Monday, March 10, 2008

Finding "benchmarks"

When I was growing up, my brothers and I would measure our height on a 2x4 stud in the basement. We'd mark our height with a pencil and record our name and the date. As we got older, we could see our growth right there in the tick marks. I think most every household in America has a similar system.

But height is an easy measurement. It's linear, has a simple unit of measurement, and definite. It cannot be argued. It's much like weight. As we get older and wiser, we attempt to measure other aspects of our life.
One of those aspects is physical fitness. How exactly does one measure physical fitness? There's not just one way. It's very subjective.
One of the most frequently used techniques is using scores for isolated events. An individual's scores are then compared to a set of statistics. The "Cooper Norms" are one such set of stats. For example, one runs 1.5miles for time[aerobic capacity], then compares his/her score against age and gender adjusted standards across others tested in the nation. The typical battery of tests for the Cooper Norms are the 300M sprint [anaerobic], maximum repetition bench press [muscular strength], vertical leap [power], one-minute situp test [core], and maximum pushup test [endurance]. If an individual scores high in most all categories but scores low in one, the individual should spend extra training time focused on addressing that particular deficiency. The problem.....this is friggen boring!!!
The "benchmark drill" method is another way to measure physical fitness. While you lose the ability to compare against a national statistic, you gain a lot of fun. A benchmark drill is a uniform group of exercises that are performed to a specific standard. They frequently contain elements that demand well-rounded fitness, such as pushups, kettlebelling, running, rowing, pullups, presses, and other lifts. CrossFit program has a laundry list of benchmarks. They are predominantly named after women, like Chelsea, Barbara, Cindy, or Helen. Or named for America's hero' like Navy LT Mike "MURPH" Murphy. These benchmarks are a great way to track progress for yourself. They are also a perfect way to compete against friends and workout partners. Here's an example:
My friends and I all like "Fran." It requires the tester to perform alternating rounds of thrusters (95lb front squat and push press combo) and pullups. The cycles are as follows: 21 thrusters, 21 pullups, 15 thrusters, 15 pullups, 9 thrusters, and 9 pullups....for time. Here's the beauty: big guys usually do better at thrusters, while the pullups favor the smaller build. So FRAN requires a compromise. And it requires the testers spend time on weaknesses!! At 230lbs, if I don't concentrate on pullups, that portion of FRAN will kill my time. Likewise, my smaller rivals need to practice thrusters.
I use these such drills to test my progress in fitness. About 1 year ago, I had zero chance of even completing FRAN. Even thinking about it made me sick, reminding me of failure. I used it as a goal to first complete it. I first had to adjust or scale back the numbers of repetitions from 21-15-9 to something more manageable like 15-12-9. I also used a pullup assist machine. Within a few months I could complete FRAN as prescribed by CF. About 1 month ago, I dropped the time to 23 minutes. This morning, I did FRAN in 13:59. That's progress I am extremely proud of. There are other benchmarks that I use to drive my training, keeping me balanced among multiple aspects of fitness (strength, anaerobic ability, endurance, stamina, coordination, etc).
I highly encourage you to find a few benchmarks for you to dream about. Within the next few weeks, do your best to complete them or at least familiarize yourself with the movements. Then track your progress from month to month or on a schedule you can manage. Be sure to pick benchmarks that contain elements that you might suck at ;) What's the fun in always doing what you're good at?
If you aren't creative enough to develop your own benchmarks, there are plenty of these benchmarks within the CrossFit community. Look at the Girls and the Heroes WOs. Commit to a few. Get out the notepad and keep making your tick marks!

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