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Axle Workout Instructor Profile: Grace Sanford

Classically trained dance and Axle Workout master coach Grace Sanford considers herself clumsy, but dance and movement are Grace's life passions.

Her story began when Grace received her acceptance letter to Eugene Lang College's esteemed dance program. Grace set out for the Big Apple, excited for the bright future that lay ahead of her in the world of dance. 

Growing up, Grace spent over 20 hours per week in the dance studio while balancing her art with soccer after school and on the weekends. As a child, young Grace had no clue how vital this cross-training would prove for her fitness career.

One day Grace sustained a severe injury that put her dance aspirations on hold. This injury proved a blessing in disguise, though. It forced Grace to realign her body and focus on one aspect of fitness.

She revived her cross-training routine from her formative years as a soccer player, and to offset her physical therapy costs, Grace landed a job as an aid at a local PT office.

Although dance and fitness were an integral aspect of her early life, it didn't feel like something Grace could pursue as a profession after her injury. 

From the dance studio to fitness studio

Grace looked towards her dance friends, many of whom struggled to make a living or worked long, grueling hours that didn't support a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. She wanted to choose a career path that would stretch her dance career out as long as possible. She came up with the idea of working at a gym. 

She applied to be a front desk worker at her local gym in the West Village. During the interview, the general manager asked, "You have a fitness background. Why don't you become a personal trainer?" He helped her get the courses started and was given the opportunity to earn her certifications. 

Now, Grace is a Personal Trainer at Crunch Fitness. She offers dance training, HIIT classes, lightweights, and even one-on-one sessions to her clients. She moved over to facetime workouts during the pandemic, but she says it kept her motivated during lockdown. Grace also offers bi-weekly virtual classes for Axle. 

Grace describes her coaching style as a "motivational cheerleader to find your pathway." She believes in the power of positive affirmations, encouraging yourself, and inclusivity.

Tough love is not something Grace practices, and she works hard to remind her clients they need to find the best version of their own exercise. She believes that comparing will never get you anywhere because all bodies are unique. 

Join the Axle community! Check out this week's LIVE classes and training sessions.

We Asked Grace Some Questions...

Do you do cardio? 

I ride a bike to get around New York City. It's an easy way to get cardio in at least 2-3 times per week.

Sometimes I'll throw in a HIIT workout that usually includes:

  • 10 minutes on the Stairmaster (intervals of 30-45 seconds, with a 1 minute recovery interval)
  • A 10 minute HIIT session of treadmill sprints (20 seconds run, 20 seconds walk)
  • 10 minutes on the Cybex arc trainer (the Cybex is similar to an elliptical; good for low impact training and can change gait and intensity to accommodate for injuries)

Q: What is a typical day of eating for you?

I teach at varying times of the day, which can often leave me with little to no time to eat in between sessions, making me feel horrible. I used to think, "Why did I do this to myself?" Instead, I now try to eat four small meals a day.

A typical day of eating includes:

  • 9 am breakfast: 25-30g of protein, including eggs, spinach, greek yogurt or probiotic non-flavored yogurt, berries, or almonds. If I have no time, I'll make a protein shake with Greek yogurt, berries, and spinach.
  • 1 pm Snack: I'll usually eat some combination of peanut butter, almonds, salami, ham, turkey, or an apple. I'll also carry around a bag of raw veggies if I get snacky throughout the day.
  • 3-4 pm Lunch: Big salad or bowl of veggies including red pepper, spinach, onion, berries, oranges, topped with a protein, with no dressing.
  • 7-8 pm Dinner: Chefs choice (aka my husband, the cook of the family)! Last night we had a delicious meal of scallops, spaghetti in butter parsley sauce, and a big salad.

I don't focus on nutrient timing, carbs and fats. Instead, I concentrate on intuitive eating.

I got inspired by Cynthia Sash's book "Fast Yourself Slim." Cynthia's methodology focuses on eating very clean and prioritizing protein as a fat-burning food. It reminded me a lot of the Axle Workout 21 Day Challenge!

Q: Do you track your food or eat intuitively?

I eat intuitively. I spent my early 20s obsessing over what I ate until I realized that habit wasn't serving me. During college, I was bulimic and anorexic, which stemmed from anxiety, wanting to fit in and be as skinny as possible.

The subsequent health problems I experienced arose from my eating disorders. Now, I avoid counting calories and focus on feeling good and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine. Becoming a personal trainer also pushed me to take better care of myself.

Q: Do you have any personal fitness struggles?

I had a hard time working out on my own. It's what initially drew me towards group fitness training. In college, I joined a women's gym that hosted group classes.

I still have a hard time working out alone, but my dog helps. Whether it's going for a walk to the dog park or a quick run around the neighborhood, being active in any form is essential. 

Even if all you do is some squats and lunges in the morning, it might be just what you need to motivate you for the rest of the day. You don't have to work out at a gym for it to count as fitness. You can literally go for a walk; that is fitness.

Join the Axle community! Check out this week's LIVE classes and training sessions.

Q: What do you recommend for people who struggle with feeling unmotivated?

Start with a mini-goal. Wake up every day and do 10 squats and, boom, there's your fitness. Anything that gets your body moving can be your version of fitness. If you start to feel bored with your current routine, you can always build on it or modify your exercises when the time feels right.

Q: What would you say to someone who wants to get into the fitness industry professionally? 

First, have a place as a resource, and that place can easily be a gym filled with people you love who are already active members of the fitness industry and community. It also helps to have an in-person resource or support system to connect you with the right people.

Look for where you see yourself in the industry. Fitness is all about relationships. Find a mentor or a training program. Start with education and work your way to certification. 

Q: What is your favorite healthy recipe? 

My go-to healthy comfort meal:

  • One-half cup of cooked whole-wheat couscous
  • Crack two or three eggs
  • Add ¼ sweet onion
  • Add one cup of spinach
  • Sautee all ingredients together in a pan
  • Add parmesan cheese

Q: What is your favorite Axle Workout lift or exercise?

Since working with Axle, I've come to love the RDL, with pull-ups being a close second. The latter sounds like a cop-out, but I truly believe one of the best exercises anyone can do is pull-ups. 

Grace and Axle Workout

Grace mentioned that her favorite thing about the Axle Workout was how hard it was when she first tried it. The beginning of her first Axle class was one of the most challenging workouts she has ever done. Learning how to hold a plank on the Axle Barbell proved difficult. Despite this, it pushed her to want to get better at it. 

"I love the fact that it's all built on alignment of joints. It sidesteps any chance of messing up technique because you learn that form from the get-go."

Grace teaches Axle classes at the Hoboken Crunch studio, but currently, it is only over Zoom until further notice. Catch Grace on Axle Live, Wednesday and Friday at 7:30 am EST!

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