Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 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 fitness writers. They were online Tuesday, March 18 and took readers' questions.

The transcript follows

Discussion Archive.

MisFits Archive.


Vicky Hallett: Funny that today's column has a question about delayed onset muscle soreness (aka DOMS) because I took a 70-minute abs class on Sunday and I'm still feeling it. Ow. So I refuse to do any crunches for y'all today, but I promise to type through the pain to answer your questions!

Howard, how are you doing?

Howard Schneider: Well not suffering from a 70-minutes abs class, I can assure you....Before we forget it: everyone make sure to tune in to the column next week. We'll have our latest trail challenge map...


Falls Church, Va.: The New York Times recently reported on some findings that the benefits of stretching are actually mixed, and that the more flexible you are the less power you may have in your muscles.

I spend a lot of time on my flexibility between dancing and yoga, but now I am training for a 5K and am finding it hard to get that explosive energy back in my legs. Should I step back off on the stretching for a while or should I just expect it to take a little longer to get in top running form?


Howard Schneider: Good question. You can think of stretching and strengthening as two sides of a coin -- the repeated contractions of running or lifting weights makes muscles shorter; conversely, intense and sustained stretching can over time lead to "hypermobility" (which can leave the joints at risk and without proper support). One of my sisters was a dancer who stretched -- really, like rubber band stretched -- every day, and without any complementary strengthening exercises ended up with a ton of problems...

That's one issue. The other has to do with stretching right before an event. High-end sprinters, tennis players, etc. who rely on quick-burst, plyometric speed, are generally not advised to do held, static stretches before an event because it does effect their top-end strength. This really does not apply to me and you -- in a three mile race you are not really relying on "explosive" strength, but muscular endurance.

Bottom line: If you've become too "stretchy," yes maybe back off a bit, but you can also help yourself by working to strengthen the muscles you've stretched by keeping up your running even after the race, and adding some resistance training to complement the dance and yoga.


LoCo, Va.: Good morning! My question isn't directly about fitness, but I was hoping you or some of your readers could answer it.

I live in a suburban neighborhood with wide streets and smooth, plentiful sidewalks. As I'm driving to and from work, however, I often notice runners in the road, sometimes a couple of feet from the curb. Shouldn't they be on the sidewalk? Or is there a benefit to running in the road that I'm not aware of? The sidewalks aren't crowded by any means.

I'm a little nervous that some evening when it's getting dark and I'm tired, I won't see one of the dark-clad runners in front of my car until it's too late.

Vicky Hallett: It's not that the runners have a death wish (at least, I hope not), but they're avoiding the dreaded concrete of the sidewalk. To quote from a Runner's World article: "About the only good thing I can say about running on a concrete sidewalk is that you're less likely to get hit by a car than if you were running on the road. Run on it long enough, though, and you might feel like you have been."

(see the rest here:,7120,s6-238-267--9462-0,00.html)

There are, of course, the obvious drawbacks of road running -- including getting hit by a car. Another one (which may explain why they're a few feet from the curb) is that roads tend to be slanted on either end. So to keep their feet even, your neighborhood joggers are moving further into the street.

It's definitely the runners' responsibility to make sure they're seen by wearing brightly colored reflective clothing. If you spot people who aren't dressed appropriately, maybe think about pulling over and letting them know they're asking for an accident. But considering the fact that you know this is common of your ride home, I'd just always be sure to keep an eye out no matter how tired you are...


Washington, D.C.: I have a friend who wants to get "involved" with his personal trainer. I think that this is a terrible idea for several reasons, including the fact that trainers are ethically prohibited from being more than friendly with their clients, and she could lose her job if not also her certification. My friend doesn't believe that this is the case. What's your verdict? Actually prohibited or just a bad idea?

Howard Schneider: See Spitzer, Eliot.

And does the trainer share the sentiment?

I guess your friend does not need to be the ethics officer for his/her trainer, who is presumably an adult, knows the rules of his/her business, and can decide for hisself/herself how to respond and how to deal with the consequences.

Can't your friend just ask the trainer: Is this going to get you in trouble?

It'd sure be unseemly for a trainer to "hit on" a client, but I am not sure the reverse is the case...It'd be boorish, perhaps, but can't see the ethical problem...

Vicky Hallett: This happens to be a plot point in the third season of "Workout," which debuts on Bravo next month. The new trainer in town (who happens to be a Baltimore native) brings his blonde client to a party and eyebrows are raised...

I'd say it makes for good TV, but in reality, I can only imagine problems. I mean, your trainer measures your body fat, and that's a very weird thing to have happening in a relationship. And if you're having a fight, then the trainer takes it out on you in the form of burpees.

I would also guess that most gyms prohibit it. After all, a jilted lover is a member who leaves the club. But maybe someone in the biz is out there and can elighten us?


Chicago: What are your thoughts on the South Beach diet? I'm going through phase 1, which prohibits carbs for two weeks. You get to slowly reintroduce carbs after two weeks. I'm a boxer and train hard every day so I'm unsure whether this is a good idea. Any advice you could give would be helpful.

Howard Schneider: If you are boxing and training hard, you are going to need the carbs to recover and refuel. I'd be wary. If you are really working out intensely, you'll lose weight if you eat a balanced diet, and have a sense of the daily calories you need to sustain yourself and your activities...Check out to calculate those estimates...


Workout gear: Love this chat! I would like to get some workout tops with fun prints -- any suggestions.

I have already looked in Target with no luck and a store like Lucy is out of my price range. I think this one was intended for Howard.

Vicky Hallett: Even Lucy's sale stuff? I just poked around on and there are some steals right now...

But maybe try (again -- the "sales" link!). I peeked at Gap Body and they only have stripey tops, and Aerie F.I.T. has solid color tanks (but some fun printed T-shirts). I think those are both worth keeping an eye on. And Old Navy, too.

Also, don't forget about those massive sporting goods stores! Wait for a sale and you can score deal.


Centerville, Va.: Is there a link where I can find your fitness DVD reviews?

Vicky Hallett: I've got bad news and good news. First the bad (and the answer to your question): No. Some of Howard's columns have dealt with DVDs, so we can direct you to those. And I blurb a few new titles every month in Express, but those aren't online...

But there's good news, too! You can check out for its superb DVD reviews.

And if you have a specific question about the kind of DVD you're looking for, we can try to point you in the right direction. I've certainly done a lot of them.


South Beach: I have to give the South Beach diet a thumbs up for jump starting my weight loss and fitness kick. Now that I'm working out and doing more cardio I eat more carbs but it was the initial weight loss that got me motivated to work. The diet has really opened my eyes to eating right and making smart choices in what carbs I eat (whole grain pastas, brown rice, high fiber, etc).

Howard Schneider: An opinion from the field on South Beach diet...A good point on "jumpstarting" the process...My caution to the other chatter was based on the "boxing intensely..." For someone already working out at a hard level, skimping on carbs is a bad idea -- a path to fatigue...Monitoring carbs, sure. Monitoring your calorie count. Sure. But dispensing with carbs altogether leaves your body without its basic fuel.


Washington, D.C.: Could to link to the best list local road races? 10K and under. Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: I don't know your criteria for "best"! The money goes to the most worthy charity, the T-shirts are the awesomest, there are chocolate croissants awaiting you at the finish line? (Hmm. I think I may have just revealed a little too much about how my thought process works...)

Anyway, there's a thorough compendium of local races at (Just click on calendar.)

And a fun one coming up that I can vouch for is the Pike's Peek 10K ( The view is all strip malls, but the course is a gradual descent...


Lovethech, AT: Hi, and thanks for taking my question. I really enjoy this chat!

I work out at a YMCA and they are always having blood drives. I'd like to donate. Can I donate on days I work out? (I'd work out in the morning, donate several hours later). How hard should I work out the next day?

Vicky Hallett: I've always wanted to visit Lovethech, AT! I hear it's lovely at this time of year.

Anyway, good for you for donating blood. I've never heard anything about avoiding working out before the blood donation. You'll want to take extra care with keeping hydrated though, because you're about to lose a lot of fluid.

As for the next day, I'd take it off, or at least take it really easy. And definitely no heavy lifting.


Youngstown, Ohio: Hi, Misfits! I'm a faithful reader of your chats and columns, and want to be sure you know you have fans in the Midwest! My question relates to my efforts to recover from tendonitis, which has prevented me from running for about 6 weeks. I'm able to use the elliptical without any pain, but I find it dreadfully boring. As a result, I break my workout into three 20-minute segments, taking a brief break in between to get some water and attempt to find some reading material that will keep me entertained. But does the fact that I stop in between take away some of the fitness benefit? I would otherwise be running outside on the pavement for an hour, and I'm wondering if this is essentially the same calorie-burn, despite the rest stops. Any thoughts? Many thanks again!

Howard Schneider: Morning...I don't think this should put you off track much at all...The daily exercise recommendations put a bit of a premium on "continuous" effort, but 20 minutes at a clip should be fine, particularly if you are only resting briefly. Eight or ten minute sessions might be another story -- that's barely time to get warm. But as long as you are not lingering for too long -- and letting your body cycle down completely from its aerobic state -- you should be okay. The calorie count is certainly cumulative. Hope the tedonitis clears up soon...


Northern Virgnia: I'm trying to maximize my cardio fitness. What would be a better way to improve from running 7 minute miles on a treadmill; to try to continue cutting my time or to increase the angle of the treadmill?

Howard Schneider: The advice I keep seeing on this issue -- how to bust a plateau and get to that next level of efficiency -- seems to come back to interval training, or alternating intense bouts of effort with light work. There are lots of protocols for this. Here is a sample That being said, if you want to move your running off the treadmill and outdoors, you'll eventually need the hill work as well. This might be a case where a couple of consults with a running coach could really get you going...Seven minute miles (that's about 8.5 mph for the innumerate out there) is pretty peppy...Maybe Vicky could teach you to get faster but I sure couldn't....


Losing the "daddy weight": Submitted this last week, but didn't make the cut. I have eight-month old twins and so I haven't exercised for just about a year now and don't really have much available time to get on the rowing machine the way I used to. Any tips on some easy but impactful regimens? My shoulders are in good shape from carrying car seats, but that's about it. Everything else is flab.

Howard Schneider: Here's the bad news: I had my first kid when I was 27. I am 48 and bits and pieces of the daddy weight still linger.

Here's the other bad news: "Easy" and "impactful" don't really fit together.

But here is the good news: the best motivation you have to deal with this is those kids you are toting around. Eight months will become two years in a flash -- and then you'll be chasing them around, and pretty soon after that coaching their soccer team...Kids are built in exercise once they hit a certain point.

If you are used to rowing, you need to build it back into your life -- even if it is just 15 minutes a day. Make that committment with your spouse to give yourself a bit of time each day to make that happen. Also, flab comes from somewhere -- an energy surplus. You need to get a handle on the eating as well as getting back on the rowing machine.

No magic bullet, sorry....


RE: Romancing the Trainer: Respectfully, is it possible your friend is misinterpreting "friendly professional behavior" as "romantic interest"? Also, if your friend insists on approaching his trainer, make sure he does it far and away from her place of employment, anyone who knows her place of employment or where your friend works out. The trainer may not want to lose her job over some guy who doesn't have a clue.

Howard Schneider: More advice from the minefield...


Reston, Va.: I am a personal trainer (Hi Howard) and the gym is my workplace, so I behave accordingly. We are called fitness professionals after all. I would never get involved with a CURRENT client. If I was totally smitten, I would end the professional relationship first and then...

Vicky Hallett: So if your personal trainer tells you, "This just isn't working," that either means you're not doing enough cardio on your own or you're about to get asked out?


Fairfax, Va.: Sorry, forgot to submit earlier! Please take this question!

I am looking into buying a heart rate monitor, and was wondering if you or readers could weigh in on the pros/cons. I work out regularly (weights/cardio at the gym, plus trying to get back into running from my pre-knee surgery days), but am not training for an event, per se.

I would like getting a HR monitor on a sportswatch that I could use during cycling or kickboxing classes and other activities at my gym. I've noticed that I'm not sure how hard I'm really pushing myself when I'm working out, and thought that would help me get a more effective workout.

On the other hand, I've been working out before without them, and do I really need to spend $100 on this thing v. a (much cheaper) regular sportswatch? Is this a good investment for a regular gym-goer the triathlete in training?

Thanks, love the chat!

Vicky Hallett: As I don't work out with one and Howard often does, I think we can give you a balanced view.

My take: You don't need to buy one, but if you want one (and it's not too much of a financial burden), it couldn't hurt. You say you don't know how hard you're pushing yourself during a workout, but the body is giving you some indication of how much you're exerting yourself. A heart rate monitor is probably not going to tell you something all that surprising -- but what it can give you is specifics. And those can be interesting and helpful for planning your workouts, even if an Ironman isn't on the horizon.

And if you know you're being lazy during your workouts but won't really believe it until a monitor tells you so, then it could give you a kick in the pants you need...

Howard Schneider: I find the device really helpful both for realtime feedback and for planning. It is of less use for weightlifting, because your heartrate is jumping all around as you move between sets. But for cardio -- and particularly as I have tried to build more running into the mix -- it is a helpful guide to effort. I have a good sense of a heart rate I can lock in for an extended time, and while I certainly "feel" that as well, the monitor gives a bit of added knowledge. In addition, if you track it over time, you can "see" yourself get stronger as the heart rate becomes better behaved even on longer or harder workouts.

Plus, matching heart rate with time lets you know not only how hard you worked, but for how long at different levels...


Running in the street issue: First, pavement seems marginally less hard than concrete. Second, you are less likely to get conked by overhanging tree branches, third, there is probably less chance of tripping over sidewalk edges. Cars you can see coming (or hear). Uneven sidewalks - you gotta watch your toes more closely.

Vicky Hallett: I didn't even think about the danger of sidewalk cracks or aggressive tree branches. Who knew that running in the suburbs was so perilous?

I'm still a big fan of sidewalks though, especially for walkers. There was that piece in the Post a few days ago about neighborhoods angry about moves to put them in:


Re. South Beach: I tried South Beach a year ago and found my running really suffered during the initial two-week "strict" phase. I tried to do my usual 35 miles/week but felt awful; my weight loss was minimal as well (talk about a bad combination!). So I'd say, try South Beach if you're willing to scale back your workouts for those first two weeks. Otherwise, try a program like Weight Watchers that is easier to tweak to match your activity. The weight may come off more slowly but will likely stay off longer!

Howard Schneider: Sounds right to me....You really can drop weight fast on a carb-free diet, but it's a phony weight loss -- lots of water weight and muscle loss, which is not what we are after...For a brief starter period it might be okay, but eventually you need carbs on the plate -- particularly if you are exercising....


Stretching: I just turned 40 a few weeks ago, I do strength and weight training three days a week and ride about 80 miles a week on my road bike. I'm in the best shape I've ever been in. My issue is that I've never been very flexible throughout my life (I can't touch my toes for example) and I'd like to know what the best way to gain some flexibility. Can you give me some stretching pointers? Thanks!

Howard Schneider: As someone who is also older and pretty tight in strategic places, it is not an easy or quick process. I've tried to approach it in a couple of ways. I do try to attend to stretching before and after the hardest workouts, though I can't claim it's a perfect practice. I have tried to supplement that by getting to yoga once a week -- that way I've devoted at least an hour to the process, and feel pretty good after it.

As to pointers, a local clinic, Sport and Spine Rehab has a good primer on the process....


DC: I commute to work on my bike three times a week (30 miles RT - Bethesda to Cap Hill) and I am getting all kinds of mixed opinions regarding my diet. I recently read it's not a good idea to eat a very large meal heavy with proteins or fats due to muscle and stomach competing for blood flow. So, I switched to just a small amount of oatmeal just before my ride, since it is also recommended not to skip breakfast. Then I read one should consume protein as soon as possible after exercise. So I've tried that now too. Just not sure what my guideline should be as far as amount (in grams) and how long I have before it's no longer effective. Finally, to prepare for my ride home - Carb heavy meal or blended with a mix of carbs, protein, and fat? I end up burning about 2800 cals. for my RT. Thanks for the help.

Vicky Hallett: I think you've been reading a bit too much, DC. While all of those guidelines are helpful, the most useful information is going to be what your body tells you. Were you feeling fine after eating a bigger breakfast and then going for your ride? Then, it probably was fine.

If you're losing weight you'd rather keep on or cramping up during your rides or feeling like poop afterwards, that's when I'd think about tweaking your diet.

Howard Schneider: As a rule of thumb, unless you are working out a really intense, flatout level for an hour or more, what you eat before and after is not going to matter so much...Let your stomach be your guide on that front, and focus on making sure you get a balance of nutrients throughout the day -- maybe forty to fifty percent from carbs, and the rest from goods fats and protein. All the info about "do this before" or "do that right after" really is not that important unless you are into high-level sports/resistance/endurance training. At that level people are training to tweak an extra percent or two of performance out of their system...The rest of us are just trying to live to 100....


Rockville, Md.: How do I go about finding a personal trainer when none of my friends have ever used one? Is getting one for only 6 sessions worth it? (my money runs out afterwards; this is a gift from my dad). Thanks!

Howard Schneider: Second question first: You can learn a lot in six sessions, and that should be your goal -- so up as much information as possible so you can carry on afterwards on your own.

As to finding one, that process can add to your training -- check out the different gyms that are convenient to your home or office, and see if they offer an introductory training session (many will)...Do a few of those until you find out someone you like who seems willing to teach as well as train. It will be important, btw, for you to identify goals -- are you after weight loss? strength improvement? cardio fitness? The program will change depending on what you want to happen....

Vicky Hallett: And it never hurts to ask for references. Talk to some other clients of a trainer to see what they have to say, and you'll get a feel for what you're in for.


Boston: Just something I am curious about: Why do all the running training plans for 5 or 10ks that I see involve rarely if ever running a 5 or 10k? I've been looking at Bingham's books and some places online in preparation for a 5 mile and 5k I've got coming up in Boston and I find it strange that many of them have you running the desired distance for the first time on the actual race day. In preparing for my 5 mile race, I've taken it as a given that the best preparation is actually getting myself to a point where I can consistently run five miles? Am I missing something here?

Also, on a related note, I really enjoyed your column and discussion on running shoes a couple weeks ago. Any chance either of you have opinions on Nike Free 7.0s? I bought them on sale knowing absolutely nothing about them when I began running (I just desperately needed some running shoe that would not break the bank) but, through research, have since learned they are viewed by some more as a training shoe than as an everyday running shoe. Any thoughts?

Howard Schneider: The main issue in what I assume is a beginners program is to build up your endurance without injury or overtraining so that you finish the event (without so much regard to time).

The thrust is to get you close enough so that you can add the final increment without trouble on race day (given time to taper and recover in the week or so before).

If you move to more advanced programs, you'd be running longer than the event, with speed, tempo, hills, etc. worked in to make you faster.

Keep in mind that marathon training is generally capped at 20 miles...Programs for a half marathon might cap at 10 or 12...

The philosophy is: train, but don't overtrain. Worse than being a little shy of your goal, is going way over before the race, and waking up on race day feeling spent (the effects of overtraining can linger a while....)

As to the Nikes, don't know that model in particular -- sorry you missed the chat with Runners World guru Warran Greene. But if you have any doubts about the footwear, get to a specialty store and have them check you out...


Alexandria, Va.: Foot Question -- I have dramatically cut back on my running in favor of swimming and am now running about once per week, five miles or so. The last couple of weeks after running I have experienced pain in the back of my arch on the bottom of my foot bad enough to make me limp. It goes away by the end of the day, but is quite painful throughout the day. Any idea what this could be?

Vicky Hallett: We're not medically trained and I don't like to pretend to be. If a pair of new shoes aren't the problem, I'd see a podiatrist.

Howard Schneider: This looks like a pretty cool way to get started....Then after you've done that, go see the podiatrist....


DC: Hi!

I'm in the process of switching gyms, and there is about a two-week gap between when my old membership ends and my new one begins. What can I do to keep in shape during this time and not lose all the progress I made (with weights and cardio machines)? I don't want to buy equipment, it's cold outside, and I don't have room in my room (in a shared house) to do a workout dvd.

Vicky Hallett: Two weeks is not enough to lose all of your progress! Just try to keep generally active. A few situps, squats, push-ups and the like (check our exercise demos at for more ideas) will keep your muscles in check without annoying your housemates.

And the weather isn't that bad now -- I'm a weenie about the cold and I walked to work today (about four miles)...


Howard Schneider: Okay folks...that is it for today...The weather is turning great, and vicky and I have a beautiful Cherry Blossom walk and challenge ready to go. The map will be in next Tuesday's papern and online, along with clues and PRIZES...So be sure to tune in....

Vicky Hallett: And, as always, email us at See you next week!


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