Just, Only, Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

I was talking with an athlete the other day after they had set a new personal record (PR). She was so excited… for a moment.  


But then it happened.


Before she had even revealed in her achievement, she said, “if only I had locked out my elbow on my last attempt I coulda had a bigger PR.”


My heart sank. This athlete had just accomplished something significant, yet within moments she was diminishing that achievement.


Unfortunately, this person’s experience is ubiquitous. Whether brand new members or seasoned competitors, I hear the words “just,” “only,” “coulda,” “woulda,” “shoulda” so often that if our box were paid a dollar for every time one of those words were uttered, we could build an addition! (Well, we may build that addition anyway….)


“I only lifted 50% of my one rep max in that workout.” (But you lifted it 50 times!)


“It was just x pounds.” (But those pounds were heavy for you!)


“I only did one _______ [fill in the blank: push up, jumping pull up, toes to bar, double under, ring dip]. (But remember when you couldn’t do one at all?!)


“I shoulda lifted more weight because last month I lifted x.” (But you’re going through a stressful time, and you’re pretty depleted right now. How great that you’re even here!)

“I coulda gotten that snatch if only I’d jumped under the bar faster.” (Yes, maybe you could have, so remember that for next time, and you’ll keep improving. But well done today!)


It makes me sad when our athletes fail to celebrate their efforts, successes, and commitment to their fitness, and instead consider a lower weight or fewer repetitions the actual failure. The actual failure, if we want to use that word, is in devaluing our achievements and losing perspective on the results we are seeing month to month and year to year.


It’s also disheartening when I see members compare themselves unfavorably to others. While it can be a useful practice to identify people whose abilities are just beyond yours and use them as role models; it is unproductive and unhealthy to rate yourself in comparison to others.


Have you ever noticed how often your fellow CrossFitters respond with joy and enthusiasm when they see you achieve something? While your friend is cheering beside you, you may have already decided it wasn’t a big deal because so-and-so does it all the time. Take a cue from your friend. Celebrate your successes with the same enthusiasm as they do, and the same enthusiasm you offer others.


Then CrossFit will not only be a place to grow fitter and healthier, but also a place to experience joy and self-worth.


Nick Birdsall is the founder of CrossFit Acadia, CF-L2, an EMT and Firefighter, and a former Marine.

Finding Balance in CrossFit and Life

CrossFit is well named. Its goal is overall fitness across many physical skills, among them endurance, strength, flexibility, speed, and coordination. CrossFit training is meant to be balanced and inclusive. If we push too hard in any one modality, we may lose fitness across other modalities.


This concept of balance pertains to life in general.


Most of us know professionals and business owners who have dedicated their lives almost exclusively to advancing their careers and businesses. They are financially well-off and highly respected. In the process, however, some have given up too much. They may have left little room for family, friends, and physical health. They may have money but not happiness; status but not health.


As a fitness professional, I have worked with many 50-60-year-olds who have let their profession be their focus for too long, and who desperately want to find health and happiness. Unfortunately, I have known some who never got the chance because of a sudden illness brought about by their imbalanced lifestyles.


As a CrossFit affiliate owner and coach, you may be surprised to hear me say this, but I see CrossFitters become imbalanced, too. It is not uncommon for CrossFitters to overtrain, or become obsessed with hitting personal records (PRs) or endlessly count their macros.


If you are so sore from overtraining that you miss out on playing with your family or friends, you’re out of balance.


If you avoid social gatherings for fear of eating foods that don’t comport with your dietary plan, you’re out of balance.


It’s great to dedicate extra time and energy to train for a competition, but if that extra time and energy become the norm, you’re out of balance.


It’s good to have a goal to train five days a week, but some mornings it’s worth skipping class to catch an amazing sunrise or spend time with your family if they need you.


It’s ideal to eat a healthy, whole foods diet every day, but that doesn’t mean you should never enjoy eating out at a restaurant.


It is important to set goals, but it’s also important to make sure that achieving a healthy balance in life is the primary goal.


After all, without balance, what are our goals really good for? Isn’t the ultimate goal to lead a joyful, healthy, generous, and meaningful life during our brief time on this planet?


Nick Birdsall is the founder of CrossFit Acadia, CF-L2, an EMT and Firefighter, and a former Marine.

Fitness For Life

I was recently talking with a member about my experiences thus far as an EMT and the benefits of fitness as we age and she felt it would be helpful if I shared this:


In my job as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), I was recently dispatched to help an elderly person who had fallen down while trying to stand up from the toilet. She’d dislocated her hip and was stuck in a split position with her head pinned to her knee. It was heartbreaking. This woman was sharp as a tack, but her body was too weak to safely stand from a seated position.


She was mentally fit, but she lacked physical fitness.


I understand the temptation to think of physical fitness as chiseled muscles and a six-pack; a new one rep max on a deadlift; or the ability to bust out dozens of push-ups in a row. Sure, these achievements help to display fitness, but not by themselves.


Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, describes a continuum from sickness to wellness to fitness, with functional fitness as the goal. Fitness isn’t always flashy. Especially as people age, fitness can be as simple as being able to get through daily tasks.


Isn’t the capacity to shovel snow from your walkway in winter; crouch to weed your garden in summer; run with your dog; carry your groceries; and any number of daily tasks worthy goals for your entire life?


In the language of Emergency Medical Services (EMS), if there is no injury, but someone is stuck on the floor, we call what we do a “lift assist.” That’s the term for having to go to someone’s house just to help them stand up. Having spent more than ten years teaching CrossFit prior to becoming an EMT, I now understand the profound importance and multifaceted nature of fitness.


When we practice squats we are ensuring that we can always sit down and stand up. When we practice burpees we are ensuring that we are always able to get up off the ground. When we practice box steps, we are ensuring we can always ascend and descend stairs with ease.


For younger people, fitness may seem synonymous with rock hard abs. For older people, fitness may seem out of reach because they think they should have the same goals as a twenty-year-old. Both perspectives are limited and limiting.


Fitness is for life.


Nick Birdsall is the founder of CrossFit Acadia, CF-L2, an EMT and Firefighter, and a former Marine.