue working because we’re very ambitious. I think we will take it all one step at a time, but we do really want to create a home that has structure and discipline, but just enough for love and joy to be omnipresent.
You identify as a LatinX woman—what does that mean for you and how do you plan to share your culture with your child?
My legacy is something that is very important to me. My mother was a Cuban refugee and my father was born in Puerto Rico. I am the first generation born here. Any time you’re bringing a new life into the world you get to impart culture and tradition. For us, that’s definitely music and food, but also history. We already have baby books in English and Spanish and we definitely plan on having our child speak both languages. We want to impart the rich histories of where our families are from. One person can make a whole community more vibrant by bringing more of who they are and where they come from.
We know you love 90’s Hip Hop—what songs would be part of your pregnancy playlist? What about a labor and delivery playlist—something tells us you’re going to rock that out too!
I definitely feel the baby kicking when I’m playing 90s hip hop. I think if there were an east coast west coast battle the baby would be kicking for east coast, Biggie Smalls music. But I actually have been thinking about my playlist for labor and I think it’s going to be a mix of songs that are more ereathal or moody. Maybe some soulful music, like Nina Simone or something really rooted. The playlist will definitely include some DJ Khaled “All I Do Is Win” and “Power” by Kanye West too. These are literal songs that have gotten me through thousands and thousands of miles. I have never experienced labor before, but I know how to train for a challenge. I know how to get my mind ready and music definitely stokes memories of confidence when I have been heroic in my own life.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received during pregnancy?
The best advice I got was at the beginning of my pregnancy. I was having a conversation with Eva Longoria on the best advice she received and she shared, “The best advice was less advice, tune it out, tune out the noise.” And I have done just that. I trust myself and I trust my medical team, and that’s all I need to know.
You’ve accomplished so much—including being named one of the most influential people on Fortune Magazine’s 40 Under 40 list this year—what’s in store for the next 40 years?
I am a firestarter. The partnerships and synergies I’m looking for are with folks who are in alignment with the idea of empowering women to be the co-creators and script writers of their own lives. I see fashion in my future and a lifestyle expansion in terms of products and licensing. And definitely more ways to move! I think it would be so cool in 40 years to have the same growing community we’ve created now and to say we’ve been through these different stages of our lives together and we’re still physically and emotionally strong. That’s really important to me.
Published December 2020