During a queer rock-themed strength class at the inclusive community fitness platform Free to Move on a recent Wednesday night, the song “Deceptacon” by the feminist post-punk band Le Tigre brought everyone into a frenzy of unified energy. That moment epitomized what teacher, Free to Move founder, and Well+Good 2022 changemaker AK McKellar loves about education: the sense of finding community, and the joy and elevation of moving together.
In 2019, McKellar suffered serious injuries from a mountain biking accident that left him with a chronic illness. They used movement to help manage their injuries and began working as personal trainers. But during that time, McKellar, who is non-binary, realized (and experienced first-hand) how isolating the fitness industry can be for both LGBTQ+ people and those with chronic illnesses. They decided to start training specifically for these communities, and with the advent of the pandemic, moved their training business online to form the “Body Inclusive Movement (Queer/Trans/Non-Binary) for QTNB” platform called Free Two. the move
“I knew I wanted to have a space online that would help nurture the community and help include people who are often left on the margins of fitness, and that’s what Free to Move really came from,” says McKellar.
Today, Free to Move offers live streams and on-demand classes in strength, stretching, HIIT, yoga, Pilates and more. There is also a specific movement and strength program for those who have had top surgery as well as a “Chronic Cool” series that offers movement classes to people living with chronic illness. A private Facebook group also serves as a community hub.
“One of the most beautiful online [training] You can find your people, you can connect with people around the world, and hopefully find other people who share your identities,” McKellar said.
The past year has been one of growth for Free to Move. McKellar has appeared in an Adidas campaign, taught a mindset-shifting workshop called Empowered You to help people grow their relationship with exercise, and they’ve brought on a half-dozen Free to Move ambassadors to support their work. McKellar says buying and supporting has been game-changing.
“It’s been so heartwarming to see other people show up and support in a tangible way,” McKellar said. “I’m someone with chronic illnesses and flare-ups, and running a business isn’t always easy. It felt really amazing to be there leaning on some other people.”
The pandemic, ironically, has been a catalyst. This prompted McKellar to transition to an online model that allowed them to teach more people and reach a larger audience through platforms like TikTok, where they have 125,000 followers.
“I don’t know if the Free to Move platform and community would have existed if we hadn’t been in the midst of the pandemic for the last three years or so,” McKellar said.
While McKellar has seen some movement in the fitness space to be more inclusive of QTNB people and people living with chronic conditions, they say the industry still has a long way to go. They see the biggest problem as both representation and truth inclusion.
“There aren’t enough diverse people to instruct and train,” says McKellar. “In order to do that, studios and spaces have to work to make sure it’s a safe environment for these people to enter because it’s not fair to those marginalized identities, to do all the work for trainers.”
Until then, McKellar sees targeted platforms as one of the main ways to serve people who might feel uncomfortable and uncomfortable elsewhere. So for now, McKellar says they’ll be “a bit of a performer slash comedian slash hype person,” ready to deliver a rockin’ class. anyone Freedom of movement is sought.