AK MacKellar (they/them) is a queer, non-binary certified personal trainer and fitness coach who is passionate about making movement and the wellness and fitness industry more inclusive. In 2020, AK founded Free To Move, a radical non-diet movement and wellness space for the LGBTQ+ community and for folks who experience chronic pain and illness. The online platform provides a plethora of different movement routines for all bodies, whether it’s exercises to improve shoulder mobility post-surgery or a full-body workout for beginners. AK’s at-once welcoming persona and passion for inclusive movement is apparent through Free To Move’s platform and Instagram, which also serves as an education resource for letting go of the “shoulds” and feelings of not being good enough while exercising.
When they’re not leading movement classes or brainstorming the next radical wellness workshop, AK loves to mountain bike, play with their rescue pup, Ru, or search high and low for the city’s best cup of coffee or gluten-free pizza. We were lucky enough to sit down with AK to talk all things getting outdoors, making movement and exercise more inclusive, and building community.
ecologyst: What inspired you to create a space in the fitness community and start Free To Move?
AK MacKellar: As a queer, non-binary and chronically ill person, I’ve felt like an outsider in most fitness spaces. Even though I grew up as an athlete, I always felt intimidated in gyms. After a mountain biking crash that resulted in a pretty gnarly traumatic brain injury (TBI), I struggled even more to understand my body, symptoms, and how to exercise in a sustainable way.
After this experience, I made it my mission to build a new type of fitness space — one that is welcoming to beginners, the LGBTQ+ community, and people experiencing chronic illness and pain. A fitness community that focuses on helping people feel good in their bodies, strong in their daily lives, and take care of their mental and physical health so they can live the best life possible on their own terms.
e: How does Free To Move empower your community?
AK: Free To Move is all about using movement to help you live a better life, in whatever way that means for you! I always encourage folks to listen to their body first, to the cues it’s sending, rather than “pushing through” whatever is coming up. Taking a step back to listen to your body is empowering for so many folks who have been taught [by the mainstream fitness and wellness industry] to ignore their bodies. This has a direct translation to daily life for many, especially when many of our community members enjoy getting outside in nature to enjoy hiking, biking, paddling, and more. It’s empowering to go at your own pace, to enjoy the environment and the people you’re out there with!
e: What are your quick midday movement recommendations?
AK: There are so many! I love an energizing midday bike ride or walk to a local coffee shop. If I’m staying home, I usually choose a ten minute stretching routine or quick strength circuit. I struggle with chronic hip pain, so a midday stretch and strength session from my desk is very much needed and appreciated.
e: How can movement be made more inclusive, no matter where you are?
AK: Most of us have been taught that we need to push harder, go for longer, and generally suffer to do movement right. That’s why so many people don’t enjoy working out or getting outside. I recommend truly slowing down to honor your body wherever it’s at that day, to enjoy the session at a pace that feels good for your body, and modify any movements that you need to.
If we all slowed down and took the pressure off, it would foster more inclusion and accessibility to movement — whether in the gym or out on the trail.
e: What’s your favorite adventure snack?
AK: Dried mangoes are my number one go-to adventure snack! They’re sweet, chewy, delicious, and you can buy them in bulk. I also love to make homemade banana oatmeal muffins, freeze them, and grab one from the freezer when I’m heading out on the trails. By mid-ride, they’re usually defrosted and ready to enjoy!
e: What advice do you have for people who are at the beginning of their fitness journey?
AK: My number one tip is to find something you enjoy, or can tolerate at the very least, and do that! Whether it’s dancing, biking, yoga, or strength training, the best form of movement is one that feels energizing and fun! Second, consistency can be really hard to achieve for many people — and isn’t necessarily required. Consistency is a privilege that not everyone can achieve, especially if you’re managing chronic illness, injury flare ups, a hectic work schedule, or juggling caring for children and caring for yourself. Letting go of expectations and “shoulds” can be so liberating and allows you to find a form of movement that feels exciting and fun, and aligns with your energy on any given day.
e: Where can people find you?
AK: I live and work on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), and səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, also known as Vancouver, BC. You’ll find me out hiking or riding my mountain bike in this beautiful place!
Photos by Kezia Nathe.