Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, September 16, 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. 16 at 11 a.m. to take your questions.

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Vicky Hallett: Hey gang! Through the magic of the internet, I'm chatting from the front lobby of the Merritt Athletic Club in Baltimore, where real New York City Rockettes are about to be teaching a class in how to work out like them. I'm guessing it will include a lot of kicking. And I know Howard is jealous...(And if any of you happen to be in Charm City like me, the fun starts at noon.)


Prince William County, Va.: What a timely article on kettlebells!

I am an almost 48-year old woman who has been on the Age Busters Fitness program for about 2 years now. Kettlebells are a mainstay of the program. I have tried everything under the sun for decades now, and nothing has done a better job of weight training than kettlebells. The unique nature of the workouts most associated with kettlebells, at least the ones I get run through, offer the most ideal combination of strength training, cardio training, and anaerobic conditioning.

As always, it is the programming of the workouts that matters most. Kettlebells are not some magical, mystical, glowing hunk of metal that bestow powers upon the person with one in their hands. The secret is in the programming. I highly recommend everybody who is thinking of checking kettlebells out to do so with a quality personal trainer. I have mine. Everybody should have theirs.

I am so excited to see kettlebells hitting the mainstream! A Great Workout for Women Who Like To Throw Their Weights Around

Vicky Hallett: Yep, kettlebells could do a number on your body if you don't know how to use them. I can imagine horror stories involving someone swinging and letting go...And certainly, control is key. Beginners (including me) can have a tendency to whack themselves.

Glad you liked the piece! I've been so amazed over the past few years -- when kettlebells first hit the scene, I figured they were going to be a guys-only kind of thing. But it's always women who are raving to me about how much they love them.


Silver Spring, Md.: Good morning! I'm trying to talk a few friends into doing the Columbia IronGirl Triathlon with me next year. I see that registration opens mid-October but am having trouble finding any other registration details. Do you know how much the registration fee is? And is this one of those events that closes quickly? I'd appreciate any info you have (including any firsthand experience) that will help me make my case!

Howard Schneider: Here is the fee is tucked on the side of the site under Link Events. Don't know how quickly it closes but I'd assume it is fast -- so I'd jump on it early...BTW, it looks like they are getting stricter about event time limits. You might want to study that if there is discussion of whether to do individual or relay entries with your buddies...


Professionals: $110.00

USAT Members: $100.00 (US)

Non-USAT Members: $110.00 (includes one day event insurance)

Relay Teams: $190.00/$200.00/$210.00/$220.00 (per team)

Relay Teams comprised of any Non-USAT members, have an added single one-day license fee of: $10.00 to the fee total (reflected above) per Non-USAT Member.

Vicky Hallett: I interviewed the IronGirl organizers earlier this year, and Columbia is one of the most popular in the series. If you know you want to do it, I'd sign up on day one if you can.


Richmond, Va.: I have been increasing my exercise routine by taking part in classes that my workplace offers four days a week. It's something different every day - cardio, core, Zumba, sculpt. They may even start a fifth class - yay!

I have been needing to buy new sneakers for awhile, especially now that I will giving them a good workout so to speak.

Does it really make a difference to purchase the more expensive shoes? What about the ones that are supposed to be especially designed for a particular type of exercise - in this case cardio/aerobics? Is that just marketing or is there really something to it?

I'd like to save money, but I also don't want to cheap out if is better for my feet/body in the long run.

Vicky Hallett: We did our running shoe spectacular a few months back, so we're better versed on that. But from what I understand, the most important thing for aerobics classes is that you don't wear running shoes. They're built for forward movement, and when you're Zumba-ing about, you're going in every direction and running shoe padding might make you prone to tripping.

So it's not ALL marketing. And it's often true that you get what you pay for. My guess is you can probably get a perfectly adequate and not-too-pricey pair at a place like Sports Authority and be very happy.

I have a question for you: Have you done Zumba with your boss yet? And has it changed your working relationship? Juicy details, please!


New York, N.Y. (temporarily in DC on assignment): Vicky and Howard:

I trust you folks have been keeping abreast of the lawsuit in Virginia which essentially challenges the CrossFit methodology.

As a consequence of this lawsuit, and the implications of the dangers of rhabdomyolosis, what is your position on high intensity workouts?

Howard Schneider: I had not read about this...Thanks...Seems worth looking into...Probably should not confuse generic "intensity" with what the Crossfitters do, which focuses on a specific style of lifting and has a particular philosophy behind it...In addition, the type of workout that is going to be done by a navy Seal candidate is appreciably different than what any of us would be doing...Worth keeping an eye on though...


Burke, Va. - re. Iron Girl: The Columbia Iron Girl is an awesome sprint tri, particularly for first-timers. This year was my second time and I had so much fun! Sign up as soon as registration opens, because it does sell out fast.

Also consider SheROX all-female tri series. I did SheROX Charlotte Sunday and really enjoyed it. The race was smaller (about 500 registered) and the course much easier than Columbia, but still a well-run event.

Howard Schneider: For our Iron Girls in the audience...Get your registration in...


Washington, D.C.: Hey Misfits! I just realized that I need a hobby. I know this isn't your usual question, but I was hoping you two could offer suggestions for sport-related activities. My No. 1 interest is biking -- I'm not the best biker in the world (though I am better than the average rec biker) but I would love to join a biking team or something. Does such a thing exist? What other social activities could I join? Kickball and Frisbee seem to be out, and honestly, I'd like something that is more physically challenging. What about triathlon training teams?

Howard Schneider: As a start, check out what the Team in Training folk have to offer...They usually have triathlon events on their docket -- that would incorporate your biking into some other events and get you involved in a group doing the same thing. They will tailor the training too - if you want more intensity and bring a more competitive spirit to the event, they will help you learn what to do...

Howard Schneider: And p.s....dont know about bike racing teams but would love to hear from the crowd....


East Falls Church, Va.: I'm a new mom, trying to get back into exercise. My biggest obstacle is finding a bra to support my new chest. Pre-pregnancy I was a size small, now I've been digging through the racks to find the biggest bra in the store, but not finding them very supportive. Is there anyone at a local running stores or the like who specializes in fitting women for sports bras? I never thought I'd have this problem and seriously need help! Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: I don't know of any running stores that specialize in this, but some of them have women's only event nights that might be worth checking out. (Potomac River Running has definitely had these in the past, although I don't see any on their schedule now). But your best bet may be a store that specializes in lingerie, because they tend to carry sports bras, too, and are pros at proper fitting. Have you ever been to Trousseau in Vienna?

And there's always online. At, they have the famous "Bounce Cam," which can help you figure out how supportive a bra is.

(And I know chatters are about to extol the virtues of Title 9 brand bras. They are very beloved by bigger busted ladies.)


Chantilly, Va.: Hi Misfits!

I've noticed recently that my legs get tired when I go up stairs. I feel it especially in my quads. Can you give me some good quad-strengthening exercises?


Howard Schneider: How about....Climb stairs. Seriously, it is not just the quads. In fact if your quads are getting tired it may be that you failing to use those big climbing muscles in your backside -- the gluteals...I have noticed that at some point in myself, that I counted too much on the knee to lift, but could do it much more easily when I focused on engaging the glutes...So what you want, I think, is general leg strengthening -- but also some focus on the muscles you are using. Try some stair climbing sets but really focus on firing your backside, so to speak.

As to exercises, try a standard squat. Feet shoulder width, knees straight, then sit until your thighs are parallel to the ground then come back up...See how a couple of sets of ten feels, then try to increase. You can do a lot of these. I have seen workouts with four sets of 30 using bodyweight You can also do it with dumbbells in each hand...

Couple that, though, with lunges -- one foot out, knee straight, lower the body and then return...That will work other muscles in the leg and is a good complement. You never want to focus on training just one muscle -- it will get out of whack with the others...


Inexpensive Shoes: I got mine at Target, they are made by Champion. Cost, $18

I do the elliptical at the gym and wear them when I do the weights.

No complaints. Have been wearing them for over 1 year. Made by same kids in same factories overseas as the fancier ones with bells and whistles I don't need for my use.

Vicky Hallett: I'm still giddy over the opening of that Target in Columbia Heights. Such bargains!


CT: Hi guys, I'm running marathon in less than two weeks, whoo! I'm in serious need of some time off afterwards though, need to get some nagging pains to go away. How long can I take off without losing everything, endurance, muscle, etc. I plan to continue to walk, but that's about it. Thanks.

Howard Schneider: First off, here is good, comprehensive article about post-marathon recovery...Think through how it applies to your situation, condition, pains, etc...

And here is a bit on detraining, the bottom line of which seems to be that a couple of weeks won't matter much. A month will start to eat into your base. Two months -- if you are nominally fit but not a pro athlete -- will set you back quite a bit...


Alexandria, Va.: Re: the question on shoes. Actually finding a pair of shoes that is good at a lot of different types of aerobic activity is much harder than you think. The majority of stores (Sports Authority included) carry an overwhelming amount of running shoes and a very limited selection of anything else. I would LOVE to see you guys do a review of non-running athletic shoes and how and where to get a good fit!

Vicky Hallett: Ooooh. Is it time for another spectacular? It might be hard to convince Howard to go shopping again, but I'll see what I can do.

Vicky Hallett: And Paul, our producer who battled plantar fascitis, is a huge fan of the Nike Air Monarch Xtrainers. "My feet have never felt better," he gushes. They should put that on the box...

Howard Schneider: After that "Sex in the City" piece I am done with shoes for a while....


DC: Any suggestions/tips for staying motivated while pursuing an exercise and diet program?

Howard Schneider: In my case it was brooding middle-age health problems and a look at what was happening to some family members, along with general disgust with where things were heading...That seemed motivation enough to get started...

What's kept me going is this: the process works, and it can be enjoyable. You will get stronger and have more energy and become much more attuned to what is happening with your body -- and yourself. And the process does not need to make you miserable: Find physical things you like to do and pursue them with intensity. Other aspects of exercise -- running or lifting or yoga -- then become part of getting better at something you like, rather than an annoyance...


Large Bras question: I am a 32D and used to be larger, so I am something of an expert. First, go to a lingerie store to get fitted. Once you know your size, some of the running stores do carry larger sizes. In addition to I've see a good selection of larger sizes at and

Vicky Hallett: A large bra expert is always appreciated around here. Thank you!


Logan Circle: So! Since grad school four nights a week and full-time work isn't enough to keep me occupied, clearly I need a gym recommendation. I used to go to a Gold's near my previous job (out in Loudoun County), but wouldn't mind something a little more upscale. Weight circuit is the biggest thing, hot tub/sauna/pool would be nice, but aren't required, and pretty people are important. Also, either the Dupont/Logan corridor (home) or the Ballston/Clarendon corridor (work.)

So far, it appears my options are Vida at the Metropole (not open yet, I think), Results U Street (a little further away than I'd ideally want to walk), and WSC at Thomas Circle (not sure about the vibe.) Any advice? Have I missed any? Finally, Results is, again, a little farther than I'd like, but Capitol Hill has that rock wall, and I'm eyeing that lustfully--is it still the only place closer than Sportrock with an indoor climbing wall? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: I was just talking yesterday with the manager of the new Fitness First that's opening in Arlington (in October), and he hinted that they might be putting in a rock climbing wall. At $33/month, though, it's probably not as upscale as what you're looking for. And I'm blanking on where the other rock climbing walls are in the city and Arlington, but I feel like there are some that I'm forgetting. (I can report back next week if we don't get any other suggestion from chatters.)

Anyway, as for pretty people, I'd stick with the Vida in Metropole plan. It's not open yet, but I'd suspect the clientele will be extremely attractive. Mint is probably too far for you. And Equinox is certainly too far. Have you thought about The Sports Club/LA though?


Arlington, Va.: re: large size sports bras. Try checking out Team Estrogen ( Also sign up for their member forum and post your question there, and I'm sure someone will have a recommendation or two.

Vicky Hallett: Another idea for our bra seeker...


Washington, D.C.: I've just started playing rugby, to try to get in better shape, and I'm already getting pretty beat up. I'm torn about when to stop -- when an injury could be so bad that it could prevent me from playing other sports that I love. How do I know when it's too much?

Howard Schneider: That's an almost impossibly broad question, because it hinges so much on those other sports...If you wreck your knee your tennis game is not going to go so well, but you'll probably still be able to swim...If your shoulder goes you'll still be able to run. Knock out a couple of teeth and you're still in business.

Be careful about playing through pain. A sprain might seem minor, but it will get way worse the next time you go down on it; a tweak in one knee might cause you to favor the other side, and screw something up in that leg even more...Keep playing on a minor hamstring pull and you risk tearing the whole thing from the bone...But maybe not. Depends on your body and how hard you play...


Arlington, Va.: Team in Training does regular bike rides, in addition to triathlons. They send teams to the Sea Gull century on the Eastern shore every year, as well as other centuries around the country.

There are also lots of bike clubs around here, for people interested in group rides that are not races. Potomac Pedalers, Oxon Hill club in Maryland, Reston Bike Club, and Fredericksburg Bike Club are some of the main ones in metro area. Google any of them to find their web sites.

There are competitive racing teams too, although I don't have specifics on them.

Howard Schneider: Other ideas for our hobbyist...


Virginia: Good morning MisFits! I'm really hoping you can help me with what i hope is an easy question. I am a mid-20s female, and I am trying to tone up my arms to avoid the pudge I see forming around the tops of them. I've started to do push-ups every other day (3 sets of 10) and can see a difference already. But I am afraid that I am not working all of my arm muscles this that correct? Could you suggest some other exercises I can do so I work on all of my arm muscles. Again, I'm just looking to tone them...I definitely don't want to bulk up. Thank you!!!

Howard Schneider: It is rare for women to get bulky -- that's a hormonal thing. Push-ups are one of those good, all around exercises that bring a lot into play -- the arms, the back, the abdominals. If you want to round things out, try different variations: put your hands in a triangle position right next to each other...move them back and pull in the elbows for a triangle push up...use wider and narrower grips...If that does not feel like enough, get yourself a chin-up bar and see how that works out...


Washington, D.C.: Do you know any stores in the area that sell rubber weight plates instead of steel plates for barbells? I'm trying to construct a basic home gym and want to minimize noise and increase safety.

Howard Schneider: Leisure Fitness seems to carry the Body-Solid line of equipment, which has some rubber models. Don't know if they sell individual rubber plates (as opposed to full sets) but it is a start...If you are concerned about your floor, you might also consider the segmented mats that you can assemble...That's what I have used....


S. Rockville, Md.: How do I get my gym to add kettlebells? I asked previously, and they were concerned about the swinging and other dynamic movements being a higher risk of injury (to bystanders, mostly). I think that like any piece of equipment, proper training and supervision should handle that risk. I'm rather disappointed that they've told me to adopt KB movements to dumbbells to approach a similar workout.

Vicky Hallett: They're still pretty new -- I'd say virtually no gyms around here had them more than five years ago. But they're picking up popularity fast, and I bet your gym will feel compelled to add them soon to keep up. If not, get your buddies to complain too...

And they may be stretching the truth about why they don't want to get 'em. New equipment is expensive, and training trainers on how to use them isn't cheap either.


Bellefonte, Del: I make a habit of running up and down the stairs every lunchtime at work (around 4 times a week). I run 70 flights a day, which takes around 25 minutes and leaves me hot, sweaty, and with a strongly beating heart. I do this both for general health and also for weight loss/maintainence.

My question is this: This exercises my legs, but not much else. Should I be doing something different for my goals? I asked my Dr and all he said is that if it doesn't bother my knees (it doesn't), then do it as often as I can.

Your thoughts?


Vicky Hallett: Wow -- that sounds exhausting. And it's certainly great for the legs (especially the tush!) and for cardio. It requires stability as well, or else you'd take a tumble. So if your goals are just general health and weight loss, it sounds like you're doing just fine. But your arms might be feeling a bit left out. Can you give them some attention (maybe dips on your office chair and a few sets of pushups?), too?


Biking To Work: I have the toe baskets and have had issues with getting my feet out of them before I crash-they get stuck and I fall over attached to the bike.

I know it is an investment to get the bike shoes and istal clips. Will I be able to pop my shoe out and stabilize my bike before I fall over?

Is it worth looking into a pair of these?

ps, will I get laughed at with training wheels?

Howard Schneider: Vicky will not laugh at you with training wheels, but she may be alone in that. She is way too nice...But then, she is still young...Give it time...

You should definitely check out clips and shoes. With a bit of practice it becomes second nature to pop out and free the foot for stopping. Plus you can adjust the tension -- just like a ski binding -- to make it easier of harder (the latter preferred by those who ride faster and harder and want to be sure they don't pop out in a sprint)...


staying motivated : All it takes is one person saying 'you look great, have you lost weight' after not seeing them for a month and them not knowing about the new exercising lifestyle.

Howard Schneider: Second that...


Fairfax, Va.: Hi. I'm a male, early 60s, in lousy shape. I'd like to hire a personal trainer to get me up to speed on the modest exercise facility in my building, since I have no idea what I'm doing, but I need someone age-appropriate -- I finished with boot-camp drill sergeants 45 years ago. Any suggestions on how to find trainers for geezers? Thanks.

Howard Schneider: Morning...Unfortunately there is no clearinghouse, but many trainers work out of local gyms or have their own...Start by calling a few convenient to your house, and see if any meet your demographic and are willing to come to your place. Don't neglect the local YMCA -- they'll also have personal trainers on staff... You might also check the Yellow Pages. Be sure whoever you choose is certified. There are several credentialing bodies. Ask which one has certified them -- you can often verify that info online.


Richmond, Va.: What's your take on BodyPump? My gym recently started offering classes, and the program seems like a good strength-training option. Is it considered legit in the fitness community?

Howard Schneider: I have not done it but my wife has a couple of times...She likes the workout. But it is more cardio than strengthening, despite the use of weights. It is a relatively light bar, and you end up doing a lot of reps (at least that is my understanding) -- which will make the heart work hard but is not the best method for building muscle...


Running speed: Usually, I can run about a 10 minute mile for 5-6 miles. About a month ago, I was running 10 miles for my long run, and 15-17 miles a week. Now, I'm only doing about 10 a week, in 3 runs. I'm interested in doing a 15k race in early November (8 weeks). Is aiming for 95 minutes totally unreasonable? I know you guys have a link to send me to. Thanks!

Howard Schneider: and both have race training programs. I think your goal seems reasonable. It will be important to get back to that weekly long run, and build the distance back. If you can add a mile a week you'll be fine. To keep pace -- as you'll see from those sites -- you'll add some speed intervals during the week and a pace run (where you keep your race pace for a set time...)

Good luck!


Newby: I just started working out a month ago. I try to do cardio (elliptical, Stairmaster, treadmill, etc.) 3x a week, and a women's circuit weight room 3x a week. I have 2 questions. First, I haven't lost any weight yet, is this normal? One of my friends says it is because I am building muscle and that muscle weighs more than fat, but I thought this was an urban legend. Second question, my husband and I are going to start trying to get pregnant in another month or so. How will that restrict my exercise routine? I know during my last pregnancy my doctor mentioned that you should keep cardio at a level where you can carry on a conversation, but the only thing I remember about weights is that you aren't supposed to lift more than 30 lbs. Does this apply even in the first trimester? What about situp/crunches, are those ok at first? Thanks for any advice! I appreciate it!

Howard Schneider: Morning...Muscle does by volume weight more than fat. But it is also hard to build. While you may have added some muscle over the month, it is probably not pounds and pounds of it. Keep in mind: You say you are working out, but how long and how hard? We wrote last week about a recent federal compilation of exercise research, the bottom line of which it takes a very committed effort to prompt weight loss -- an hour or so a day...The effect of diet also has to be accounted for: You lose weight when the amount of energy you use is more than you consume. Are you watching your nutrition? If, for example, you had been gaining weight, and began working out, maybe you have just brought the equation into balance...You need to push it into the negative...

Regarding the pregnancy -- having been through two with a very healthy wife, I know things can get wacky (Eleanor was in bed for much of our first...). Point being: Consult your ob gyn. There are women who do incredible workouts through their pregnancies, others who have to manage more carefully. Get the pros advice on this one, it is too important...


My Muffin Top: I lift weights and do cardio a lot, more than the average person. I eat right, small portions of whole foods, and try to burn more than I consume. I still have an issue with the adult beverage on the weekends, my weakness-eventhough I 'earn' it.

I can't get rid of the muffin top when I sit at my desk.

I'm living the active and healthy lifestyle, yet can't get rid of the 10speed size spare tire.

How much longer do I have to wait? Do I just keep waiting for this little reserve of adipose tissue to go away?

Howard Schneider: Join the club, though in my case it is still a bit more than a muffin. Sounds like you are in a very health place -- exercising, eating right, AND enjoying the weekend. If the price of that is a small roll here and there, to me it is worth the price...Keep in mind that genetics plays a role here. Your body is going to store SOME fat, in SOME place...So unless you drive your body fat really low (which means either even more exercise or even less food...) you will just have to grin and bear it...


re: rock climbing in Arlington: It's not Ballston/Clarendon, but there's a rock climbing wall at the Energy Club in Shirlington.

There's also a Sport and Health at the Ballston mall - no rock climbing there, but you can do weights.

Howard Schneider: See you at the top....


Howard Schneider: That is all we have time for today...Sorry to the folks still in the queue...My 401K is about to disappear so I need to go take care of that...


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