The 12 Gifts of Fitness, 2015 Edition: Day 8 – Benchmarks That Matter…To You

The 12 Gifts of Fitness

Dashboards can give us lots of helpful information. But ultimately, the only numbers that matter in fitness, and in life, are the numbers that matter to us. (Image courtesy of jiggoja at

Benchmarks. Dashboards. Big data. We’re swimming in numbers these days. But one of the 12 gifts of fitness has everything to do with numbers. Specifically, the numbers that matter to you. Because—here’s the biggie takeaway from all of this—the only numbers that are going to motivate you are the ones that matter to you.

Body fat percentage? Total cholesterol? Blood pressure? Marathon personal best? All numbers. All measurable. All quantifiable markers that might mean something to you personally when you’re tracking your health—and especially when you’re looking to improve your health.

The Eighth Gift of Fitness is this: regular exercise gives us lots of opportunities to decide on benchmarks that matter to us. Things we can measure on a regular basis to see progress.

benchmark [ˈben(t)SHmärk/] 

noun: a standard or point of reference against which things may be compared or assessed. (

Here we are in December 2015 (yes, we’re finally back in real time after re-experiencing the first seven gifts of fitness, which I started writing about this time last year). I am about eighteen pounds heavier than my best racing weight (down from over forty from my pregnancy). There’s a benchmark right there—weight—but interestingly, it’s not the benchmark that motivates me the most. Oh, no, siree.

The benchmark that matters to me is the one that tells me how fast a runner I am. Because running, as an activity, is what defines me as an athlete.

Back in 2008 when I started to finally pay close attention to my weight, when I had forty pounds to lose not because of pregnancy but because, ahem, I had been taking care of myself rather poorly for years, I sort-of cared about my blood pressure reading. I kind-of cared about the size of my clothes.

But I really cared about how fast I could run a mile. And how fast I could run a three-mile loop at a local park.

That’s what motivated me. Those numbers became two of my benchmarks. (The other two were how many push-ups I could do on my toes in one set, and how long I could hold a plank.)

Notice how all four of my benchmarks, during a weight-loss effort, were fitness-related? Yup. Because it’s motivating. Because it’s fun. It wasn’t super-fun to jump on a scale every week (though the accountability absolutely helped me lose those forty pounds). But it was super-fun to go to the park with the three-mile loop and wonder…Can I run this loop just one second faster than the last time I tried?

The first time I did that little test (that is, the second time I ran that loop to time it), I was four minutes faster than I had been the first time. (I had lost ten pounds since that first timing, so that may have explained some things.)

Funny thing about that incident. I had gained a little bit of weight that week, after losing those ten pounds. And if weight had been my only benchmark, the only number that mattered to me, I would have thought I’d failed that week to take care of myself. But when fitness is your benchmark, you have a much wider universe of potential successes to draw from. I went straight from my weight-loss meeting (which I highly recommend for the great nutrition information and the accountability) to the aforementioned park. I strapped on my running shoes. I turned on my running watch. And I killed my previous personal best.

Fitness hands us opportunities to succeed, at every turn. That’s how I use the numbers. They’re opportunities to succeed. (Even just for today. Don’t want to compare yourself to yesterday? Set a “December 22, 2015” personal best!)

For me, coming back from pregnancy and childbirth means a whole new set of benchmarks. All of my running records are pre-Baby Bear. So now, I have a whole new set of benchmarks I can use to track my progress.

Here are the numbers that matter to me: How many push-ups can I do on my toes in one set? (Answer: none yet after giving birth, but I can do a bunch on my knees, so that’s progress.) How long does it take me to run one mile? (Answer: I haven’t timed myself yet because I’m not quite up for a big time-trial effort, but I do know that the time it takes me to complete three miles has improved by seven minutes since I started timing myself postpartum.) How long can I hold a plank? (Answer: Not as long as I want, but longer than I thought I could given that my ab muscles were stretched into all sorts of new shapes when my son was incubating in there.)

And onward we go. Pick a benchmark, or two or three, to use as you track your fitness progress. You might find a whole new set of motivating tactics. And, can I just say? You’ll also feel like a badass every time you set a new personal best.

Recent Every48 workouts: Getting back in the swing of things, finally. A one-hour BabyRobics class with Baby Bear last week, followed by three miles running/walking on the treadmill. A few days later, another treadmill run—this time without walk breaks, and seven minutes faster than the first time around. It’s still turtle pace, but I’ll take it.

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