To Top

Meet Saara Haapanen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Saara Haapanen.

Saara, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada and found my way to the USA through a diving scholarship for the University of Wyoming (go pokes!). I met my wonderful husband a few days after moving to the states (he was on the swim team) and the rest is history.

I was always interested in the body and health, at Wyoming for my undergrad. I studied Kinesiology and Health Promotion. After college, I moved to Finland to pursue my Master’s in Sports and Exercise Psychology and to dive for the Finnish National team. I was a high-level diver and found out 12 days before the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics that I wasn’t going. I was ranked 30th in the world and they were supposed to take 34 women in my event. They took 29. After my Master’s, I started my Ph.D. in Sports and Exercise Psychology and after completing my studies, I moved to Denver (it was only supposed to be a year) to work on data collection and my dissertation.

In 2011 I was depressed and working solely on my Ph.D. when my husband suggested I take a part-time job training again (I trained a bit in college). I truly fell in love with helping real humans make sustainable life change. Prior to that, I thought I would never be a personal trainer as I only wanted to work with elite athletes and do sports psychology. I started Performance is Haapanen in 2013 and has never looked back. I’ve been able to help a ton of people live better lives and find joy in health and fitness. My current passion is to get more people moving at work.

The average American is seated for 13 hours a day, and being seated is the 4th most preventable cause of death. In 2017 I had 30 clients participate in a 30-day program of movement at work (5-7 minute daily videos they could do at work- no equipment needed). They all paid $10 to take part and the person who participated the most at the end won the whole pot of money. I didn’t make a cent, but the feedback was amazing and the participants told me that I needed to make this a “thing”. It has now transformed into a full-blown program called and I offer it to companies who want happier and healthier employees. Every day hundreds of “Saara’s humans” participate in daily movement at work.

I’m an advocate for movement and I try to show my humans that they can move anywhere and everywhere and all they need is themselves. I’ve done videos on planes, on boats, in pools, in libraries, staircases- you name it I’ve done it. As part of the program, participants also have access to a library of previous videos, as well as daily text reminders, emails and other goodies to help improve their life. They are also assigned homework every weekend and I give away a free week of meals from a healthy meal kit service (i.e. Hello Fresh, Green Chef, Purple Carrot). Now I’m just focused on trying to fight the sitting epidemic and am passionate about trying to get more humans to move at work.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
As discussed earlier, no it has not been a smooth. As I said I never thought I would be a personal trainer. I didn’t really plan for things to work out this way. Going through a bout of depression changed my whole career path and brought me to where I am today.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
I do two things in my business. 1. I help humans live happier and healthier lives and help them find a sustainable path to health. I work with individuals as a personal trainer in person, online or hybrid (combination of both), I also provide accountability coaching for those individuals that have the working out down but need help with all the other things.

2. is an online membership program that is targeted for companies to have happier and healthier employees. I’m currently working with companies from 2-12,000+ employees. Participants report so many positive outcomes, including increased productivity, reduced tiredness, increased focus, reduced stress, and improved mobility (there’s way more but I wanted to keep this short). Employees receive a daily email with a link to a 5-7 min video with movement. Sometimes we stretch, sometimes we work on strength, abs, or balance. My dogs sometimes make an appearance, as well as random strangers who see me filming and want to participate. Participants can also make requests- a very popular request is for discrete workout moves. I advocate for movement anywhere and everywhere- I’ve done videos on planes, boats, trains, in libraries, on the beach, in stairwells… EVERYWHERE and ANYWHERE!

2a) I also provide Move at Work Challenge as a live in-person session, I have presented short movement breaks at conferences ranging from 30 to 500+ participants. A little movement break between speakers is always appreciated and I always try to incorporate laughter and smiling too.

The feedback I have received is that I am very real. I am still professional but I think it’s important to entertain and to have people enjoy exercise. I want it to be fun and I don’t care if my dog farts in a video or people are staring at me- I just want to get my humans moving. I set myself apart from others as I am a unique person, I’m also a super over qualified personal trainer- you can go to a weekend course and call yourself a trainer as there is no standard in my industry. I use my background in sports and exercise psychology to help motivate individuals to make a change.

I’ve also been coaching humans for way more than half my life (20+ years) and that started within my sport (diving) I’ve worked with beginner to international level athletes, that carries over to real humans very well. I also truly care about my humans and I think that shows up in the way I speak to them. I get to interact with my moveatworkers daily so they really feel like they know me. Take a class with me (Sundays 10 am at Ascent Fitness) or sign up for a trial of and you’ll see pretty quickly that I’m a bit different 😉

Proudest moment- Helping my humans, I’ve helped so many people change their lives that it is hard to pick one moment. Over the years, my humans have lost hundreds of pounds and increased their quality of life and happiness. I think creating has been my proudest moment so far. It allows me to have a bigger impact on the world and I can help more humans daily because it’s all online. I want to help fight the sitting epidemic. It truly makes my heart happy.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I believe in karma and I think that I put enough good out there that I get it back tenfold. I was lucky to fall into depression- because that eventually lead me to training. I’ve also been very lucky in finding my clients. I had one client take me to Dubai with her for ten days and we ate at Michelin star restaurants and worked out everyday, she ended up losing over 5 lbs that trip.

I’ve been lucky to meet the right people and to make great connections and do a good job. For instance, a wellness director left a company I was doing for and shortly after, she approached me to also do moveatworkchallenge for her new company as well. I’ve been lucky to get to announce Total Worker Health Day on behalf of the governor because he couldn’t attend due to a political event that was happening.


  • Sunday morning 10 am “kitchen sink” workout class drop in rate $24 (Ascent Fitness- 4697 E Evans Av)
  • monthly membership for individuals $59.99/month
  • Companies with 500 ppl or more can access for $2.50 per employee/month (from there the price drops per employee as company size increases).

Contact Info:

Suggest a story: VoyageDenver is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in