A new year means we need a new way to test our fitness. Ok, maybe not a new way, but definitely a new selection of workouts for the annual Benchmark Series! We first introduced the Benchmark Series in 2014 and this annual yearlong effort is now in its 5th year!
Because of the constantly varied nature and black box concept of CrossFit programming, we felt the need to implement a method to test the programming in relation to the goal of our programBy design, CrossFit programming is varied, and the tenets of the program hold that constantly varied, functional movements, executed at high intensity, will yield increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains. In the simplest of terms, your benchmark workout scores should improve over the course of the year without specifically training to be better at those workouts and movements.
Benchmark testing has long been a part of CrossFit and Coach Glassman has written about it numerous time. In 2014, from our perspective as coaches and programmers, we didn’t feel like we had a good or systematic approach to test our athletes’ progress and evaluate gym weaknesses as a whole. This part of CrossFit and its application was getting overlooked. In addition, we found that some of the most rewarding days for athletes occurred when they retested a workout and saw huge improvements.
And so the Benchmark Series was born.

How Does it Work?

We select 12-15 workouts that collectively represent a broad range of fitness and capacity – from short to long workouts, low to high skill, light to heavy workouts, and more. Over the course of the year, we incorporate those workouts into the monthly programming and retest each benchmark once every four months. That allows us to retest three times a year which we’ve found from past years is the sweet spot.

How Do We Choose?

What do you do when you’re tasked to select 13 workouts that will best test the effectiveness of programming and the development of fitness for a large population of everyday athletes? We start our search by narrowing it down to CrossFit benchmark workouts – including Girls, Heroes, Open, Regionals, and Games workouts, and also pull from coaches’ notes and SugarWOD data on general gym weaknesses or workouts that stood out as “stumping” our population. From there we apply a great resource from the CrossFit Journal, “A Theoretical Template for CrossFit’s Programming.”
In this article, creator and founder of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, walks through the logic behind creating a template “to allow for a wide and constantly varied stimulus, randomized within some parameters, but still true to the aims and purposes of CrossFit as described in the “What is Fitness?” issue.” Who better to take advice from on how to test the fitness progress of a general population using constantly varied, functional movements, at high intensity, than the founder of CrossFit?
The template divides movements into one of three modalities: metabolic conditioning, gymnastics, and weightlifting. Metabolic conditioning is described as monostructural movements such as running and rowing and are commonly referred to as “cardio.” The gymnastics modality is all things bodyweight and weightlifting is all movements that incorporate an external load. From there, the workouts are combined into singlets (30 muscle-ups for time or 30 snatches for time), couplets (Elizabeth), triplets (Helen), or chippers (Filthy Fifty). Each workout can further be categorized to reflect the combination of the type of modalities involved. Take for example the workout Helen – 3 rounds for time of: 400m run, 21 Kettlebell Swings, 12 Pull-ups. This workout would be classified as Monostructural/Weightlifting/Gymnastics.
With the movements categorized, and the singlets, couplets, triplets, and chippers all on the table for consideration – we dive one layer deeper and classify workouts as:

  • High or Low Skill Gymnastics
  • Light, Medium, Heavy Weightlifting

We then select workouts that, collectively, incorporate all areas listed above – and not bias one area – such as heavy weightlifting.
From there we narrow down to roughly 20 benchmark possibilities and further filter using 2 criteria: constant variation in movements and time domain. We want to make sure we’re not just testing power cleans and pull-ups over and over and we need to ensure that we’re hitting short, medium, and long time domains.
This is usually the time in the yearly process that an extensive spreadsheet develops that looks at every element – total reps, high skill, time domains, below parallel, hip flexion, hip extension, power version of a movement vs. from the ground, strength days – to name a few. We tend to get a little crazy with all of the details but we also keep in mind that it doesn’t make much sense to apply perfect science to something that isn’t a perfect science. One of our favorite quotes is, “coaching is a balance of art and science” and we try to stay true to both.
Using the spreadsheet grossly simplifies the process but let’s be honest, there is still some subjective element in the choosing of the workouts. The “sexy” or “fun” aspect is definitely considered which is why once the list is compiled it receives many eyes and feedback before it is finalized, placed in a calendar and then dished-out in your regularly scheduled group classes!
Once we’re done, Nicole, Shane, and EC sit down to review. We’ll discuss any questions that come up, the logic behind the process, and any thoughts or concerns. It’s just one last step in our checks and balances to make sure we’re keeping it constantly varied, general and as unbiased as possible. After that meeting, the schedule is laid out on a calendar which we use in conjunction with our weekly programming and we’re off!

How to Participate

Participation is quite simple – come to class. You’ll know the benchmarks for the year and we’ll remind you on SugarWOD (yes, that’s new for this year!). Make sure to log your score in SugarWOD as you’ll want to track your progress over the course of the year.
When you review the workouts, there will probably be 1-3 workouts that you look at and say, “Ugh, I DON’T want to do that.” Or, there will be a few workouts that you do and think – “Why was I so bad at that?” And right there, you have self-identified the exact workouts that YOU MUST come to if you want to improve your fitness. We don’t become better athletes by working our strengths. If you fall short in capacity on the workouts that involve running, make every effort to come to the workouts at the gym that involve running.

Wait, What Are The Workouts?!

We’ll announce the 2018 Benchmark Series on Monday!
Here’s the Benchmark Series from 2017. The workouts highlighted in yellow were repeat tests from 2016.

2015 Benchmark Series
2016 Benchmark Series

Questions? Post to comments.