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Emily McKean (@em_mckean on Instagram) is a personal trainer who works at two Chicago-based fitness studios: Shred 415 and Wattage. She’s a pro now, but McKean wasn’t always a workout guru. In fact, she previously served as a program officer for an international development consultancy before making the leap to creating workout routines for her clients.

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The trainer took time out of her endless sweat sessions to chat with Lively about what inspired her to leave her corporate job, her proudest fitness achievement and what she always carries in her gym bag.

Lively: Can you tell us about your fitness journey?

Emily McKean: I moved to London back in 2014 and was working in the corporate world. I had recently gotten back from a two-year stint of traveling and although I worked out along the way, the final six months of the trip only involved wine and a backpacker budget. I came back feeling like a slug and something needed to change. I was in a rut and although I had been active and athletic in the past, I had very little motivation to get moving again. I signed up for Class Pass to get back into the routine of a regular schedule. With that, I signed up for a lifting-focused small group class which really kickstarted me to where I am now.

I loved the workout, but I also loved learning. Introducing weights into my fitness regime changed my shape, my body composition, my confidence and my headspace. Plus, it made me feel like a badass. The physical gains were great and were evidence of that hard work I was putting in but how my mind and soul felt were what really motivated me. Feeling strong, building that strength myself, pushing through failure. I soon found I wanted to share that mindset with as many people as possible and for other people to fall in love with training the way I did. I quit my corporate job as a program officer for an international development consultancy, moved to America, and became a personal trainer. 

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emily mckean

L: Is there a fitness goal you're most proud of accomplishing?

EM: I am most proud of staying consistent, for putting in the hard work over the years to build and change my body. And for taking a leap of faith in myself and becoming a personal trainer so I could help others do the same. Also, hitting 15 pull-ups was a fun one.

L: How do you motivate yourself to work out when you really don't want to?

EM: It can be tough sometimes. I have to schedule it in my work calendar, so I stick to it. I also find a workout buddy or take a group fitness class to hold me accountable. Sometimes even trainers need that little extra push!

L: You teach at Wattage and Shred – how do you find time to work out for yourself?

EM: The key is scheduling my week right and allowing myself that downtime I need, as well as planning ahead. When I was trying to build up my training hours, I would say yes to everyone and anything that came my way. I soon found that it can easily mean not stopping all day and allowing for no ‘me time.’ Now with a consistent and solid client base, I block out time in the middle of the day to allow for that time I most definitely need to myself. It might not always involve a workout, but I try and fit it in 4 to 5 times a week! 

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emily mckean

L: What does a typical rest day for you look like? How do you unwind?

EM: I like to get outside – especially by the lake! – and still like to move as much as possible. Even if I am just moving to the nearest coffee shop. 

L: Do you have a favorite Vital Proteins product? If so, how do you take it?

EM: Collagen Peptides in my coffee first thing in the morning. The best way! 

L: And lastly, can you tell us what's in your gym bag?

EM: S’well water bottle, because hydrating is important. Usually a Peanut Berry or Blueberry RXBAR because I'm always hungry! COCOKIND MacaBeet Tinted Moisture Stick for my cheeks and lips if I need to make myself look alive after a 5 a.m. start! And of course, a hydrating face mist since my skin gets dry in the winter.

Photos: @em_mckean/Instagram