Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, September 30, 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. 30 at 11 a.m. to take your questions.

The transcript follows

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Howard Schneider: Congrats to Andy Maner, Arun Malikarjunan and Colin Osborn, winners of the latest Trail Challenge, which we held Saturday during the Washington Area Bicyclist Association's ride through the city.Thanks to WABA for letting us tag along -- and thanks as well to the folks in the neighborhoods and in their cars who put their mornings on hold while the ride passed through downtown D.C. and Capitol Hill, as well as the police who kept things in order. Hope it was not too much of a hassle.

I note that Vicky puts the lie to some of the stereotypes of trainers out there...Anybody run into a Brad Pitt-type in any of the local gyms???

Vicky Hallett: I'd guess that even if Brad Pitt were as terrible a trainer as Chad is in the movie, women (and men) would still kill to hire him...And yep, Howard and I had a grand time biking around on Saturday. I like non-competitive events because you get to meet so many people! We struck up a conversation with a guy who had been paralyzed from the neck down in an accident in 1999 and has now been biking across the country. (Amazing, right?) And if anyone from Kinley's Krewe is out there, we know you're faster than Tommy.

Alright, what do you have for us today?


Wash DC: My parents are coming into town to run the Marine Corps Marathon with me, and I'm looking for a place to go the night before for an early carbo-loaded dinner (and the pasta dinner connected to the race is sold out). The Express fitness section today discussed two places (The Grille, and Fyve) doing special menus the night before. Is there anywhere in DC doing that same thing, or am I better off sticking to Pasta Mia or something? Fitness Food: Chefs Take On Sports Nutrition

Vicky Hallett: I don't know of anywhere in DC offering special pasta menus, but Pasta Mia would do the trick (if you can get a table, that is). Maggiano's has mega portions, too. Any chatters have advice on favorite restaurants to visit on race eve?


Rockville, Md.: I just started using a heart rate monitor at the gym. My heart rate ends up displayed on whatever piece of equipment I'm on, which is nice. However, it's also been showing up on the machines of the people on either side of me. I feel a little obnoxious when that happens. Is there anything to be done?

Howard Schneider: Yea it is interesting, isn't it. I have wondered the same thing...There is really not much to be done about that sort of crosstalk -- with your heart rate monitor relaying informtaion to your machine and the machines around you. Whenever this has happened, I tried to take note of whether the other person seemed to be responding to the heart rate information -- whether they were looking at it, seeming concerned, changing their pace in response, etc. That did not seem to be the case -- (they weren't for example gripping the heart rate sensors on the machine, which presumably would override the signal from my monitor and give them a readout of their own heart rhythym...) -- so i just let it go...I would not worry about it unless you notice it changing behavior, in which case you might want to give polite mention of what is happening. I don't sense, BTW, that many people in the average gym are tuned in to the heart rate issues too closely....


Washington, DC: If I don't sweat on the treadmill, do I need to wipe it down? I see others getting off without cleaning it off. Thanks.

Howard Schneider: People litter. People butt in line. People forget to open doors for their mother in law (whoops). Clean the machine.

Vicky Hallett: And are you really sure you're not sweating? What seems like nothing to you could be total ick to your fellow gym goer.


Los Angeles: A few months ago I injured a knee in an accident and have been out of commission for my normal sports. I've never really had the patience for weight lifting, but I am doing a lot of lower body lifting in physical therapy now. I am seeing huge changes in muscle definition and am inspired to get the same for my upper body and core.

If I do push-ups, dips, and the pull down bar that simulates pull-ups am I catching all the major arm/chest muscles? Do holding core exercises (plank, boat, etc) work different ab muscles than lifting ones (crunches, leg lifts, etc)?

Howard Schneider: That is a good trio...Regarding the stationary core exercises, I like the concentration and whole-body feel that they have -- you can't cheat them like you can some of the exercises where you can use momentum...Crunches and leglifts more isolate the abs. Planks and boats bring a lot more of the body into play...But mix it up...Why not develop your own series?


Cleveland Park, D.C.: Mornin' MisFits!

I was doing such a great job of working out during the summer - getting up 6 a.m. 3-4 days a week to run for 30 minutes. Now, 6 a.m. comes and I cannot get myself out of bed!! With it not being light out, it make a huge difference for me. What can I do to help motivate me and ignore the darkness?


Vicky Hallett: Hope for daylight savings time to come? Or you could get one of those alarm clocks that wakes you up with a fake sunrise. The other option of course is just to push your workout time to a bit later -- sometimes the body refuses to be fooled.

Oh, and make sure you're going to bed early enough! It's much easier to convince yourself to exercise if you've gotten enough sleep.


Breakfast: Before doing a long run (13 miles or up) what is the best type(s) of food to eat to make sure you have energy? Will a bagel with peanut butter cut it? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: Did you see the earlier link to my nutrition piece in Express today? There's a recipe for an energy bar that keeps chef Dennis Marron (of The Grille at The Morrison House in Alexandria) fueled up for long runs.

Actually, there's another story in Express today you might also want to peek at:

Former Olympian Meredith Rainey Valmon goes for scrambled eggs, toast and fruit.


Beep Beep: I am interested in buying a heart rate monitor, but I'm not sure which kind. I just completed a duathlon (2-22-2) and I am interested in increasing my fitness level over the cold Minnesota winter from inside the gym.

Do they make any that work in the pool and are less than $150?

Howard Schneider: Yep... Here is an article from a triathlete site about that issue. Most heart rate monitors are waterproof -- I have taken my Polar F11 in the pool and it worked fine. I am planning a review of several types of heart rate monitors later in the fall. I'll note that a couple I have looked at were waterproof -- but then specifically said, "not for use in the pool.." I have not sorted that issue out yet. But check the above article out for the time being..You should be able to find something. the other thing to keep in mind is that studies have shown that people -- particularly those with more experience exercising -- have a pretty accurate sense of how hard they are working. i.e., they ask peopel during a workout to guess their level of intensity, and the answer is often very close to the numbers on the HRM. Bottom line: Your own internal "monitor" is a pretty good proxy for the technology....

Howard Schneider: Well that is an answer-sized link...Kind of like those moons of Jupiter that are as big as planets....Sorry....

Howard Schneider: MAKE IT STOP!!!


Intervals: Greetings! I am trying to establish some variety in my workouts while working out about 6 days/week. There are times when I have to drag myself to the gym and do a short workout. As a compromise, I've made these days (usually 1-2 per week) into my interval workout days. Do either of you have a short (30-40 minute) cardio interval routine that you like? Is this an effective way to spend my 'lazy' day at the gym? thanks in advance--your chats are always so helpful!

Howard Schneider: Intervals are a great idea for those short days. Here is a Mayo Clinic article on the benefits. As to recommendations, there are lots of ways to go. If you are a runner or biker, Runners World or Bicycling magazines will have plenty of workouts that you can do on the road, or on a treadmill/trainer. I have had good luck with workouts downloaded from Podfitness -- the treadmill intervals will run about 35 minutes with about five, one-minute sprints at 8 to 8.5 mph (and for me, that's a laughing allowed)...You can also experiment with your own ideas -- maybe light jogging alternating with 2-3 minute jump roping breaks...Have fun....


In a cold office in MD: Hi Vicky and Howard,

I hope you'll have time to take my question. It's almost a stupid one, really. Are there any guidelines in terms of how much exercise is too much? I joined a gym that I love, and I find myself taking a class a day, plus walking for a few miles - or two classes a day. I'm not using the same muscle groups, I have about ten pounds to use, and I feel fine - but is this too much?

Howard Schneider: If it is diverse and you are motivated -- you're fine...Problems come from two directions: Doing one thing all the time (like running), without the complmentary stuff (stretching, cross training) needed to prevent overuse inuries...Or overtraining -- doing too much too often without enough rest. You have to really push yourself to risk the latter, and in all likelihood you'll see that coming on (you'll lose motivation, feel tired, etc.)...Basically, if you are having fun and feeling motivated, have at it...

Vicky Hallett: Speaking of people who work at gyms (that's my subtle plug for today's column), you'd be amazed by how many classes some of them teach in a day. And then they do most of the stuff with the people in the classes! It's amazing they're not stinkier.


Alexandria, Va.: I just picked up some neoprene knee braces at Dick's. I've got the arthritis and other joint problems.

Are there any drawbacks to wearing a knee brace too often? Like sitting at my cube right now?

Circulation or my knees become dependent on the pressure, etc.

Howard Schneider: My impression is that braces are largely used as temporary help to protect a joint while you work on strengthening and getting back to the point where it can do the work itself. Seems to me that if you are uncomfortable even sitting around -- and need the pressure to feel like there is adequate circulation in the leg -- it is time to consult a doctor...I have an article on shoulder problems coming out next week, and the takeaway message from various therapists was: dont ignore the pain...whatever is causing it will, in all likelihood, only get worse.


Silver Spring, Md.: I've had to suspend my workouts for about three weeks due to illness. Once I get back to the gym, should I try to pick up where I left off, in terms of weight lifted, or step back a few pounds/reps?

Howard Schneider: Last I read it took about a month for real detraining effects to set in, but to be safe -- and not make yourself sick again -- scale it back a bit...No reason to rush. My dad used to love to get sick. He viewed like vacation. Take advantage.

Vicky Hallett: Yeah, no reason to mark your grand return to the gym with an injury. Ease back into it, and you'll be back to where you left off quickly.


Washington, DC: I want to follow up on the what to eat question. When you're getting up at 6 a.m. to go for a long run (7 to 10 miles), it's hard to motivate yourself to get up another half hour early just to eat breakfast so that you've properly digested by the time you run.

So what's something fast and energy boosting? I've resorted to the hideous Power goop or a slice of toast with peanut butter, but would like alternatives.

Vicky Hallett: There's a reason people eat that goop and it's not because it tastes good. (Toast with peanut butter though -- what's wrong with that? Top it with some slices of banana, maybe a drizzle of honey...Yum) But any chatters have better ideas?


Richmond, Va.: Hello -- I've been having exercise issues for a few years now and have talked to everyone I can about it, but have gotten nowhere. Maybe you can help.

When I was younger (through age 17 or so; I'm 24 now) I played sports almost year-round. Starting when I was 14, though, I began to get sick whenever I pushed myself a bit too hard. It starts with a minor headache, then goes into light-headedness, and then nausea, and then vomiting. A bunch of doctors have given me lots of different diagnoses -- dehydration and hypoglycemia among them -- and tried X-rays, echocardiograms, electrocardiograms, stress tests, blood tests, etc. Nothing has panned out. The most recent doctor told me it's just what my body does, and I have to deal with it.

But I'd really like to swim; whenever I try, though, the sick-cycle starts after two slow and easy laps. Any ideas?

Howard Schneider: That sounds really unfortunate -- sorry you are going through that....Given the professional advice you've gotten -- and the inability to nail a diagnosis -- about the best we can do is toss the problem out to the audience and see if it registers with anyone. I did find a thread on Medhelp that might link you up with others who have had similar problems. There was some interesting discussion about low blood pressure, for example, electrolyte problems, etc...good luck fixing this...


Boston: I'm planning on doing the Danskin triathalon next summer, and starting to train in earnest four months in advance. In what ways would you recommend I step up my routine a bit now so that serious training isn't a complete shock to my system? I'm in my mid-20s and right now I swim once or twice a week and walk everywhere, but don't think of myself as particularly "fit."

Vicky Hallett: Well, as you'll have to feel confident biking and running along with swimming, I'd add those into your routine as soon as possible. You don't need to do anything crazy right away, but if your body isn't used to using those muscles, it'll be tougher to get into hardcore training mode when the pressure's on.


DC: I am tearing both rotator cuff muscles. My orthopedist is doing 'watchful waiting' and I agree. One hurts more than the other. But this has knocked me off my exercise routine for my arms and shoulders. I do the PT that they recommend, but a one pound weight in a circle while dangling is not doing a lot. Any suggestions on -- as I recover -- how to increase my exercise routine?

Howard Schneider: Boy what timing...I am nursing the same injury and am going to write about it next week. You might not think the one pound circles are doing anything, but stick with it - the cuff muscles are small and that link in the chain needs to be restored...Give it time. More advice in next week's paper...And re the arms, I have been asking the same question -- what to do for the upper body while working on the cuff...My PT recommended some chest work using bands in a dynamic way that really gets at the whole upper body...The key is to avoid isolation exercises that involve a lot of weight, and using more motion-based moves with less resistance...You can probably still to a lot for the back -- rowing exercises for example, and that will also help the shoulder in the long run..Ask your doc and pt this specific question -- what to do for the other muscles in the meantime -- and see waht they say -- and read in next week....


NYC: I recently added a tread climber to my indoor workout along with an elliptical trainer. I am finding my HR is not as high on the treadmill climber but the workout feels so much more intense. Am I fooling myself?

Howard Schneider: Interesting...Is the elliptical one that works the arms? If so, it may be that since you are using more muscles on the elliptical, the heart is working heard to deliver the necessary oxygen, but the feeling is less intense because the effort is spread across more of your body...The climber, meanwhile, is focused more on the legs, so you are feeling the much sought after "burn" even though the heart is able to work a little bit less...Just a guess....As to fooling yourself, is the heart rate observation based on a monitor, or just your own sense of things?


South Riding, Va.: Hi there, Any recommendations on what to add to my beginning aquatic exercise program, I'm looking to get into overall better shape, and hopefully lose a little weight while I'm at it. I'm currently swimming (back stroke) about 20 minutes a couple of times a week when I can squeeze it in at lunch. Thanks

Howard Schneider: That's a great start. Next steps could go in a number of directions. Think first about the basic recommendations: For overall health, that's a half an hour a day, at least five days a week...So for starters, see if you can extend your existing workouts an extra ten minutes or so, and add a couple of days -- maybe on the weekends? Weight loss is a whole different discussion, and -- unfortunately -- seems to require a lot more effort....

Vicky Hallett: I don't know how you're structuring your workouts, but if you're looking to keep them more interesting and effective, you might want to try to copy what masters teams do.

This is how Alexandria Masters explains their routine

(from here:

Besides swimming, workouts consist of kicking, pulling, stroke and technique drills, breathing drills, speed drills, and swim pacing. One hour workouts vary from 1000-1800 total yards for less experienced swimmers to 2500-3600 total yards for the more experienced. Saturday morning workouts have long-distance workout lanes available for swimmers training for triathlons and long-distance swims. Tuesday night workouts emphasize sprint training and conditioning.


DC: Any advice for a pesky strained hamstring that kicks up when running or even walking strenuously? I do stretches but almost 4 years later and several PT rounds, this shouldn't still be an issue, should it?

Howard Schneider: Certainly does not seem like it should take that long...How bad was the initial tear? Sounds lke you keep reinjuring it in a sort of low-grade way...Are you careful about your warmups? Do you only stretch in association with your runs? Do you warmup before you stretch? Do you stretch before and after the workouts? Have you considered adding yoga on your off days? Sounds like a situation where you need to be realy careful and deliberate what your program -- and follow all the annoying rules to see if it helps -- adeqeuate warmups and cross training along with the stretches...


Swimming Advice: There is a great website that will send you a swim workout each day. You can adjust it to your level, what strokes you can do, and what equipment is available to you.

Howard Schneider: Thanks for that...Hope it helps....


Eating before a.m. exercise: I run for 3.5 miles 4x/week (getting up at 6 am -- didn't know there were so many of us getting up at 6 to run)! I like to eat something beforehand, and I usually eat a Morningstar Farm veggie sausage link, just to get something in my stomach. I doubt it is digested before I run, because I eat it while I stretch. But you can zap it in the microwave in 45 seconds.

Howard Schneider: Can "veggie" and "sausage" survive so close to each other? Interesting much of thise is personal preference...I have no problem downing a banana and a toaster waffle half an hour before going out...To others that spells trouble...What about just a glass of juice? Or how about a bowl of cereal just before bed - that will be digested and the glycogen available for use by morning...?

Vicky Hallett: Personally, I'm a fan of a couple of handfuls of Lucky Charms (running is my excuse for having sugary cereals around). But some granola or Kashi-esque product is probably a better call.


Santa Monica, Calif.: Dear Misfits, I recently had a nasty stomach virus, and ended up losing 15 pounds in 2 days. I don't recommend this as a weight loss solution, but I would like to keep the weight off if possible, but it is creeping back up. I currently do weight training 2 days a week, one day a week of mixed core training, yoga, and balance exercises, one day a week of racquetball, and one day a week of some other activity (cycling, soccer, hiking, etc). I am a 35 year old guy and I now weigh about 170 (and am 5-8). Any ideas about how I can vary my exercise schedule to keep this weight off?

Howard Schneider: Hmmm...You get sick...dehydrate...likely waste away some muscle...lose a pound or two of stored glycogen because you probably are not eating much because of the illness....and want to stay that way? Probably not the best idea...Let your body put itself back to normal. You want to lose fat - not water or muscle or anything else. It sounds like you get plenty of exercise (though alot depends on intensity), so if you want to lose weight first go over your eathing habits with a fine tooth comb...


Howard Schneider: Well that is it for today....Thanks again to eveyone who joined in for the ride on Saturday - that was fun....particularly all the time Vicky almost fell down...Tune in next week for a shoulder extravaganza...


Vicky Hallett: Thanks for joining us today! But if you're not sick of all of this health talk, stick around for the Biggest Loser chat at noon. They know Bob Harper! I'm a little jealous.


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