Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, September 23, 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. 23 at 11 a.m. to take your questions.

The transcript follows

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Howard Schneider: Morning all....I hope everyone can make it to the Bike D.C. event this weekend. It will be a great ride at a great time of year, and I am sure Vicky will look very cool on the bike I plan to lend her because hers is all rusty and stuck in her parents' basement or something...Vicky do you want to neat-o Gary Fisher or the one with the big, fat oversized seat....

Vicky Hallett: Why do I have the feeling that Howard is going to show up with a unicycle? Oh dear...

Anyway, a few loose ends to address before the chatting begins! A doctor wrote in to warn us that he's recently seen a patient who messed up her back using kettlebells, so be careful and use them under the supervision of someone who knows what he/she is doing. Also, I remembered where there's a climbing wall in DC -- at the National Capital YMCA! (Duh.) Is that where the beautiful people hang out? You can decide for yourself this week, because from the 20-27, you can visit for free for America on the Move Week. Here are the details:

And, I know you like the deals: Lululemon is opening another store. This one's in Logan (1461 P St. NW) and this Saturday, there's free yoga at 9 a.m. (along with exercise demos all day). Sunday, there's a free Pure Barre class at 10 a.m., and free candlelight yoga at 6 p.m.

Okay, I'm done yapping. On with the show.

Howard Schneider: Funny you should mention...I do have a unicycle, which I occasionally pull out for the amusement of the kids in the neighborhood....But 17 miles is too far on one wheel...


Not a Morning Person: Twice a week I drag my bum out of bed and meet my trainer at 6 a.m. This is way earlier than I generally get up. So I basically wake up, get dressed, and go. The last couple of sessions I've been somewhat lethargic and afterwards, nauseous. Is this because I don't eat before working out? If so, any ideas for something fast -- I don't want to get up any earlier! Thanks.

Vicky Hallett: Can you switch your time with your trainer? It doesn't sound like your body wants to work out that early in the morning...and it doesn't sound like it's adjusting to it, either. Exhausted with stomach trouble is never the best way to start the work day. A little food might help (some dry cereal or a gel if you can't get anything down that early), but I'm guessing it won't fix your problem completely. The body knows what it's willing to do.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Vicky and Howard! Are either of you running the Army 10 Miler? What should I expect? I am looking forward to the event - how do I train these next couple of days before the event? Thanks!!

Vicky Hallett: We're being lazy these days, so no Army 10 Miler for us. But through the power of reporting, I think I can help you out. On Friday, I happened to have a chat with Alisa Harvey, who's won the event four times. (Good timing, right?)

Anyway, she's a fan of mile repeats, so maybe you can give that kind of workout a try this week. But in the days right before, take it easy to make sure your legs aren't too tired and your hydration is good. Harvey calls this "her deep down fresh."

Her other major tip: Pacing! Because it's such a macho event (or as she called it, "Rawr!!"), there are lot of folks who start out way too fast. "Then little by little I pass all of them," she says.

For more tips from Harvey, you can see her at one of the clinics going on the two days before the race. They're all free and open to the public.

Howard Schneider: Amend that: Vicky is being lazy...


Fairfax, Va.: I need some advice. I started the year with a goal of 26 pounds to lose. With a combination of diet and exercise I lost 20 and 2 dress sizes (yea me!). Comfortable with that for now, my next goal was to ratchet up my exercise "ability". I signed up for the Wolf Trap 5k with a friend and have been using the Cool Running couch to 5k plan.

Having not exercised most of my life, this is a stretch for me. Now the problem. I can't seem to get past the 5-6 minute run. I get a stitch in my side or my breathing is strained and I start to walk again. I need to get moving past this or I will be left out on the course! Any ideas of what to do?

Vicky Hallett: You are totally awesome, Fairfax! And good for you for signing up for that 5K. But it sounds like you need to model yourself a bit more on the tortoise than the hare. If you're new to running, it can take a while (and longer than you'd think) for the body to get used to it. The more you try to push yourself too quickly, the poopier you'll feel. I bet if you slow your pace for those 5-6 minutes, you'll breathe easier and avoid that killer side stitch and end up going further before you need to walk.

And there's nothing wrong with running a few minutes and then walking a few minutes during the 5K. It's getting to the finish line that counts.


Washington, D.C.: I've been going to the gym for a couple months now, trying to lose about 15 lbs and get a little healthier. So far my progress toward my goal has been slow going. I picked up a heart rate monitor this weekend -- what's the best way to use it during workouts? Should I just make sure that my heart rate is at 60 percent-70 percent max during cardio, to keep it in the "weight-loss zone"? I usually do elliptical or stationary bike.

Howard Schneider: Good morning...The "weight loss zone" label is a bit misleading. You are always relying on a number of different energy pathways and fuels, just in different proportions. The 60-70 percent HR level relies more on stored fat, proportionately, than a more intense HR level, but burns fewer calories overall.

For several months I followed a program laid out by software programmed into the Polar F11 heart rate monitor. It called for one longer, less intense workout each week, one shorter but intense one, and a couple that were sort of in between....I feel the variation is important -- it does not let you get used to one pace and style, and forces adaptation...What type of monitor did you get? They typically come with similar sorts of programs...

BTW -- progress on weight loss has to include a dietary component -- exercise is not a license to eat what you want. And don't be discouraged by progress being slow. A pound of fat includes the energy equivalent of 3500 calories. A workout might burn a few hundred -- easy to counteract if you feel compelled to grab an extra snack after the trip to the gym...


Fell off workout wagon again: I'm hoping you guys can help. This is the second time in 2 months I've fallen off the workout wagon except this time I have no desire to get back on.

I used to work out 5 days a week for over an hour - when I didn't see any weightloss I got very discouraged but kept going. Eventually I lost 5 pounds (in 5 months). Long story short I found out last week I have very high cholesterol and am on meds for that and being insulin resistant.

Since I've started the meds the biggest side effect is sore muscles which is leading me to not want to work out.

What are the biggest motivators and how can I ensure that next time I fall off I'll get back on. Besides the fact I spend 60 bucks a month on a membership (yes I know, it's expensive but I love my gym and it's 4 blocks from my house).

Vicky Hallett: Well, if you looove your gym, that's another motivator, right? But it sounds like you need to work on your relationship with this gym of yours. If you're going for more than an hour five days a week, you should feel like you're getting results (even if that's not a weight loss). So my guess is you aren't making the most of your time there...With a new routine, you're likely to be more excited about it and see some changes in your body. That sounds motivating to me.

You shouldn't necessarily need to pony up for personal training to get some advice from trainers about what you could be doing differently. Maybe there's a class or two you could visit? A piece of equipment you've never tried? Try to keep it as interesting as possible.


Alexandria, Va.: The Bike DC Link just comes back to the chat page... It's been fixed.

Vicky Hallett: If only every problem could be solved so easily. Thanks for alerting us!


Montgomery Village, Md.: I've started running recently, and had to stop because my knees were hurting. I waited about a week before running again, but knees still hurt. Is there something I can do so that I can continue running?

Vicky Hallett: New shoes might be called for. Have you put some thought into what you have on your feet? If not, a running store can advise you on a pair that might be better.

And a new surface could help, too. It's a really lovely time of year to be running outside, but if you're jogging on concrete sidewalks, it doesn't always feel so nice. A dirt path (like the C&O Canal) is kinder on the joints. (Treadmills are gentle, too.)

There's also the possibility that you're going too fast or too long. For newbies, it's so easy to overdo it. So scaling back could also fix the problem.


Beware of the Kettlebells!!: Thank goodness that doctor wrote you. I took a one-on- one class at a gym in DC (don't particularly want to blame them, so they shall remain nameless) and I was in SEVERE PAIN for a week. (Not the good kind of pain after a strenuous workout session, either) It took a month to return to normal.

That said, I was a complete novice, new to working out at all, not just to kettlebells and it was probably just too much for me. I just wish the trainer had know that.

Vicky Hallett: Unfortunately, I think this is a common problem with trainers (not with kettlebells). They don't always take enough time to figure out where a client's baseline is before kicking his/her butt and the result is just pain. In situations like this, when you know too much is being asked of you, stand up for yourself. You're the one paying, after all...


Silver Spring, Md.: Misfits -- first, I've been enjoying your chats lately and they've really helped me get motivated to get off my butt and exercise, so thanks for that!

One question I have -- I do a combination of running and strength training. Is it better to do the running first, or the strength training? I feel like I run more/faster when I do that first, but then I'm sweaty and disgusting and don't want to use any of the machines after that. Does the order really matter much?

Howard Schneider: Age-old question and I'd love to hear any advice from the field...It kind of depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

They can rely on different energy systems (anaerobic versus aerobic), so -- theoretically -- you could do both without much impact on performance. I remember reading an article or two that backed that up in the lab.

I tend to look at what I am trying to accomplish. If I am going for a longer run, or trying to work on a pace goal or something like that, I would not lift before or after...If it is a light jog for a couple of miles -- why not?

I am not sure the order matters... In either case, probably no reason to avoid the upper body since running is mostly legs...Also, sometimes I'll use a light circuit routine as a warmup for running, or use a light run as a warm up for a more intense lifting day...Again, I think mixing all these things up is good in the long run...

The LAST thing you should worry about is adapting your routine to whether you are sweaty or not...Really, no one cares...That's what towels are for....


Bike DC: What Metro stop would you use to get to the start line? And what time would you show up? I know it starts at 8, so 7:30? Or is that not enough time to hit the registration table, and then find a place among all the other cyclists?

Howard Schneider: Glad you are coming...The registration starts at 7...It is not a race and there is plenty of time to complete the course so 7:30 is probably fine -- if the lines are long you'll simply start a bit late...As to Metro stops Federal Triangle on the Blue and Orange lines gets out right there, or Metro Center on the Red line is a couple of blocks away if you don't want to switch trains...


Falls Church, Va.: Hey There! I've decided to do something about the extra 60 pounds I'm carrying. I've bought a stability ball, hand weights, and a barbell. Where can I get a chart of exercises to do? I have about 20 minutes each morning but I'm sort of clueless where to go from here.


Vicky Hallett: Rather than just one chart, why don't you give some of the workouts at a try?

Or, also has a ton of workouts to choose from.

Howard Schneider: That's a great start, but if losing 60 pounds is your goal, 20 minutes a day is going to leave you frustrated...Weight training is important, and that time you spend on it will help you in other ways. But if the research is moving in any direction it is that weight loss is harder -- and requires more effort -- as opposed to less. Can you add a half-hour walk after you get home at night, the combination would be great...


Alexandria, Va.: I have a pinching pain in my elbows when I do triceps weight exercises. The pain increases with weight where I can't work the triceps anymore.

Is this my triceps muscle, a nerve, tendon that is causing the issue?

Would stretching help?

Howard Schneider: Diagnosis, of course, requires doctors and people like that...But check out my favorite Web site of all time (next to What's to dislike about a site called jointpaininfo?

Anyway, as you note it could be a bunch of stuff. Just from what has happened to me over time, my guess is that you have strained the tendon (arthritis or a nerve issue probably would not hit both elbows in the same way at the same time).

But A)see someone who knows what they are doing...and B)quit with the lifting (at least the triceps exercises) until you figure it out. As I am learning with my shoulder (more to come on that), if you keep doing something after it starts to hurt, you can really screw things up...Stretching can help, but if you have torn something that may have to accompany some rehab exercises to rebuild what has been damaged...Again, read up on your own but if it really hurts see a doctor....


Wilmington, Del.: For the exerciser finding it tough to motivate - consider buying new gym clothes. It may sound silly, but it works for me. I bought a fabulous pair of Lululemon pants (no affiliation), and I love them so much I go to the gym more just so I can wear them.

Vicky Hallett: Another option for our motivation-seeker! As I mentioned earlier, the one in Logan is doing all sorts of free stuff for their grand opening this weekend. But a pair of their pants doesn't come cheap...


Washington, D.C.: Hi Misfits,

I'm an employee of one of the mortgage finance giants. My college-age son is missing. I'm a bundle of nerves. What are the best de-stressing exercises? I don't have the patience for the more meditative styles of yoga, but take an Ashtanga class for the stretching.

Vicky Hallett: Oh dear! You sound like you might benefit from beating up on a punching bag. It's not so meditative, but can be very effective.

Also, this seems like a good time to mention that Stanford neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky (author of "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers") is speaking at National Geographic Live! tonight. A special featuring his research (called "Stress: Portrait of a Killer") airs tomorrow night at 8 p.m. on WETA. Really interesting stuff. It'll make you never want to be stressed again. (Not that you wanted to anyway....)


Using a trainer: No, not the person-kind. The bike kind. I was given a trainer last year for Christmas, but haven't used it yet. Now I want to work on my cadence, and it seems like using my trainer (which is a pretty fancy one, I think) will help me. But do you have any advice on how to use it? What kind of workout should I try to do? Do I just jump on and pedal my little heart out?

Howard Schneider: Ask and you shall receive -- (from Bicycling magazine) has some great indoor workouts. It is not a matter of just going really fast for as long as you can, but doing different pace and resistance drills, varying them during the week, etc. I have friends who also get video of bike races and pace themselves with the racers....have fun...


Washington, D.C.: I want to make my own "Boot Camp" program to do in my back yard. Can you suggest excercises/equipment? I have been running 3-4 miles on weekday mornings, but wanted a circuit of exercises to do after my run a couple of days a week. Any suggestions greatly appreciated!

Howard Schneider: Cool idea...What equipment do you have available? Pull-up bars? Jump rope? We could have a great discussion on this -- and would love to hear ideas from the field...There are tons of Web sites on bodyweight exercises. Try this for starters: 3 minutes jumproping...20 pushups...20 bicycle crunches...20 burpee squats (like an old fashioned gym squat thrust but with a jump at the end)...Try that a couple of times and adjust if it is too hard...


Elliptical question: What resistance and speed is more effective to burn calories on the elliptical? Is there a more effective setting like manual, hill, or cardio? Does moving my feet and arms fast on a low setting burn more calories than moving slow on a high setting?

Howard Schneider: As a rule of thumb, adding resistance will burn more calories than going faster against less resistance...Of course at either extreme not much will happen: You can make the setting so hard you can only go around a couple of times, or so fast you can only sustain the speed for a few seconds.

Converging toward the "reasonable" portion of the graph, adding resistance brings more muscle into play and so uses more calories...For training purposes, mix it up -- do some faster workouts, some slower ones with more resistance, some varied...The most "effective" setting is the one that will challenge you -- if you are used to going fast, slow down and make it harder.


DC: Cardio-wise, how does jumping rope (straight two-feet jumping, not the fancy stuff) compare to the same time spent running?

Vicky Hallett: All of these things depend on the intensity, of course, but constant jumping is usually the more exhausting of the two activities. That's why Dominque Dawes swears by it! Didn't you see our fabulous video during the Olympics?


Washington, D.C.: Hello Misfits!

I've been looking to change my exercise routine and I think I want to try Bikram (hot) Yoga. While all the web sites say it is fine for new comers, go at your own pace, the question I haven't found answered is: what if you are overweight? Do you think it's okay, physically? More importantly, will I stick out like a sore thumb and feel silly?

Vicky Hallett: The first one is a question for your doctor. And as for whether you'll feel silly, that's more a matter of your self-confidence level. Everyone will be drenched in sweat, so it's not exactly the time to look one's best. If you're worried, I'd call the place you're thinking about going ahead of time. Maybe there's a class that regularly has other plus-size students and that will make you feel more comfortable?


Washington, D.C.: I'm a healthy mid-20s guy and started Body Pump at my gym this summer. The first time I did the class, I was basically disabled for a week with knee pain from the squats. It got better after that though.

However, I just took the class for the first time after a 3 week hiatus and after that I biked 10 miles. The next day I was again sore all over and had trouble walking because of knee pain. I know muscle soreness after exercise is normal, but could this knee pain lead to chronic problems in the future? What should I do? Thanks.

Howard Schneider: Given your age and the amount of work involved (10 miles is different than 50), you probably just overdid it that day (if you tore something, you'd know it...). That fact that it repeatedly causes pain, however, means something, somewhere, is weaker than it needs to be to support what you are doing.

You may want to look at a specific knee and lower-body strengthening routine so that you build up that joint and its supporting ligaments and tendons in a systematic way, so that something more serious doesn't happen...If squats under the weight of the body pump bar are causing a problem, for example, set the bar aside for that series until you can do it pain free, then add weight as you can...


Newby from Last Discussion: I am the newby who wrote in last time about how I haven't seen any weight loss yet, and I'm getting really discouraged. You mentioned that it could be related to the amount of time I'm spending exercising, or my caloric intake.

Well, to answer, I do cardio 3 times a week for 50 minutes, and a women's circuit room (with weight machines) 2 times a week for 60 minutes, and I walk 2-3 miles a day at lunch time. I also limit my calories to between 1200 and 1500 each day.

I've been doing this for a month now, and I'm still not losing any weight! I'm really frustrated, I feel like why bother working so hard if I can maintain my weight doing nothing? I DO feel better physically, and I feel like I'm getting in better shape, but I'd really like to see the numbers on the scale drop, at least a little! Any advice??

Howard Schneider: That does sound annoying -- and I'm glad at least that you feel the other benefits of exercise kicking in ( a great reminder that while many of us start this for weight control, the value of it goes far beyond that)...

I have less advice than points to think about and a question:

1)How overweight do you think you are? Are you well beyond your healthy weight? Near it? Below it? I ask because people sometimes try to push their weight and body fat to levels that are not realistic for their age and genetics...Of course that is frustrating because your body is not going to let it happen.

2)Let's assume you are overweight. It is possible to create such an imbalance between the calories consumed and the calories needed that your body moves into a sort of starvation mode -- clinging to every calorie available. This creates a paradox: you need to eat more, and more nutritious food, to lose weight.

Before you get more frustrated, I'd suggest a session with a registered dietitian who can help you set reasonable goals, give you some suggestions about calorie intake and exercise, and hopefully jump start the process...


Biking To Work Blues, sigh: It is darker now and there are more cars on the roads. I have not been riding my bike to work lately.

I miss the adrenaline rush and fun of riding, and the calorie burning too.


Howard Schneider: Unfortunate reminder that the days will be getting shorter...I guess one option might be to get lights and reflector vests, etc. but I am kind of with you: It is hard enough to trust the drivers around here in daylight...Maybe get a trainer for your home like the other chatter did?


Arlington, Va.: Hi Misfits. I'm so depressed. Last fall I was really good about exercising and eating right and managed to lose ten pounds. This summer I've abandoned exercise and allowed myself too many sweets and have gained about 12-15. I feel like a whale. I cannot seem to find the time to exercise - my schedule at work and at home is a lot different this year than last year - and am feeling hopeless. Any advice?

Vicky Hallett: Eating better is a start and won't be constrained by your new schedule. And there's always time to exercise! Even just taking a 10-minute walk as a break during work can be invigorating. (And it might help you focus so you can punch out earlier and squeeze another walk in.)

Howard Schneider: What caused the changes in your schedule and are there options to change? Are there friends or family who can support some modifications to the current routine? I guess the point here is that whoever or whatever is occupying your time now, you'll be more effective if you're given the time to take care of yourself...Look at what changed, and figure out who can help you dial some of it back to last year.


Laurel, Md.: I signed up for a 5K walk in two weeks. I have only been walking a mile on the treadmill for the past few weeks. Is it crazy to think I can do a 5K walk at this point?

Vicky Hallett: Triple your usual is a tall order in two weeks. But you may have more stamina than you think. Try adding a tenth of a mile every day. If you can handle that, you'll be in much better shape for the walk.


plantar fasciitis land: Hope I get this in on time! I suffer from plantar fasciitis, which makes it difficult for me to get in a routine of running. I joined the Fitness First in Arlington that will hopefully open soon - but until then what suggests do you have for work outs I can do sanz gym? Also - any word on exactly when my gym will open?

Vicky Hallett: Word on the street is late October. But running isn't the only way to exercise! How about all that free yoga? Or just old-fashioned body weight exercises (squats, pushups, crunches) at home? And if you do want to go to a gym, the Y is open to the public this week.


Vicky Hallett: Time to go folks. See you at Bike DC!


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