Exercise plays such an essential role in our physical and mental health—even more so in the midst of a global health crisis. So when COVID shut down campus activities, the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education wasted no time stepping up to keep the McGill community moving.
Launched in 2018, the Kinesiology Clinic (“Kin Clinic”) is an internship program that gives students the opportunity to put their learning into practice, providing exercise classes to McGill community members who need help working through a physical injury or issue, or who simply want to step up their fitness game.
When pandemic restrictions brought physical classes to a halt, program supervisors quickly rallied to transition the classes to Zoom.
A blessing in disguise
“When the pandemic struck, we had to move online quickly,” remembers Dr. Celena Scheede-Bergdahl, Senior Faculty Lecturer in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, which is part of the Faculty of Education. “While it’s been a challenge, it’s also been a blessing in disguise! It’s allowed our students to learn how to lead exercise sessions in a completely different way.”
The new online format has proven beneficial for class participants, too, in a lot of ways. “It can tackle barriers for exercise such as access to classes, physical disabilities, living in remote areas, family situations and time,” Dr. Scheede-Bergdahl adds.
Dr. Alan Peterson, Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine, has been involved with Kin Clinic since day one, taking part in every 10-week course with the goal of improving his overall fitness. Having experienced both in-person and remote classes, he agrees the latter format has its upsides.
“While I miss the treadmill, I’m very grateful that the course has continued online and feel it provides equal benefit,” he says. “I don’t have to go to the gym now and that’s not a trivial thing! It’s a 15-minute walk from my office and it’s quite a steep hill. The sidewalks are usually a mess, covered in ice, and you’re taking your life in your hands trying to get there. This makes it much easier and far less time consuming.”
Reaching more people to make an impact
Pre-pandemic, students taught one-on-one, in-person sessions on campus, acting as personal trainers for clients. Now with the online classes, two students work together to teach six to eight participants at a time—a change aimed at reaching as many people as possible at a time when exercise is more important than ever.
One student leads the class in a carefully curated exercise routine while the other looks out for poor form or injury risks, always fully supervised by a certified kinesiologist. All class participants are members of the McGill community (faculty, staff and students) and understand that the interns are learning. For many of these clients, working out for 45 minutes twice a week makes a world of difference to their health and wellbeing.
Hawk Andiqwar is a third-year Kinesiology student who’s also been involved in both in-person and remote Kin Clinic classes. Right now, he’s three weeks into teaching his second 10-week course—and already sees a vast improvement in his clients’ fitness.
“The majority of people I’m working with haven’t moved in months so it’s huge,” he explains. We’re just three weeks in and I can already see they’re not taking breaks to catch their breath. They’re adapting to the exercise and we’re already seeing progress.”
Program challenges and rewards
One of the biggest challenges for Hawk, specifically with Zoom classes, is making sure that everyone’s getting the most out of the workouts with so many people on screen.
“In my class, I have two ends of the spectrum: people who have a hard time getting down to the mat and up again, to a younger individual who’s really in shape and can handle anything. So I have to make sure I’m balancing the classes to make sure everyone gets a good workout.”
On the flip side, the most rewarding aspect of the program for Hawk—besides seeing his clients progress— is having the opportunity to build practical skills that he can now use to help even more people.
“Just by going through this, I’ve developed skills that I can share. That’s been a huge plus of this program.”
After graduating this year, Hawk plans to pursue a master’s in occupational therapy and is currently volunteering with the Special Olympics to build connections in the field he ultimately wants to work in. “My end goal is to work with people with special needs, helping them train to be as functional as possible through more active exercise.”
Building practical skills, preparing for the future
Tiphaine Colcombet, who led online Kin Clinics during the Fall 2020 semester from Paris, where she’s originally from, shares Hawk’s view that the most rewarding part of the internship experience was building practical, hands-on skills.
“Doing this internship was really important for me because we learn a lot of theory in class but I really needed to practice. My confidence increased so much over the 10-week course and I really saw a difference between the first and last class.”
Also in her final year, Tiphaine plans to continue her studies in Paris after graduation and is currently looking into osteopathy programs. Armed with the tangible experience she gained during the internship program, she feels well prepared for her future career.
“Confidence is the main thing for me,” she says. “Now I can call up a future employer and show them I’ve already done this. I’ve worked with a lot of people at all different levels and now I can train the whole spectrum.”