Project Louise: Flunking The Fitness Test And Getting Down To Work

Part of Louise's new routine: a squat with stability ball and 10-pound dumbbells.(George Stepanek via Wikimedia Commons)

Part of Louise’s new routine: a squat with stability ball and 10-pound dumbbells.(George Stepanek via Wikimedia Commons)

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

It’s still a bit early to declare that I’m getting into a groove, but … well, I think I can at least see the groove from here.

Project Louise had a busy week: an official “fitness assessment” with my new trainer, Rick DiScipio, followed a couple of days later by my first training session with him; a two-hour meeting with my strategy coach, Allison Rimm, to outline my strategic vision and “set an intention” for the coming year; a “hot yoga” session that my friends Sara and Susan talked me into (spoiler alert: I only thought I was going to die – but you’ll have to wait a week to hear more about that); and, yay me, not one but three separate visits to the gym, complete with aerobic workouts.

Oh, and I bought a swimsuit – part of my stated goal for the week. They sell them right there at my gym, along with goggles and caps. Who knew?

So, let’s start with the fitness assessment. Another spoiler alert: I’m not very fit. Rick, who’s the assistant director of fitness at Boston University’s Fitness and Recreation Center, better known as the FitRec, and director Michael Lagomarsine measured my body fat percentage, which Mike explains is more useful than plain ol’ BMI. Yikes: I’m about 35 percent fat. (The desirable range is 21 percent to 30 percent.) So, OK, another goal for the year.

Next they measure my waist and hips, in order to get a ratio of the two; the bigger your waist is in proportion to your hips, the worse it is for your health. (You know the “apple vs. pear” idea? I’m a prize-winning Macintosh.) Ideally, the ratio should be 0.82 or lower. Mine is 0.89.

They also have me do a squat while holding a pole, a way to measure my flexibility and balance. I can’t get down to 90 degrees, and I can’t stop myself from hunching or moving my arms forward as I go down – that’s because of tight muscles and tendons. Score: 1 out of 3.

Then comes a test I’ve always hated: How many pushups can you do in a minute? I manage three, which frankly is two more than I expected. Mike and Rick are kind enough not to mention what I learn from the write-up they send me later: This puts me in the “poor” category for my age.


I’m seeing a trend here, and I don’t care for it. It reminds me, and not in a good way, of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test that I did miserably at every year in grammar school. (I’m thrilled to see from the linked site that it’s been discontinued and is now a Fitness Challenge instead.)  I’m also anxious because Rick tells me that he has a background in training elite athletes, as well as in power lifting and martial arts. I’m worried that I won’t be enough of a jock to measure up. But it becomes clear, both in this first meeting and in our training session on Friday, that he can talk to newbies as well as to pros – and that he manages to be at once challenging and encouraging. If I need to face facts — and I do — it helps to face them with real support.

I mention this because, if you’re thinking about doing a session or two with a personal trainer, it’s important to find someone you like. Qualifications are important too, of course – Rick recommends certification through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, which he has (along with bachelor’s and master’s degrees), or another recognized group – and it helps if the trainer has worked with others like you. (Turns out that Rick has done post-rehab work with older adults and special populations, in addition to that scary athlete stuff. And he gives me a few simple exercises to start with — using a stability ball, a fitness band and some 10-pound weights, so I can even work out at home on busy days.) But it’s just as important, especially for those of us who may have some negative history with gym teachers, coaches, et al. (see fitness test, above), to feel comfortable and at ease with the trainer we choose.

As it happens, that sense of ease, of being encouraged and accepted, dovetails nicely with the “intention” that Allison and I set after a long talk about what I want my life to be and what I need to change in order to get it there. This discussion included everything from my home life and friendships to my work life and professional goals, but the statement of intent that we chose was remarkably simple: to trust, love and respect myself. I’ll be thinking – and no doubt writing – much more about how that connects with all the more pragmatic aspects of this project; for now I’ll just say, trust me – it does.

In order to trust myself, of course, I have to be true to my word. So this morning I warmed up on the treadmill and muddled through the strength training workout that Rick had walked me through on Friday. And then I went downstairs, adjusted my goggles, and went for a swim.

Readers, are you making progress toward your own fitness goals? What helps or hinders you? If you could meet with a personal trainer, what would you ask?


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  • Amy T

    Thanks for your post! I was all set to avoid doing my nightly abdominal exercises, and then… I read your post and I felt motivated to just get them done!

    • Louise Kennedy

      Glad I could help! Because the only reason I got to the gym this morning is that I didn’t want to report on Monday that I hadn’t. Let’s all keep each other moving!

  • annelibera

    The President’s physical fitness test was the bane of my existence as a child. I was always accused on not trying on the bent arm hang and to this day I have never done a regular pushup although I have occasionally managed chattarunga in yoga (so there). I was already in the process of my own health and fitness project when I came across this series and the idea of consistent small steps resonated with me. This week I’m adding a daily ten minute walk in the middle of the day every day.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Midday walk — great idea! And yes, I may have to devote a whole post to that damn test someday. The bent arm hang! Nightmare! And your chattarunga is truly inspiring — though I couldn’t do much besides child’s pose and savasana this week! Baby steps it is.

  • Judy D

    I have found that I hate the measuring thing. Weight, hips, thighs, waist, etc. How many of whatever I can….or can’t do. A few years back after finding this was a real obstacle to progress for me, I began working again towards my goals of better health and fitness. I started working with a personal trainer, once every two weeks. But, I set a condition. No measuring. I knew I was overweight and out of shape. I didn’t need to measure. It was more likely to demotivate than motivate. And I would recognize the changes as they occurred. My trainer would not get the numbers. But I was doing in for me….not for her! Giving myself the permission to say no to this aspect of the process let me move forward without the judgment that had proven to be a speedbump in the past. But, I know not everyone has this reaction. Just putting it out there for others who would shy away from an opportunity to go to the gym and begin a program because of the anxiety around this phase of the process. I knew my progress by the changes in how my clothes fit, and what my body could do.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Good idea — if the measurements scare you off, just don’t do them! You’re right, you will notice a change in how you look and feel, and that’s measurement enough. I hadn’t weighed myself (except at the doctor’s office) for a few years before I started this project, and while I didn’t lose any weight during that time, I stayed within about a five-pound range. I think both scales and measuring tapes can be scary, and if that gets in your way, better to do the work and let the weight take care of itself.

  • bostongirl

    Great post, I love reading about your journey. What impressed me about this week is you faced these hard truths and you followed up by working out. Way to go!

    I’ve always been a somewhat athletic and fit person, but have a strong Midwestern build and would just love to be a bit thinner. I definitely wouldn’t mind shedding some of my post-baby jiggly belly and more seriously need to control genetic hypertension. To these ends, I committed to trying a new way to work out routinely this fall – morning running! For me, this was a huge game changer. In the past, I had sworn I couldn’t do it because “my body didn’t like it.” Was it hard to get started? YES! But now, I kind of like the dark silence of the house as I get myself on the treadmill or out the door. If all goes according to plan, my kids and husband are just waking up when I’m getting out of the shower. Of course, the biggest benefit is that I’m energized and there is no way to put off my exercise during a busy work day if it’s already done. It helps my self-esteem a lot on a daily basis. Can’t recommend the morning exercise routine enough! Finally, my mantra is “some exercise is better than nothing” for those days when I’m tired and slow. It helps a lot to be encouraging to yourself!

    I had a two-week hiatus over the holidays. Sadly it hurt my endurance and speed noticeably. But, no matter, I’m back on the horse and making up some of that. Proud to say I’ve been running 6/13 days this year. If I go tomorrow, that’ll be 7/14 and I’ll be on my way to maintaining a 2014 work-out average of 50%.

    Thanks again for sharing your journey.

    • Louise Kennedy

      I am so with you on the morning routine — and I say that as a lifelong night owl. I’ll be writing about this more, because it quickly became clear to me that the only way to fit exercise into my day is to do it first thing. It’s hard, but it does start the day off with a great feeling! And if I don’t do it then, it doesn’t happen.
      Also, I am stealing the terms “strong Midwestern build” and “post-baby jiggly belly.” Thanks for that, and for joining on the journey!

  • Hopefulandhappyone

    Are you sore? What are your trainers recommendations for dealing with “getting-in-shape aches and pains?” Also are bent knee push ups cheating? They seem so much more reasonable (especially when you have a history of lower back problems like mine). Thanks and keep up the good work! :)

    • Louise Kennedy

      I am a bit sore, which is why swimming felt good — nice warm water. Other recommendations: Never do strength training two days in a row; your body needs time to recover. Always stretch before and, especially, after working out — really helps with the soreness. And I’ve been finding that a quick walk — even around the office or up and down the stairs — loosens things up a bit and makes the muscles feel less sore.
      And bent-knee pushups are not cheating! You are doing something, not nothing, so how could that be cheating? I haven’t done a single pushup since the assessment; instead, Rick is having me grasp a bar at arm’s length, a little below chest height, and push in that position. Easier on the back, and you still definitely feel it in your upper back and chest. Let me know if that works!

  • Eneida

    Never did push ups! But will do the squats with the big ball (I have it!) and …5lb dumbells
    I am eating much better, more veggies and much less carbs.
    Would love to do a few warm ups in the morning but …
    What I do sometimes… Is what a Brazilian doctor recommended once.
    Before you get up, move your feet like you do in a airplane to work the circulation. Making circles with your feet left and right. Then flex your legs and do the bycicle movements. As much as you can…. I can’t do so many but it does feel good.

    • Louise Kennedy

      That’s awesome! I have also been stretching a bit in bed when I first wake up — it gets me moving a little, and it makes it a little tiny easier to get out of bed. Baby steps, right?

      • Eneida

        Yes! Somehow I am doing all this little steps here and there . And is encouraging. Eating dinner earlier for example, makes me feel healthier . I may be ready one day for a big step. Thank you for doing this and keeping it real.

        • Louise Kennedy

          I think lots of little steps may even be better than one big step! And thanks for joining in.

  • Chris

    OMG, Louise. Just when I thought we were simpatico in our out of shapeness, I read that you can do 3 push ups. I’m behind you and have lived for 45 years without doing one push up. Can I start the “Project Worse off than Louise?” BTW, this is Christine Leccese Lacey. :o)

    • Louise Kennedy

      Trust me, if you’ve got two fit guys staring down at you, you’ll do more than you thought you could! Pride, nothing else, got me to that third one. And thanks for the laugh!