Benchmarks instead of goals

I’ve been thinking about benchmark testing recently. Doing something you can measure, repeat, and test again in the future. I think it could be a good alternative to long term, specific goal setting (which I don’t think works and makes you feel crappy most of the time).

What got me thinking about benchmark testing?

Eight months ago, I did a workout in my hotel room. I decided on 3 rounds of 20 Air squats, 20 Burpees and 20 Push-Ups. It took me 21:40. I spent the next five minutes lying on the floor, gasping for breath. It wasn’t pretty.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to do it again. I hit the start button on the timer and went at it. I finished 3 rounds, and to my surprise, I actually felt pretty good. So, I decided to do another 2 rounds — making it 5 in total. It was tough, but I felt fresher than when I finished the 3 rounds earlier in the year. I couldn’t wait to check the timer. It said 00:00. WTF? Damn, I didn’t hit the start button properly.

Yesterday, I decided to have another crack at it. I nailed 5 rounds in exactly 27 minutes. That’s a 5.24 round average, compared to a 6.53 round average, 8 months ago. That’s nearly a minute and a half quicker PER round. And, I did 2 extra rounds!

I haven’t thought much about that workout, or specifically practised air squats, burpees or push ups in the last eight months. But, it’s a great marker that my overall conditioning has improved.

I love that. I was able to get better at something, without constantly thinking about the next goal to achieve, and whether I am on track or not to achieve it.

Now that I think about it, it’s actually why I like crossfit so much. It’s not about having specific training goals and then attacking it in a linear way. It’s constantly varied. Benchmark workouts are used to measure overall progress. The emphasis is on the small steps. And then once in awhile, you look up and re-test.

My gym uses a 2K row as one of their benchmark tests. I did it for the first time recently and got 7:29. It’ll be interesting to see how I fair when I re-test. By the way, I have no idea when they will re-test and I won’t think much about it either.

I’ve also been speaking with a Sports Massage Therapist / Coach recently. She’s REALLY good. I told her my mobility has improved since I started investing in it properly. But, that I felt a bit directionless.

She suggested doing some lower body and upper body benchmarking tests — to get a sense of where I am now. The results will drive a 12 week mobility programme, after which we will repeat the benchmark tests. It’s a bit more structured than the Crossfit example above, but along the same lines. Infrequent, general benchmarking (without a specific goal), with focused action between.

I’m not sure the concept of benchmarking works for everything. It feels like it works quite well for fitness. For example, I could come up with 3 or so benchmarking tests which broadly cover mobility, conditioning and strength. And then infrequently use them to gauge progress.

Benchmarking can so easily slip into specific goals though. For example, I started searching for crossfit benchmarks and found an Athlete Skill Levels sheet by Crossfit Hale.

Crossfit Hale — Athlete Skill Levels

I’ve been crossing off what I can do. I then started thinking about when I could reach the next specific level. Quickly, I found myself with multiple goals and a time frame. I had to take a step back and let go. I don’t want that.

Last week I took a week off crossfit. I wanted to bike, swim and double down on mobility for a week instead. It just felt the right thing to do. If I had multiple crossfit goals breathing down my neck, I would have felt guilty and conflicted. Even though it was the right thing to do at that time.

I will still test and re-test some of the Athlete Skill Levels from time to time. But, without specific goals, time frames and much thinking in-between.

What I do like about benchmarking is the way it measures progress, yet moves away from having specific goals, on a specific date. And that it gives some flexibility for what to do in-between.

My thinking around around benchmarking isn’t fully formed yet. I need to think about it a bit more. But, food for thought.


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