Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, December 11, 2007; 11:00 AM

He's a veteran reporter, digging up the latest fitness news. She's an irreverent columnist with a knack for getting people off the couch and into the gym. Together, they're here to handle your worst work-out dilemmas and exercise questions.

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider are the MisFits, The Post's new fitness writers. Vicky was online Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 11 a.m. to take your questions.

A transcript follows.

Discussion Archive.


Vicky Hallett: And if (for some crazy reason I can't imagine) you don't want to hang out with us on Saturday, there are some other fitness-related things you might want to put on your schedule:

-The Holiday Health Fair at SomaFit in Glover Park! From 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. there are free classes, massages and personal training sessions. And free food, too. Howard, I might have to ditch you...

-Results Gym! The new location at Farragut North is letting anyone with any gym membership at all (WSC, Fitness First, YMCA, whatever) work out for free until the 15th. And yes, they have dropped the "the" from the middle of their name.

And have other folks signed up for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler this morning? Registration opened at 8, and it took me about 45 minutes to get through the darned thing because of so much traffic on the site ( So if you wanna do the race in April, I suggest you start clicking soon. But first, obviously, you should chat with us. Let's go!

Howard Schneider: Yea I forgot to register and hope I still can get a place...Meanwhile, I hope you all can participate in the latest trail challenge, which is mapped in today's Washington Post...The contest window is open for a week...

Howard Schneider: So we got our timing kind of screwed up. What Vicky is referring to is the fact that we'll be on the mall by the Botanic Garden this Saturday from 12:30 to 2 as part of the latest trail challenge...Hope to see you there...WE'LL HAVE LIP BALM...FREE!!


Thank goodness for anonymous chats: I'm a late-20s female. Will weightlifting with extra attention to my chest muscles perk up my breasts? I'm not looking for plastic surgery results, just a nicer shelf for the girls to rest on.

Vicky Hallett: A trainer once bragged to me about how fabulous her "twins" are because of weightlifting, so I say, yeah.

Here's one move you might want to try, courtesy of ehow:


protein bars: Hi Misfits,

I have been searching everywhere for a protein bar that does not contain things such as partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, etc. Do you know if "healthier" protein bars without all that junk even exist? I thought about trying to make my own but can't figure out any good recipes. Suggestions?


Vicky Hallett: I can't help you with recipes, but if you're looking to buy, there's thinkGreen (, which might be along the lines of what you're searching for. Clif Bar ( also has a big all-natural selection.

Have you tried either of those? I tend to think all of those bars -- whether they have junky ingredients or not -- are somewhat nasty. There's something about protein bars that usually reminds me of Play-Doh.

But any chatters have good experiences with healthy protein bars?

Howard Schneider: Hey...How about just freezing some blogs of peanut butter? Okay maybe that's get a bit messy. But believe it or not actually has a protein bar finder. I doubt, given all the bad pub on transfats, you'll have trouble finding what you need.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Sorry I missed last week's chat. Well, I'll go out on the record (anonymously of course) and say, yep, I fart when I run. So there you have it Vicky.

Vicky Hallett: Thanks for coming clean, D.C.! But the question is did any of those tips from last week help you keep your gas in check? Inquiring minds wanna know...

Vicky Hallett: And our producer Paul thinks you might also want to mention this to Gene Weingarten at noon.


Washington, D.C.: I've recently been too busy to go the gym, so instead of four 20 minute interval runs a week on the treadmill (at about an average of 5.2 speed), I've been walking 45 minutes to work (I walk extremely fast) five days a week. Is this an okay substitution? Or am I going to start putting back on the 10 pounds I lost after I started going to the gym? Thanks.

Vicky Hallett: I don't really feel like doing math this morning -- Howard, maybe you're up for it? -- but is the distance covered the same? If it is, you should be fine calorie-wise.

If you're walking extremely fast, you're probably not going much slower than 5.2 mph anyway, right?

Howard Schneider: Four years at Harvard and you still can't add? My oh my...Anyway, the missing elements in the equation are gender, age and weight, all of which feed into calories burned...If in fact you are walking 7.5 hours a week pretty briskly, as opposed to running faster for 80 minutes a week, you are more than okay (for reference check out'd burn roughly twice the calories running at that pace versus walking, so the difference in time would more than make up). The fact that you're walking outdoors -- and presumably going uphill some times -- means you will burn more calories (treadmills give a bit of an assist), and doing yourself good in terms of tackling grade. Is your walk uphill?

How it nets out in terms of calories can't be calculated without knowing all the other stuff. If you really want to know, invest in a heart rate monitor. Keep in mind that those interval workouts have other benefits besides the calories burned: you'll make your body more efficient, and your heart stronger than you will be just walking. Can you do both?


Washington, D.C.: Because our country is a little on the heavy side, it seems like almost all fitness weight advice is about how to lose it. How about some healthy tips on how to gain a few pounds? I'm a skinny male in my twenties who lifts weights and plays basketball and has trouble putting weight on. Besides just telling me to eat more or that I will regret this question years from now, got any advice?

Howard Schneider: Oh, such a problem. Lets assume that the issue here is not weight, but what kind of weight -- muscle versus fat. You're not going to grow another liver or brain so those are the only two choices. You've obviously got a metabolism that runs pretty high (BTW, interesting piece on the ScienceDaily Web site about mucking up the mitochondria in mice so they run inefficiently and use more calories...)..Anyway, I assume you'll want to add muscle, and not body fat, so you need to

A) Make sure you are lifting at a level intense enough to trigger muscle growth -- a weight heavy enough so that somewhere between the eighth and twelth repetition, you can't do any more...Once can do 12, with good form, you can boost the weight by a couple percent...

B) Consume enough calories to support muscle growth. We have links to online calorie estimators at can calculate what your body will use, then aim to consumer a couple hundred calories per day above that.


Peanut butter honey/milk protein bars???: I think an old recipe went equal portions of peanut butter (regular store brand), honey, oatmeal, and dried milk and stir. Start out with the peanut butter, add the honey, then work in the mixture the oatmeal and dried milk. We rolled them into balls for a quick snack. They were called peanut butter honey milk balls.

Howard Schneider: I am having this for lunch...Thanks!


Gainesville, Fla.: I am trying to lose weight. I currently weigh 173 pounds. I work out 5 days a week; usually running a 5K loop on a treadmill. I am unsure if I'm being efficient.

Is it better to start at 6 mph to get my heart rate up quickly but then have to slow down frequently after about 15 minutes of running OR run consistently at 5-5.5 mph without having to stop at all? Please, please help.

Vicky Hallett: How about you try this instead: start at an even slower pace (say 4.5 mph) for a few minutes to get your body warmed up, gradually make your way to 5.5 mph, and then try to do intervals of running 6 mph.

I bet that way you'll be able to maintain the faster speed for longer, and even get your speed higher in a couple weeks.


Bethesda, Md.: Hi there, thanks for taking my questions.

Back when I worked night shifts, I used to hit the gym 4-5 days each week and I lost about 30 pounds. It was great. Now, I work standard office hours (8:30-5), and I'm finding it difficult to exercise after a busy day at work. I'm aware that this is unhealthy, particularly since I've put on about 20 pounds in the last couple of years, but I just can't seem to find a routine that works. I do, however, walk around a lot. Shouldn't that help? I walk instead of drive anytime I can, but I'm still gaining weight -- argh!

Any advice is appreciated.

Vicky Hallett: Hey there, Bethesda. Walking around can certainly help, but depending on how much you're doing, it might not compare with your 5-days-a-week gym schedule.

If the end of the day is too tiring, have you tried scheduling your gym time for the morning? Or your lunch break? If any one particular time is inconvenient to do repeatedly, you could schedule three work outs during the work week: one in the morning, one at lunch and one after. And then go once over the weekend whenever you feel like it. That way you won't feel like you're giving up one particular time slot constantly.


Fairfax, Va.: Is it true that if you exercise late at night that it will have an effect on being able to sleep? If so, how long should you wait until you try to go to sleep after you work out? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: Well sure! After a workout, you're body's had all that adrenaline pumping through it and it's certainly not ready to go from working super hard to just passing out.

The amount of time you need to wait depends on your body, but I'd give it at least two hours after something strenuous.

It, of course, also depends on what kind of exercise you're doing. There's some yoga that's great to do at night right before hitting the hay.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi. I am recreational runner...enjoyed jogging 2-3 miles for much of my adult life, but as I approach 40 next year, I am training to run the MCM in October 2008. As I begin to hit longer runs like 8-10 miles, I am having some pretty intense pain in my right hip. It starts in my butt, and radiates down my hamstring. Sometimes it feels like my hip is "popping", or sometimes the joint itself is just sore. My right hamstring/glute is so tight and sore that it is hard to touch my toes or shave my lower leg! Is this two separate injuries -- hamstring/glutes and hip? Or are they connected? Is this age-related, or is there something I can do to relieve it?

Howard Schneider: Hi Alexandria...Lets hope you can get on top of this to keep up your training..I assume you have been building slowly to the 8 to 10 mile range? The usual guide line is to limit additional mileage on the long run to less than 10 percent per week. Also assume you've had good technical help on the shoes, to make sure you have the right gear for your foot type?

Beyond that, here are some of the possible problems...I'd look particularly at the section on piriformis syndrome...

This might be something where you need to focus on strengthening other parts of the body, like the lower back...It might be something fixed as easily as using a foam roller to smooth out and loosen the muscles...

My advice: If you are determined on finishing the marathon without injury, get an appointment with a physical therapist and go through a full functional exam...For a couple hundred bucks you can find out where the imbalances and tight spots are in your body, and get suggestions about how to address them...


Silver Spring, Md.: With regards to intestinal issues and running, you were correct that dairy and fiber consumption prior to a run can influence gas and GI discomfort. One other factor is artificial sugars -- I find I can consume gels, goos and sport drinks during a run but I should only drink water prior to a run. I also gave up Splenda because it affected my GI tract before, during and after a run.

Vicky Hallett: Good to know Silver Spring! I try to avoid artificial sugars generally because I feel like they're evil. But that's mostly just because they taste gross...kinda like protein bars! Now you know more than you ever wanted to about my dietary habits.


D.C.: About the walk, is it the kind of thing my kids will enjoy? (They're 8 and 10.) Anything special to look out for?

Howard Schneider: Absolutely...Get the times for skating and build that in...The Holiday trees are great, and they will love the model train at the Botanic Garden...Plus they'll get a kick out of solving our riddles....


Annapolis, Md.: Recently I've met a number of runners who are having (and almost bragging about) knee replacements surgery -- has there been any studies correlating running with regenerative knee disease? I know that people love to talk about their sports injuries, but if there is a link, should we be rethinking running and recommending another aerobic activity?

Howard Schneider: Interesting question and tough to research on the fly since it would require delving into the medical literature. But here is a quick reference from Runner's World that seems to ring true. Here is the relevant sentence:

"Traumatic knee injuries like ACL tears and degenerative knee problems like osteoarthritis tend to strike the knees of everyday runners at rates no higher than those of everyone else."

My guess is that the problems are often a result of improper attention to cross training. As I have tried to amp up the running, virtually every trainer or program I have referenced recommends doing other stuff -- weight training, cycling, swimming, whatever, to make sure all the supporting muscles and ligaments involved with running are well developed, and not punished with the same motion every day.


Washington, D.C.: Hi! I've discovered that I am the type of person who, if at the gym, needs a class to get motivated to work out. I love my spin classes, but I hate doing weights. I recently picked up yoga though...could that count as my strength workout?

Howard Schneider: Morning Washington and keep up that spinning...On the yoga/strength training issue, it kind of depends on 1)what type of yoga you're doing and at what level, and 2)what your strength goals are...

Keep in mind that in some ways yoga is weightlifting -- it just uses the weight of your body instead of a dumbbell or machine. Chataranga is like a reverse pushup where you use the arms and back to slowly lower the body to the ground (like a pushup you can use your knees for can also hold it in place to boost intensity). The plank helps condition the shoulders and abdominal muscles. Utkatasana is like a static squat that works the thigh muscles to support the upper body. There are many others that will help maintain strength.

But once you're able to hold a plank for a 30 seconds or a minute, then what? If you're strength goals are more aggressive, then you can either move to a more advanced yoga practice, one where you are holding poses longer, or hit the weights. The point being: muscles grow to the degree they are forced to do more, so you'll need to put them under a greater load, either using your body weight (yoga...pushups...whatever) or some other form of resistance.


I confess too (anonymously of course): Thanks for, um, clearing the air for those of us with cardio-flatulence syndrome. I thought I was suffering alone (including enduring the nickname "the crop duster" from my husband). Haven't put the tips from last week into practice yet, so I'll have to report back on that, but it's nice to know I have company.

Vicky Hallett: I just hope you've come up with an equally endearing a nickname for your husband...


Washington, D.C.: So the stairclimber claims I went a distance of 2 miles in 20 minutes. How is this possible? How is the machine calculating the distance? By my estimate that means I would have to have climbed about 10,000 steps (I am assuming one step is approximately one foot -- even though it is probably even less). In order to achieve that in 20 minutes, I would need to climb 500 steps a minute. I can assure you I am not.

Vicky Hallett: Because machines are big fat liars! Haven't we hammered home that message yet?

That doesn't make the stairclimber a bad exercise (to the contrary, it's fabulous). But don't believe everything you read...


McLean, Va.: I don't run anymore because after about a week or two, my knees hurt. Would wearing one of those flexible knee-brace slip-on type things be a safe way to prevent this? If it's my running mechanics, are there running "coaches" who can help me make the appropriate corrections?

Howard Schneider: Just reached Sharon Adams at RisingSunFitness on our Trainer Hotline (which is me and a couple of cell phone numbers) and she advises against it unless a doc or therapist has explicitly recommended. Sharon, who trains marathon runners and triathletes out in Reston, said the braces often put pressure on the kneecap, which could cause its own set of problems. She said the problem could be your running form, your shoes, the need to stretch, or a host of other issues. One idea: take it easy and build up. Start by walking, add a bit of running each time, and don't go two days in a row. Also make sure you are on a softer surface -- ground or asphalt rather than concrete. And yes a coach can help -- you could probably find one through your local gym...


Arlington, Va.: The poster looking for healthy protein bars should try Larabar. They are just mashed up fruit and nuts that they somehow magically get to stick together in a bar. They are also delicious. Really. I have no affiliation to the company except for buying lots of their products. The cherry one is my personal favorite.

Howard Schneider: I like them too -- pretty light and a good midday snack...Clifbars are a bit denser and have a higher carbo kick for fueling...Plenty of options....


Jelly Belly: I don't need to gain or lose weight, lucky right? Except I am one of those apple-shaped women with really thin arms and legs, but a round middle. I've noticed that my belly is getting more squishy. Any idea on how to keep it down without losing weight or gaining weight? I am already really active -- walking, lifting weights and yoga. So I figure I need to tweak the formula a bit.

Vicky Hallett: Not a fan of resembling the Pillsbury Doughboy, huh?

As we've discussed on this chat before, the problem could be stress-related. So the best cure could be a day chilling out at the spa.

Or, the other possibility to consider is that if you want to lose the flab, you might have to lose a little weight, too. Every woman has a problem area (or two, or three...). And the only way to really get at these is to exercise more and eat less. (Boring, but true.) So maybe you can be a wee bit more active?

_______________________ You Don't Have to Feel Squashed by High Fees (Post, Dec. 4)

Vicky Hallett: This one goes out to "Lost," who missed my important journalistic work about farting.


D.C.: Yes, thank goodness for anonymous posts! I think I may have got plantar warts at the local gym. Could that be? Are they common? How do I get rid of them?

Vicky Hallett: You could if you've been walking around barefoot in the locker room, which, FYI, is gross. So I'd start by investing in a pair of flip flops. They're not just comfortable -- they're also sanitary!

But you're not some weirdo. Plantar warts are really common, so common that you can easily buy a treatment at the drug store. Also, according to The Mayo Clinic, you can use duct tape! Read all about it here:


Alexandria, Va.: Please help. Can anyone offer suggestions on how to rehab myself to start running again? I had post tibial tendonitis, which required 12 weeks in a soft boot, physical therapy and a lifetime prescription for orthotics over the summer.

The problem is I still have pain from time to time. But nothing keeps me as slim as running, and I am a pear-shaped woman who needs to lose weight (5 feet 7, 145). I cannot find any book that discusses how to start running after an injury. I have tried strength-training, which I HATE. I will be exploring yoga and Pilates, but I am truly at a point and age at my life where I need to do something that I like so I know I will stay with it (I'm one of those people who had runner's high, and would run in any weather -- I would just tell my loved ones where the ambulance or morgue driver could find me should something terribly go wrong. I really miss that.)

Can anyone help? Thanks!

Howard Schneider: Hi Alex...This one is getting pretty technical. Here is a forum that discusses the injury and recovery strategies. It says what you don't want to hear: strength training is going to be part of the process...Given that you were in a boot, I'd go back to your therapist and specifically ask for a routine that will get you back on the trail...


anon: this is a kind of weird question, but now that people are posting anonymously.... Sex. Is it in fact good exercise? Has any research been done on it?

Howard Schneider: Every day


Assisted Pull-Up Machines? N.H.: Do you guys know of a way to make an assisted pull-up machine at home? I'm currently working on a system involving pulleys, weights, a belt, and a pull-up bar, but I was curious if someone else out there has already done this.


Howard Schneider: Can't resist this...Do you have pictures?


Pittsburgh: We've decided to buy a treadmill. Do you have any suggestions about what we should look for? We have the latest Consumer Reports, that rates various models.

Thank you.

Howard Schneider: Morning...Love to here more on this once you make the purchase. One goal of mine for the year is to learn more about the home equipment industry...I am sure Consumer Reports is a good a guide as anything I'd come up with. My general impression about home equipment is that you are going to get what you pay for -- that lower end equipment will not hold up to the pounding you'll deliver if you really use the machine. The commercial grade equipment is more expensive, but built to last. I have always been hesitant to invest in home equipment because you are kind of committing yourself to only doing THAT exercise, and I believe that diversity is an important part of staying fit. Have you thought about weights and a good bench as an alternative? That's give you a lot more options...


Me, too!: I also missed the chat so I couldn't chime in. Due to stomach issues while running (gas being one of the potential problems) I spend "quality" time in the bathroom before going out and definitely do not eat before a run. If it's a long run (10+), I'll do some gu or Clif Bloks, which do not cause those issues. Thanks for speaking out about this topic!

Vicky Hallett: I just felt like I needed to get to the bottom of the issue. For the readers, and also, for Howard...


Aerobics DVD?: Hi there, I'm a regular runner and rock climber, but I'm getting a little bored with running. I finally have an apartment big enough to dance around in, so I thought I might pick up an aerobics DVD, but don't know what to go for. Can you suggest a fairly intense one for someone who's already in decent shape? Thanks for helping get me through the winter!

Vicky Hallett: I'm a big fan of The Biggest Loser series. It's geared to both guys and gals, and it'll kick your butt no matter what your fitness level. There are two new ones coming out that I haven't reviewed yet, but the first two are pretty awesome.


Leesburg, Va.: Winter exercise... How does snowshoeing compare with cross-country skiing? I've never tried snowshoes, but they look a lot easier to take around -- and to explore areas that don't have trails.

Vicky Hallett: I have to admit I've never done either, but both are great forms of exercise. I believe the motion involved in cross-country skiing gets at more muscles (the Cardio Wave, a new machine in some health clubs, tries to mimic it) than snow shoeing, but the latter is certainly more portable.

If you're thinking about buying the equipment for either sport, try testing it out first at one of the region's ski areas. Caanan Valley Resort in West Virginia might be a good place to experiment.

Howard Schneider: Not much experience here with snowshoeing but just checked one of the online activity calculators and they weigh in about the same as far as calories burned is concerned. So I guess it depends on which would be more fun for you -- you interested in covering ground? Skiing is probably faster...On the other hand the snow shoes will be more versatile in terms of terrain, going around obstructions, etc...Both sound great!


Howard Schneider: That's all we have time for today...sorry to leave some of you in line...


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