Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 2, 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. They were online Tuesday, Sept. 2 to take your fitness questions and discuss their recent columns.


Vicky Hallett: Good late morning, gang! The column today was on trail etiquette, and what a day to get out on one of the area's scenic routes -- whether you're a cyclist, runner, stroller, dogwalker or rollerblader. Anyone have adventures to report from over the holiday weekend?

Vicky Hallett: Howard seems to be off battling Gustav, so he'll be joining us in a bit. But no need to wait around for him -- let's get going.


DC TNT: Vicky - great article on trail etiquette. I ran the Bethesda section of the CC Trail twice this weekend and was pleasantly surprised to see parents teaching good trail etiquette -- I had riders as young as 6 or 7 announce "on your left..." Some Cyclists Don't Earn Passing Grades for Trail Etiquette (Post, Sept. 2)

Vicky Hallett: Well, thank you TNT! I have to say that during my research on the trail, the very best etiquette I saw was often from kids. I know that when I was little, saying "passing on your left" to strangers was kinda fun. I felt so speedy! Adults just need to remember how awesome that is...


Madison, Wisc.: I've biked to work for years and am a runner as well, so I've logged a lot of time on bike trails and have seen all sorts of odd behavior. But I try to remind myself that when I first moved to town, it took me at least a full week of commuting to figure out the posted trail etiquette and how it fit with the unspoken trail "culture." This helps me be patient with everyone else who uses the bike path.

Plus, yelling "Hey buddy! Mind the (bleeping) trail etiquette!" is a little too ironic for an early morning commute.

Vicky Hallett: Patience is the key word here. I don't think most of the people doing stupid (or merely impolite) things realize that they could hurt someone with their behavior. But then, that's why it's nice to let them know -- without the assistance of curse words -- what proper etiquette is.

I'm just curious if folks are nicer about this stuff in the midwest...Anyone have reports of trail etiquette from around the country (or world)?


Washington, DC: Hey Vicky and Howard -

I know you've gotten this question before, but where is a good place to go for adult swimming lessons? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: The Michael Phelps effect continues, huh? You can learn to master freestyle at the YMCA and the DCJCC if you're looking for lessons downtown. Or, in the burbs, I've written about the services of Marsha Marinich ( and Lloyd Henry ( That's a start at least.

Any chatters taken an adult swim class they've loved?


Biking To Work Trail Etiquette: My ride to work takes me through several multicultural neighborhoods.

Rather than learning 'on your left' in several languages, I purchased a little dinger/bell to flick.

Most don't hear it since their ears are facing away from the sound but I keep trying.

Vicky Hallett: Yep, the bell breaks down the language barrier. It just doesn't always break down the iPod-blasting-in-one's-ears barrier. Keep it up though! I'm sure it's appreciated by the people who do hear it.


Biking To Work Dilemma: Drove in today, noticed the following:

a. the kids are all over the sidewalks

b. there are more cars on the road.

I really don't want to run over a kid or get hit by a car, yet I don't want to let those variables prevent me from biking to work.

Any suggestions other than taking a different route that adds 10 min to my ride in?

Vicky Hallett: Gee, if 10 minutes would help me avoid hurting small children or being turned into roadkill, I'd probably take the other route. It's extra exercise, right? But I guess it depends on how long your ride is already.

Maybe there's another alternate route you're not thinking of? If you're in DC, someone at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association ( might be able to give you a hand. Or, you might want to consider taking one of their "Confident City Cycling" classes. It should make you more comfortable riding with all of those cars, if you decide to go for option B.


Boston: Hello. The question that I have is how does one motivate themselves to exercise? I have joined the gym last year in May and have gone only twice!!! I do want to work out and look better, but I find it is really hard to find the time to go. My plate is pretty full with full-time work and nearly full-time school, but at the same time, I feel the need to exercise to be healthier and in better shape. Please help!

Vicky Hallett: Different motivators work for different people, but here are a bunch. Pick one or more!

-Hotness. This is probably the biggie for most of the population. Maybe you want to wow 'em at your high school reunion, feel confident in a bathing suit or just fit into that old pair of jeans.

-Health. This should be the biggie for most of the population. Being a lazy slug isn't just boring. It can take years off of your life! And those last few of them won't be as fun.

-Attitude. People who exercise tend to be happier and have more energy. Who wouldn't want that?

-Challenge. Are you competitive? Then you probably want to be able to do more push-ups than your buff co-worker, or run farther than your marathon-obsessed sister.

Perhaps more important than motivation, however, is preparation. Can you schedule trips to the gym a week or two in advance? If it's already planned out so it won't interfere with school or work, you're less likely to skip it...


Bangkok, Thailand: Hi - I am posting early since I will be asleep when the chat is live.

I recently ran a 5-miler in a poor choice of sneakers and now have a blue toenail. Now if I run more than 30 minutes (in bigger and better sneakers) my toe starts to throb. I know I need my toe time to heal but don't want to stop running for the months that will take to happen. So, do you think I am doing any long term damage if I keep running? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: I am, thankfully, not an expert on blue toenails. Although once someone stepped on my big toe with a heel when I was wearing flip flops and it turned many horrible colors. The advice from my doctor? It'll heal on its own and you don't need to worry about it.

From this Jeff Galloway site I found, it seems his advice is similar (once you've dealt with the cause of the problem):

Also, note that he's had "hundreds" of black toenails. Ick.


Trail/Sidewalk comment: I've noticed that walkers are entirely oblivious to anyone else. They're plugged in to their music and wandering aimlessly. Also bad are bikers riding abreast. Please folks!

Vicky Hallett: I take it you're a runner? They're not all perfect either, you know. There's plenty of blame to go around!


Washington, D.C.: Am I correct in thinking that using the elliptical in the gym will give me a more defined waist than taking a Spinning class? I always think I see a difference, but I also think that it's possible I'm just trying to talk myself out of getting on the bike because it kicks my butt more.

Vicky Hallett: I have bad news: If Spinning kicks your butt more, then it's that bikes that are going to give you a more defined waist. There's no such thing as spot reduction, people! Whatever burns more calories is going to be the activity that slims you down more. Not sure which one that is? Wear a heart rate monitor.


Durham, NC: Hello, and thank you for taking my question. I've been doing cardio 4 to 6 days per week, and I've recently added weightlifting/strength-training, usually split into upper and lower body, for a total of 2 to 4 times per week. I have a bunch of Pilates DVDs that I really enjoy, but I've been using them pretty randomly and I'd like to get a regular rotation going. The sessions on the DVDs range from 10 to 50 minutes, but many are in the 10- to 20-minute range, so I could fit something in every day. What do you think would be the best mix of cardio, weights, and Pilates? Thanks for your help!

Howard Schneider: Hi Durham....I think with what all your doing, the best mix is kind of what you feel like on a day to day basis. Once you are covering the basics -- enough work for your heart and enough work for your muscles -- we dont need to get too wrapped up in finding a magic mix...

One question: Do you have any of the special Pilates equipment -- all the springs and chairs and stands that go with "real" Pilates? Pilates can be very strengthening if you have access to all the gizmos (and it is VERY medieval looking equipment). But I am guessing this is "mat Pilates," more suitable for the home. If that's the case, I dont think it's a good substitute for your weightlifting.

Pilates is very core-centric -- focus on the abs and back and hips. One approach might be to pick out the Pilates moves that seem to best complement your other work, and do those at the end -- rather than rely on the DVD....


Alexandria, Va.: Thank you for these discussions, they provide great advice!

Here is another question revolving around the month of Ramadan. In your opinions, is it better to work out with weights in the morning, which would mean no drinking or eating after your workout for up to 14 hours, or would it be better to work out at night with weights so that at least one can eat and drink before, during and after the workout?

As a follow on question, is it bad for your body to work out with weights in the morning knowing you will not be providing your body any nutrients for the rest of the day?

Thanks for taking my questions, hope you have a wonderful day!

Howard Schneider: Ramadan karim -- hope you are enjoying the month so far...

To me, it makes more sense to wait until sundown and workout at a time of day when you can eat and drink what you need. It is easy to get too involved with pre- and post-workout fueling -- there are alot of exotic strategies out there, when what most of us need a bit of carbohydrate and enough water. But we do need that, and, particularly if you are working out with reasonable intensity, I think it makes more sense to wait...


Alexandria, Va.: I'm a night owl and love to work out late at night. Unfortunately, none of the gyms in Alexandria are open past 10! They're all open at the crack of dawn, though.

Any ideas on how to lobby my gym to stay open til 11 or 12? I'm not getting in as much of a workout as I'd like due to the time ceiling I'm dealing with.

Howard Schneider: Boy that is late. As a crack-of-dawner I'd be falling asleep in my soup at that point...No idea how successful you'd be lobbying your current club, but lets put the question out to the crowd. Anybody know of any late night workout haunts in Alexandria?


Dog poo: Let's keep it off the trail okay, dog owners? Poo in the woods next to the trail, fine, but don't let the dog go in the middle of the path.

I'd never allow my dog to go there...

Vicky Hallett: This is only semi-related, but I have to share. When I went on that ride along with the Park Police officer, he took me to a few places in Montgomery County (not the Capital Crescent Trail, thank goodness) where gang members poop on the trail to keep people from going to areas where they hang out. Pretty effective, no?


Possible Overtraining?: Dear Misfits,

I so appreciate your chat -- thanks so much for doing it! Now, on to my question. I am not an athlete (as in I do not compete) however I have been working out for about 20 years (I am currently 39). I do 60 minutes of cardio 6 days a week, with leg work and arm weights alternating days. On the 7th day (Sunday) I will go to the gym and do about 40-45 minutes of cardio. I get up at 4 am to get in my exercise and I am either on my way to work, on my way home or at the office about 12 hours a day (I am an attorney -- sometimes longer).

Lately, I have not had the desire to get out of bed to go the gym. In the many years I have been exercising, this has really never happened before. I have always if not enjoyed the workouts, always been willing to get up and go to the gym. My left leg (hip and quad) have been bothering me to the extent that sometimes it is a little difficult to walk. My question is (and as I type this I am seeing a bit of what a nutjob I might be) can non-athletes overtrain? And if so, I think I might be overtraining. Where can I look for some guidance as to how to ratchet it down a bit and recover so that I can once again have effective and energy-filled workouts?

Thank you

Howard Schneider: Morning -- 20 years at 7 days a week must be some sort of record...congrats on that...

Whether or not you compete, overtraining is something to watch out for -- and you may well be a candidate. Exercise damages your muscles, and they need time to repair. Most training advice recommends at least one full day of rest a week (if not two). The symptoms include lack of motivation, fatigue and general grumpiness....

I'd start with taking a week off -- completely. Rest the leg, break your routine and see where that leaves you. Your not going to regress or get fat in the meantime. When you return, make sure to ditch that seventh day of cardio and use it for watercolors or something...

Check out this link for a little more info....


Washington, D.C.: I'm trying desperately to lose weight. In the past year and a half, I've put on about 20 pounds. I'm 24 years old, work long hours, and am finishing up a masters, so time is an issue. What is the most efficient use of my time at the gym in order to speed up weight loss. I hate running, and can commit to between 40 minutes to an hour of exercise a day. Any other machines, weights, classes, etc, are fair game.

Howard Schneider: Whether it is running or not, you need to do something to chew up some calories. What do you enjoy? Biking, kickboxing, old-fashioned jazzercise aerobics, swimming, tennis if you can keep a decent rally going. The point is to elevate the heart rate and keep it there for the time you have allotted.

But here is the other point: My guess is that between your work and studies your nutrition is not the best. That 20 pounds represents about 70,000 calories of extra "energy" that you have stored away over a year and a half, or just under 4,000 calories a month. Where'd it come from? That's not much more than 100 calories a day -- but it adds up....


Arlington, Va.: I have a question on sidewalk etiquette. I started running about 3 months ago, and my husband and I run outside on the sidewalk. Recently, I've noticed a greater number of people walking their dogs. I cannot even tell you the number of dogs who have jumped up on me, chased after me, or run in front of me (nearly tripping me with their leashes) as I pass by. Most times, I either move to the grass or the street to try to avoid the dogs, but to no avail. Am I doing something wrong, or do I live just live near novice dog walkers? Should we be running on the sidewalk or the street? It is a residential area, but some are high-traffic roads that I wouldn't feel comfortable running on.

Howard Schneider: The sidewalk is free for you to run on -- and the dogwalkers should keep the hounds at bay. An ounce of prevention may help here -- give them a wide berth. But if there is a crowd or the road is busy, make sure to announce your presence. If they are approaching, try to make eye contact. And if the dog still gets in the way, I think it is reasonable to say something -- "please watch the dog," -- or something reasonably polite -- so they know you know it is their job to keep the dog out of other people's way.


Arlington, Va.: I want to add more variety to my usual workout routine of running and strength training, know of any places that offer adult tennis lessons for beginners? Thanks.

Vicky Hallett: The Arlington Y Sport & Health Club must have them (they have eight courts). In D.C., you can get lessons at St. Albans School. Anyone else have a hot tip for Arlington?

Also, in case you're looking for inspiration, Martina Navratilova will be on the Mall this Thursday at 1:30 p.m. for the big event celebrating the AARP's 50th anniversary. Dara Torres, too!


Alexandria, VA: Vicky, your article about the use of shared trails was great. However, you left out one thing, which is posted on every trail in the area -- who has the right of way. The sequence is:

1 - Horses (on trails where they are allowed, like the W&OD)

2 - Walkers

3 - Runners

4 - Bladers (rollers)

5 - Cyclists

Someone needs to remind the cyclists they are NOT the ones for whom everyone else is supposed to make room. Your column had a great chance, maybe you can do another column or item about "giving way" on the trails.

Vicky Hallett: Thanks Alexandria! What it all comes down to is mobility. If someone's on foot, they're not going to be able to move as quickly as a cyclist or a rollerblader. So people going faster need to deal with that.


Help a girl out!: Been running since late winter, 3-5 mi 2-3 x's week. Got new (expensive) shoes in July upon recommendation of the "gait analyst" at one of the running stores. I pronate in and these were supposed to help. Long story short: almost immediately started having IT band pain.

Any stretches that you can recommend to help? Anything else short of taking back the shoes? I've gotten some insoles that have helped some but not totally.

Howard Schneider: What type of shoes were you using before? I'd go back and talk to the manager and try to work out an exchange, or have them take a look at your gait again, etc. You could also try another store and see if they share the perception that you pronate.

As to stretches, etc., my daughter has had good luck with a foam roller and "the stick" -- devices you can use to "roll out" the muscles in your leg and relieve these sorts of aches and pains.

And here is a good

stretch that might help...


Piriformis Syndrome?: Discomfort in the buttock. Occasional mild pain in leg or tingling in foot. Too much running? A bad squat? Or am I just faced with another symptom of middle age (45). Should I stop running for a while? I usually only run 4 miles 2-3 times a week, but I'm wondering if I need to give it a rest for a while. I can't recall any sudden back pain/twist or other incident that could have caused trouble with the sciatic nerve.

Howard Schneider: I have had this come and go. My approach was usually to rest until the pain abated. Doing exercises to strengthen those muscles -- squats, lunges, leg presses -- has helped prevent it from recurring....I don't think the amount of running you are doing is the culprit, so I'd focus on adding some strength training to what you do....


Arlington, VA: My Gold's Gym -- the one in S. Arlington, on Glebe -- is open till 11 p.m. Mon-Thurs and I think that's pretty standard for Gold's in the area.

Howard Schneider: For our night owl....


24-hour Gyms...: For Alexandria - the WSC in Glover Park is open 24 hours. It's not Alexandria; but might be worth the trek in order to get a good, full workout in. Good luck!

Howard Schneider: And again -- Do they serve coffee?


Gang poop: Okay, now you have to tell: Where? (I'm asking as a MoCo resident.)

Vicky Hallett: Not to sully the reputation of a lovely park, but I'd watch my step near Long Branch.


Midwest: I need to start a running/interval training program for a sport I play, but don't want to lose weight -- in fact, want to bulk up a little. What's a good site to calculate my caloric needs?

Howard Schneider: Try which lets you account for activity as well as your current weight, gender, etc. What's the sport?


Minneapolis: Far and away the most difficult obstacle on the trail is the Rollerblader -- and not to mention her close cousin, the roller-skier. Even after you announce your presence, trying to pass one of this leg-flailing exercisers is like trying to make the windmill shot at the mini-golf course. No fault of theirs, but they easily take up the space of two runners carrying an octopus.

Vicky Hallett: I suppose octopus carrying is more common in Minneapolis? We don't have much of that in these parts.


New England: When I was running on a trail in Rhode Island, runners were to stay in the left lane, and bikers in the right. They had a stick figure and a cyclist painted on the train periodically to remind people of this. Not that it always worked, but then bikers could pass without issues, and they'd just have to figure it out if they came upon another biker/runner at the same time as passing me. It made sense to me because the runners were "facing traffic" similar to what we are supposed to be doing when running on a road. I assumed that all trails were like this, but some really have people on foot in the right lane?

Vicky Hallett: Crazy, but true! We always stay to the right here in Washington. (Although not politically.) I just wonder what would happen with cyclists coming toward each other on one lane on a crowded trail.


Washington: I've been doing strength training lately and find that I start to shake when focusing on my core and arm muscles (it's particularly noticeable after several push-ups and holding the plank position). I know this is my body telling me to take it easy, but shouldn't I be pushing myself as well? What's the right balance for this kind of thing? Is some shaking okay? Thanks.

Howard Schneider: Stand to be corrected but to me shaking means you making progress -- you are pushing things to that point of fatigue. The key here is control, focus -- and caution. In the plank, for example, once your abs start to tremble, think about what your lower back is doing. If it starts to sag, or if you feel it start to hurt as it picks up slack from the other muscles, then it is time to quit....This is one where you need to keep in close touch with what your body is feeling. It is also one where a session or two with a trainer might help you learn more about what you're doing and what's happening...


Vicky Hallett: Okay, that's all the gang poop we have time for today. See you back here next week!


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