On a recent Wednesday night during a queer rock–themed strength class on the inclusive community fitness platform Free To Move, the song “Deceptacon” by feminist post-punk band Le Tigre brought everyone home in a crescendo of unified energy. That moment epitomized what teacher, Free To Move founder, and Well+Good 2022 Changemaker AK MacKellar loves about teaching: The sense of finding community, and the joy and high of moving together.
In 2019, MacKellar sustained a severe concussion from a mountain biking accident that left them with a chronic illness. They used movement to help manage their injury, and also began working as a personal trainer. But during that time, MacKellar, who is non-binary, realized (and experienced first hand) how alienating the fitness industry could be to both LGBTQ+ people and people with chronic illness. They decided to start training for these communities in particular, and with the arrival of the pandemic, moved their training business online to form a “body inclusive movement for QTNB (queer/trans/non-binary)” platform called Free To Move.
“I knew I wanted to have a space online that helped foster community and helped include people that were often left to the margins of fitness, and that’s really where Free To Move came from,” MacKellar says.
Today, Free To Move offers both livestreamed and on-demand classes in strength, stretch, HIIT, yoga, Pilates, and more. There is also a specific movement and strength program for people who have undergone top surgery as well as a “chronically chill” series that provides movement classes for people living with chronic illness. A private Facebook Group also serves as a community hub.
“One of the beauties of online [training] is that you can find your people, you can connect with people all over the world, and hopefully find other people that share those identities that you have,” MacKellar says.
The past year has been one of growth for Free To Move. MacKellar has appeared in an Adidas campaign, taught a mindset-shifting workshop called Empowered U to help people grow their relationship with exercise, and they have brought on a half dozen Free To Move ambassadors to support their work. MacKellar says having that buy in and support has been game-changing.
“That has been so heartwarming to have other people show up and support in a real way,” MacKellar says. “I’m someone with chronic illness and flare-ups, and it’s not always easy to be running a business. Having some other folks there to lean on has felt really amazing.”
The pandemic, oddly, has been a catalyst. It spurred MacKellar to transition to the online model which has allowed them to teach more people and reach a greater audience through platforms like TikTok, where they have over 125,000 followers.
“I don’t know if the Free To Move platform and community would exist if we hadn’t been in a pandemic for the last almost three years,” MacKellar says.
While MacKellar has seen some movement in the fitness space to be more inclusive towards QTNB folks and people living with chronic conditions, they say the industry still has a long way to go. They see the biggest issues as both representation and true inclusivity.
“There’s not enough diverse people instructing and training,” MacKellar says. “To do that, studios and spaces need to do the work to make sure that these are safe environments for these people to be entering because it’s not fair on those marginalized identities, instructors to be doing all the work.”
Until then, MacKellar sees targeted platforms as one of the key ways to serve people who may feel underserved and uncomfortable elsewhere. So for now, MacKellar says they will continue to be “a little bit of a performer slash comedian slash hype person,” ready to deliver a rockin’ class for anyone seeking the freedom to move.