Sometimes we want to keep track of where we stand among everyone else on the fitness scale. Other times we just need a challenge. If you’ve not done a lot of weightlifting, the sound of a “bodyweight bench press” or a “single leg squat” may be scary, or intriguing.

I know that I work best when I have something to reach for. A tangible milestone that says that I have made measurable forward progress. Most of my clients work that way too.

In this article, we’ll discuss various exercise benchmarks and how you can push yourself to work out harder and smarter. Let’s dive right in!

Starting Small and Working Up to Exercise Benchmarks

People usually get too excited about working out and becoming fit, and then they quickly lose interest. As a matter of fact, more than 70% of people will quit the gym after deciding to work out.

This happens for a number of reasons, but having a clear path of fitness goals and milestones laid out before you helps overcome most of the reasons for quitting.

Trying to be a “Level 10 Fitness Hero” when you are a “Level 1 Beginner” will result in failure. I have a lot of young men come into the gym and try to lift what the veteran lifters are doing. That is wrong. They just injure themselves or feel attacked when the other guys try to help correct their form.

Starting slow and setting achievable goals is the key to success when it comes to working out. You must master basic exercises before going on to more complex and difficult exercises.

Believe it or not, most people are ashamed to use “baby weights” or be seen doing pushups on their knees. But if that is the correct gradient that needs to be done, I’ll happily have my clients do it. And my clients will be happy to get through that “embarrassing” phase.

The Importance of a Personal Trainer

A personal trainer will help you understand your body and its limits to reach your weight loss and fitness goals over a realistic period.

In addition, by setting accurate benchmarks, you’ll be able to see that you are making measurable progress. This does wonders for motivation and client retention.

Even if you hate personal trainers and want to do it all yourself, this is an important concept to incorporate into your training: don’t skip gradients.

Benchmarks and Challenges for Running

The 1-Mile Run

Some people don’t have concrete goals when they start running and they might just start running and eventually injure themselves to the point of not being able to run for a few weeks or even months.

I know I’ve done it. I remember the exact day when I ran my first mile. And I remember thinking that I just did too much. I was about to puke. So, while a 1-mile goal may need to be split up into a 1/2 mile or 1/4 mile run for some, I would say that a 1-mile run is a good goal for most non-runners to work up to.

5K Training Program

A 6-week 5K running program is a simple type of program that’s specifically designed for beginners to help them start their fitness journey.

It involves allowing your body to get accustomed to running mile after mile, increasing your speed and distance gradually so that you can eventually run 5 kilometers with no issues. There are all sorts of variations of 6-week programs, but they all bring you up easily on a gradient and involve rest days.

Eventually, you’ll be able to run the 5K distance.

It is actually a ton of fun if you time this right with a 5K race in your city. Having all of those runners and spectators around makes the run so much more fun. And the sound of everyone cheering you on at the finish line is well worth it.

Do this with some close friends and/or family and you’ll have a great time.

A 10K, Half-Marathon, and Marathon

These are all extended versions of the program described above. Running coaches are worth their weight in gold if you are considering doing anything long distance.

Just the fact that they keep you from injuring yourself is worth it, let alone the feeling of getting across those finish lines.

Tough Mudder

obstacle course

Tough Mudder is an endurance event in which participants run for 3, 6, or 9+ miles on obstacle courses. To prepare for this event, you need to be able to run. But you also need to be able to swim, jump, climb, scuffle, crawl, zig and zag.

There’s not one type of exercise that prepares you for this. The best is program to prepare for it CrossFit because CrossFit itself is randomized programming that has constantly learn varied movements.

These are team-oriented events and are beyond fun. Without exception, everyone who finishes has a strong sense of accomplishment.

Bataan Memorial Death March

This is a very, very high benchmark.

The Bataan Memorial Death March honors war veterans who had to walk for about 66 miles during World War II.

Runners can choose between the full 26.2-mile distance or the honorary 14.2-mile distance, paying homage to US soldiers who had to walk with Filipino war prisoners

Due to the nature of this exercise, an intensive 8-week, 6-days-a-week program is followed. It involves increasing total body and core strength through threshold pace, moderate pace, and easy pace running, in addition to strength training.

Ideally, the distance will increase in the first 5 weeks, then decrease to prepare for the march.

I’ve not done this one myself but several of my clients jumped in one time and did it together. It is rough and it carries bragging rights.

Gym Goals and Benchmarks

So, I got a bit sidetracked there with the outdoor stuff. Let’s take it back into the gym.

Reaching for defined goals and benchmarks allows you to easily measure your progress in the gym. Much like a simple checklist, you just check off what you’re able to do.

If you’ve been working out for a while and are out of the beginner phage, some goals that you should consider setting include:

  • Holding planks for at least 2 minutes
  • Performing 50 push-ups in a row
  • Doing 15 strict chin-ups in a row
  • Bench pressing your body weight
  • Bench pressing 1.25X your body weight
  • Bench pressing 1.5X your body weight
  • Standing shoulder press of 1/2 body weight
  • Aiming for back, front, and overhead squats of your body weight
  • Back squat 1.25X and 1.5X body weight, then 2X if you’re a beast
  • Doing a bodyweight deadlift, gradually increasing it to 1.5X, 2X, and then 2.5X of your weight if you’re a beast
  • Performing Olympic weight lifts (Clean & Jerk and Snatch). This is just the correct performance of them under light to moderate weight
  • Performing a muscle-up on the Olympic rings

This is not a complete list, by far. It is just something to get your brain turning. Remember that a personal trainer can help you adjust and set appropriate goals according to your age, fitness level, injuries, medical history, etc.

Please don’t get distracted by the numbers of everything above. The most important part is getting the form down with each movement. Then add weight.

So, an even easier milestone that should be implied is “Being able to perform the movement without hurting yourself.”

Rowing Challenges

exercising on rowing machine

Using the Concept2 Rower is a great way to improve your rowing goals and challenge yourself. In addition, it’s a convenient piece of equipment that all sorts of athletes, not just rowers, widely use.

You can design and practice several workout regimens with this machine. These involve aerobic and anaerobic workouts.

The benchmarks on these are simple if you just measure the distance rowed (1,000 meters, 2,000 meters and so on).

Or you can do some very intense anaerobic exercise by “sprinting” with a 500 meter row to try to get your time down to as little as possible.

Just make a list of each distance and how fast you were able to complete it. The next time you get on the rower, beat your last performance.

Wrapping Up

Identifying, setting, and adjusting your workout benchmarks, goals, and challenges boils down to your current fitness level. Working with a personal trainer to help you design a personalized workout regimen is the best way to reach said benchmarks and goals.

There are many benchmarks, goals, and challenges that you can set for yourself based on your activity of choice, but the above-listed ones are a good starting point and can easily be adjusted to suit your body and fitness level.


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