Fitness - Moving Crew

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Craig Stoltz, John Briley and Susan Morse
Washington Post Health Section Editor; Contributor; and Health Assistant Editor
Tuesday, July 18, 2006; 11:30 AM

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

Health section contributor John Briley was online Tuesday, July 18, at 11:30 a.m. ET to talk with you throughout the hour. Health section editor Craig Stoltz and assistant editor Susan Morse were 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 was online to take questions every other Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. ET.

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The transcript follows.

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John Briley: Greetings Swelterville!

Nice to be back online after a three-week hiatus from these fitness chats. We have a skeletal crew today (i.e., just me for now, though others may join mid stream), but don't let that alarm you: I have a niiice stack of fitness reference books right here beside me!

As always, we're here to address your questions, comments and ministrations on exercise and all things fitness, so let's get right into it...

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Ellicott City, Md.: I have been running outdoors 2-3 miles most days of the week. I am not seeing much difference in terms of weight loss or toning as a result of the running. Any thoughts on what better ways I should be exercising if my main goal was to stay healthy and get my muscles toned as well? Thanks!

John Briley: Hi E.C.,

Have you noticed that you've upped your caloric intake along with launching (and maintaining) the running program? That happens often, simply because our bodies ask for more fuel when we start using more. If yes, try to feed the need with fresh produce and other healthy stuff.

Also, not that this should matter too much, but are you pushing yourself during these runs or just going through the motions? If the latter, your body might have adjusted to the new routine and is not feeling challenged enough.

Mix up your route, your speed (throw some intervals in there) and even your mileage.

Last: Start strength training - 2 days a week - to tone muscle (but keep up the cardio routine - you do need that for heart health).

Good luck!

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Arlington, Va.: Hi crew: I strained my ham string earlier in the year, and am finally getting it taken care of through physical therapy (lesson learned: exercising through pain does not make something heal, just makes it worse). I've been given the all clear for cardio, just no running and I have to keep the elliptical on a low, low incline. I'm having a VERY difficult time getting a real workout at the gym. I like exercise that makes me really sweat, and can't seem to reach that point on other machines. Any tips? Walking plans or spinning maybe?

John Briley: Oh do I feel you pain, Arlington! Going through the exact same thing right now, and my advice is twofold: 1. BE PATIENT and do what you PT says. I tore mine in early May and am dying to get back into action but these are very slow-healing muscles. I have heard sooo many stories of people who rushed back from a hammy pull/tear and continue to suffer YEARS later.

2. Swimming, BUT don't kick if that hurts.

There are not too many exercises that don't involve at least some hamstring engagement. Stick with the PT and get what sweat you can from prescribed elliptical settings. It may not seem like it now, but you'll be back to full strength (or nearly) if you exercise restraint now.

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Bellingham, Wash.: Howdy. First a quick comment: A while back someone asked the difference between a Snickers bar and a Clif bar for post-exercise refueling. Aside from the sugar crash, questionable ingredient source and crappy fat in the Snickers bar, there is the issue of balance. I'm not a nutritionist ('tho I do pretend to be one on the Internet) but everything I've read about pre and post exercise nutrition talks about a target balance of plus/minus 250 calories split 60 percent carbs/25 percent protein/15 percent good fat. That is about exactly what the Clif bar provides. Regarding flavor, once I weaned myself off sweets and lost my sweet tooth those Clif bars became mighty tasty, not so much like cardboard anymore. No affiliation, True story!

Followed by a quick question about exercise duration:

I am training for a marathon and one of the cross-training days in my program is 40-50 minutes of brisk walking (its on the day after the long run). I have a 30-minute brisk walk to work. So do I count the round trip as 60 minutes of cross training or is 2 X 30 minutes eight hours apart not equal to one 60 minute session? I do get the heart rate up and do some sweatin' during both walks.

Thanks in advance and apologies for the length. That's what you get for taking the 4th off then not being around on the 11th!

John Briley: Thanks Bham! Good comment on the bars and, yes, the "performance" and "nutritional" bars are much healthier - by and large - than traditional candy bars (but we encourage everyone to read the ingredients before scarfing them down).

Your RT walk counts. I know you from these chats and I know you don;t try to cheat your way out of these requirements, so I trust you're "brisking" along on those strolls. Good luck and have fun!

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Washington, D.C.: I really want to work out in the morning, but every time I wake up, I just make more and more excuses and the thought of actually going to the gym exhausts me. Any suggestions on how I can motivate myself?

John Briley: Forget the gym for now. Find something around your house or neighborhood to ease you into a habit. Example: If you drink coffee, instead of making it in-house, force yourself to walk a block to the coffee shop for a cup. The economics aren't bad (IF you avoid the $4 frufru drinks) and you'll start to enjoy your little stroll. Live in the burbs? Try starting each day with a 10-minute walk around the block.

Things like this don't require a great alarm clock adjustment - just 10 or 15 minutes versus, say, an hour for a gym visit - and you probably will discover that you enjoy your little moments of personal time.

Over time, look for longer outlets - maybe a 25-minute bike ride to run a weekly errand, or join a friend on his/her dog walk (everyone knows someone with a dog, right? See today's Moving crew column).

Just as in successful dieting, don't look for a huge solution, and be patient with yourself. It's all incremental and, in many ways, simply mental: Create opportunities that will look forward to, not dread.

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Washington, D.C.: I would like to lose my stomach. How do I do that without doing sit- ups?

John Briley: Holy cow, man, do you how hard it would be to digest food without a stomach? Using my well-honed spidey senses, I will presume you mean the flab around your middle, not your actual stomach.

And (getting serious here, I promise) you cannot spot-reduce fat - i.e., your overall body fat will melt away as you increase your calorie burning and reduce your calorie consumption. Doing ab exercises will not target tummy fat, but it will help build ab muscles (which help with "tone").

You - and everyone - should not do traditional "sit-ups" anyway (where you bring your whole back off the floor). These have been shown to increase risk of back pain. Start with crunches, where you lie on your back, knees bent and together, feet flat on floor, and contract ab muscles to raise shoulders off the floor.

Also, planks and bridges are good (look 'em up on the Web), but sounds like you might not want any ab exercises. We advise against that strategy - core exercise is a key part of overall fitness - but if you choose it, focus on burning more calories than you eat, and eat healthy. The fat should recede.

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Bored at work: Will wearing warm clothes during a workout (i.e., sweatshirt and sweats) help you burn more calories or is it just water weight? ... And is it better to do 30 min of cardio 7 days a week, or more intense workouts (40-60 min) 5 days a week?

John Briley: Inneresting questions, B.a.W.

1. First, I advise against forcing your body to sweat more than necessary as a routine practice, especially in this heat, but also in more breezy times because it puts undue stress on your internal temperature regulation system. Yes, you could argue that exercise does the exact same thing, but the benefits of working out are almost as numerous as the detriments of staying sedentary.

By piling on clothes you will burn more calories for the reason cited above: Your body will summon more energy in an effort to cool itself, and energy comes from calories (overly simplistic explanation, but you get the point).

2. Mix up the workouts. Intense some days, a little more "recovery" minded other days, a mix on others. This will keep it interesting and keep your body guessing a little bit, which is good for fitness AND function. Like if you do a slow jog every day of the week then have to sprint hard one day, for example, to chase down the ice cream truck, that sprint might cause you to strain something if you never make yourself sprint during workouts.

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Chantilly, Va.: Ok, I got married a year ago to a wonderful man, the one I was looking for all my life, and what happened? I gained 20 pounds and I feel like I gained 80. I need to get back to the work out routine I was in before we married and joined our lives and families and life got hectic. I belong to a gym and right now its a waste every month. How do I remotivate myself back into the every other day routine I was in before we joined up.

John Briley: See my answer above on incremental steps. You might be able to start a little bit ahead of that person, but do try to view this a step-at-a-time return to fitness.

Start by reclaiming at least two nights a week (or lunch hours, or pre-work time slots) to get exercise. If the weather is nice, go outside: You'll feel a lot better getting the exercise than in a gym. But if you must head indoors, view it as something you owe yourself, not a chore. This will build on itself.

Envision you and your mate at the beach, on the hiking trail, posing for a cover shot for "Chantilly Happy Couple Today". You do - and will continue to - have ample time for together time. Carve out some you time and get that old habit back.

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Leesburg, Va.: My husband and I are avid gym goers. I'd like to incorporate some outdoor activities in the Leesburg area into our routine. We've hiked Sugarloaf mountain once; I'm having trouble finding other activities to do ... as well as convincing my husband that hiking, walking, etc., can take place of a gym session.

Any suggestions?

John Briley: I'm not super familiar with Leesburg area, but I know there's some nice road biking around Purcellville, plus that trail (D&O? Old Dominion? y'know the one...) and if you two operate at different speeds, perhaps you could cycle while he jogs alongside? THAT should feel like a workout.

Also, you have the river nearby - any scenic trails or parks along there that might offer a nice visual diversion, just as an excuse to get out there? You could also consider challenging him to some sporting contest - or join a local soccer, frisbee, flag football, etc. team - to steer things out of doors.

Last suggestion: If he won't bite, find a friend and go do it yourself. No reason you and spouse need to be attached at the hip for every workout, and if he sees you coming home all cheerful and upbeat from the great outdoors maybe he'll be more inclined to join in the future.

Any Leesburgians out there have suggestions?

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Gaithersburg, Md.: After several years of not bicycling (and I'll admit, the last year or so I've been a slug), I signed up for the Seagull Century. Last weekend I did 20 miles on Saturday and 25 Sunday, and I figured I'd keep increasing the weekend miles with whatever cardio I can fit in during the week. The catch is, I crashed at the end on Sunday's ride, and I'm not sure I'll be doing much besides nursing the swelling and bruising this week. Is it too late to have a prayer of getting to 100 miles by Oct. 7?

John Briley: Not at all too late, especially since your goal (I hope) is not to win but to enjoy the ride and finish the 100 miles.

Heal up and get back on the training when your body allows. And when you do, remember the magic training word: Intervals! Those will help you build strength and stamina more quickly than will steady-pace rides (but you should mix these up throughout the week/month; don't do an interval workout every time out).

Feel better.

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Oxon Hill, Md.: Is it true that the easiest and best way for men to lose weight get in shape is through running?

John Briley: That's a major over-simplification (and misleading). Running is incredibly efficient as an exercise modality - no gear needed (besides shoes), quick elevation of heart rate, ability to crush through calories in relatively short distances and, for most people, right outside their doors.

But if all you do is run, at some point you are risking over-use injuries (knees are notorious victims of running addictions) and you are neglecting body parts that might want to have at least mildly conditioned for later: Core, arms, chest...

We recommend five days of cardio a week (more if like it and can handle it) and two days strength training, and we suggest mixing up all the training. Sure, you could using running most days, if that's your thing, but occasionally jump on a bike or a rowing machine, pogo stick, elliptical, in-line skates to work some different muscles. The strength work will help boost muscle capacity and make you a better runner.

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Alexandria, Va.: Could you give me a dummy's guide to intervals? I've been focusing too much on strength training and am trying to ratchet the cardio up a notch. I usually do 20-30 min. on the elliptical at the gym, but I've started using the treadmill more. I walk briskly, but I've been adding a few 1-1.5 minute intervals of light jogging. If I'm walking at a pace between 3.5 and 4 mph, what speed should my jogging intervals be? And how many would you do, spaced how far apart over a 30-min. workout? Many thanks!

John Briley: Good Q Arlington. I won't go into MPH specifics but this should help:

1. Get warmed up (5 minutes at least) then establish a pace you can hold for a while, hopefully at around 65% of your max heart rate, or breathing hard but not panting wildly.

2. Take it up to a near sprint, something that is REALLY hard, and try to hold for 30 seconds. If you have a heart rate monitor, this would be around 85% of HR max (maybe even 90%).

3. Return to - but not below - your prior steady state and recover for 60 seconds.

4. Repeat 10 times, if you can.

5. Cool down for five minutes before stopping.

If you can hold an interval for 90 seconds you either in sick shape or not pushing it quite hard enough. Over time, increase the number of intervals, then the length of each one. If you get to a point where you're doing 15 intervals of 45 to 60 seconds each, you will be rocking.

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Washington, D.C.: I run about 3 miles, 3 mornings a week, do interval sprints one morning, and lift weights at the Y two afternoons. So I'm pretty active, and have been for years. The problem is that I'm hungry ALL.THE.TIME. This has been a problem for years too, but has gotten worse lately. I eat breakfast (grape nuts w/banana) upon getting to work at 9, and by 11:30 I'm ravenous again. I eat a snack (fruit), then lunch at 1, and am starving by 3. So I have another snack. Then I'm ravenous again by 7 for dinner. I'm so tired of this! I'd like to lose about 5 pounds, but I know I'll never be able to eat less since I'm so hungry as it is. What's the problem? Has my routine exercise thrown off my metabolism or something?

John Briley: This one might be outta my league, but I suggest trying more-frequent snacking with vegetables (carrots and broccoli are good for filling up). Other healthy somewhat filling foods include brown rice and grapefruit. Every meal should include carbs, fat and protein.

Drop in on Sally Squires' Lean Plate Club chat at 1 p.m. and see if you can get more detail.

One important thought: Do you really need to lose those 5 pounds? Media images often cause us to obsess over fairly healthy bodies. I know there's an obesity epidemic on right now, but it doesn't sound like you're in that high-risk category.

Very last thing: Try consulting with a sports nutritionist. there are a lot around and not all are reserved for serious athletes.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey guys --

A question about over training. I've recently started hitting the gym regularly again, doing 6 cardio (1 interval) and 6 strength training routines a week broken down into three groups: Chest and Triceps, Biceps and back, and legs (2 exercises for each muscle, 3 sets of each to exhaustion)

Am I overdoing the strength training? Would I see better results actually doing less?

John Briley: Sounds like a lot but your body will tell you if it's too much. See my May 23 column for details on what constitutes over training:

Overtraining: Feel the Burnout!

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washingtonpost.com: Lean Plate Club Discussion

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Help!: Right after the new physical fitness guidelines came out (maybe 9 months to a year ago?) you did a great column that clarified the new guidelines and put it into language that was easy to understand and follow.

I thought that I had saved the article, but I can't seem to find it.

Could you put up a link to that article? (I've been waiting for the right opportunity to share it with my husband...and this is it!)

Thanks!

John Briley: Link coming in a second...

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washingtonpost.com: 60 Minutes, 90 Minutes: We're Losing It ( Post, Feb. 8, 2005 )

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Culpeper, Va.: I walk my Golden Retrievers every evening. How do I know if it's too hot for them in the weather we are having now?

John Briley: If they lie down during the walk, if they act strange after returning home (or get sick, from either end) - things like that. If they're used to walks and you're going out after the heat of the day, they should be fine, as long as you're not running them. Also, carry a squirt bottle and/or walk them near water if possible: Dogs will stand in water because cooling their foot pads helps regulate heat.

No matter what, do keep it mellow on days like this - this heat is a severe shock to almost any animal's system, especially one covered in fur.

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McLean, Va.: I just recently started working out -- about two weeks ago. I do 45-90 minutes of cardio per day, and strength training 3-4 times a week. I only have about 15 lbs to lose. My question is, I know that I'm building muscle -- which weighs more than fat, so I'm seeing changes. I'm just not seeing a change on the scale. Any idea how long it might take?

John Briley: Not really, but you kind of addressed your own question: Don't focus on the scale, focus on how you look and feel. Sounds like you're doing great, so just keep doing that!

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Omaha, Neb.: I have some generic knee problems. I've recently become active again, primarily through walks (3-5 mile) in a hilly neighborhood and am getting random "discomforts" in my knees. Any suggestion for preventing more serious pain/damage? When should I consider help from a physical therapist vs. treating myself? I'd like to eventually take up running again, but unless I have healthy knees, its out of the question. Thanks for doing this chat, it's a great idea!

John Briley: Two things with knees:

1. Strengthen the surrounding musculature (quads, hamstrings, calf, even groin, as well as the core, to help take pressure off your knees.

2. Try to lose weight (if you are overweight) for the same reason.

If you're just returning to exercise, some creakiness is normal, BUT if you have anything resembling acute or chronic pain, please see a doc. I am unqualified to offer sound medical advice over the Web!

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For the Hungry Person: I noticed that you did not mention a lot of protein in your food examples. Lean sources of protein such as egg whites, chicken, fish, nuts, soy, low-fat cheese, etc., might fill you up without filling you out. Also, protein takes longer to digest and fills you up a bit more than fruit and carbs. Also choose foods full of fiber. I am not a nutritionist but found eating small frequent meals with some form of protein has really helped me control my ravenous appetite.

John Briley: Excellent points. I was hustling through that question and did not go into great detail at all. Thanks for the elaboration.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you burn more calories if you run or walk?

John Briley: Depends. If you walk 20 miles you will burn more calories than if you run a city block. You burn calories faster by running.

Basically: It takes the same amount of energy to move a mass a certain distance, so if all you care about is calories burning, focus on distance, not speed.

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Washington, D.C.: Submitting early. I've gained about 25 lbs. in the last year due to an injury. My doctor has given me the green light to exercise, and I want to get back into the swing of things. Any recommendations as to how to start loosing the weight?

John Briley: Since you're now overweight, start slow, probably with some brisk walks. Elevate intensity and distance as your body allows, then, when that gets less challenging, intersperse some short jogging spurts into the walks.

Soon after starting add in a day a week of light strength training (can do at home or gym) and build that up to two 45-minute strength sessions a week. This also may take time to achieve.

Good luck!

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Washington, D.C.: When I went hiking recently I got embarrassingly tired on some of the steep parts. (The hike was 4 miles, 1400 vertical feet). What can I do in the gym to improve my conditioning for future hikes?

John Briley: Try this:

All That Sweat Is No Elliptical Illusion

Intervals, my friend, intervals. And strength training for core, quads and glutes.

Have fun out there.

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John Briley: Hey folks, much as I'd love to stay and do this all day, I gotta run. Due to limited Crew chiefs today, we didn't get to a whole slew of questions but we are back in two weeks for more action.

Also, I will surf the leftovers and look for column ideas, so you're unanswered question may appear in a newspaper near you soon!

Thanks for participating today. Stay cooooool.

- The DCMC

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