Benchmark Sets: What, Why & How
What is a benchmark set, why are they important, and when should you do them? There are several purposes for benchmark sets. The first and most simple reason for benchmark sets is to give you a starting point of where you are now with fitness, strength and speed in each of the disciplines, and give you a measure on which you will see improvement. A good training program, coach, team or club will have athletes complete benchmark sets about every 6-12 weeks.
Basic benchmark Sets:
10 minute swim for distance. Count your lengths. This gives you a number from which to build.
Or, for the more advanced swimmer, 1,000 for time. Bike:
8 miles for time. Be aware every bike benchmark set for a season must be performed on the same stretch of road each time for accuracy. Choose a 4 mile stretch of fairly flat road, or loop course, with the least amount of cars and no stop lights or signs. Do twice.
*Be careful to obey all road laws and put SAFETY first! The roads are not closed for your benchmark. Other cars and cyclist do not know you are doing a benchmark set. Run:
2 miles for time OR 20 min for distance (Complete the latter if you can not currently run 2 miles at or under 20 minutes.) All benchmark sets should be done at a pace you feel completely spent at the end, but not going so hard at the beginning that you can not finish the entire set. In general, don't worry about your times the first time around!!! It is what it is, and just gives you a place mark to move forward. The more you can treat a benchmark practice as any other practice, and relax into the feeling you experience, the better you will do on each set.
Another purpose is to help set your training levels and distances appropriately. If you are training harder or longer than your fitness or skill level, you will only get injured. Complete benchmarks to set your interval and repetition paces for the swim, bike and run. The benchmarks also provide a more accurate view of your fitness. Benchmarks push your pace, and show you and us your threshold at the time of completion. When you do the same set again, you will definitely see progress if you are staying with the program. Benchmark sets are completed a couple times each season, and should be done the same way each time to show the most accurate improvement from one to the next. Benchmark sets also help you set goals for the season and for the year. They give you a starting point from which to build.