Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, July 29, 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. No exercise question is too odd or embarrassing for them to answer.

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider are the MisFits, The Post's fitness writers. Vicky was online Tuesday, July 29 to take your fitness questions and discuss their recent columns.

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Vicky Hallett: Welcome everybody to another Howard-less installment of the MisFits. He promises to come back from vacation next week...

But anyway, how about that Kate Zeigler, huh? She's the first subject of our Olympian series, so we still have three more weeks of fun in store for you. But I was blown away by the fact that she's such a celeb, but she trains in community pools. Olympians -- they're just like us! Except way faster and stronger and more intimidating.

Right, so on with the show.


Washington D.C.: I feel like this probably gets asked regularly, but I couldn't find it searching your archives. I recently joined a gym to lose a little weight and generally tone up, improve strength. I was shown the nautilus circuit, which seemed a little like a sales hook ("we purchased this expensive equipment and we'll market it as a quick fix"). But I must say that I've been doing it the past couple of weeks simply because it is the most efficient way for me to address those muscle groups. I'm combining it with about 25-30 minutes of cardio, 3 days a week. Am I really going to see results from the nautilus or should I try to figure out the free weights to reach my goals?

Vicky Hallett: Circuit training is a nifty combo of strength and cardio. It's the whole idea behind that Curves chain! So, sure, you should definitely be seeing results from all that exercise. But see if one of the trainers at that fancy new gym of yours will also give you some pointers with the free weights. Maybe you'll find you like that better...Whatever will keep you motivated to get your tush to the gym is going to end up being the most effective plan.


D.C.: I am working in DC for the summer and have noticed that many of the folks here drink a 20 ounce bottle of soda with their lunch (Coke, Sprite, etc.) everyday. Howard often mentions that it takes 3500 calories to lose one pound. Assuming, they drink one of these 20 oz bottles once a day, 365 days a year, that works out to 73,000 calories. If they switched to diet coke or water, could they really lose 20 lbs in a year just from that?

Vicky Hallett: Are you a math intern? So cute, DC! But yes, it's true. Swap out those hugely caloric sodas with water and you're looking at a mega weight loss.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, I recently started working out, but after a few weeks, the skin on my face has started breaking out like crazy! Could this be caused by the sweating that I'm doing? I never wear makeup to the gym, and I always shower after a work out. If this is caused by exercise, what can I do?

Vicky Hallett: Um, I'd check in with a dermatologist for this one. Working out is actually supposed to be good for your face.

Check it out:


Swimming, VA: Are there any workshops, lessons, etc that you know if in the NOVA area to help adults swim better? I want to start swimming competitively in master's events/triathlons, but need some help perfecting my strokes. Thanks.

Vicky Hallett: If you're willing to cross state lines, Clay Britt ( does just what you're looking for in Maryland -- and I just interviewed him, so he's fresh in my mind.

In VA, look into Swimmingly Yours' Marsha Marinich ( and OnPoint Fitness' Lloyd Henry ( Oh! And! They have a few open water swimming clinics coming up in Luray.


Baltimore: Hi Misfits, I am the 1st time hiker from a few weeks ago. Thanks very much for your advice about getting the hiking shoes. I followed your advice, bought the shoe and broke it in before I left. I went on three hikes while on vacation, the Saddle Rock Trail (Scotts Bluff), Part of the Badlands and Bear Butte Mountain (1,000 feet elevation). I had a blast. And glad to report back that despite the very steep slopes, slippery, rocky and wet terrain I made it without any injury. Thanks once again.

Vicky Hallett: I'm officially jealous! Sounds like an amazing trip.


Cleveland Park, D.C.: Goodmorning MisFits!

I am not a runner. But when I started on the treadmill about 2 months ago, I was surprised that I didn't absolutely hate it. However, I just switched it up and ran outdoors on asphalt yesterday and today, and I absolutely hate it. I can see why it's so much harder and why it sucks, but is there any way to ease myself into it or up my endurance on asphalt?


Vicky Hallett: And a good morning to you, Cleveland Park! If asphalt's getting you down, but you want to run outside, you can seek out a dirt path instead. They're a little friendlier.

As for using the treadmill to prep for outdoor running, I think you'll be in pretty good shape if you acclimate to at least a 1.0 incline. It really is tough at first -- start with intervals at 0.5 and work your way up. But you get used to it and then outdoor running becomes much less brutal.


Pentagon City, Va.: After stumbling onto the Crystal City 5K run this past Saturday evening, I was inspired to participate in one myself (as I've been wanting to get back into running for many years now). But I've been having little luck locating any other upcoming 5K runs. Can you point me in the right direction? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: August isn't the most happening month for 5ks -- as the temperature makes them not so enjoyable -- but you'll be amazed at how many are still on the calendar at I think I just counted 13 for this upcoming weekend alone.

Good luck!


Marathon Training, D.C.: I fear your answer is no, but are there any quick(er) fixes for shin splints than rest and ice? I'm training for my first marathon, and don't feel like I can afford the downtime to let the shin splint heal, but if I keep running, I'll reach a point where ice and ibuprofen no longer help.


Vicky Hallett: Cross train, my dear! If you're in that much pain, your body is telling you to cut it out. At least for now...But other exercises (elliptical, biking, swimming) will keep you from feeling like a slug while you recover.

And take a peek at these prevention tips from the Mayo Clinic. They might help you from having to go through this again:


DC: This is so weird. Every time I try to submit my real question, I get a server error message, but test messages seem to go through. I even retyped the real question. No dice. ??? Hi DC -- I think this might be limited to you, as I'm not seeing other issues. Can you tell me what browser and OS you're using? And if anyone else is having issues, please chime in.

Vicky Hallett: Uh oh. Any one else with computer problems? Let Dr. Paul help!


Bethesda, MD: Hello all! I've been elliptical-ing for the past couple of months, increasing speed gradually (200 strides per minute -- I'm a little bit proud). Sometimes, though, I feel muscle pain in my upper shoulder, around the curve where the neck and shoulder meet. I don't use weights while I do cardio and try to either hold the handles very lightly for balance or not at all. Why am I getting a muscle cramp (I guess that's what it is) in the wrong part of my body?

Vicky Hallett: I wonder if maybe you're unconsciously raising your shoulders and scrunching your neck. That would probably cause the problem you're describing. Really focus on keeping your upper body loose and see if your woes continue...


DC: I hope either you all or some Dr. can verify the answer to my question. I am a dedicated yoga practitioner and have tried just about every yoga type and been to every yoga studio in DC. Without a doubt, I always here that inversions (particularly shoulder stand) are good for the thyroid and twists "wring out the toxins"--is there any medical evidence to back either of those claims up?

Vicky Hallett: Yeah, I interviewed Dr. Timothy McCall (the medical editor of Yoga Journal) about the health benefits of yoga a few months ago, and one of his pet peeves is when teachers say things as fact that really haven't been backed up with research. It makes people not believe the real stuff...And I believe both of the examples you cite fall in the "haven't been studied" category.

But he has a great book (that I can't believe I don't have on my shelf right now) called "Yoga As Medicine."

And if you want to check out that story with McCall, it's right here:


Triathlon, D.C.: Hello!

I've got sprint triathalon coming up and I have a gear question. Do people typically run in sopping wet swimsuits under shorts and a shirt? What about support (for the girls, know what I mean..). Any and all suggestions from triathletes welcome!

Vicky Hallett: They definitely take off the wet suits. But I've never done a triathlon so I'm sure there are all sorts of gear intricacies that I don't understand. Chatters? I know you all love to talk about bras.


New York City: I'm 40, 6-5, 290 lbs, Was an athlete until my late 20's. I eat relatively well, do not exercise, and drink every day (a lot) for work. Am I looking at the obvious on how to loose weight? More importantly, I want to drop 50 lbs in 3 months. I have used South Beach before and I dropped 20 lbs in 2 weeks! Is that my best course of action? I want his job.

Vicky Hallett: I don't! I'm thinking drinking (a lot) every day is contributing to your weight problem. Same with the no exercise thing. So I'd work on those two issues...

And dropping 20 pounds in two weeks? Not healthy and the weight probably won't stay off. You'll be much more successful in the long term if you make gradual changes you can stick with.


Falls Church, Va.: Wait, I read that past comment about not holding the bars on the elliptical, but I always hold the bars! I think that I can vary my workout more by sometimes pumping my arms and other times using my legs. Does not using the bars give a better workout?

Vicky Hallett: Are you talking about last week? That was about holding on while running on the treadmill, which can bad for you. Holding on while using the elliptical can be good -- if you're actually working your arm muscles, which people don't do enough. Just letting them go for a ride while legs do all of the heavy lifting defeats the purpose.

Sounds like you're doing it right, Falls Church...


For Triathlon DC: Are you doing Iron Girl in Columbia? That's the sprint tri I'm doing. Last year's was my first-ever tri and "the girls" were a major concern. I wear a tri top that is sleeveless and has a half-zip up to the neck (no bra included) and I wear my usual sports bra underneath. I also wear tri shorts, which are meant to be worn for all three disciplines (smaller bike pad so you can run comfortably). It worked out great! No clothing to change, just bathing cap to helmet to hat, and adding socks and running shoes. Good luck!

Vicky Hallett: I knew one of you'd come through! Thanks, and good luck with the Iron Girl!! (You must have signed up ages ago -- it's been full for months.)


Re; Asphalt: Try to find a school track that is made from downcycled car tires. Much easier on the joints.

As for me, I took the dog for a jog on the golf course last night. We live right next to one. Oh the soft grass and greens was like running on a sponge.

Vicky Hallett: Is running on a sponge a good thing? It sounds like fun though...


McLean, Va.: Keep trying it Cleveland Park. The treadmill is a good alternative but outside running is more fun. Put some walk breaks into your runs until you get used to it. And the humidity in August is a pretty tough thing to get used to so maybe take it easy until late September/early October.

Great article today and the whole local Olympian line looks like it will be fun to read.

Are you and Howard training for any specific events in the near future?? Simple Advice From a Star: Make Your Workout as Productive as Possible (Post, July 29)

Vicky Hallett: Good point! July is not the best time for anyone to start outdoor exercising. Treadmills were probably invented for DC summers.

And glad you liked the piece today. Seriously, it's the most fun I've ever had reporting. It doesn't get much better than hanging out with Dominique Dawes. Howard asked for an autograph...for a "friend"...

As for training for events, does planning a wedding count? That's all I can handle for right now.


Arlington, Va.: Hey, Vicky! Your chat with Kate Ziegler has inspired me to finally learn to swim. Problem is, I have a fear of water due to a near-drowning incident some years ago, and this thirtysomething is a big scaredy-cat when it comes to pools. Any suggestions for local instructors that are good at coaxing people like me into the pool? Thanks for any suggestions!

Vicky Hallett: I mentioned Swimmingly Yours earlier in the chat, right? Marsha has definitely worked with adults like you before. Your scaredy-cat days may be ending...


Vicky Hallett: Oh no! We're outta time and there are so many questions I never managed to get to (Moobs -- I'm talking to you). But we're back here next week. BOTH of us. See you then!


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