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Robin Arzón On Coming Back From Maternity Leave, The Myth Of Balance And The Power Of No

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at August 17, 2021

“Kings, queens, non binary royalty, polish your crowns with sweat,” because Peloton’s top instructor and VP of fitness programming Robin Arzón is back from maternity leave and ripe with wisdom coming off her experience. As the first instructor to have a baby and take maternity leave, she is redefining what it means to be a working mom with a high profile and physically demanding career. I had the privilege of speaking with her shortly after her return, and unsurprisingly, she had a refreshing perspective and tons of motivational advice to share with the world.

Amy Shoenthal: Congratulations on becoming a mama, and now a working mama! Talk to me about navigating transitions. You personally went from lawyer to celebrity fitness instructor, and now you’re returning from maternity leave. How do you navigate each life transition and what advice do you have for others embarking on something exciting, new and probably a bit scary?

Robin Arzón: I think there are these markers that we remember as chapters in our stories and they’re usually big moments like the weddings and the babies and the graduations. These are the things that punctuate outwardly what success might mean. And yes, these things matter. But what I find is that the more meaningful rights of passage are in the smaller, quieter moments that nobody sees. The ones that make you look in the mirror and ask, who am I now? Who am I without the medal, without the recognition, without the praise?

When I was on maternity leave, I was in a cocoon with my daughter. I tried to mostly stay off social media outside of a few in-feed posts, and that was the first time I had done that since I entered the public world of wellness with Peloton. I had to look in the mirror many times, as my body was repairing, as my hormones were surging, as I was holding this new human, yes you! (said as she giggled with Athena during the interview) and I had to say, what of myself is adapting and changing, and what of myself is core and anchored and what is a non negotiable? It’s actually an empowering conversation if we allow it to be.

I think it’s completely possible to turn pain into power, to turn self doubt into determination. It’s remembering that the crown might slip but it’s still on.

We also need to give ourselves permission to change our minds. We say something in a meeting, in an email, and then we think we have to stick to it. I might say something right now in this interview and then change my mind in a year about what’s best for me and my family.

Shoenthal: Are you the first Peloton instructor in the company’s history to go on maternity leave? How important is it to set a precedent for what that looks like to your fellow instructors? 

Arzón: I do believe I’m the first Peloton instructor to go on maternity leave. It was incredibly important that I establish the standard that we take all of our maternity leave. The projects can wait so we can tend to our families. This is a very physical job, and obviously pregnancy is also a deeply physical transition. I wanted to be an example to other instructors who might elect to have children, to show them that they can do it, and that we will support them throughout that process. 

We have to bend so we don’t break. And in becoming a mother, I’m more ambitious than I used to be. But I’m also much more ruthless with my time and with my no. Those are the new parts of my identity and new parts of my value system. I have no doubt that I’m going to have different seasons with Athena where I can discover different parts of my personality and my identity, but the core is always there. 

Shoenthal: You’ve talked a lot about this – how you’re more ambitious now that you have a daughter. I think a lot of moms feel this. Why do you think that is?   

Arzón: Well it’s kind of hard to look a little person in the eyes who is watching everything you do, and not want more for them. Little ones hold such a mirror to who we are, to how we see ourselves. Even the more shadowy side. 

Having a daughter made me want to pave the way so her hustle is as wide and fast as she wants it to be. I want her to lean into the vastness of who she is without apology and without needing to do a hokey pokey into her areas of success. 

I just feel like I leveled up. I don’t even play video games but I leveled up! I’m going from breastfeeding on Zoom calls to cleaning up spit up before going on a speaking engagement. It’s just wild. Our capacity for doing more is astounding. It doesn’t mean we should martyr ourselves though. It doesn’t mean that systems and paradigms like childcare and maternity leave shouldn’t shift to meet us, instead of us having to do acrobatics to meet them.  

I think we’re moving away from “stay in your lane.” We are creating a multi hyphenate existence, where we can be all the things. I’m a mom, I’m an ultra marathoner, I’m an executive and I choose which of those are my primary identity at any given moment. 

After going through the experience of creating a whole ass human and putting myself together again, it’s like, try me. You think I can’t do this 30 second sprint? You think I’m not going to ask for more money? You think I’m not about to redline the shit out of this contract? Then you’re talking to the wrong person.

On one hand you’re so humbled by the fact that you’re literally holding someone’s feces in your hand, and on the other hand your spine is straighter, your crown is polished and you’re like, I just did that, so clearly I can do anything. 

Shoenthal: I just, I can’t believe this is how you actually talk in real life. You should be a life coach or a motivational speaker, although I guess you already sort of play that role for so many of us. Speaking of leveling up, you have a lot of projects going on – masterclass, a children’s book coming out in January, probably other things we don’t know about yet. What are you most excited about right now?

Arzón: I’m pumped about masterclass, it’s a way for folks to peel back the curtain of how I cobbled this life together for myself. It’s packaged with anecdotes and wisdom about how to step into your power and do epic shit. It’s an extension of  a lot of the things I’ve talked about in my book, on Peloton, on social media and in my speaking engagements. 

I never in a million years thought I’d write a children’s book but I made the decision early on that I was going to model self care. I knew I was going to carve out moments for myself without apology. That’s because I wanted her to understand that I take care of myself so I can take care of her with the most compassion and the most kindness and the most strength. That’s what Strong Mama is about. Athena and I are training partners, that we are going to continue to partner through life, and that movement is medicine. 

I hadn’t read a children’s book since I was a child, and then my daughter was born. Sometimes I’m deeply shocked by the stuff we used to read. I mean Goldilocks was a straight up thief. An entitled, privileged thief. So I’m excited to write my own. I want to provide examples for Athena and even talking points for parents that our parents didn’t really have.   

I’m also excited about expanding outside of fitness and going more into the lifestyle space. I’m  getting into fashion, apparel and some interesting licensing deals that will be coming to market next year and beyond.

At Peloton, we are going to be creating post-natal content. I definitely heard from the new mamas that core repair is a big part of the conversation.  

Shoenthal: How did you make decisions about working out while pregnant? Did anyone give you a hard time or tell you to take it easy after you did a spin or strength class while visibly pregnant? 

Arzón: Working out while pregnant was something that I knew was going to happen as long as I felt good. It was important to me to continue focusing on what my body was capable of, rather than the limitations and fear-based thinking that is really pushed on women in general, and especially pregnant women. I did receive a little bit of pushback, this idea that one should just kick back, put your feet up, and sit around for nine months. I knew that just wasn’t my vibe, not only for my mental health, but also my physical capabilities. I am very grateful that the community that works out with me, follows me, and engages with me at Peloton and online are largely very supportive of that. 

Shoenthal: Does having a daughter impact how you think about young girls starting their fitness journey and striking a balance between advocating for movement and physical strength while maintaining a body positive attitude?  

Arzón: I really want the focus to be on how movement makes them feel, whether that’s strong, confident, or even fearful, and how they confront those fears. I think when we focus more on that, we take the conversation away from size or body image. I’m actually excited to help shape that conversation with my daughter. Like I said, movement is medicine. It can be incredibly healing, encouraging, and a confidence builder.

Shoenthal: On the topic of advice, what advice would you give to expectant mothers who are hesitant about their return to work and how to find a new balance between career and motherhood? 

Arzón: This may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t believe in balance. I think when we look at our 24-hour day, it’s an illusion to think that every area of our life is going to get the same amount of dedication. 

No is my favorite word. I say it with an exclamation point most of the time. I’m ruthless with my no’s to protect my yes’s. Right now one of my primary yes’s is spending time with my daughter and I have to protect it. Does that mean that I might be saying no to things that I would have said yes to a year ago or that I would love to do a year or two from now? Sure. There are even philanthropic things that tug at my heartstrings that I have to say no to. But I still say no. 

It’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make because we can only have a few things at the top of our priority list, and right now, family is number one. 

We see the glossy things on Instagram, and we think, wow, she wrote a book, worked a 20 hour day. She ran a marathon this morning and her daughter looks amazing. How did she do all that? I have no problem delegating when I don’t have the energy, capacity, time, or willingness to do it myself. I’m grateful that I have so much privilege to be able to delegate. I have a nanny, and I have someone who comes to clean, and I’m ok admitting and talking about that and I think not enough women are willing to do that. 

The idea that one woman can do it all is not a healthy conversation. We can do all things in different timelines, but we only have 24 hours in a day. So let’s be ruthless about our no’s to protect our yes’s, and let’s have honest conversations about how we can prioritize and delegate where we can.


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