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Life lessons
Sarah Luna

Appointed president of Xponential Fitness when she was only 34, Sarah Luna attributes her career success to the grit, determination and stamina she honed as a dancer by day and Pilates teacher by night. She talks to Kath Hudson about how owning her choices has given her the resilience to take on one of the top jobs in the US fitness industry, while also raising a family


The biggest influence of my career came while I was dancing professionally in Chicago in the early 2000s and I still draw on the lessons learned from that time.

There were five professional dancers in the company and five understudies. I was one of the understudies and it was a strange time, as we were all waiting for our break, which would only come if someone else was injured or retired.

As understudies we would learn, and rehearse all the choreographies so we could jump in if needed. It was 40 hours of dancing a week and completely unpaid.

To make ends meet, I taught Pilates from 4.00pm until 10.00pm every weekday and all day on Saturdays.

Because I wanted to be a dancer so badly I pushed myself really hard and ran myself down.

One day I felt a sharp pain in my abdominals, which felt like a knife. When I told the artistic director the message was: “You don’t sit it out, the show goes on.”

Next up was a 12-minute high intensity piece and about half way in I felt an excruciating pain. The woman dancing opposite me said my face went ghost white. Afterwards I discovered I’d ruptured a cyst and my abdominal cavity was full of fluid. I ended up taking the next two days off to rest and recuperate.

At that point it dawned on me that I had a choice. I could either get back in the fight and go again, or I could lay low or I could step away altogether…

I decided there were tons of people lined up for that opportunity and although the experience had been very painful, it was also short-term and it did pass. At that point I made the choice to keep showing up and get the job done.

Ultimately that’s the life lesson I've taken with me for the rest of my career. When the going gets rough, I evaluate whether it’s a short-term pain and whether that short-term pain is worth continuing to be in the fight.

Own your choices
Our life is a series of choices. It's common for people to say they hate their job, or a certain aspect of their life, but I subscribe to the idea that if you don't want to do it, there are tons of people who will, so either get on and do the job you’ve signed up for and deal with the good, the bad and the ugly, or get out of the way.

This mindset gives me a sense of control when times are hard.


I've got two young daughters and one is in the middle of teething and the other one hasn’t been sleeping, so I’ve been getting by on two to three hours of sleep each night.

At the same time there have been challenges at work. It's been very stressful on a lot of different fronts. There have certainly been a couple of times when I’ve felt defeated, that everyone wants a piece of me and I don't know how I can be successful.

But then I give myself a talk. I remind myself that I wanted my daughters and I love them to death. So even though it’s painful that they want to play and eat bananas and learn to walk in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything. I made the choice, I wanted to have children and sleepless nights are part of that deal. On the work side, periods of intensity come with being a public company, you just have to work through it.

What I learned from that dance company experience allows me to take a breath and tell myself that I recognise this low place, I recognise this exhaustion and this feeling of defeat and I also know how to get myself out of it.

Lesson two from that experience was that it taught me how to manage my health better, be more in tune with when I need to slow down and when I can accelerate, rather than always being pegged at the high end of the range. You can’t constantly operate at high velocity and expect your body to keep up. I’ve certainly had to learn how to throttle energy and mental capacity. Although my husband says I like to keep it at 100 per cent!

The experience also gave me the confidence to say yes to opportunities. My break came, in 2015, while I was working as a Pilates instructor at Equinox. Former Xponential CEO, Anthony Geisler, came to one of my classes because he was planning to buy Club Pilates. I had an MBA and knew how to sell Pilates so he offered me the job of national sales director of Club Pilates.

After a couple of years, I became senior VP of operations for the brand, before becoming president of Pure Barre and then president of Xponential in 2021. I just kept showing up every day and getting more responsibility and then walking through the doors as they opened. I've had a non-traditional career path, but it's been exciting and enjoyable.

Xponential franchises boutique studio concepts Credit: photo: Xponential Fitness
The company bought metabolic health brand Lindora late in 2023 Credit: photo: Xponential Fitness
Xponential bought Kinrgy and has extended it from digital to physical locations Credit: photo: Xponential Fitness
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2024 issue 5

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Leisure Management - Sarah Luna

Life lessons

Sarah Luna


Appointed president of Xponential Fitness when she was only 34, Sarah Luna attributes her career success to the grit, determination and stamina she honed as a dancer by day and Pilates teacher by night. She talks to Kath Hudson about how owning her choices has given her the resilience to take on one of the top jobs in the US fitness industry, while also raising a family

Luna has been president of Xponential since 2021 photo: Xponential Fitness
Xponential franchises boutique studio concepts photo: Xponential Fitness
The company bought metabolic health brand Lindora late in 2023 photo: Xponential Fitness
Xponential bought Kinrgy and has extended it from digital to physical locations photo: Xponential Fitness

The biggest influence of my career came while I was dancing professionally in Chicago in the early 2000s and I still draw on the lessons learned from that time.

There were five professional dancers in the company and five understudies. I was one of the understudies and it was a strange time, as we were all waiting for our break, which would only come if someone else was injured or retired.

As understudies we would learn, and rehearse all the choreographies so we could jump in if needed. It was 40 hours of dancing a week and completely unpaid.

To make ends meet, I taught Pilates from 4.00pm until 10.00pm every weekday and all day on Saturdays.

Because I wanted to be a dancer so badly I pushed myself really hard and ran myself down.

One day I felt a sharp pain in my abdominals, which felt like a knife. When I told the artistic director the message was: “You don’t sit it out, the show goes on.”

Next up was a 12-minute high intensity piece and about half way in I felt an excruciating pain. The woman dancing opposite me said my face went ghost white. Afterwards I discovered I’d ruptured a cyst and my abdominal cavity was full of fluid. I ended up taking the next two days off to rest and recuperate.

At that point it dawned on me that I had a choice. I could either get back in the fight and go again, or I could lay low or I could step away altogether…

I decided there were tons of people lined up for that opportunity and although the experience had been very painful, it was also short-term and it did pass. At that point I made the choice to keep showing up and get the job done.

Ultimately that’s the life lesson I've taken with me for the rest of my career. When the going gets rough, I evaluate whether it’s a short-term pain and whether that short-term pain is worth continuing to be in the fight.

Own your choices
Our life is a series of choices. It's common for people to say they hate their job, or a certain aspect of their life, but I subscribe to the idea that if you don't want to do it, there are tons of people who will, so either get on and do the job you’ve signed up for and deal with the good, the bad and the ugly, or get out of the way.

This mindset gives me a sense of control when times are hard.


I've got two young daughters and one is in the middle of teething and the other one hasn’t been sleeping, so I’ve been getting by on two to three hours of sleep each night.

At the same time there have been challenges at work. It's been very stressful on a lot of different fronts. There have certainly been a couple of times when I’ve felt defeated, that everyone wants a piece of me and I don't know how I can be successful.

But then I give myself a talk. I remind myself that I wanted my daughters and I love them to death. So even though it’s painful that they want to play and eat bananas and learn to walk in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything. I made the choice, I wanted to have children and sleepless nights are part of that deal. On the work side, periods of intensity come with being a public company, you just have to work through it.

What I learned from that dance company experience allows me to take a breath and tell myself that I recognise this low place, I recognise this exhaustion and this feeling of defeat and I also know how to get myself out of it.

Lesson two from that experience was that it taught me how to manage my health better, be more in tune with when I need to slow down and when I can accelerate, rather than always being pegged at the high end of the range. You can’t constantly operate at high velocity and expect your body to keep up. I’ve certainly had to learn how to throttle energy and mental capacity. Although my husband says I like to keep it at 100 per cent!

The experience also gave me the confidence to say yes to opportunities. My break came, in 2015, while I was working as a Pilates instructor at Equinox. Former Xponential CEO, Anthony Geisler, came to one of my classes because he was planning to buy Club Pilates. I had an MBA and knew how to sell Pilates so he offered me the job of national sales director of Club Pilates.

After a couple of years, I became senior VP of operations for the brand, before becoming president of Pure Barre and then president of Xponential in 2021. I just kept showing up every day and getting more responsibility and then walking through the doors as they opened. I've had a non-traditional career path, but it's been exciting and enjoyable.


Originally published in Health Club Management 2024 issue 5

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