Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, June 17, 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.

The transcript follows

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Howard Schneider: Did everyone stumble to work in their sandals and high heels today, or take my advice and wear some sensible ZZ Top shoes? Keep in mind it is prime walking season -- so don't crimp your style with footwear that can hurt you, regardless of how it affects your sense of style.

Anbody do anything fun this weekend? I went out with some biking friends for the first time in a while, and it reminded me how refreshing it is to switch up the program. After a few months of focusing on running it was nice to take a break and do something else. So, if you are feeling bored with what you're doing, try something different -- a new sport, a new activity, a new class, anything to break the mold.

Vicky Hallett: And feel free to make fun of Howard for going to the Sex and the City movie for "column research." I know I have...


Bethesda, Md.: I'm submitting early as I will be exercising during the chat (which I read almost every week). Since you were talking today about how bad high heeled shoes are, do you or anyone else have suggestions for high heeled shoes that aren't QUITE so bad -- ones that I could wear for a few hours once or twice a week? I don't need shoes to wear all day, just for special outings. Are there particular stores or shoe brands I should look for? I will be going back to my podiatrist soon, but the shoes he sells are all flats. Thanks!

Howard Schneider: Enjoy your workout Bethesda and we are jumping right on your question in honor of your early filing. The issue with heels is all about the angle and what that does to the way your leg, ankle and foot interact as you move. It is a complicated set of movements that are engineered to happen a certain way. The problems outlined in many studies and by groups like the Mayo Clinic are chronic ones, associated with extended use -- kind of like any overuse injury. One of the researchers who wrote the studies mentioned in today's column would probably agree that wearing heels once or twice a week for limited periods of time probably would not be much of a risk...just don't live your life in them like those crazy SITC characters.

Vicky Hallett: I know Howard is the world's top authority on high heels, but I'll jump in here, too...

Do you know about Taryn Rose ( The line was developed by an orthopedic surgeon. Ecco ( is another brand you might want to look at. Privo ( also has some attractive, comfortable shoes, although not many have a heel -- probably for good reason. But I just looked over their site and there are a few cute wedge sandals.


Silver Spring, Md.: I am interested in purchasing an elliptical trainer for my personal use. I have been trying to read online about the different brands but haven't been able to come up with any kind of a consensus between the websites as to which is a good buy. My budget is between $500-$1000. Do you have any recommendations? Thanks so much.

Vicky Hallett: While I know which models I gravitate toward at the gym, those are way too fancy for home use (and definitely out of your price range). Any chatters out there want to share their consumer reports?


Drenching wet: I sweat a lot when I run. A lot. I drink plenty of water before, during, and after a run so I'm not worried about dehydration but I am curious. What does it mean when your body sweats so much? How can other people workout without sweating at all?

Vicky Hallett: A few weeks ago, someone on the chat said that the more accustomed your body is to exercise, the more it sweats. I still have no clue if this is true, but I know I sweat a lot. So maybe that's why? But all you really need to know is that sweat is a factor of the environment where you're exercising, what you're wearing and the workings of your body's personal cooling system. Some things you can change, others you can't. And drinking a lot of water is good.

If you were exercising vigorously and not sweating, well, I'd be more worried...

Howard Schneider: It's a badge of honor in my book -- it means things are working as they should. Now, if you find yourself drenched when you're not exercising, like sitting around behind your desk, then you might want to check with a doc. But if it is during a run or other intense exercise, it is just your body keeping itself cool.


Sass in Arlington: Good morning Misfits! I have a shoe-related question for you today.I am somewhat confused about pronation and underpronation/supination. I have very high arches, but I think I tend to pronate rather than underpronate, as would normally be indicated by my foot shape. My shoes wear almost exclusively on the inner edge, along the balls of the feet, at the big toes and a bit on the inside of the heels. So, should I buy shoes made for people with high arches, which assume underpronation, or for people with flat feet, which are built for pronators? Or am I just misunderstanding the entire issue?

Vicky Hallett: Hey there Sass, I'm baffled by your shoe wear too! You sound like a candidate for an in-person gait analysis, and luckily, there are a bunch of stores around you that could help you out (the Clarendon Pacers, Gotta Run at Pentagon Row, The Running Company in Georgetown). It's usually recommended to bring in your old shoes for the test, and in your case, I'd say it's required. Let us know what you find out.


Charlottesville, Va.: I'm just starting to train for my very first marathon because I got a spot in the NYC marathon this fall! I have run three half marathons in the past. My goal is to finish. I'm wondering if I can just slog out the miles for my training as opposed to doing speed/tempo training, too. What would you recommend for a first timer? Thanks!!

Howard Schneider: Yes you could slog through the miles and finish. You could also walk. I guess my thinking is, if you've got the spot and are going to put in the time, why not do the extra bit of work needed to do your best? The speed and tempo workouts will help your performance. Better to do the work now then get to New York, start the race and wish you had.


Arlington, Va.: We are about to have our first child and I am concerned about how little time I will have to exercise (and sleep). If I only have 20 minutes two- to three-days-a-week, what should I do to get the most out my limited time? Thanks.

Howard Schneider: Congrats Arlington, you are in for a great ride. Before talking about your twenty minutes, consider ways to build exercise into your new family: lots of walking and pushing the stroller; a baby seat on your bicycle; a baby backpack that will let you hike the local trails with the young one tacked on for the ride; baby swim classes at the Y or a local gym will get you moving in the water and get your kid used to it at the same time. Point is: yes having children upends your life and leads to lots of new demands on your time. But you can also do stuff together: when you get to the playground, get in a swing yourself.

As to the twenty minutes, I'd look for something that's as total body as you can get: a boot camp, a really aggressive calisthenic program, weightlifting, something that will not just work your legs and heart, but make sure your back and arms and hips and abs get attention too...

Vicky Hallett: Not sure if you're the mom or dad of this bundle of joy, but do you know about Stroller Strides (strollerstrides)? It's a popular workout program for mommies to get together, exercise with their kids (literally -- like lifting them instead of weights) and talk about what they're going through.


Better high heels: Go to a Comfort One store or browse the Web site. All the brands they carry are pretty foot-friendly. Even if you don't end up buying there (they're pricey, unless you find a sale!) you'll know what brands to look for. The most comfortable heels I have are a pair of Beautifeels I got through them.

Vicky Hallett: Yeah, Beautifeels rival Sex in the City shoe prices, but they're another popular brand. Thanks for the tip!

Howard Schneider: I have now bowed out of this discussion....


Washington, D.C.: Hello all! Quick question on an elliptical -- is it better to go at a higher speed with no (or very little) resistance, or at a slightly slower speed with more resistance? I want to stay in shape and am doing this mostly for the cardio. Thanks!!

Howard Schneider:"Better" is always a difficult word in this regard. How about "what's the difference?" Lots to consider. For example, there are different types of muscle fiber -- fast twitch fiber that helps us sprint, and slow-twitch fiber that helps us through endurance events. If you go really fast, you are training the one; slow it down and up the resistance and you are training the other. Both approaches will get your heart rate up (you already know this). To me, the watchword here is diversity: whatever you are inclined to do, if you do ONLY that, you'll pretty quickly derive the benefit and stop making progress. So mix it up -- workout to workout, or even within a session. Do some sprint intervals, then up the resistance and go a bit slower. Above all, keep track of what you are doing, and gradually try to make it a bit harder and a bit faster...

Vicky Hallett: And use the "random" function! I love the random function -- it's an easy way to make sure you're getting a mix during one workout.


New England: This might be a bit of a rant -- sorry. What is your opinion of HIIT cardio vs. steady state cardio? The web forum I am a member of seems to be over-run with a HIIT cult. They are truly fanatical. My base has always been 45-60 min of steady state 65-85 precent max HR regardless of the mode - jogging, bicycling, roller blading, hiking.I do enjoy HIIT on occasion as a change of pace, but never found it to be a sustainable method and certainly not suitable for beginners. Help me, Obi-Won-Kenobi -- your are my only hope.

Howard Schneider: Help you I will, Jedi. The research is showing pretty consistently that Hi Intensity Interval Training -- brief periods of intense activity -- packs many of the same benefits of lower-intensity workouts into a shorter time. It boosts endurance, helps control weight, makes us more efficient, etc. Do you have to do it? Not to my mind. If you enjoy what you are doing and it works for you, that is the prime directive: HIIT can be uncomfortable and unless you are trying to meet a particular goal -- like getting faster -- you should stick what you've been doing. One of the main advantages of HIIT is time-efficiency -- running for say, half an hour, instead of the 60 minutes you are currently putting in. That does not seem to be a concern for you. Now, as a plateau buster, it is something to consider -- if, for example, you wanted to jump your one hour run from 6 to 6.5 mph, then a HIIT or interval program once or twice a week would help you do that. And, yes, it is probably not something beginners should pursue.


Stamford, Conn.: Hi Misfits. Great online chats and info you provide. Do you know any boxing workout dvds that you could recommend that offer great workouts, but also some fundamentals of the "sweet science" as boxing is sometimes called? Thank you.

Vicky Hallett: I have to admit I haven't seen so many pure boxing DVDs. Generally, it's kickboxing. But I tried out an awesome one last weekend -- Gaiam's Kickbox: Core Cross Train. I really felt it the next day. Ow.

Can anyone else help Stamford out?


Arlington, Va.: I need to get a bike tune up, I think. Anywhere in NoVa or Georgetown that is inexpensive and also thorough (and will add a water bottle holder for me)?

Howard Schneider: Tons of them....The Washington Area Bicyclists Association maintains a list of local shops by jurisdiction. Dont know all of their tune up prices but any will do a good jog on your machine. As for the water bottle, that's one I could even do myself (but they'll be happy to do it for you too...).


Minneapolis: In regards to the first-time marathoner, speedwork will also add variety to your training program, because believe me, it will get boring after a while! I personally hate tempo runs (do them anyway), but hills and some 800m's are great variations on 'just another long run.' The workouts will also boost your confidence during rougher parts of the course, including inclines, undoubtedly. Have fun!

Howard Schneider: Yes I'd agree on this one. If you saw the piece I did on half-marathon training a while back, the tempo workouts really help, and I regretted in the end not doing the hills. I guess ultimately the more diversity you build into you program now, the more prepared you'll be and the more fun you'll have.


Washington, D.C.: Good morning. I have a question about gym pricing. I'm about to start looking for a new gym, and I'm already dreading the "we don't print a price sheet" line. It really bothers me how some gyms refuse to publish their rates on their websites. It seems like blatant price discrimination; we'll decide how much to charge you based on what we think we can get out of you in person and how much we want you. Anyway, what to do in this situation if I otherwise would like to join the gym? How best to bargain? Thanks.

Vicky Hallett: As annoying as it is that they don't publish prices online (and believe me, it drives me bonkers), it could work to your advantage, especially right now. Gyms pull in most of their business in January and February, when people are still attempting to fulfill their New Year's resolutions. Although summer will certainly bring in a few people who find it too hot to exercise outdoors, there are tons of fitness opportunities in the warmer months that don't require joining a gym.

What I'm trying to say is that if there were ever a time to bargain, it's now! I have a friend who talked the Bally Total Fitness at Pentagon Row into giving her an absurdly good deal.

I'd get quotes from a couple places, and then ask your favorite one to match the lowest price. Or maybe go a wee bit lower. It couldn't hurt to try, right? Flex that bargain muscle!


Washington, D.C.: The Cole Haan Nike Air's maybe? They are costly, but look pretty fancy.

Vicky Hallett: I just took a peek at the Air selection on, and good call, D.C. Howard has so many options for his next column on this.


Kickboxing: I have to second Vicky's comment on Gaiam's Core Cross Train workout. It's awesome and I love it! I can really feel it in my abs and legs.

Vicky Hallett: I'm not sure it's "sweet science," but it sure is something.


For Silver Spring Re: Elliptical: Check on Craigslist, there are lots of ellipticals for sale for really great prices. My experience has been that people sell them because they are looking to upgrade or are moving and can't fit them in the new place. And you can call Sears to help you move it and/or put it together!

Vicky Hallett: Second-hand home exercise equipment isn't all that hard to come by. People buy something with the best of intentions and then lose interest. But I'd be wary of anything used you get online -- make sure you can really try it out for an intense workout before you buy. They could be trying to unload it because it makes strange noises or seems broken and then you just spent $1000 on a piece of junk.

But Sears will move it and put it together for you? That's good to know!


Baltimore, Md.: My son, age 25, just joined a gym and plans to work out in the morning because a friend told him "you will raise your metabolism all day." I think this is false, but I don't want to discourage him. How long does the after-burn really last?

Howard Schneider: Good question and it is something I have been intending to try to understand more about. Based on what I know now, I think it is less important when you exercise than how long and how hard -- i.e., harder workouts produce proportionately more "afterburn" than lighter ones, and longer workouts proportionaly more than shorter ones (and the key word here is proportionate, i.e., the benefits arent linear but progressive).

The idea here is that exercise not only burns calories while it is underway, but creates excess oxygen consumption (i.e., calories burned) for several hours afterwards as your body works to recover. There is one school of thought that working out in the morning before breakfast is better for weight loss because your body is in a "fasted state" and needs to rely on its fat stores to fuel the work. BUT: I dont buy it. If your body is depleted you won't work as hard, will tire more easily, etc. The key for your son is not when he gets to the gym, but what he does there and how consistently. The "afterburn" is really the icing on the cake, not the batter.


Sweating a lot: There is a medical condition called hyperhydrosis (excessive sweat production)that can be treated with a prescription strength antiperspirant. His or her doctor can advise them. Hydration is the key, though, as this poster is doing.

Howard Schneider: I think this mostly has to do with sweating in the absence of exercise -- i.e., without an obvious reason for the sweating to occur. But good to know about nonetheless.


Brookland -- Washington, D.C.: Hello MisFits! I'm a 33-year-old male, 5'10" 160 lbs and currently go the gym about 5 times a week -- 3 days with about 40 min on the elliptical, other 2 days with intermediate/advanced yoga. I've never been fond of going to the gym but have found that I actually like yoga and don't mind doing the cardio (I can mentally check out and listen to music). I've actually been able to stick to this routine since the beginning of the year (thanks in part to home renovations that rendered my shower inoperable for a while). My question to you is this: Am I missing out by not mixing up the routine more or doing weight training? My weight has held steady over the months but I can tell I'm trimmer by the way my clothing fits. I have a couple "problem areas" but nothing that I get too bothered by. Would it be advisable to add some weight training into the mix or is the fear that I'd hate it and quit altogether enough to just keep on trucking with what I'm doing?

Thanks for your advice!

Vicky Hallett: Tough call Brookland -- if you have a plan that's working for you, I hate to rock the boat. But are you missing out by not mixing up the routine more and doing weight training? Probably yes and yes.

It's great that you've found things you like doing, and an advanced yoga practice is almost certainly giving you resistance training benefits. But the body gets bored, and while these things are somewhat new to you now, they're not going to be as effective if they're all you do down the road.

Do you really think sampling a new element that you end up disliking is going to make you give up on all exercise? That's a lot of pressure, but I'm guessing it's not true. Try something new! And if you don't like it, try something else. We're always here to give you ideas if you run out.


To Washington, D.C.: Regarding gym memberships -- read the fine print. Some are incredibly difficult to LEAVE once you've joined. I had a horrible time with Bally's even after I had been a member for the three years I was required by contract. Not sure if they've changed policies. At any rate, when shopping around, make sure you ask if there are any penalties, extra fees or any other hoops to jump through if you decide to cancel your membership.

Howard Schneider: Good advice. I think a lot of profit from the gym chains comes from unused memberships -- that is gravy for them, since it is money in the bank without the requirement of staff or equipment or overhead. Now, they make more money in the long run if you use your membership and dont quit, but, still, read the contract.


Stepping it up: Not seeing the results I want to with my regular exercise program (losing weight and more muscle definition). I regularly walk 2-3 times per week, aerobics twice a week, toning once a week, yoga once a week. I think my problem may be the layer of fat covering the muscle since I need to drop 20 pounds. I figure I should step it up and start lifting weights for 45 minuntes at lunch. I currently use 5 lb. and 8 lb weights in my classes, aerobics and toning class. Do I need to purchase heavier weights? The 8 lb. weights are still a struggle on certain moves but easy on a few. Should I use these lunch time sessions to tone or use heavier weights to build muscle? Thanks!

Howard Schneider: Lots to sort out there...

First lets talk about weight loss and the aerobic portion of your program. If you are walking each week and doing aerobics each week, that sounds like plenty -- but for how long and at what intensity? Weight loss occurs when you burn more calories over time than you consume. If those workouts are light to moderate, for half an hour or so, that will meet the general recommendations for health, but might not be intense enough to help you shed the pounds you want. You need to look at what you are doing in the context of what you eat each day, and figure out if you can up the intensity of your exercise (maybe light job instead of walking), and ensure that you are eating a balanced diet of health foods.


Richmond, Va.: I swear by good shoes with molded foot beds. I wear Merrills to work as much as possible and wear Keens on casual Friday. I know the conservative folks at work think I'm a hippie freak, but my feet and back thank me. Yeah for Merril for making work-friendly shoes that love my soles!

Howard Schneider: Sitting here in my very own hippie-freak Merrills, I can't agree more...I hate shoes. I hate thinking about shoes. I have the idea of shoes. Worse than haircuts. These make it easy.


Falls Church, Va.: In regards to shoes, I just wanted to put out there how much I LOVE my Earth shoes. They are fantastic and I have noticed how much more toned my legs are since wearing them.

Howard Schneider: And do you drive an American Motors Corp. product?


Penn Ave Misfit: I have a problem most people would love to have. I'm a 30-something-year-old woman who was recently told by my doctor that I needed to gain some weight because I plan on trying to have a child soon. She sent me to a nutritionist who put me on a high-calorie diet, but I know I also need to start working out in order to keep this up. I've always had a normal, healthy appetite, but the skinny gene is prevalent in my family. Now eating isn't just for function or pleasure; I have a goal in mind. This is all new to me!

What kinds of exercises should I be doing so I'll feel compelled to eat more? I'll admit my 5 block walk to and from the metro is the most exercise I get a day. But I obviously don't want to burn too many calories either.

I feel like a true misfit!

Howard Schneider: Yea this one is alien to me, and I'd love to hear from the audience. But in general if you are trying to gain weight, you'll probably want to focus on strength training activities that will prompt your body to build muscle. Walking, running and other cardio exercises will certainly make you hungry but will burn calories without, generally, any added "growth." Weight training will let you add some healthy pounds. Did the nutritionist have no advice on this?


Alexandria, Va.: Hi MisFits. I'm curious what you think about hydration systems. I am training for the Marine Corps Marathon in October (my first) and am to the distance now where I need to bring fluid with me. I really hate wearing a fuel belt; all the sloshing and jiggling and movement of the belt is really distracting. Have you tried one that is really good? What about a camelback system? Thanks for your thoughts!

Howard Schneider: I have not run with a Camelback but own a couple for biking and hiking...Three things to consider:

1)Have you tried the handheld bottles? These are not my cup of tea but they will get the weight off your hips (these are water bottles in holders that fit around your palms. Any running store will have them).

2)I ultimately went with a single bottle in a very secure holder, as opposed to all the little bottles....Have you checked those out?

3)Keep in mind there will be hydration on the course, so you just need to figure this out for your training. Could you stash some bottles around the routes of your long run?


Washington, D.C.: Was out jogging the other day and started feeling stiffness in the muscles in the front of my shin (not the calf muscles, I guess, but half-way down my shin). I tried stretching it out, but I couldn't find a stretch that wasn't awkward and futile. I'm a little confused because that stiffness had never happened before, and it didn't hurt, though I could tell it would if I had kept jogging. Any suggestions for what kind of stretches I could have done/could do in the future?

Howard Schneider: Running out of time, but here is a bit on shins from a racewalking Web site. Hope it helps.


For the boxer: I have a heavy bag and got 2 DVD's by Everlast that teach you the fundamental boxing moves. Look for them on Amazon. Also, I do Tae Bo DVDs, and hit the heavy bag in time with the movements. Super workout and a way to let out aggression! Hope these help the potential boxer out.

Howard Schneider: Great advice


Alexandria Biking: I am considering buying a bike -- people rave about the trails here and I know biking is good exercise. The thing is, I don't want to spend a fortune on my first bike out the gate in case I hate riding and never want to do it again. Can you suggest a good inexpensive "starter" bike and the equipment that I should have, too?

Vicky Hallett: If there's a chance you're going to hate riding and never do it again, I say rent before you buy (there's a list of some places to do that at, although I'm not sure how up to date it is).

Another option if you're looking for a deal is to try Phoenix Bikes in Arlington ( Their bikes are all donated and then fixed up by local kids, so you'll feel good about it even if you never ride.

Howard Schneider: Other question is what do you consider a fortune? You can find a decent bike for three hundred bucks or so and get the advangate of ensuring it fits properly by going to one of our many good local bike shops. Part of whether you enjoy the sport will depend on getting equipment that fits your body -- if you wake up with a sore back and knees you WON'T like it, and that's one of the things that can happen with a bike that is the wrong build. Used bikes are an option, as Vicky said. As to equipment: a helmet, a saddlebag with a spare tube and/or patch kit, an onboard pump to get you home in case of a flat, a water bottle cage, tire repair/multi tool to fix common problems....NO IPODS!!!


Chinatown, D.C.: Lately when I've been running on the treadmill, my joints seem to alternate in pain (left ankle one day, right ankle the next). Anything I can do to correct this?

Vicky Hallett: Wherever it's coming from, pain is always a red flag, Chinatown. It could be the sign of overuse, so I'd see if easing back on the speed/distance/frequency reduces your problems. You might also want to have someone take a look at your gait to see if you're doing anything that might be exacerbating the problem. A treadmill surface, unlike a road, should be even, so you can't blame it on a curve in the pavement.


Washington, D.C.: So I have some advice to ask. Thanks in part to you two, I started walking about 4 months ago. When I lost a little weight and got more fit, I started running/walking. I exercise everyday now, but do the "hardcore" run/walking for about 45 minutes every other day, because I'm training for a 5K.

Most of the time, I go out and exercise and everything is great. However, the last time I exercised, someone passed by in a car, hung his head out of the window, and screamed "Go fatty!" at me, while pointing. (For illustrative purposes, I'm a size 18 woman.) I realize that I'm fat and I'm not making excuses for it, but I'm doing something about my fitness level, regardless of whether it changes my fatness level. The comment completely derailed my workout. I wish I could say it didn't, but it did.

Aside from just not understanding why people are SO STUPID, I need to know how to get past this. I'm nervous about running outside now because of getting another comment. I need to forget it and I can't. Please help.

Vicky Hallett: What a @%$#%$#%$#! That would make me want to toss out my running shoes too. But you can't! You can a 5K coming up!! (And besides, your health trumps all stupid comments made by idiots in passing cars.)

If you're having a lot of trouble motivating on your own, I'd see if you can join up with a group for your runs. Maybe the fun run that leaves from Fleet Feet in Adams Morgan? They'll all be totally supportive. And beat up anyone who messes with you.

He was probably just jealous.

We're so proud of you!! Don't let this derail you!!


Vicky Hallett: Okay, that's it for us today. I think Howard has already left the building. Probably in a pair of really comfortable shoes...See you next week!


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