Changing the Conversation with Herself: Julie Hougard Nielsen Talks about her Transition to Team Division with No Shortcuts CrossFit

July 11, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Ava Kitzi
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When Dr. Julie Hougard Nielsen stepped onto the competition floor at the European Semifinals, the 31-year-old Danish athlete knew she had something to prove. Not just to the massive stadium packed with hundreds of fans, but also to her team.

One big thing: Despite spending the past several years competing individually, including an Individual Games appearance in 2019 and two Individual Semifinal appearances in 2021 and 2022, Nielsen had never taken the competition floor with a team. But watching her out on the floor with her fellow team members of CrossFit No Shortcuts, you would never know.

The rookie European team might be new to the team division, but not to the sport of fitness, and over the course of the weekend, they combined their individual strengths to work as one and take first place overall after six tests, never finishing a single test outside the top ten.

For Nielsen, her experience in the team division at the European Semifinal was a learning experience and one that she hoped would continue to build her team for the upcoming CrossFit Games.

  • “Coming into the European Semifinal, we were a new team, so we weren’t sure what to expect. We hadn’t done an actual competition together before,” said Nielsen, noting that while they had competed once together in Madrid earlier that year, team captain Houdet was not there to join them, which changed the dynamic quite a bit.
  • “I think we learned a lot from this experience, being in this format and size of the competition [as well as] communicating under pressure when the competition intensity is there,” she continued.

The team has come a long way from last year when Houdet called up Nielsen and her fellow team members to build a team to represent CrossFit No Shortcuts.

  • Since their initial phone call, Nielsen has not only moved in with Houdet in Denmark but has also worked harder than ever to become the fittest version of herself.
  • “I have the expectation of going to the Games as a fitter version than I’ve ever been,” Nielsen said.

In 2019, Nielsen qualified for the CrossFit Games as an individual while studying for her med-school exams. But despite the incredible amount of work that went into accomplishing such a feat in 2019, Nielsen still believes that this has been the hardest season for her yet.

  • “For me individually, the team thing has definitely been a harder training season. Not just upping the volume, but also being aware of where three people are at and where I need to be,” Nielsen said.
  • “The mental part of being in comparison to people and feeling sometimes like you can be the weakest link or that you’ve had a bad day and how that impacts your team members [is also difficult],” Nielsen added.
  • “When you train alone, who’s going to notice if you take a break or slow down,” said Nielsen explaining that she feels a lot more pressure on herself when working with her teammates.
  • “I find this insecurity has been quite a surprise for me, but also a healthy thing to try to assess and to turn around and try to work on,” she concluded.

While Nielsen has spent a lot of time making herself as fit as possible physically, she has also addressed her own limitations when it comes to the mental aspect of the sport.

  • In the past year, Nielsen explained that she spent a lot of time learning to reshape the way she talked to herself in her head, especially during workouts.
  • “We all have situations where our inner dialogue can not be constructive,” said Nielsen.
  • “[When I start noticing this], I try to stop myself and think why do I have this train of thought? What is happening, what is the reason, and try to turn it around to something constructive,” she continued.

This idea of shifting the way one talks to themselves is not just important for Nielsen on a personal level, but also on a professional level. To Nielsen, understanding how to be kind to yourself and build a constructive narrative in your head is pivotal for how she helps her patients to do that for themselves.

  • “I work on [shifting my conversations] constantly, because in my work I also speak to my patients about how you speak to themselves in their daily life when they struggle,” said Neilson
  • “It doesn’t have to just be fitness, it can be something like work, family life,” she added.

But in the case of fitness, Nielsen believes that shifting how you talk to yourself during workouts and how you view yourself in relation to your fitness is pivotal for everyone and not just Games athletes.

  • “When you start from scratch and try to do something you haven’t done before, it shows courage, it shows you can do more than you think you’re capable of,” said Nielsen.
  • “I always try to make people see what they’re doing [by coming into the gym] and just putting themselves out there,” she continued.
  • “Trying to learn the skills, trying to do a basic pull-up, it takes a lot of guts and it takes a lot of grit and perseverance that not everyone has,” Nielsen elaborated.
  • “I think it’s important that everyone gives themselves credit for putting in the work and I want people to remind themselves that it’s a long journey and every step is a success,” Nielsen continued.

“Whenever you learn a new skill, move a little better, breathe a little better, feel more content, it’s always a success,” she concluded adding, “We can always learn more but we also need to appreciate how we get there.”

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