Fitness - Moving Crew

Craig Stoltz, John Briley and Susan Morse
Washington Post Health Section Editor; Contributor; and Health Assistant Editor
Tuesday, June 6, 2006; 11:30 AM

The Moving Crew is here to take your questions, comments, stories and ideas about personal fitness.

Health section editor Craig Stoltz and section contributor John Briley were online Tuesday, June 6, at 11:30 a.m. ET to talk with you throughout the hour. Health assistant editor Susan Morse was unable to join the discussion.

As the Moving Crew, we specialize in helping beginners get started, regular exercisers reach the next level and everybody avoid injuries, stick with their programs and have fun.

And because the fitness world can be so intimidating to folks who are overweight and sedentary -- and since they can benefit so much from a fitness program -- we take special pride in helping them along the path to fitness.

--The Moving Crew

The Moving Crew will be online to take questions every other Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Browse the Archives:

Recent Columns | Discussions

The transcript follows.


John Briley: Good Day, Chatland! I know we are here to talk about fitness, but first a quick aside. All the buzz today about 6-6-6 being Devil Day is nothing new to me: As one who was born 6-6-66, I've been hearing it for 40 years! So if you anyone who's having a kid today, tell them not to freak out (unless of course their baby starts levitating and spinning in circles). It's just another day.

So do I feel old? Nope, but my darn hamstring is healing slower than I'd like. Enough about me: This chat is about you, so send us your questions, comments, complaints, felicitations and ponderings, and we'll see if we can't be of service.


Falls Church, Va.: Your column on the placebo effect of "oxygenated" water was fantastic! Running-- and most exercise, I guess-- is so mentally-based, isn't it? I get my "placebo effect" from buying new running clothes, especially-- too often-- sneakers... Performance-Enhancing Placebos (Post, June 6)

John Briley: Thanks! Nice to know someone is helping keep the poor apparel industry humming!


St. Albans, W.Va.: I'm preparing for summer, when it will often be too hot here to go outside and walk, my usual form of cardiovascular exercise. Any recommendations for pure cardiovascular exercise DVDs that I can sweat to in the coolness of my basement this July?

I'm looking for no-frills cardio, no extra equipment beyond the DVD player, sessions of medium to high intensity lasting about 30 minutes not counting warm up and cool down. No weights in use during the cardio, please, as I already do weight lifting and prefer to keep the activities separate. Forty-nine year old female here who traded walking for running because of creaky knees. Would that make a kickboxing DVD a bad choice? No one has ever called me graceful, so a dance-type DVD with many complicated steps that would appeal to Ginger Rogers might prove too much of a challenge for me.

I'd appreciate suggestions for anything that will get my heart rate up and keep it up for a half an hour so I can burn off five pounds before hitting the beach in August.

John Briley: My only recommendation (because I have NOT tried many of these at all) would be the PUSH series ( These are tailored to you and progress month to month as you get into better shape. Not sure if they do ONLY cardio though: The ones I got included both cardio and strength workouts, all of which I liked. You might be able to dictate "cardio only" - the personalized aspect is a major feature of these.

Anyone else out there have recommendations for a West Va. friend?


Adams Morgan, D.C. : Happy Tuesday, Mo' Crew--My wife and I recently joined the pre-workday workout throngs. We're both in our 20's and have been working out for years--but always in the evenings, after we've eaten and digested well all day.

So here's the question: What should we eat before dashing out the door to the gym?

Thanks for your help!

John Briley: Hi A.M. - I wrote on this topic a couple weeks ago. Our esteemed host will post the column in a moment. Bottom line: If you have a healthy diet and hydrate adequately, you shouldn't need anything special immediately pre-workout (in fact, some people can't eat at all right before exercise).

Check out the column and pop back if you have further questions.

_______________________ Feeding an Exercise Habit (Post, May 2)


Arlington, Va.: Question about sit-ups. I'm female, 5'7", 128 lb and I do about 100 sit-ups. I'm seeing some abs definition and I want more of it. What else should I be doing?

Susan Morse: Is that 100 a session? Holy cow. Good for you, Arlington! Talk about a role model.

But there are a few muscles you're leaving out that you'll want to exercise. "Bicycles"--the exercise, not the contraption with wheels --will help take care of that. You know, they're the ones you do lying on your back, arms behind your head, lifting first right elbow and left knee til they almost touch, then switching and lifting left elbow to right knee. Start with 2 sets of 15. (Do 'em slowly for better effect) Those will work the internal and external obliques, running along the sides of your abdomen.

.... Trying doing some of those situps using an exercise ball. You'll have to work harder, you'll find. Good luck!


Madison, Wis.: Hello! I have both a question and an update. Last chat I asked for marathon tips and appreciate all of the advice. The marathon was definitely a good-news-bad-news experience; after an unusually cool spring, the temperature shot up to 95 on race day, which really slowed me down. But, I finished without injury, I am eager for my next marathon, and the whole experience really underscored the importance of having flexible goals. In fact, knowing that my goal time was not going to happen really took the pressure off and made the whole experience more fun.

I also have a quick weight lifting question. For general fitness, do you recommend two or three sets (of 8-12 reps each)? I have heard different advice from different fitness experts and am curious about your take.

Thanks again for all of your help!

John Briley: Hi Madtown,

Congratulations on the run! Always have to be ready to adjust for conditions, and it sounds like you brought a healthy mindset to the race. Good for you!

Studies have shown little added benefit from that third set of weight lifting (benefit, yes, just not as much as you achieve with the first two sets). Use a weight that brings you to "failure" somewhere between rep 8 and 12 - i.e., your muscle is fatigued to the point where you couldn't do another rep in proper form.

Serious weight trainers and competitive athletes might need that third set, but most of us do not, even if we are running marathons.


Dale City, Va.: Submitting my question early. I loved your article about proper exercise on Elliptical trainers and try to follow all the advices. I would like your opinion on my routine. I am 29 yo, 5'2", 145 lbs, trying to lose that extra 10-15 lbs to bring my BMI to normal. I work out before lunch on the elliptical set to "weight loss" program for 30 mins, the incline changes from 4 to 10 three times in that time. When the incline is 10, I do 145-150 RPM, my HB varies from 115-125. When the incline goes down to 4, if I were to maintain RPM to 145-150, the machine shows my HR at 135-140 which, again according to the machine, is in a cardio zone, rather than in weight loss zone. So I have to slow down. Which indicators do I trust/rely on - HR, calories-per-minute, or something else? The machine also shows which leg mussels are being engaged at a given moment. On average, my calories burned in this 30 mins program comes to 230-260. I then do some weight lifting, stretching for 15-20 mins. Is there anything I need to do differently to get desired result during summer months? All That Sweat Is No Elliptical Illusion (Post, April 18)

John Briley: Hi Dale City,

First, nice job on evolving your workout! That workout really opened my eyes to the potential of the elliptical.

Don't focus too much on "cardio zone" vs. "fat burning zone" etc. The goal with cardio is to get your heart rate up to around 60% to 75% of maximum (max is roughly 220 minus your age) and keep it in that range for 20 to 30 minutes, with some higher intervals (up to around 85%) and perhaps the occasional dip below 60% when you're really cooked.

Feel free to go with "manual" setting and move the resistance and incline around to get a challenging, varied workout (this is what the trainer did with me for that column). Just remember to NOT bounce and to keep you abs somewhat engaged to help avoid back strain. You should be sweating significantly and breathing pretty hard at many points in the workout.

Otherwise, sounds like you're doing great. Keep it up, and keep it fun!


Fairfax County, Va.: Had arthroscopic knee surgery 3 weeks ago for a complex meniscus tear and was told to "take it easy" for 6-8 weeks. That means no exercise, not even walking in my neighborhood, and I'm used to 4-5 days a week of cardio, weights, yoga and pilates. I am being patient, but am really concerned that I'm going to be starting from scratch when I go back to my club. Other than using my measly 3 lb. hand weights here at home, any advice? Thanks!

Susan Morse: Hi Fairfax,

As they say, been there, done that. But I gotta say I'm surprised to hear the prescription. Is rehab part of the plan? It generally is, starting very soon after surgery, to restore strength and flexibility. You'll need to ask your doctor about this-- we're not physicians, as you know, and I don't know all the particulars of your case. Often, routines while you're healing will include a warmup on a stationary bike, then some stretching and strength training (think squats, with body weight over heel, knee never past knees, please) to build up quadriceps. Other exercises combine balance and strength. Again, speak to your doctor. In the meantime, I'll post a column John wrote just a few months ago about some exercises you can do while you're off you're feet. Good luck! Take care of that knee!


Weights: If I can now comfortably do 2 sets of 12 at a certain weight, what's the next step? Up to 15? Increase the weight? Get a new exercise? I don't want to bulk up, just tone and strengthen.

John Briley: Bump the weight up a little, and hit all the major muscle groups twice a week. You shouldn't need to do more than 12 reps, but those last couple should be fairly challenging.

If you've got the time - after you've attended to all the major groups - you can start to work in some training on smaller muscles, like the triceps, calf muscles, abductors, etc.

This is a good topic - maybe I'll hit it in a near-future column! Thanks -

_______________________ Crew and A: Staying Fit While Lame (Post, April 4)


Arlington VA: More a comment -- for the person who wants to get stronger abdominal muscles, here are two suggestions:

1. Try doing a plank -- lie with you forearms bent together at the elbow, and push up -- with your legs straight (as they would be for doing push-ups), and hold the pose. Start with 20 to 30 seconds, and add a few seconds each day until you get to a minute or more.

2. If you lift free weights at all, trying adding balance challenges at the same time. For example, if doing bicep curls, go to a lower weight and try the exercise on one leg. For shoulder presses or other lifts over the head, do the lift on a balance ball. To maintain your balance, you have to contract your abdomen and core, and this can really build functional strength.

John Briley: Great tips. We are big fans of planks and bridges, and of the off-balance weight training (but please start light with these - they can be difficult for those unaccustomed to the movements).



Muscle soreness: Hi, what are good ways to loosen up tight/sore muscles so I can exercise despite them? I play sports a couple of times a week and always have pretty sore muscles afterwards (lots of sprinting and upper body strength), but I definitely need exercise, preferably cardio, the other days. I've tried walking, gentle jogging and stretching/yoga to warm up, to no avail. Today, my hamstrings were so tight that when I jogged, my knees started hurting and I couldn't go far. I've tried other cardio exercise with similar results in different muscle groups. Thanks!

John Briley: I know you don't want to hear it, but the best approach is to rest until you can at least start to workout without feeling that tightness/soreness.

Ignoring my own advice is precisely the reason I tore my hamstring a few weeks ago.

Ramp down on the weight training (either the amount of weight or number of reps) and, over time, gradually increase it: You will get stronger, but ideally without the interim soreness. Be a little patient; it will pay off in the long run.

Trying to go from zero to 60 (or even from 20 to 45) too quickly will give you either a painful acute injury or chronic nagging issues, like hamstrings that stay tight for months.

So, all of that said, one potential work-around is to take a hot bath and do some gentle stretching (both in the tub and after you get out) before exercising.


Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: I've been trying to ask this question for months but I keep missing you guys.

I used to exercise really regularly, running several miles a day in college. I dropped that for about a year of pilates and no cardio. Now I'm working full time and spent about 5 months very very stagnant. I've started going to the gym again and have found that five minutes into my regular run I have side stitches so bad that I have to stop. (but I got right back into the flow of pilates, no sweat.) What causes side stitches and how do I get rid of them/get over them?

John Briley: Your issue may be due to any number of things, but a likely culprit is the classic I-used-to-be-in-great-shape-so-I-will-rush-back-to-my-old-routine syndrome (insert really long acronym here).

You shouldn't be trying your "regular run" after a five-month layoff. I know it's a drag, but come back slow: If you used to run five miles at an 8-minute pace, start with two and a half miles at a 9:30 pace. Don't worry if you're not pummeled afterward; you are rebuilding the tolerance and will work back to your former shape soon enough.

Also, work in strength training a couple days a week (again, starting lower than you'd think you should and increasing week to week) and flexibility exercises on any day you workout. Any pain while running is an indication that you crossed the line: Back off to a pain-free pace or quit for the day.

You'll get back there, but rushing it will hurt you (see my answer to a prior question on this topic also).


Washington, D.C.: Hi Moving Crew,

I am in my mid-20s and have had severe lower back pain, on and off, for the past three years. Doctors have only prescribed massive amounts of ibuprofin, but it seems to work. That said, I exercise about five times a week, doing one hour of cardio (alternating between the stationary bike, elliptical, and walking on the treadmill) and then a few weight machines (a leg thing and the lateral pull). Are there any exercises that you would recommend to try or suggest that I avoid, considering my medical issues?

I am 5'3 and 130 lbs. Thanks!

John Briley: Focus on strengthening your abs, which will help support your back during all that cardio (and in daily life). Do back exercises, but keep them light - i.e., you shouldn't be going to failure, but you do want to build these muscles up over time. Start with a set or two of back extensions per week, and build up slooowwwlly from there.

Also, really focus on flexibility. Consider taking yoga. A lot of back pain is due to incredibly tight hamstrings (and other muscles) and/or due to weak core muscles. Remember that those muscles have to support all of that skeletal mass above your waist. If they are weak they will fatigue quickly, meaning they'll hurt, plus the situation can down-spiral into a chain reaction of pain (you'll sit in a chair differently, adjust your gait while walking, slump, etc.).

Hope this helps; back pain is a drag.


Damascus, Md.: I need a good, daily routine to help increase my flexibility (female, late 30s). I have very strong, but very tight hamstrings, as well as a tight IT band. In fact, even as a Kindergartener, I couldn't sit "indian style". Any suggestions?

And I have been doing pilates for almost a year, which has helped some, but not enough.

Susan Morse: Hi Damascus,

Oh the embarrassments of kindergarten! They're with us yet, aren't they? I still remember the boy who couldn't skip. Wonder if he ever learned?

Ok, back to your tight hamstrings. First, important: Warm up those muscles by walking at a brisk pace or jogging or using a stationary bike at least 10 minutes before you try stretching them. Then, stretch the right way--don't bounce, as many people do, or you can actually tear the muscle.

You'll want to stretch both at the beginning of your workout (meaning, after you've warmed up) and again at the end.

One stretch: Sit on the floor with one leg out straight and other leg bent at knee, foot against straight leg's inner thigh. Bend at waist and reach forward as far as possible with your arms, grabbing hold of your ankle or toes, if possible. Hold for 10 seconds or more. Relax. Do it again.

Check out some other good stretches for hamstrings at

By the way, those Indian style sits. However you do them--even if you can't bring your legs all the way down, they're still a good stretch for muscles in your groin.


Arlington, Va.: Submitting early so that I don't forget!! Ok - here's my dilemma. I consider myself to be very active: weight training class 2-3x/week; step aerobics 2-3x/wk; spinning 1x/week; along with occassional 3-4 miles runs. Unfortunately - lately when I'm running after about 2 miles or so I get a slow dull pain on the outside of my left knee cap. The pain usually graduates into a sharp pain which means I have to stop raining. I'll usually walk a little while, but can then only manage a slow jog. Is this a major problem? Should a see a doctor? Or do my knees simply need a break?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!

John Briley: Your knees need a break. The weight class should be helping, as long as you are getting in some quad and other leg-muscle work, but you do need to take days off.

Try to dial back to four days of cardio a week for a couple weeks - doesn't mean you need to skip the other days, just lay off the legs - and see if that helps. Also, maybe reduce intensity a little during this time. If that pain persists see a doctor.


Arlington, Va.: Often, meniscus tear repairs mean you can't put weight on the affected leg for a few weeks. But this doesn't mean you stop with weights! Get some weighted leg bands and do leg lifts (sets of 20) on your back, stomach, and each side. You can also still work the good leg with single leg presses on a machine.

Deep water running is also great for mobility and cardio without weight-bearing problems. There are flotation bands that keep you upright while you're moving.

Susan Morse: Thanks, Arlington, for the suggestions for exercises while healing from a meniscus tear. I second the suggestion about deep water running. That's a great exercise that puts very little pressure on sore joints. Many rehab facilities use this. ... Just one caution on the weights: Before you do any lifting with your affected leg, consult your doctor!!!!


Washington, D.C.: I have noticed that the heart monitors on the cardio machines at gyms have difficulty picking up my heart rate. In fact, they almost never manage to catch it, which means that I can't use the programs that regulate intensity based on heart rate. This has happened at several different gyms, so I don't think its a problem with equipment maintenance or quality. I'm not too worried about it, since there are several programs to chose from that do not require a pulse, but it does seem strange. Any ideas about why it doesn't work? I have tried washing my hands and the equipment beforehand.

John Briley: Fascinating question, D.C., and even more so that we are getting this on 6-6-06 (hmmmmm...). Honestly, I've not heard of this but perhaps there's a doc in the crowd who could explain it? Maybe you have very thick skin around your hands where the machines try to find your pulse.

Anyone out there have insight on this?

_______________________ Successful Losers (Post, July 26, 2005)


Alexandria, Va.: Happy Birthday John!

Well, I have hit a severe plateau with my weight. I am 5lbs to my goal and can not seem to shake the last 5lbs over the past few months. I can go up but not down much further than a pound. I have been trying to shake up my fitness routine--any suggestions for weight training that could help losing the last few would be great! Thanks

Susan Morse: Hi Alexandria,

I swiped this from John...but will be sure to pass along good wishes. (All he gets from us is a lot of badgering and teasing about heading to geezerhood...)

About the plateau: Sally Squires, who writes the Lean Plate Club, addresses this subject from time to time. She counsels readers to allow for it--it's very common for this to happen--and to have patience with themselves. See if the column we posted helps. Don't lose hope. You've done great.


Alexandria, Va.: Arlington may have ITB issues...that was my first sign, terrible pain on the outside of my knee. Go see a doc!

Susan Morse: Thanks, Alexandria.


Alexandria, Va.: When I run on a treadmill, I have no problems with side cramps. When I run outside, usually in the morning, I get a VERY painful cramp on my right side that makes we have to walk. My brother says to drink more water before. I tried that and it helped a little, but I still got a cramp during a morning run. How much water should one drink before? I was drinking 8oz but have upped it to 16oz...would 24 be too much and cause "sloshing?"

John Briley: If you are adequately hydrating throughout the day - say, around 50 to 60 ounces of water daily during normal living - you shouldn't need much more than a 12-ounce glass in the morning. I would think 24 ounces would CAUSE cramping (at least that's what happens to me when I try to run around after drinking a lot of water).

You should also warm up slowly in the a.m. (remember, you're hitting it 'cold' after being completely at rest for 6 to 8 hours). Also, consider doing less-intense runs at those times. Last thought: Outdoor running provides more terrain variation and bodily pounding than does the treadmill, so you're cramps may due to the added strain.

See some of my above answers on this topic about gradually increasing overall fitness to handle that abuse.


Fellow lower back pain sufferer: I was inches away from having surgery on my lower back (two compressed disks). I started at a gym and have significantly less pain and am no longer contemplating surgery. I did find that the treadmill and bike didn't help but the elliptical and ramp trainer did but the most help was strengthening my abs.

Susan Morse: Very useful advice--thank you. Rehab therapists always advise strengthening the abs to help take some pressure off lower back and relieve back pain. You didn't say if you used a trainer or rehab expert to do this --often a good idea to avoid further injury--or did it on your own.

Some people have found Pilates helpful for back pain because it also focuses on building the "powerhouse"--core muscles around the abdomen.


Powerbars: Is there any significant difference between a Powerbar or similarly billed thingys and a Snickers? (Other than the price.) If there is, are there any you recommend, or would stay away from? I know you should only eat one if you're about to work out for at least 45 minutes, regardless.

John Briley: Definitely a difference with most. For one thing, Snicker's actually taste good while those damn bars... (oops, off topic).

Seriously, the Powerbars, Cliff Bars, Luna Bars, etc. really do make an effort to provide nutrients your body needs (healthy carbs, protein, fiber), whereas traditional candy bars are like little truckloads of fat, sent (with love!) straight from the sugar industry.

I do not love any of the "good" bars, but I seem to gravitate toward the carrot cake Cliff Bars when given the option.


Gaithersburg, Md.: This might be a funny question, but here goes. I go running and hiking on trails near my house that are in the woods and I often see deer while I'm out there. Usually I slow my pace and walk slowly until I am clear of them so as not to startle them, but I was wondering if there is a correct way to act when you come across wild animals while out hiking or running in the woods? Thanks so much!

John Briley: The most important thing is to not encourage interaction (for example, by feeding them). Encouraging wild animals to interact with humans leads to all kinds of environmental problems, which would be off-topic for us.

I mountain bike in Schaeffer Farms out by G-burg and see tons of deer there too. Like you, I enjoy getting a good look at them. Deer in suburban America are becoming all too accustomed to human interaction, but in reality we probably should be trying to startle them a little bit so they maintain a healthy suspicion of us.


Washington, D.C.: Hello, I am a 30 y/o female, 115 lbs with some minor, pretty constant back pain (both upper and lower back). I'm trying to prevent the pain from getting worse in the future- would you recommend weight lifting or yoga for this problem? Currently, I elliptical for 30 min. 5 days a week, and walk my dog for an hour every day. Thanks!

Susan Morse: Hi Washington,

Your level of activity is commendable but self-diagnosing--and self-treating--chronic back pain sounds like an invitation to trouble to me.

I suggest a doctor's visit--at least to rule out possible structural issues like scoliosis that might be contributing to your problem and that you might need to take into consideration. Then, once you've gotten an all-clear, I'd look into Pilates or yoga (provided you have a well-trained and attentive teacher) or find myself a trainer who could custom-tailor an ab-strengthening, flexibility-building routine.

Best of luck.


Lower back pain: I continue to use a trainer - my gym provides them. Wouldn't dare try it myself plus...I find I am less "wimpy" when someone is standing over me egging me on.

Susan Morse: Hey, backster, thanks for this. Tho I'd rather trainers spent more time attending to form than "egging" people on.


Washington, D.C.: Do you know of bicycles that can handle the weight of larger persons? My husband is 6'3"/330lbs and I am 5'7"/275lbs. We would love to go biking, but do not currently have bicycles. Would we need special bikes to hold our weight? Thanks!!

John Briley: A lot of mountain bikes out there should accommodate you two. Look for composite frames (with at least some steel) or titanium - expensive but string. Avoid 100% aluminum frames: My heavier friends who mountain bike tend to have more problems with the aluminum.

And good luck! Commendable goal.


Arlington, Va.: Good morning,

I recently changed jobs. All the stars have aligned perfectly for me to commute by bike five days a week (unless the weather is exceptionally bad). It takes 35 minutes each way.

So, I've given up my morning time at the gym except on weekends. Do I need to worry about not getting enough upper body exercise?

And is there any point in doing strength training on my legs since I bike so much?

Oh, I'm a guy 49 years old.

John Briley: You should continue with at least a modicum of upper-bod work. You can do this at home - push-ups, bridges, planks, etc.

We are low on time so I cannot elaborate now, but drop back next time for more.

If possible, you'll also want to at least occasionally bring some other leg exercise into the mix for two reasons: to get some weight-bearing exercise, which helps with bone health, and to avoid over-working the same muscles over and over again in precisely the same way.


Washington, D.C.: I have a question concerning how types of exercises seem to cause differing health benefits.

Specifically, how does running vs. swimming affect one's health? I ask this because I normally can run about 2 miles in 15 minutes, but can barely swim 8 laps in a rather small pool. Why can I run this distance with minimal problems, but almost pass out swimming? Do the muscles affected differ drastically in these two types of exercises?

John Briley: Your body is used to the running. Swimming is a different activity. Because you have the baseline fitness, you could probably adjust quicker than most people could, but you still have to get used to it.

Also, the running is leg based. You definitely use your legs swimming, but you are really pulling your body through the water.


Anonymous: Dear Crew,

I have been lifting weights for over a year, in addition to regular cardio. My boyfriend recently started to lift weights a few months ago. I showed the proper techniques and how to use the machines.

After a few months, he has noticeable arm definition from all his lifting. But I still lack any muscle definition! Do you think this is because I have about 15 more lbs to lose and he is normal weight? Or is this a guy thing, that they can add muscle easier? He is not lifting large amounts, and on some machines I actually lift more than he does! I don't want to get super buff, but I wish my arms were more toned.

Thanks Crew. You guys are the best!

John Briley: Guys do add muscle easier, in general, due to testosterone levels. We are about out of time, but drop back in two weeks and we can explore further.

And stick with it - you'll get there!


Overland Park, Kan.: I was playing tennis over the weekend and developed a slight injury to my left oblique (a slight strain, a cramp, or more likely a combination of both). It settled down the next day, but what can I do to keep it settled down?

John Briley: Hi Kansas,

Stretching (gentle), proper warm up before hitting hard and gradually increasing strength program. Keep us posted!


Washington, D.C.: Hi there,

I have been taking Jazzercise classes for about two months. After we get through our dance/exercise routines we work out with hand weights and then floor exercises. Our instructor is adamant about always having our legs bent when doing crunches. My problem is that when I do them "correctly" my abs never feel anything, but my upper thighs are the things that start burning. I'm 5'2" with very short stubby legs and it is easier for me if my legs are flat on the ground. I actually do feel my ab muscles then. Do you think it makes a difference?

Susan Morse: Hi Washington,

She's adamant about your doing that to avoid putting too much strain on your lower back. Keeping your legs bent forces your pelvis to lift and lower back to be pressed into the floor, preventing injury. Talk with her or another fitness instructor about other abs exercises, but don't mess with your back when doing crunches. Believe me, it's not worth it.


Silver Spring, Md.: I am in such a workout rut. I'm so exhausted from my job all the time and thinking about exercising makes me feel even more tired. I'm bored with running and the machines at the gym, and the classes I'm interested in seem to be at odd times (8.30 at night, 10.30 during the day). But I think this must be circular - no energy to workout, but I know that working out gives me energy. What do you recommend for jump starting an exercise routine? I need something that's convenient or I won't do it.

John Briley: Hey Silver Spring,

Quickly, due to time: Start walking on errands (I live near you, so no excuses about how far away the stores are!). Puttering around outside whenever possible - work in the yard or, if you don't have one, go work in someone else's yard (like mine!). Take stairs, get a bike, buy a basketball and go shoot around alone - anything at all to remind your body how good it feels to move. Keep it gentle if the intense stuff turns you off, but do something. Don;t think you have to do it all at once. Little steps, little bits of time, steady gradual progress...


Morgantown, W.Va.: What should one eat/drink after a cardio workout? Say 30-40 minutes on an elliptical machine at a fairly high intensity. I have read articles suggesting chocolate milk. Is this true? Thank you.

John Briley: A new study did show great benefit from chocolate milk. I have not looked into this too deeply, but I have heard it validated by some fairly reliable sources.

Otherwise, just good ole fashioned water (unleaded!) and a healthy diet of fresh, wholesome foods.

_______________________ Into the Deep End (Post, Sept. 6, 2005)


John Briley: Thanks for playing today, everyone. We are back in two weeks - June 20 - for another round. Meantime, stay well and keep moving.

- the Diabolical Crew


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company