Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, October 21, 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, Oct. 21 at 11 a.m. to take your questions.

The transcript follows.

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Fountain Hills, Ariz.: I am a 65-year-old female...and NOT a misfit. I swim 90 minutes 4-5 times a week...I hike and walk a few times a week...and took up golf at 63..So..Do NOT assume that 65 is some magic sit-on-your-butt age. NOT so. I have swimming buddies who are 87-95. I have hiked to the top of Mt Fuji, the bottom of the Grand Canyon 14 times, Havasupai, The Great Wall of China and the wilds of Sengal and Cost Rica...and more. I swim and enjoy all that Arizona and the world have to offer. DO NOT PUT DOWN 65 YEAR OLDS...Also..we are very SEXY at 65!

STOP AGEISM. Encourage folks rather than discourage with superficial age boundaries.

All Together Now: 30 Minutes a Day, Five Days a Week (Post, Oct. 21)

Howard Schneider: What a great way to start the chat! I assume you're referring to today's column, which includes the governments latest recommendations for physical activity and some of the specific advice given for groups like.....those over 65....I dont think this is ageism, just an effort to provide a breakpoint...It works the same with discount movie tickets, I think...


Anonymous: I don't mean for this to be lewd, but what exercises can you suggest to improve sexual performance? Or to help strengthen muscles in that area, male and female.

Vicky Hallett: Well, this is a family-friendly website, but there are kegel exercises. And, if you're local, I know that Goddess Fitness in Bethesda offers the Women's Health Foundation's Total Control Program. Here's the description:

To help you achieve the quality of life you deserve, we are proud to bring you the Women's Health Foundation's Total Control Program: a comprehensive pelvic fitness and wellness program designed by leading experts in the fields of Urogynecology, physical therapy and fitness. Proven in medical research to promote flatter abs, give women better bladder control, improve sex and orgasms, and help women sleep better at night, the Total Control Program can empower women to regain confidence and enjoy a higher quality of life. Appropriate for women of all ages, life stages and fitness levels, the program combines key stability and mobility exercises essential to pelvic health and fitness with an emphasis on working the Pelvic Pyramid (targeting the three major muscle groups - front, back, and floor). This is a seven week program that meets twice a week and is taught by Total Control Certified Instructors.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Misfits, I'm sure you get a lot of these questions, but I exercise about 5 times a week consistently. I usually do a combination of running outdoors and aerobic videos (cardio, some strength training, kickboxing, step cardio etc). Lately, I'm bored with all of my videos (all 3 of them) and even with running sometimes. I'm thinking of joining a gym or should I just go through and try to pick another video? I'm in my late twenties and I just want to maintain fitness. Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: If you like DVDs, but only have three of them, imagine how much more you'll like them with an endless supply? It's much cheaper to sign up for Netflix than to join a gym, and you can have a different workout virtually every day...


Sterling, Va.: Hi, I work out 5 to 6 times a week, for 45 minutes to an hour, and am in pretty good shape. My husband and I are trying to get pregnant. What do I need to change once I am pregnant? Thanks.

Howard Schneider: Morning Sterling -- congrats on the first fact and good luck on the second.

Take a look at today's article and follow the links to the new federal guidelines. Basically, if you have been active, you can stay active: the major caveat was that if you work out at a very intense level, that may have to be modofied over time -- and in consultation with your doc. Also avoid impact sports (pretty common sense).

BTW, the folks at HHS wanted to clarify one point -- that physical acitivity does appear to have cumulative benfits through the week, so, for example, thirty minutes five dimes a day could also be done in three 50 minute chunks...Point being: Get your time in however it suits your lifestyle, but get it in...


Toronto, Canada: What's an appropriate amount of exercise during pregnancy? I've been told to keep my heart rate under 140 -- what's the best heart rate range for aerobic benefit that I should be targeting?

Vicky Hallett: That sounds like a doctor question to me. Heart rate targets are personal stuff...

And I see you're in Toronto, but local ladies might want to take a peek at this story from today's Express about Hot Mama Fitness.


New Braunfels, Tex.: What's the best way to ease into regular exercise? I tend to overdo and drop out due to aches or feeling too tired the rest of the day to get other things done. Would you suggest a schedule to get up to 30 minutes a day of walking?

Howard Schneider: Sure. Again, HHS has done a good job of putting together a very simple road map for folks. This link will take you to there recommendations and some tools for following up. The two qualities you need are patience and persistence: the process works, but it takes time, and you need to stick with it. If 30 minutes leaves you gassed, start with 10. But make sure you follwo that 10 with 11, and that with 12, etc. So one strategy would be to do 10 minutes as often as possible the first week -- strive for at least three sessions...Write that down. Next week: add a minute., etc. If you feel able to add more time, do that...Small steps...


Washington, D.C.: Hi, I am a 54-year-old African-American woman. I have high blood pressure and my weight is 222 pounds. My doctor has advised me that I can get off HBP medications if I lose weight. I want to do that and I love to walk and dance, but I have a bad ankle which I sprained 15 years ago and this limits the amount of walking I can do because walking aggravates the ankle. How can I start a program that I can keep to and lose 70 pounds as my doctor suggests. Thanks in advance for your response.

Vicky Hallett: Hey there, D.C., sounds like you're a good candidate for swimming or water aerobics! Cullen Jones (you know, one of the US Olympic athletes who wasn't Michael Phelps) was in town last week to promote the launch of his Cullen Jones Diversity Tour. The idea is to encourage minorities to swim, thus preventing drownings and fighting obesity. And one of the benefits he's touting is that swimming is a low-impact form of exercise that people can do for years -- even if they're injured.


Washington, D.C.: Been weight lifting for about a month now, and I've gotten early results in the sense that my biceps are a lot more hardened (is that the word?). Anyway, there's a difference. How long do I keep going until I can lift more pounds?

Howard Schneider: Move up in weight when you can lift the current weight with ease say 12 to 15 times. As a rule of thumb, once you hit 15 reps or so you are building muscular encurance, but not really prompting muscle growth...How long that takes depends on how frequently you are lifting, but is also (perhaps to an event greater extent), a private matter between you and your DNA. Some of us get stronger, faster...Also depends on your age (teenagers get stronger, faster, then old guys like me), you gender (men add muscle faster than women), your diet (if you are starving yourself you won't build muscle), etc. so hard to say...but longer than a month.


Notre Dame, France: My back is killing me. I sit in a lousy chair and have to lean forward to read my minute computer screen.

What can I do at the gym to strengthen my back a bit?



Vicky Hallett: Not that I don't want you to do back exercises. (I do! And to prove it, here's a link to a whole routine from the Mayo Clinic.

But have you thought about getting a new chair? You're probably spending a lot more time in your office reinforcing that bad posture than you are in the gym. So it's gonna be hard to feel a lot better unless you address the root of the problem.

Howard Schneider: Seriously...France is like the design center of the universe. Somebody over the must make a decent chair. Could you plunk down a few francs for a larger screen while you're at it? If you have spent extended time leaning over like that, your lower back -- and upper back for that matter -- could probably use some attention. Look at Vicky's exercises, but think about yoga as well, to work out the kinks....


Germantown, Md.: I started working out a few months ago and combine weight lifting with cardio. However, I really don't enjoy the treadmill and prefer using the elliptical. My question, can you suggest how to find/purchase an appropriate sneaker primarily for lifting. What characteristics should I be looking for? What key words are used to describe them? Right now I'm just using a pair of running shoes. Thanks.

Howard Schneider: Morning...Cross trainers are fine for the weightlifting that most of us do...They will be a bit more stable than running shoes, which are designed to go one direction -- i.e. forward...Another good reason to get a second pair is lifting may decrease the useful live of your runnign shoes by compressing the tread (and decreasng the shock absorbing capacity). That's particularly true if you are doing leg presses or squats with lots of weight...


Washington, D.C.: I have a question I am hoping you can answer. I am a 32-year-old woman, 5-5, and my weigh consistently falls between 146 and 142. I'd rather be in the 130 range, but for some reason I have hit a plateau. But here is my question for you -- about 2X per week I do an hour of medium intensity weight training. Without fail, when I step on the scale the morning after I lifted, my weight has swung up to the 145 range. Why? Wouldn't the calorie burn decrease my weight?

Howard Schneider: Here are my two Sherlock Holmes guesses: You do aerobic exercise on the other days and sweat a lot more, and the pound or two difference results from the loss of water...that or you have fallen into the eat-a-bunch-on- weightlifting-days-because-it-is-such-hard-work trap...Weight fluctuates for a lot of reasons, but as long as your average is staying in that 142-146 range it does not count as "gaining weight..." Consider that in your weighlifting sessino you are probably only burning a couple of hundred calories, comparted to 3500 calories in a pound of fat, so that session in itself won't move the scale....Water, etc. will....


Adams Morgan: I just have a couple tips for newbies running the Marine Corp. Marathon this weekend.

At certain points in the race there will be people handing out goo on a stick. It is vaseline, not an energy gel. Luckily I realized what it was before putting it in my mouth.

I would recommend reading up on "hitting the wall." I was completely unprepared for it when it happened to me at mile 24. Some awareness of what I might experience would have helped.

Good luck to everyone running!

Vicky Hallett: Yep, fine advice for folks taking on the Marine Corps Marathon this weekend. I also recommend hitting up the expo (Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the DC Armory). Howard and I went last year -- even though we weren't running because it's open to all -- and there's great stuff to see! New products, info about other races, etc. There were also beer samples, which is clearly important carb loading for anyone running the race.


Washington, D.C.: I am really wanting to try a class at LA boxing (even though its not very conveniently located!) but their add says 1000 calories/class. You think that's true? Makes it worth the drive to Virginia.

Vicky Hallett: Not a chance -- unless you're a huge dude (and I mean, HUGE). I really don't like it when DVDs or classes say how many calories you'll burn in a class. So much depends on the person exercising and how hard he/she works.

Don't doubt it's a good workout though...Let us know how it is...


Washington, D.C.: Hi I am a non-active 28 year old professional looking to become active. I am not familiar with work-out equipment or gyms, so I am a little overwhelmed by all of the options. How would you recommend I start out? I've considered getting a personal trainer to begin because I like the idea of having some guidance. I don't even have clothes to wear to the gym or proper shoes! Help!

Vicky Hallett: I've heard from private personal training gyms that a lot of their business comes from people like you. Not only are you getting that individual attention, but you don't need to worry about other people at the gym making fun of you (not that they are, but we totally understand paranoia here at the MisFits).

That said, it's really not all that complicated and you don't need to spend big bucks to get into exercise. You don't even need to join a gym. In fact, if you're really not active at all, it might be best to start simple: just walk! If you do want to head to the gym (and if you want to do any sort of weightlifting and don't know what you're doing, I think that's wise), remember that it's their goal to keep you as a member. if you don't know how to use their equipment, they'll show you for free. A lot of gyms even include a few free personal training sessions to get you started.

As for what to wear, you can get all fancy, but basic works, too. Shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers and you're all set...We'll talk about upgrading your gear (like running shoes vs. cross trainers) when you're a bit further along.

Howard Schneider: And consider testing your commitment for a month or two before signing any contracts with gyms or trainers. People get into "arrangements" they dont stick with, and then become soured on the whole experience. Even as a beginner, there are things you can do to test whether this is something you are going to stick with.

Consider Vicky's walking suggestion: for the next month, commit to a brisk walk a certain number of times per week. See how often you make it. If that works out, up the ante, try to jog for part of that time, or go down to a local park with playground or exercise equipment and use that for a few minutes...Add some calisthenics to the routine. If you can keep up with that on your own -- and ease yourself into a regular schedule -- you might feel better about the financial committment of a gym or trainer...On the other hand, having that appointment with a trainer can be motivation in itself....Either way -- this is not complicated to begin...


Hagerstown, Md.: I recently finished my second half-marathon and want to maintain/improve my endurance and fitness. How much should I be running a day? I'd like to aim for 20-25 miles a week, but I'm unsure of how to break that up into short runs/long runs. Also, I'm doing some strength training but I'm not sure what will best complement the running. Anything else I should be doing? (I'm a woman, mid-20s, if that makes a difference). Thanks!

Howard Schneider: Hey Hagerstown...Congrats...I'd aim to keep the same schedule as you had going into the marathon -- one long run per week, with shorter runs split between intervals, pace, hills, etc. I assume you were on a schedule that go you through those two halfs, so for starters stick with that. If you're aim is to build towards a full, the runnersworld and coolrunning Web sites have programs to build from the base you have established.

For strength training, stick with a whole body program -- concentraing on one part of the body is a recipe for trouble down the road...Consider a cross training sport like cycling or swimming once or twice week to strengthen other parts of the body and give the legs something else to do...


Washington, D.C.: Who does hydrostatic bodyfat testing and VO2max testing in the DC area? The Google is not revealing its secrets. Thanks!

Howard Schneider: The university of maryland department department of human performance has a tank at their lab, but i dont know about their public access policies (there is a fee involved, for sure)...For Vo2 I believe Sport and Spine Rehab recently opened a spors performacne branch in northern Virginia that does it,which is the only place I know of outside hospital cardio clinics...


Raleigh, N.C.: Exactly how much exercise with weights needs to be done by a 52-year-old woman? I already walk 30 minutes a day but really don't lift weights.

Vicky Hallett: Well, if you're concerned about bone density (and at your age, you probably should be...), you definitely don't want to ignore your upper half. Is there an exact formula of how much you need to do? No. But after you finish your walk, how about some push-ups? The on-your-knees kind are totally fine. And a set of dumbbells is pretty cheap. Think about incorporating some of the moves from here:

Howard Schneider: the new guidelines --- again, check out todays article...General recommendation is for resistance training twice a week....


Re: chair: I'm not in France sillies. Notre Dame - signed by HB ( hunch back).

The office has offered one of those ginormous Darth Vader chairs similar to a dentist chair and that it would be a "hassle" to get.

I'm looking on craigslist for a better chair, without taking my home office chair here.

Vicky Hallett: I appreciate your humor even if Howard isn't a Hugo fan...

Anyway, I don't have any office chair suggestions for you, but maybe some chatters have advice on what to shop for?

Howard Schneider: For that blunder you can throw mud and stones at me in my cage on the way home ... And here I was happy that we'd gone global.


Reston, Va.: Hey guys. I rarely suffer from heartburn, but have been getting it consistently during my kickboxing class. It's vexing because I need to stop moving to catch my breath and avoid "spitting-up" (sorry for the unpleasant imagery.) Is this a common side effect of aerobic exercise? And what should I do -- just take an antacid before class?

Howard Schneider: There is a lobby for everything in this country, even heartburn. They have some good tips appear about how to analyze your pre-exercise eating habits for possible remedies. I dont know how common this is. It is not a problem for me -- unless I eat a big cheese toast or somethign and then run too soon afterwards.

My stomach is pretty durable but I found out through experience that a heavy dairy or meat load ahead of a workout is not a good idea -- at least for me. You may need to hunt around for your own best practices...Good luck.


Alexandria, Va.: How inflated should the exercise balls be at the gym?

I have worked out (crunches) on some that are firm, and some that are flat.

Does the air pressure inside effect my workout?

Howard Schneider: I am sure there is a manufacturers recommended PSI for each one, depending on size, the amount of weight expected, etc. How it affects works i can only surmise...Seems that as it gets deflated it gets less effective (at some point, after all you are basically at the floor.

The idea of this device is to support the lower back while forcing the abs to stabilize and lift..The flatter it gets the larger the support surface...


Article suggestion: Vicky just made a comment about beer drinking/carb loading and a couple of weeks ago, someone asked in a chat about a good Italian restaurant to carbo-load the night before the marathon. At some point, could you please write an article about carbo-loading?

Contrary to what everyone seems to think, carbo-loading IS NOT eating pasta the night before a race. There is a whole process involved that starts the week before an event and involves depleting carbs before you add them back in. And for the average runner, it's not really recommended. My prerace meal for the marathon in which I qualifed for Boston was salmon, mixed veggies and a salad. Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: There is indeed a lot more to it than stuffing your face, although it's tradition to go crazy with the pasta...And I definitely agree you should stay away from the beer before a race.

Thank you for the idea -- you might be seeing it in print come next Marine Corps Marathon. Got any other tips for folks running this Sunday?


Lowell, Mass.: Ran my first half marathon this Sunday. Yay me! (And everyone else!)

But seriously, I have posted before asking about training and heart rate, etc... and you guys are awesome!

Howard Schneider: Congrats Lowell....What's next?


Arlington, Va.: Posting early here and hoping you'll give some air time to a harder fitness question. I have been a gym rat for 10 years. I'm 34, a guy, 5-8 and 160 pounds. I spend an hour in the gym about 4 to 5 days a week doing a mix of cardio and weight training. My "usual routine" is 35 minutess of interval training on the elliptical, followed by 20 minutes "minimal rest" weight training (constant movement, lots of opposing muscle groups, work in core training between sets).

Here's my question: I've read a lot lately that says weight training's benefits may be suspect (versus cardio). And as I get older, my body hurts more (joints, etc.) Can I ditch the weights and move to one hour cardio and core routine? Which is better for maintenance? I like where I am; not looking for a change (body wise). Thanks!

Howard Schneider: The "suspect" part you are referring to, at least I think, refers to the idea that weight training boosts your resting metabolism in a way that becomes self-reenforcing (i.e. you gain so much muscle that your body kinds of stays skinny on its own, at least as long as you keep working out).

This has to do with the fact that muscle, all things equal, uses more calories at rest than fat. While that is true, the difference has not been well researched, and may be pretty marginal...But that debate has nothing to do with the other benefits of weightlifting -- i.e. joint health, maintenance of functional ability, etc. I think it'd be a mistake to give it up, particularly if you "like where you are...."


Chicago: Just wanted to give anyone doing boxing workouts or bag workouts a heads up on something I learned the hard way. Always make sure your hands are wrapped. Just gloves aren't always enough to keep you from getting a boxer's fracture.

Howard Schneider: Good advice...though as my friend Mary Layne will attest, I never could get the hand of the wrapping. Felt like doing origami...


Richmond, Va.: Anybody have any experience with the Power Plate machine? My gym just got one and I am trying to decide if the fitness benefits are outweighed by the potential embarrassment of having my flab shaken like a Frappucino.

Vicky Hallett: I did a column on this not so long ago, and of course, I can't find it right now. But it seemed like the consensus was the best benefits came from using it for stretching and warming up. The idea that it strengthens your core in amazing ways isn't entirely proven...

Anyway, it's worth standing on at least once for the novelty, right? And I recommend talking to hear how you voice wobbles, too.


VO2 Max: I get my VO2 Max tested twice a year for my health insurance, and I've found that trainers at any area Sport & Health Club can do this for you. I've used trainers at the Ballston Common SH and the Dupont Hilton SH, and both locations work well. It's much easier to get an appointment with the trainer at the Hilton, but they charge slightly more ($75) than the trainers at BC ($50).

Howard Schneider: Good to know, but do they have the actual gas exchange equipment, or are they using the estimates built into some of the treadmills (which uses heart rate as a proxy, and does not actually measure oxygen consumption...)


Vicky Hallett: Good luck to all running the marathon this Sunday! And if you're not (like us lazy folks), here are some tips on how to be a better spectator.

See you next week...


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