We sat down with Megan McCuen to discuss her recent win of America’s Favorite Adaptive Fitness Trainer in July. Within this conversation, she dives into what brought her to adaptive fitness, her approach to crafting classes, and the power of an online solution to increase her reach.
Q: Megan McCuen, really appreciate you speaking with us. You are America's Favorite Adaptive Fitness Trainer. You received so much love and feedback from folks who nominated you and voted for you. What does this mean to you?
It means a lot. I have been doing this for over 20 years and I absolutely love what I do. Every day, the folks that I work with, they let me know how much they appreciate the things that I do for them. So, I am very grateful and very honored to have received this award.
Q: Tell me about the first time you can remember thinking about your fitness, thinking about your wellness.
I think I was in Junior High. My family was not the healthiest family, and early on, I decided that wasn't going to be me.
I remember coming home from school, and I would be like, "All right, I've got to figure out how I'm going to get some kind of movement in today." Whatever that looked like though usually, it was going out to play.
As I got older, it became a little more structured with aerobics and even some weight training and things like that.
When I went into college, I was going to become an elementary school teacher. I was lifeguarding at the time while I was doing college and I was watching a water fitness class. I loved it!
I decided when the water fitness instructor couldn't do it, I could do this, myself. I went into the pool and that was my very first experience teaching water fitness.
It grew from there, and I've been focused on adaptive fitness ever since. A lot of my adaptive fitness folks say, "It makes sense. You used to teach kindergarten. I get it now."
Q: What are the skills that a kindergarten teacher can have to apply to your line of work?
Patience. Not everybody's body is doing what it used to. And so it is important to try a little at a time, with trial and error, seeing what works for some folks, not necessarily everyone.
Q: When was the first time that adaptive fitness became part of your wellness experience and as an instructor? Was it on your radar before you became an instructor?
As I mentioned, my family wasn’t the picture of health. My mom was in pretty poor health, and she lost her battle with cancer many, many years ago. She was young. She was only 54.
I think my love of trying to help those that have either physical or medical limitations was something I was always drawn to. Even though I may not have had necessarily the training to work with that clientele, I figured it out, and I did the training because I had found my niche.
Q: At what point did you then have the opportunity to work with this demographic?
Silver Sneakers gave me that opportunity. I took a few Silver Sneakers trainings, and that grew from there.
Silver Sneakers is an insurance-based program. It is, I believe, 62 or 65 and older, with their type of insurance.
So, what would happen is their insurance company would pay for their gym membership. When they would come into the facility, the facility would get credit for them coming into the facility.
It is a proactive program, trying to take care of our older adults before things start to happen with a sedentary lifestyle.
Q: What kind of work were you doing at the time, then, with them?
I was in regular group fitness and personal training at the time but it branched into other things. I've got many different styles, actually, even on BurnAlong.
For instance, I did my seated strength class because I think there's a lot of work that can be done sitting in a chair. You don't necessarily have to get up and down and do burpees and things like that.
You can get a great workout with a set of eight-pound, five-pound dumbbells sitting in a chair.
Q: What is it about the chair that you feel is such a great content engine?
You can't cheat when you're in that chair, you cannot use your body momentum to swing those weights around. You've got to lock that core and focus on your form.
People often say, "I don't need a chair yet, I'm not ready for a chair." I want to show them how we can work a chair into their exercise routines.
Q: I want to read you one of the comments that someone gave for your nomination. It said:
"Megan, you're an inspiration to our veterans' group. You've taken a bunch of old, out-of-shape military folks and turned us, once again, into mean, green fighting machines. We're well on our way thanks to you."
Who are these mean, green fighting machines?
I wear many hats and I do work for Veterans Affairs (VA). I teach live classes, I teach virtually, I do personal training, and I'm also the coordinator and run our Veterans' Wellness Pathway program.
It's active and retired military, and basically, I am their trainer for 12 weeks. We try out all different “styles” of working out. The group I'm doing today, they are getting a little bit of a circuit style. The group I had the other day got something different.
You have to work with the group you have. They're not getting down on the floor. They're doing the seated stuff for their core and things like that.
I have the honor and the privilege to work with some of our veterans in our county here, and some are active, trying to get them into a better, healthier life.
We don't just do physical fitness. We also talk about nutrition. Next week, we talk about mental health and stress management too.
Q: What is the difference in your approach when you're working with an adaptive group versus other classes?
I don't think there's too much of a difference. I might have to do a little more explaining, or say, "If this isn't working for you, here's another option.”
Putting out a bunch of different modifications is key because our bodies sometimes don’t do what we want so we have to figure it out.
I like to let people know that it's okay to use a wall or a chair for stability and support. I don't know where in our society that became a bad thing. It's not.
The other thing that is unique is giving them permission to take breaks. We don't have to keep going and we don't have to keep hammering.
I have found people looking around being like, "I don't want to sit down because no one else is sitting down." I often respond, "Do you care if Susie sits down?" and they're like, "No. Not at all." And so I say, "Guess what, Susie doesn't care if you sit down either."
You've got to do you. Giving them permission to sit down and take a little bit of a break is important, too.
Q: You called last summer, 2020, the summer of rebuilding. What does that make this summer?
Q: You also have a 5K My Way Training program on BurnAlong. How did that start for you?
I'm a long-distance runner. I've done half IRONMANs. I have done everything that's out there because everything takes a different training and nutrition approach.
Recently, we were holding a 5K race but due to COVID, we made it virtual. And then we decided that, with our platform, I was going to be a little running coach. I started to record a guide or running program.
So that's how that came to be.
Q: Speaking of virtual offerings, what was your first experience with virtual wellness?
Our world shut down on March 13th, and I think, by March 17th, I was on Zoom. I actually won an award through my organization for being creative and innovative and hitting the ground running with that.
Our members and community were so appreciative. I’ve gotten to watch people lifting laundry detergents, whatever they've got, in lieu of weights. I've had had kids on people's backs doing squats.
It's just keeping them moving, and they kept saying, "Thank you for keeping me moving. Thank you."
This goes both ways though. I've been teaching group fitness and doing personal training for over 24 years, and if I had to suddenly be stuck in my house, not doing anything, I would have gone absolutely mad myself.
We quickly realized that virtual offerings were here to say so we better figure out a bigger and better platform. That's how we came to BurnAlong.
I love the creativity that people have had throughout the pandemic, especially, that first summer. That first summer being locked in meant you're just trying to survive and figure out a way to make it fun.
Fitness is a momentum thing, and if you keep objects at rest, you stay at rest, and if you're rolling, you'll keep moving.
The other thing that I loved about it is our county is huge, and our YMCA has several different branches. For the first time ever, I was able to spread across the entire county. Now, I have friends in all of the locations and I have people who log in to take my class virtually, who I would have never encountered otherwise.
Q: One of the things that we're betting on is this belief that a hybrid model is required. There are companies out there that their goal is to keep you in the house and stay on their bike, and you never have to meet an instructor.
In fact, there's no way that people aren't going to want to have a personal connection with their trainer. Similarly, trainers are going to demand a personal connection with their clients.
Something that's happened with virtual instruction is instructors have been able to grow their influence with people that are still in your community by having online options.
It's nice to know, too, that some people can either come into the branch and take the class; my classes are both live and virtual.
When I'm streaming from the class, then I've got participants on the other end of my computer. I'm hitting many, many more people. My reach is huge in that way.
It's nice to know that that if you go on vacation, you can grab a resistance band and your laptop to log into class and still exercise, too.
Q: When you're creating your virtual programming, do you have a person in mind? Who is it that you're creating these classes for?
I asked my participants! I asked what they want, what equipment they have. If I don't get any feedback, then I just do what I want to do.
Q: One of the things that I love about great trainers is great trainers make great trainers. What have the trainers in your life meant to you?
I've only had a couple, though they weren’t necessarily training me, they were very good friends of mine.
Whenever we would get together, they pushed me our of my comfort zone. A lot of times, I think, "I got this. I got this."
And then someone comes along and says, "No. Try it this way."
So being pushed; that's what everybody wants. That's why they're logging in. They want someone to tell them what to do.
I try to keep it funny, too, so you can add some humor into it. It helps people realize that exercising doesn't have to be torture.
Q: One final question is, why do you use BurnAlong?
Our organization said that is what we were going to do, to be honest. We found that virtual was here to stay. And Zoom was very unpredictable.
Quite frankly, I had so many people in my classes, I had two different and it was distracting.
I enjoy the fact that I'm talking to myself. I know that people are on there. I ask them to leave me comments all the time. I know they're there. I know they're logging in. And it's just a better platform that has much more reach.
If I'm teaching classes but somebody needs something with arthritis, they can log in, and then they have the opportunity to have more trainers at their fingertips on BurnAlong.
Want to learn more?
If you want to connect with Megan, you can find her on BurnAlong and take her many classes. She is also at the YMCA of Bucks County if you would like to take a live class in the near future. We congratulate Megan and are so grateful for her time. You can watch the full interview below.
If you would also like to be an instructor with BurnAlong, please introduce yourself to us.