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Why Do Benchmarks

In CrossFit, we have benchmark workouts. These are standardized workouts that we repeat on a random basis. Think of them like measuring sticks. In a traditional gym, it would be common for someone to ask you, “What’s your bench?” In a CrossFit gym, someone might ask you, “What is your Fran time?” It’s like a universal language that every CrossFitter around the world knows. But, aside from having something to talk about, why do we do benchmark workouts?

Where You Fail

There is a maxim that says “We fail at the margins of our experience.” It’s a fancy way of saying we can’t do what we can’t do. In workout terms, for example, if you don’t have the experience to do pullups, then that’s the point at which you fail. The only way to push past that “failure” is to increase your ability. To do this, you have to expose yourself to the things that challenge you. Increasing your experience will lead to increases in ability.

To help you visualize this, imagine a blank sheet of paper. In the middle of the paper, write a movement that is so basic almost everyone can do it (like an air squat). Now, around the middle, start to write other movements that are still “easy,” but slightly harder. Maybe surrounding air squat you write plank hold, pushups, situps, and ring rows. As you continue, expand out from the center as you write more and more challenging movements. A little further out might be back squats, front squats, and overhead squats. Toward the outer edge of the paper will be strict ring muscle ups, handstand walking, and triple unders.

At this point, draw a circle around the movements you can currently do. In the beginning, the circle will be small. However, as your experience increases, the circle will get larger and larger. As you gain strength and skills, you will be able to do more movements. As you expose yourself to more workouts, you will learn new skills and your circle will get larger.

Benchmarks Help Us Test Fitness

How does this relate to benchmark workouts? Benchmark workouts are a consistent test of our experience. The first time you do a particular benchmark workout, you may not be able to complete it as written. Maybe the workout has pullups and you can’t do unassisted pullups yet. However, a year later, after you have more experience, you can do pullups. Thus, by retesting the workout, you can see that your circle is getting bigger.

Each time you attempt the same benchmark workout, you learn more about your limitations. With that knowledge, you can address your limitations, increase your experience, and increase your margin of failure.