Fitness Test

WOMEN:  Swim Test





>700 yards

>600 yards

>550 yards













very poor





This is a random fitness test I pulled off the Internet. You swim as fast and far as you can for twelve minutes. I’m older than is taken into account for this chart, for the record.

So, “good” means one can swim at least a quarter of a mile in twelve minutes.

I’m not very in -shape, but my regular, not trying excessively hard, and certainly breaking it up with slower strokes than the crawl swimming pace is about 12 minutes on a quarter of a mile. An all-out effort using only the crawl? Yeah, I’d break that 550 yards, no problem.

Either I am in considerably better shape than I give myself credit for, or this test might be a bit inaccurate. I’d love to think I’m in good shape and all, but I have this nagging feeling that if I take this as accurate, I’m kinda fooling myself.

Please, Sir, Can I Have Some More?

Michigan is proposing a law that says that foster children can only have clothing bought from second hand stores.

I get that the intent is to save money during budget cuts. I totally get that one needs to save money. I bought second-hand clothing for my children on a pretty frequent basis, and it’s an order of magnitude cheaper to do so.

Here’s the thing:

Buying clothes from second hand stores, while something I’m utterly in favor of on principle make a lousy mandate. You cannot count on getting something the right size in good enough condition when you’re shopping there. You have to have time and be patient. Oh, and shoes that fit properly and are in good enough condition? Forget it. Outwear? When you’re lucky, and you plan ahead to get the coat in June, it can work out great. I got my son a great down jacket for less than ten bucks that way once. In October? Fuggetaboutit.

Foster care situations are urgent situations. The child might need clothing right away. The child might be of a size that one can rarely find second hand clothes for. There might not be the necessary outerwear available.1

The individual proposing the bill comments that he wore lots of hand-me-downs, so what’s the beef?

Well, Sen. Caswell, I wore hand-me-downs from time to time, too. I was even pretty fond of some of them and excited to get them because it they were kinda cool. That doesn’t change the fact that mandating used clothing, while cheaper, has way too many gaps in the system where kids who are already falling through the cracks are going to fall harder.

I’m all for encouraging it as a principle, don’t get me wrong. But if I have a child in my care that needs a warm coat, that kid gets a warm coat no matter where I had to buy it. Just sayin’.


1 Being expensive and long-lasting, really good outerwear often goes first at second hand stores in cold climates like Michigan.

Channeling my Inner Ellie*

I got kicked out of the pool today. Lightning. It was about five minutes before I would have gotten out anyway, so I called it good. I might have gotten in as much as 800 yards. Maybe.

It wasn’t a hard-core workout today anyway. I lifted yesterday. Remember how I was in that room of big, beefy men and feeling self-conscious about it? Well, true to Noël form, I lifted far too heavy to compensate. I’m very, very sore this morning.1

Oh, and it’s chilly and damp, so it’s the joint thing on top of muscle soreness. No, today was not a day I’d be getting my orca on.

Here’s where the whole “gotta improve all the time” would be kicking me in the ass right now. Today was not much of a workout due to several factors. If I were completely focused on constant improvement, this workout would have been discouraging to the point of upsetting. I don’t like being thwarted in my goals. I’d be plotting how to make up for the bad workout, and making myself nuts about it.

The reality is that Life Happens. It is less important that each workout be a linear improvement than it is that I show up consistently. I have other things in my life that deserve more intense focus than lifting heavy stuff sometimes, or getting my heart rate up. I mean, really, it’s on par with evaluating bowel movements! They need to happen, yes, but past that? Unless it’s a serious factor in an illness, you don’t need to give it that much attention.


1Yes, I broke Rule One.

*Ellie was my maternal grandmother, and paid an odd amount of attention to bodily functions.

Didn’t Swim

I thought that there was no lap swimming after I’d be getting home for teaching, so I prepped to lift weight, instead.

No, I didn’t work out first thing in the morning. On days when I’m teaching in the morning and opening the gym, I don’t work out before I do all that. I’m all for getting a workout done right away, but my cutoff for how early I’m willing to arise for non-emergency purposes is four in the morning. So no, won’t be working out before I open the gym.

Yes, I lifted for about a half an hour.

I hate going into a busy weight room when I don’t know the guys there. It’s just this thing I have going. And it was busy with some guys working with some trainer I’d never met.

So, I creep over to the bench press, get in my sets, then get over to my non-favorite squat rack (my favorite on was in use) and load up the bar to lift. I’m getting all these looks and it’s really distracting, but I go on with my workout. I know it can’t be because of how much I’m lifting. I can name six female gym patrons who regularly squat twice the weight I was working out with. I ignored it and concentrated on Savatage while I got on with my set.

After I’m done an unloading the bar, the coach dewd comes over to help me do so. I had to bite my tongue not to say, “For a ten pound plate. REALLY?”

Well, as it turns out, it was actually a good thing I bit my tongue. His comment, “You’ve got a good squat. What’s your sport?”

Okay, for the non weightlifters, being complimented on squat form is a high-order thing at the free weights. Being asked what my sport is makes me a bit giddy, what wit me having none. I don’t know for sure, but I’m half wondering if the looks were because my form was being pointed out.

I thanked him and commented that I don’t really have one, but I swim a lot. He told me he thought I ought to get into Olympic lifting.


In reality, I’m not strong enough to consider competing, and my focus really does need to be regularity of workout over competitions. But still, it was pretty damn flattering.

Though, I need to remember that half a bowl of oatmeal at quarter to five, while a so-so breakfast, is not going to be enough fuel for a weight-lifting session at quarter to one after teaching a class. I need to pack a bento on days I intend to work out AFTER I teach. I intend to avoid that, as I prefer to work out first thing in the morning, but still, I got it out of the way before I came home. So now I can relax with a good conscience.

But How Will You Improve, Part Two

Last week, I talked about exercise, improvement and whether or not to have goals.

A) My swimming time is definitely improving without extraordinary effort.  I swam 1050 today in half an hour while pushing enough to be a pleasant muscular effort.  I wasn’t feeling all gung-ho, but was just enjoying my swim.  A month ago, I swam 900 yards in half an hour.

B)  I do have an exercise goal.  My goal is to show up!

I still question the “Get better and better and better!” thing for working out.  Friends, I’m 42.  Not a teenager any more.  While yes, I do agree that we need to move our bodies to keep them healthy, we don’t have to be athletes.

When we talk about fitness, I really think “Fit for what?” becomes a genuine question to ask.  The Crossfit people have their own ideas about this.  I won’t argue too hard against them, but I will point out Crossfit was created as a training program for rescue workers.  If you want to be able to perform at that physical level, I think that’s cool.  Go for it.  But accept that if you’re not a rescue worker, it’s more of a hobby than a reflection on how you live your life on a day to day basis.  (And goodness knows I can think of worse hobbies!)  I wouldn’t call it a moral imperative, even if fitness websites do often have testimonials about some emergency and how glad they are they did <foo> sort of training because it helped them.

I do think, however, that looking at the life you live and deciding what you want to be able to do physically is a good idea.

For myself, this is my physical baseline.  I want to be able to:

  • Swim a mile comfortably
  • Walk two miles without feeling tired afterwards
  • Lift a standard copier paper box of books comfortably
  • Wrangle a snow-blower after a two foot snowfall (I live in Northern New England)
  • Be able to stack a couple of cords of wood in a day (see previous)
  • Be able to help push a car out of a ditch (again, see previous)
  • Be active enough that I think driving to a grocery store is a silly waste of gas.  This means being able to carry a heavy back pack full of groceries about a half a mile.
  • Be able to lift a suitcase over my head into the overhead compartment on a train or airplane
  • Be able to run from one end of an airport to another to catch a flight on too close of a connection.
  • Be able to give a four to six hour lecture on my feet being physically active and animated the whole time.  (I teach computer applications as well as rant about physical fitness.  If you’re not active and animated, you lose your audience quick).
  • Be able to change a 5 gallon water jug in a water cooler without spilling water all over the floor or throwing out my back.

Notice none of the goals are particularly exciting or dramatic.  I don’t have survivalist goals.  I live a heavily technologically-based life and I’m cool with that.  I grew up during the tail end of the Cold War fifty miles from Washington DC, a state capital, and about a dozen military bases.  I’m used to living on the slopes of Vesuvius, thanks.  If I sweated it, I’d be more of a basket case than I already am.  I can pretty much do all of the things listed above already, but it’s my baseline.   Every one of them can be achieved or maintained by working out a half an hour every weekday.

Do your desired physical abilities levels look different?  I bet they do.  Know why? You live a different life.  I do think it is a good idea, though, to sit down and give what you want to be able to do physically some logical thought.  What can you do now?  What do you want to be able to do?  Do you have any physical limitations that are a factor?  I do.  There’s a reason I’m an enthusiastic swimmer above and beyond my love of water, ya know!

I’m curious to know what other people’s goals look like, if you want to share.  I’m curious to know how they reflect real-world daily life v. numbers measuring athletic performance.

Martin Strel, Swimming Psycho

When I got back into swimming for fitness, I ran across a marathon swimmer named Martin Strel. Forget swimming to Alcatraz, this guy is really nuts. He swam the Yangtze River. He swam the Danube. He swam the Mississippi.

He swam the Amazon!

I remember his Amazon swim pretty clearly. I was going through some rough stuff, and just the idea that someone was insane enough to attempt this was a real motivator for me to keep getting my butt in the pool for some needed laps as I was rehabbing knee surgery. Following along with his swim meant a lot to me, and was probably at least in part the inspiration for the crazy leap (and it was crazy, I assure you) of opening Figart Consulting.

He’s got a new project in the works. Starting in May, he’ll be swimming the Colorado River. No, he doesn’t have to worry about piranha, but this is a river people like for white water rafting. I’ve no idea how anyone is going to manage to swim it, but Strel intends to try.

I’ll be cheering him on.

But, How Will You Improve?

Yesterday I heard of someone expressing concern about my thoughts on exercise from yesterday.

The gist of the concern was, “If you don’t work to improve and have a goal of improving, how in the world are you going to push enough to get faster/stronger/fitter/whateverer?”

That’s a valid question, and I got an answer to that this morning during my swim.1 I’d been swimming between 900-1000 yards in my half an hour. I swam 1050 yards today. (That’s 42 lengths of a 25 yard pool). Now, I’ve mentioned that I refuse to do the tooth-gritting, by the numbers pushing to improve, so am I going back on deliberately not having time and distance goals?

Not in the least.

I swam that fast, and pushing very hard, for the simple joy of it. It felt good. My body felt good. I was taking a sensual delight in muscular effort. I was enjoying the sunlight playing off of the bubbles trailing from my fingertips as my hand speared the water. The simple hedonistic feel of being supported by and moved through water made me happy and I was pushing hard for the sheer delight of it.

Kids do this – run around a field just because, WHEEE!!!!!! It’s time to RUN! Remember when you were little and rolling around on the grass, or climbing a tree or speeding along on your bike just because moving felt so good? I was not an athletic kid. I was bookish and sedentary. And I can still remember that sensation clearly – the joy of just moving. It’s not a child thing. It’s a human thing. It’s why every culture in the world has its dance traditions. Moving your body for the joy of it is natural.

That’s not to say mobility and pain issues aren’t relevant. If it’s raining Monday morning, and my joint are achy, chances are slim I’ll feel the way I did today during my morning swim. Instead of getting my orca on, I’ll plod through a half an hour of swimming feeling a bit clumsy and maybe not swimming that whole 1050. I don’t want the pressure or responsibility to constantly meet my highs. They’ll climb naturally, and will be egged on during those moments when movement just feels good.

And when it doesn’t, moving at all will take me another day closer to a session when it feels wonderful another time.


1 Yes,I write more when I am swimming. I get a lot of thinking done moving in the water. When I was a kid, I seemed to write more when I was doing a lot of bike riding, before I got my Walkman. I guess forward motion without any distraction is just good for my mental clarity.

Athleticism vs. Fitness

I am very tired of fitness writers applying competitive athlete solutions to the problems of everyday fitness. The fact the body needs to move is not an issue that only pertains to competitive athletes. As a corollary, just because a world-class athlete does something doesn’t mean that it’s needed for every-day fitness.

When you thumb through a swimming mag, you’ll see articles talking about how to shave fractions of a second off your time offering all kinds of advice. I’m not going to buy the special swimsuit made of Neptunium-coated fiber blessed by the Dolphin Gods because it will reduce my drag in the water by .001%. Nor do I think that for my daily workout, shaving off all body hair below the neck to reduce drag is necessarily crucial. That .001% might matter to an Olympic athlete a great deal. But I’m not a competitive swimmer. I don’t need to apply the problems of athletic competition to daily fitness. I need to show up daily for daily fitness. That’s a completely different problem, especially when being athletic is not generally the focus of my whole day.1

I recognize that many fitness writers are competitive athletes. It’s how they motivate themselves and they tend to like the mindset. There’s nothing wrong with being a competitive athlete, of course. It can be a good way to motivate oneself, if that’s to one’s taste. But what it means is that articles on activities are going to be geared to constantly improving athletic performance with a competitive mindset.

But I think the needs of people who have absolutely no interest in being competitive athletes, but are interested in making sure they get in enough movement to keep healthy are being completely underserved. It’s logical that it’s happening. Most people in the fitness industry do get there by means of having been a competitive athlete. Hellfire, I was as a teenager, myself.

What we need to see are more articles talking about consistency of exercise rather than training for competitions, or imitating training for competitions as a workout strategy. We need to talk about staying motivated when one hasn’t the slighted interest in treating exercise like a competitive activity. We need to talk more about modifications for physical issues. We need to talk about what being fit really means instead of implying you’ll be immortal if you’re thin enough, work out enough and take all the right vitamins.

I’d be curious to know what people who aren’t into the athlete mindset, but who still work out like to do and how they keep motivated on a daily level.


1 I mean, come on, I’m a writer and a teacher. While the performance art of teaching can be pretty physical when you’re trying to keep your students interested and engaged, it’s not like being a lumberjack.

Objective vs. Subjective in the Pool

I was looking up some material on working out and heart rates. Spinners, bless their hearts, aren’t even allowed to work out without a heart rate monitor. Back in the 1980s when aerobics was the thing, most classes would stop every so often to check your heart rate to make sure you’re working out in the target zone. I guess that sort of training rubbed off on me, because I do check my heart rate after a workout from time to time.

And according to some sources, going for the land-based target heart rate means I work too hard in the water. I generally match that ideal target heart rate for aerobic exercise just out of habit when I’m working out. But, the fact that you’re horizontal means your heart is beating 10-15 beats a minute less than for land-based exercise. I generally hit the land numbers and the theory is that this is pushing too hard.

Now this is nonsense. You know what working too hard feels like. It hurts, you’re gasping unpleasantly, and your heart feels like it’s going to pound out of your chest. You do not feel pleasantly mellow after such a workout with slightly elevated breathing and (if you’re fair skinned) a little bit red in the face. If you feel exhilarated and good, you’re probably not pushing too hard.1

I understand the desire to train by the numbers, and hit specific non-subjective goals. I prefer concrete goals, myself. Training myself out of doing that in favor of putting in that half hour working out is a lot more challenging than I would have believed. I still ask myself if I got in enough yardage swimming, or if I have pushed hard enough. Yes, in a way I’m teaching myself to tolerate being bored by exercise. I don’t tolerate boredom well, and I’m realizing that for some very limited things, it’d be better if I could just a little. I can be frenetically mentally active the other 23 ½ hours a day if I must.

It’s still hard because I want so badly to evaluate each workout beyond, “Did it happen for half an hour?” Even though I’ve gotten away from numbers, I’m still asking myself how I feel. Of course, that’s different every day, and often has less to do with how well I’m performing in terms of speed and heart rate, and more to do with how I feel emotionally about my form and power in the water. If I’m feeling clumsy in the water, I generally don’t feel like it’s been a “good” workout. When I get my Orca on, I feel fantastic, no matter what the numbers say.



1 This is the average exerciser we’re talking about here. You adrenaline junkies who get off on extreme sports are another breed entirely.

Clean All the Things

I am not particularly neat by nature or general habit.

I am neat by taste. I like order. You can see the conflict, yes?

I do have some habits to take care of this adapted from Flylady. We do have a slightly different approach, but the goals are similar. We’re messy packrats who really would prefer to live in a neat home, and frankly made a pig’s ear out of the attempt for most of our lives.

Part of what I do is daily routine. (Make my bed the minute I get up, make sure the kitchen is cleaned up once a day, etc.)

Part of what the household does is weekly routine. Clean All the Things. (Declutter, dust, vacuum, change bedsheets, give hard floors a quick damp mop). Depending on how bad things are, this can take from 20 minutes to an hour. It’s not enough for white glove inspections, but it keeps the house from degenerating into chaos, and getting used to piles of clutter in corners to the point where we don’t even “see” them as we climb over them. I’ve lived like that and I didn’t feel good with it. Hence the change.

This week was definitely a 20 minute week, especially as my son and I did a very thorough Clean All the Things last week.

In fact, so much so that when I commented it was time to Clean All the Things, my son objected, saying the house wasn’t very messy. (It wasn’t). I said that he was right. The house wasn’t all that messy, so if we did Clean All the Things, it wouldn’t take very long. Neither would it next week. Stuff wouldn’t pile up. He still disagreed.

We took a vote1, and his father and I carried by a 2/3 majority, so All the Things got Cleaned.

I talk a lot about the mundane keeping up of stuff, I know. It’s something I never learned as a child. Not that no-one tried to teach me, mind. It’s just that it was really difficult for me to learn, and I didn’t even really see the value of it. I was into epics, for pity’s sake! Heroic effort, I could value, and get into. Moderate, patient, long-term effort? Not so much. It’s why being able to keep my house clean on a regular basis was such a victory for me and one I still reflect on a great deal.

Now, my pleasure centers still light up at the intensity of effort stuff, and I think that’s okay. I can pour everything into the few hours I’m in front of a class. That’s not hurting anything. In fact, it’s good. But then I need to go home and be patiently moderate about studying for the next class, writing the handouts, and dealing with the other aspects of my life.

I think the theme of this year is going to be learning to be moderately immoderate.

Though I swear, I thought you were supposed to have everything sorted out by the time you were in your forties?2 Goodness knows, my grandparents seemed to in their own minds. I wish I could ask them what they were working on personally (if anything) when they were my age. My parents had my brother and I to deal with. NO-ONE could possibly feel like everything was sorted with us as children. We were kinda challenging to rear.


1 Unlike many homes, that vote was not fake. If 2 out of the three of us voted not to Clean All the Things, None of the Things would have been Cleaned.

2 At least, it’s what I used to think at sixteen. Yes, I know, in many ways I’m mentally still a teenager. Stop laughing at me. It’s not nice to laugh at people who can’t help it.