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Workout Q&A with 8 highly successful businesswomen

businesswomen workout

In this article, we discuss the benefits of exercise with 8 successful businesswomen, from global leader at Gap to the President of the Commonwealth Games Federation. These business leaders run extremely busy lives, some with children to look after too. With such packed schedules, committing time to working out might seem like a luxury.

And yet, each one of our guests commits at the very least 4 hours per week to exercise. How do they fit it in? How do they justify it? Methods and times of day differ, but one commonality appears: exercise brings clarity, creativity and productivity to their work day.

Here’s what we learnt from them.

businesswomen ellen ahlbom workout
Based in NYC, Ellen is a senior leader at Gap, where she heads the company’s multibillion-dollar global outlet division. Ellen previously led the business development of Levi’s, shaping the company’s transition from regional to global operations.

Q: How would you describe your relationship to exercise?

A: I love to exercise. It is my go to for enjoyment and relieving stress. I don’t get enough of it. Depending on the week, I fit in about 4 hours in 1 hour segments. I mix things up with a couple of spin classes and cardio/weights gym workouts, preferably with a trainer. If I have time, I add in a yoga class and some swimming. I also love walking and hiking when I’m in California or out in the wild somewhere.

Q: Your work must take a huge amount of time. How do you justify the time you spend on exercising?

A:  It’s not just physical: exercising clears my mind, makes me feel better and sleep better. In fact, I often think of work and personal solutions when exercising. I can’t imagine not having the option to exercise – I would really miss it.

Q: How would you recommend businesswomen beginning their career to commit time to working out?

A: You’ve got to carve out the time.  A routine just before or just after work suits me best.  Then of course weekend mornings are good for me as I have a day that’s my own. Working out makes my day off even more of a treat.

businesswomen workouts Amanda Azeez
Amanda is Head of Communications and Associate Head of Child Safety Online at the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children). She is responsible for all the practical ways the charity helps parents, children and professionals know how to keep children safe online. Prior to the NSPCC, Amanda was Head of Communications at the BBC.

Q: How much time per week do you commit to working out?

A: Being a full time, working, commuter mum of two it takes a bit of clever planning to fit it all in! I aim to exercise three times a week, and I now walk from London Bridge to my office too – walking over the Thames is my favourite time of the day!

Q: What’s your favourite type of exercise?

A: I love lots of different types of exercise – hot yoga, spinning and swimming. But with two children it’s hard to find the time, so I make the most of what’s available. I love running, and since my son plays football three times a week I run while he plays! This way I also get to discover new places like the beautiful cliff path I found last week.

I set distance goals for the week, but I try not to feel bad if I don’t meet them. I love my Nike Run app: I’ve had it for years so it’s useful to track my progress.

Q: What do you feel you get out of running?

A:  I run to feel good in myself but also having time on my own with space around me. It keeps me feeling balanced and myself. If I ever feel stressed or annoyed about something, a run can always help put things into perspective.

I feel more energized and can take on more challenges and calmly manage tricky situations. My brother was really ill a few years ago and it made me realise how lucky we are when we can easily exercise – don’t take it for granted!

Q: How would you advise young businesswomen to find time for working out?

A: Make the most of your commute. The easiest way is to fit it in on the way to work or on the way home – that way it doesn’t affect the rest of your day. If your commute isn’t long – try to work out a longer route. And if you are a footie mum like me – always go in your running things!

Amy Hopkinson businesswomen workout
Amy is the lead digital editor at Women’s Health UK. With 8 years experience in the industry, Amy lives and breathes the business of wellness. On top of her work for the magazine, Amy is a speaker on The Wellness Mindset, a Level 3 qualified PT and an ambassador for Lululemon – all round pretty badass.

Q. In a few words, how would you describe your relationship to exercise?

A. A bit like Daniel Craig – it’s got better with age.

Q. How much time per week do you commit to working out?

A. I’ve stopped clocking “workouts” and instead make sure I move every day. My goal is 1.5 hrs of movement per day. Sometimes that’s with a barbell at the squat rack, sometimes it’s with a coffee walking to work.

Q. What is your favourite type of exercise? Give us an idea of your workouts over a typical week.

A. Yoga – but don’t tell my PT that.

For me, the best workout is one that leaves you feeling better; not one that depletes your energy levels faster than a kid’s birthday party. In any session I do I look for balance: a fast round of medicine ball slams will be followed by slow breathing drills.

Here’s an average week:

  • Mon – PT with Luke Worthington at Third Space
  • Tues – Women’s Health Run Club
  • Wed – 50 min walking / 40 min full body gym session (normally 3 super sets)
  • Thurs – Walk to and from work (110 mins total)
  • Fri – Gym session
  • Sat – Emma Peel’s yoga class at Yoga Rise – I run there with a podcast on
  • Sun – NADA

Q. That’s a significant chunk of your week. How do you justify all this time and effort?

A. I have grown to love the shape and skin I’m in and realise that diet plays a huge role in this. It goes hand in hand with exercise. Exercise, or training, is what makes me able to live the life I want to. These days my workouts are much more about future proofing my body so I can move well and move more, rather than a specific goal like losing fat.

As a result, my body has allowed me to complete triathlons, win paddleboarding races and enjoy runs home. It keeps me supported on a daily basis. Without a training plan that’s fit for the lifestyle I want to live I wouldn’t be able to do any of these things.

Q. Would you say this affects your work efficiency?

A. Training? It ensures I take lunch breaks and come back to the office raring to go….again !

Q. How would you feel if you had to give up exercising altogether?

A. Very sad as this would likely mean I wasn’t well. Exercise to me isn’t just what you do in the gym but movement that benefits you. I hope that I’ll always be able to move in some way, even if only like my great nana who at 99 still does yoga, just in a chair.

Q. Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to young businesswomen spending all their time on work and not enough time on exercise, what would you say?

A. Rather tell yourself what you don’t have time to do, tell yourself what you do have time to do. For example, I can squat while brushing my teeth, I can do tricep dips while the kids are having a bath !

businesswomen workout carli wheatley
Carli is the founder of Protein Haus, the go-to London eatery for healthy meals on the go. Spend a little time across London, and if you don’t bump into Carli furiously serving lean meals to suited & booted crossfitters in disguise, you’ll catch her at an early morning workout class.

Q: Carli, your business clearly takes up most of your day. How much time per week do you manage to work out?

A: At least 6 hours. I get up very early to make it happen. Either that, or I sneak out for a quick workout when no one is looking. It’s my time for me. I always place time for myself as I’m the most important person to me. My happiness takes priority. I feel more confident and more powerful when I train.

Q: What is your favourite type of exercise?

A: Right now it’s Versa climber workouts (a super tough full body workout you can bash out in a short amount of time). Ideally, over the course of a week, I train weights two times, with some stretching involved too. And then I add 4 classes I love.

Q: Does exercise affect your work efficiency?

A: No, I would work hard no matter what. I’m always hungry for success.

Q: OK, but how would you feel if you had to give up exercising altogether?

A: Don’t even say that to me – I will punch you 🙂 hahaha! Never ever should anyone have to choose to go without something if they don’t want to! Life is for the taking. So TAKE!

Louise Martin CBE businesswomen workout
Louise is the President of the Commonwealth Games Federation, and the first woman to hold this role. Previously, she was the first woman to serve as Chair for Commonwealth Games Scotland, and has also worked at the head of SportScotland. In 2003 Louise was awarded the CBE in the New Year’s Honours List for services to the Commonwealth Games. 

Q: How would you describe your relationship to exercise?

A: Dependant on type of exercise – I enjoy it.  I now prefer exercising outdoors for fresh air.

Q: How much time do you commit to getting outdoors?

A: I try to get out every day for at least 90 minutes walking or hiking.  If away on business and this is not possible I climb the stairs – as long as I’m not on the 25th floor!

Q: How do you feel you benefit from hiking?

A: It makes me feel healthier and happier. Hiking is physical but also mental. It allows me time to reflect and enjoy the scenery as well as keep fit. Workwise, exercising makes me more efficient and more alert. I can do more and work for longer. I am more relaxed and happier.

I’d be terribly frustrated if I had to give it up.


Q: What would you tell young businesswomen who feel they cannot afford to commit time to working out?

A: Believe in yourself – set your goals and always plan your activity. Aim for at least 60-90 minutes per day. You will be surprised how easy it is and how much fitter and healthier you’ll feel, as well as being able to work more efficiently.

rebecca wheeler businesswomen workout
Rebecca is co-owner and Content Director of Creative Communication & Content Agency, Library. Through her agency, Rebecca helps food, drink and retail brands grow their businesses through Storytelling.

Q: What does your workout week look like?

A: I exercise 5 hours per week. My favourite is most definitely running. One of the joys of leading my own agency is that I can bring my dog to the studio with me. She needs a walk at lunch time so I combine that with running in the park. It’s win win!

Q: How do you feel you benefit from your exercise? Is it purely physical?

A: Exercising in the middle of a working day isn’t right for everyone, but for me it works on a couple of levels.  I feel happy that Olive the dog is content and exercised and it gives me a brain boost for the afternoon.

Q: So it affects your work efficiency?

A: Absolutely! I generally backload my day so I deal with the ‘heavy’ tasks in the afternoon after my run as my mind is so much clearer and efficient then.

Q: How would you feel if you had to give up exercising altogether?

A: It’s a terrifying thought! I would imagine I’d be a pretty different person.

Q: Your one line piece of workout advice for women starting up in business?

A: Get a dog!

sally dixon businesswomen every second counts
Sally Dixon is the Founder and Creative Director of British men’s and women’s activewear brand Every Second Counts. Sally is also a qualified Comprehensive Pilates instructor.

Q: What is your favourite type of exercise? Give us an idea of your workouts over a typical week.

A: I work out 1 hour in the morning and ½ an hour of stretching in the evening every day at least! I like to mix up strength and mobility training to ensure my body is strong yet flexible and functional. In the evening, I go through a 30min stretch routine on my yoga mat to release any tension from the day and help me get a good night’s sleep.

Q: How do you feel you benefit from your exercise?

A: Finding time to schedule in exercise is key for me. The days I don’t exercise I definitely notice the difference both physically and mentally. Moving your body and getting those endorphins going just feels SO good! It 100% lifts my mood. My body gets super stiff if I don’t make a conscious effort to show it some love and move it on a daily basis.

It helps with my work too, no doubt. I go to the gym before work and by the time I get to work I’m feeling satisfied and ready to take on that to-do list!

Q: How would you feel if you had to give up exercising altogether?

A: Lost!

Q: If you could give one piece of advice about this to young businesswomen, what would you tell them?

A: I would say always find the time. The world won’t collapse if you take 60mins out for a yoga class. In this fast-paced world, we lose connection between mind and body so quickly. It’s important to re-establish that connection on a regular basis. Your work will be more productive and you’ll feel so much better. Start small: can’t handle 1hr? Make it 30mins and go for a brisk walk (without checking your phone!). Anything to get moving.

melissa noakes
Mel, known as The Self Care Coach, specialises in helping women balance professional success with their personal health and happiness. She’s the author of The Little Book of Self Care, has been featured in The Express, Huffington post, Elle online, and is a spokesperson for the UK’s eating disorder charity Beat. 

Q: How would you describe your relationship to exercise?

A: Healthy and respectful. I work out every day in some form or another. I guess I spend 15 hours per week on exercise, including travel. It makes me feel good and I love the wider benefits it brings, but I never overdo it and I always listen to my body.

Q: What does your typical workout week look like?

A: I love doing lots of different things and try to mix up my routine as often as possible. Typically, I do yoga and walk my dogs every day. Then through the week I love to do a spin class or two depending on my schedule and I’ll get in at least 2 weights sessions.

Q: How do you feel you benefit from your exercise?

A: It’s not just physical, that’s for sure. I love how it makes me feel: strong and focused. It helps me clear my mind and particularly my yoga practice helps me to feel connected to my body.  I get some of my best ideas in the yoga studio! I notice my productivity slip if I’m not exercising regularly. My body and mind both get sluggish.

Q: Can you imagine giving up exercise altogether?

A: I hope I never have to! I see far too many health and life benefits to ever stop. However, my routine flexes and changes depending on what’s happening in my life, and if I’m sick I rest.

Q: What would you tell young businesswomen about exercise?

A: If you don’t look after yourself you don’t have a business. Your number 1 priority is your own self care.

4 thoughts on “Workout Q&A with 8 highly successful businesswomen

  1. Utterly brilliant group of interviews – spot on and very inspirational!!!

  2. Inspirational! Makes me want to jump up and start training NOW. Thanks

  3. Exercise is what changed the game for me and how I cared for myself. I love reading about women who value exercise and use it as a tool for self-love instead of forcing ourselves into something we HATE! Thanks for sharing!

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