Wednesday, December 6, 2023

No sweat converting woolshed into a gym

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Nutritionist, personal trainer and farmer makes room for wellness.
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Abby McKerchar, whose maiden name is Shaw, got the idea for the conversion after realising there was a lack of workout facilities available in the area.

“There really wasn’t much around in terms of local work-out options and, as a nutritionist and personal trainer, it seemed like a no-brainer to convert the woolshed into a gym and start some classes,” McKerchar said.

She takes about four classes a week, mostly for women, and they work on their strength and conditioning. She also takes online classes.

“I love what I do and love that I can help improve the strength and wellbeing of locals.”

Having the gym on the farm is also convenient for McKerchar, who has an eight-month-old son.

“I can do classes while Archie naps in the morning, so it’s a win-win for everyone.”

She is also currently studying to become specialised in pregnancy and postpartum training. “There’s a real shortage of that kind of specialised training in our area. I want to be able to help local women, so they don’t have to travel far for that kind of support.”

Abby and her husband Hamish McKerchar moved to his family’s farm, Shrimpton’s Hill Herefords, in 2020 to manage one of the farms. Prior to that, the pair had been working in Queenstown.

During the first lockdown in 2020, McKerchar took the classes online, but started in-person classes in 2021 after the woolshed was converted.

“We stripped out the woolshed and put some gym equipment inside. It was pretty easy to transform. My dad’s a builder so he helped out over a couple of weekends,”said McKerchar, who grew up in Christchurch.

“We took out about half of the pens, and if we need to convert it back then we can.”

Her advice for other people thinking about converting their woolshed into a gym is to give it a crack.

“It’s really doable and you don’t need big exercise equipment to put in the gym. Just simple equipment like bands and small yoga balls or even just playing games is enough,” she said.

“Sometimes big, scary equipment can actually turn people off and scare them away, so keeping it simple and fun works well.”

McKerchar, a former representative New Zealand swimmer, said the physical benefits of exercise are huge, but it’s the getting together and socialising that’s just as important.

“Exercise is hugely beneficial for you physically, for your mental health and for staying in shape. As we get older, it also helps prevent injuries and keeps you strong.”

McKerchar said farming can be challenging and isolating so connecting and having a break can put you in a better headspace.

“Exercise is good for your mind and body but so is connecting with people and having a laugh. 

“It’s making those connections, chatting, catching up and supporting each other that’s just as important as the exercise itself, if not more.”

She said she loves the messaging from Farmstrong about how important it is to do things like exercise, connect and have a break. 

“I love the practical tips on the website – things that you can to do improve your wellbeing. It’s straight to the point and very effective.”

Farming women face unique challenges such as isolation, McKerchar said.

“They also often fall into the administrative side of farming, and they end up juggling a lot of balls, including raising kids. It’s a big mental load to take on and it can be very challenging.”

It’s also hard for women to find time for themselves, which is important for their wellbeing, she said.

In 2018, Farmstrong commissioned research called Farming Women on Their Wellbeing. It found the top six things that women saw as contributing to an improvement in their wellbeing were getting more exercise, getting more or better-quality sleep, more time off the farm, more time for themselves, having their role and contribution valued more and eating healthier.

McKerchar said having a space like the gym to exercise, have a laugh and let off some steam helps improve those wellbeing factors.

“I’m hoping to get some blokes to come along as well, so watch this space.”

For more information visit McKerchar’s Instagram page or her Facebook page if you’d like to join the bootcamp challenges.

Farmstrong is nationwide, rural wellbeing programme. To find out what works for you and lock it in visit

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