Last Friday, less than 24 hours after completing her On-Ramp program, Christina Ross came in to the gym for her first workout. To be fair, I had warned her the evening prior that the atmosphere in the class might be a little bit…different than she’d find in during a typical WOD (Workout of the Day). When she inquired further, I went on to explain that every few weeks, we – the CrossFit TT community – conducted a benchmark WOD, and that by definition, these workouts are ‘tests’ we can use to evaluate the progress we’ve made with our training.

“Does that mean that they’re a lot harder than normal?” Christina asked.

“Only because people tend to push themselves a little harder during them.” I’d replied.

“Huh. Ok. But I can still scale all the movements, right? That’s ok?”

“Of course!” I replied. “Like all our workouts, this one can (and should) be scaled based on both your comfort level, mobility restrictions, training age, and current fitness level. In that sense, it’s absolutely no different than any other workout. Just don’t be alarmed if there’s a LOT of cheering, fist-pumping, and hi-fives,” I explained.

“But…there’s a lot of that in most classes, right?” She observed. Christina might’ve been new to our community and to CrossFit, but the girl had done her homework.

“Umm…yes. You’re absolutely correct,” I said.

“So…” She summarized, “it’s a hard workout…like all the others, and people get excited for one another when they do well. That about it?”

“Ahhh…yep. That’s about it.”

“Great. See you at 7.”

And show up she did. On Friday, June 3rd, Christina Ross marched through “Nancy” – 5 rounds of a 400m run, and 15 overhead squats, like it was just another day at the gym. She didn’t get anxious or nervous about it (or at least, if she did, she has one hell of a career waiting for her on the World Poker Tour). She didn’t lose sleep debating her game-day strategy. She simply committed to coming in, and doing the best she could given the circumstances. She knew she’d likely have to scale the movements as necessary in order for her to: 1.) get the right response; 2.) become more proficient with the movements; and 3.) accommodate some mobility issues…and she was ok with that; anything more she could give, she would, but it would be gravy on the proverbial turkey-dinner-workout. By all measures, her strategy worked. Not only did Christina make it through the rounds we’d assigned her, but also she felt so comfortable with the movement that she elect to skip the modification we’d prescribed her in lieu of the overhead squats!

Benchmarks have a way of making us all nervous. Much like a test, they’re a reflection of where we’re at on a given day, on a given time. Much like life’s little annoyances, they can involve activities we don’t like, they come at times that are anything but convenient, and can make us uncomfortable just thinking about them. In a lot of ways, they’re kind of like one of those awkward conversations you know you need to have, but really aren’t excited to have.

And that’s exactly why we need to do them.

For those of us who’re using CrossFit to improve performance, benchmarks can be an effective tool for evaluating our progress. For those of us who are using the program to improve other aspects of our lives, they’re incredibly effective tools for teaching stress and anxiety management in awkward and uncomfortable situations. We don’t have to like the things they include, but it’s important for us all to recognize the fact that we’re going to have to deal with these situations, in both life and sport. Because they’re inevitable, we should welcome any and all opportunities to make them less painful. Viewing benchmarks through through such a lens can help these workouts seem much more manageable. Doing so helps us recognize that they’re great, consequence-free (remember – at the end of the day, a Benchmark is just another workout) opportunities for us to address our individual weaknesses.

At the end of the day, a benchmark workout is just that - another workout. Just ask Matt Lewis. #ttfolyfe. Benchmarks provide exactly that - an opportunity to practice (or test) an approach to a difficult situation - provided we're willing to embrace them as such.
At the end of the day, a benchmark workout is just that – another workout. Just ask Matt Lewis. #ttfolyfe. Benchmarks provide exactly that – an opportunity to practice (or test) an approach to a difficult situation – provided we’re willing to embrace them as such.

Curious as to how you can begin employing this approach? Re-read the questions Christina asked. Intentional or not, these statements are reflective of an incredibly powerful behavioral modification tool. Referred to by psychologists as “cognitive reframing”, this technique encourages subjects who’ve been presented with a particular challenge to focus on the reasons why they should be able to persevere, and to forget the reasons why they couldn’t. Rather than considering all of the things that could go wrong in a stressful situation, Christina instead focused on the things she’d done to prepare for such adversity, and how she’d equipped herself to perform the task at hand. In asking these questions, Christina was affirming that she was ready to handle a benchmark, and that she could be confident in both her decision to attend and to give it her all.

Next week, we’ll be doing another benchmark WOD at CrossFit TT. We understand that “tests” may not be your cup of tea. Even if they are, it’s also possible (if not probable) that many of you won’t enjoy the movements prescribed in the benchmark. And yes, we ‘get’ that you may not have anything to prove. It’s for precisely these reasons that we’d like to encourage all of you to come to come partake in it. Workouts that feature movements that you don’t like, or that are presented in a challenging context present tremendous opportunities to not only help you become more comfortable with uncomfortable physical challenges, but also to become more adept at dealing with life’s challenges. This is precisely why many of you come to CrossFit TT. And even if you don’t…remember that it’s just another workout.

Benchmarks provide great opportunities practice (or test) an approach to a difficult situation. Erica McConnell, en route to a blazing-fast CFTT house Record last week. #TTfolyfe.
Benchmarks provide great opportunities practice (or test) an approach to a difficult situation. Erica McConnell, en route to a blazing-fast CFTT house Record last week. #TTfolyfe.