Recently I had the pleasure to sit down to lunch with Tracy Shuford PA-C to talk about life, geek out about orthopedic injuries, and learn more about Crossfit. In this interview we define Crossfit and Functional Movement, discuss common misconceptions, Injuries and Crossfit, what to do to prepare for your 1st Crossfit class and why she really loves Crossfit training & competition.
Tracy works as physician’s assistant at Greensboro Orthopaedics, treating all orthopedic problems, though primarily specializing in shoulder problems. She was a collegiate All American in soccer and was inducted into the hall of fame at Elon University as a 3-sport athlete. After years of trying different sports and physical activities to fulfill the competitive drive, spirit and physical exertion she thrived on as a collegiate athlete in 2010 she finally found Crossfit. After that first fundamentals class she was hooked. Outside of her day job, she is a certified Crossfit instructor, Crossfit Games competitor and co-owner of College Hill Crossfit in Greensboro, NC.
Dr. Aaron LeBauer: What is CrossFit?
Tracy Shuford: Crossfit in all simplicity is a baseline strength and conditioning program that builds on principles of what we call “functional movement.” It was named and somewhat invented by a brilliant gentleman named Greg Glassman a previous gymnast, trainer, and pioneer in the fitness industry. The beauty is he really didn’t “invent” anything, he took known principles of strength and conditioning and movements from many different sports (gymnastics, power lifting, Olympic weightlifting, rowing, track, etc) and combined them into effective training tools. What he found is that strength and conditioning gains come fastest to those that can exercise effectively at high intensity over sustained periods. He added to it the ability to objectively measure one’s fitness by tracking results and then gave it a name making him the first person to define fitness in a meaningful, measurable way. Fitness equals increased work capacity over broad time and modal domains and we define Crossfit as constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement.
Dr. LeBauer: What is functional movement and why is it important?
Tracy: Functional movements are those that are inherent to our essential activities of daily living and are natural to us as humans. They involve a universal motor recruitment pattern and use power that is generated from our core moving to our extremities and are compound. Now what does all that mean…it means the ability to squat and dead lift, push, pull, and press. In reality these are things that we do every day, get out of a chair (squat) and dead lift (carry groceries in to your house) for example. When one loses the ability to do such things is when one generally becomes dependent on others. What we do is train these movements in a controlled environment to make people better movers. Your ability to perform these type movements as we age in all honesty is what keeps you out of nursing homes. We have found it safe if these movements are performed properly to train them at both sub maximal and maximal loads.
Dr. LeBauer: How did you get started with CrossFit and what got you hooked?
Tracy: A close friend had been urging me to try his “new gym” for months. Finally he convinced me to go to my first fundamentals class. I found myself hanging on the instructors every word as he spoke of a new way to look and live fitness. Then it came time in the class for my first workout (WOD-workout of the day) and mind you I was not a couch potato at that time. After 5 minutes of a movement we call Wall Balls I was destroyed and left breathless for hours. It caused me to take a real hard look at my own fitness and I have been hooked ever since. That same close friend and I still train together, and he still talks many into trying us out. I call him our “crossfit disciple.”
Dr. LeBauer: What is your favorite thing about CrossFit vs traditional training or sports?
Tracy: The constantly varied approach to exercise. Meaning that, the traditional days for back and biceps, and chest, triceps and legs are out the window. Varying the stimulus everyday improves your fitness on many broader levels and you never get bored. We call it being prepared for the unknown and unknowable. It incorporates a broad and inclusive fitness. I also call it trying not to “suck” at any one thing.
Dr. LeBauer: What else do you do to take care of your body and maintain a healthy lifestyle?
Tracy: I always make sure I am eating clean and taking proper supplements and getting as much rest as possible. Diet is one of the most important things, you have to have the proper fuel in order for your engine to run efficiently. I eat meat and vegetables from healthy sources and eat a grain free, no sugar added, diet. There might be occasional cheats from Maxi B’s thrown in there or Emma Keys sweet potato waffle fries. But there has to be a balance. I have found fish oil to be very important as I become a more mature athlete in my recovery and am a huge proponent for it.
Dr. LeBauer: Besides CrossFit, how do you enjoy spending your time?
Tracy: I will be honest; this is a part in my life where I struggle to find balance. Between my career and training to be a competitive athlete in Crossfit I haven’t got a lot of extra time in my day. The good thing about this is that I truly enjoy the act of training and the process. It is my time to devote to myself and helps decompress and I feel incomplete without it. I do very much enjoy being at the beach or in the sun and having fun times with friends and family.
Dr. LeBauer: What does your background in orthopedics bring to your experience and passion for CrossFit?
Tracy: I think the biggest thing this allows is for a better understanding to the mechanics of our body and how it moves. It also allows me a better understanding of how to scale or modify movements for our athletes in order to keep them healthy and making progress towards fitness goals without risk of injury.
Tracy: ABSOLUTELY! Was that loud enough? The beauty of Crossfit as a conditioning program is the universal scalability of every movement we do. You can’t do a standard pull-up with chin over bar? No problem. We have a multitude of pulling stimuli (ie ring rows) to substitute to build that pulling strength. And guess what eventually you will be bale to do that pull up with time, training and persistence. We also are able to work around injury and do so with regularity. We have lots of athletes who potentially have an injury to either knee or shoulder that we modify their workouts to accommodate. Or those with more chronic issues who perhaps can’t run or jump, we have bikes and rowers to substitute and modify the jumps to step ups. It happens every day in our box. I would tell that person to come and train, we will make sure you are working within your abilities.
Dr. LeBauer: What is the biggest misconception people have about CrossFit?
Tracy: The media has sensationalized the risk of injury as something that is unique to Crossfit which I find very disappointing. The risk of sitting on your couch long term far outweighs the risk of being active. There are risks in everyday life that are unavoidable and it requires us to evaluate the potential rewards versus benefits. While it is true that there are reported cases of rhabdomyolysis and even other more severe injuries the bulk of the research suggests that weekend sports and recreational activities, (running, skiing) have a far higher injury rate. The important piece of this puzzle is to advocate for new athletes to join a Crossfit affiliate and work with a qualified instructor adhering to proper “mechanics, consistency, and intensity” which will help decrease your risk of injury. Being sore is not an injury that is a promise though if exercising at proper intensities to get a training effect.
Dr. LeBauer: Are there any exercises or tests that a person can do at home to prepare for their 1st Crossfit workout?
Tracy: This is one of my biggest pet peeves, people telling me they need to get into shape so they can Crossfit! That is not how it works! Come, just come. No matter what experience level or fitness level you have, I guarantee that first workout will be hard, and that second one, and the 185th one. You see where I am going with this? The workouts never get easier because you can always push yourself a little harder. The hardest thing someone ever does is walk through our door. No matter what level you are…just do it, come.
Dr. LeBauer: If you could give somebody starting in CrossFit some advice what would it be?
Tracy: Is there anything else you think people would like to know about you, exercise, CrossFit, recovering from an injury or pain condition?
My usual remark about Crossfit is this;
“Crossfit is for everybody, but not everybody is for Crossfit.”
What that means is I will guarantee that everyone who comes in and tries Crossfit and adheres to our training principles and a healthy diet will see results and rewards. Some people don’t enjoy the intensity piece. However, that is truly where all of the gains come. But for those that do come and try, not only do we see amazing physical transformations, we see the biggest adaptation to be between their ears. They walk taller, carry more confidence which tends to translate into their everyday life and careers outside of the gym. Don’t believe me? Just stop any Crossfitter and ask them for yourself what changes it has made in their life, I hope you are prepared to have a few minutes to listen!
Thank you Tracy! I had a great time meeting you and thanks for sharing your knowledge.
Have you tried Crossfit? What was your experience? Do you have any questions or concerns about trying Crossfit or modifying your Crossfit workout to work around or rehabilitate an injury? If you do, please leave a comment below.