Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, October 28, 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. 28 at 11 a.m. to take your questions.

The transcript follows

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Vicky Hallett: Morning all! With weather taking a turn for the yucky, I know I'm more likely to want to exercise indoors, probably in front of a glowing TV. But I think I need to watch more sporting events if I want to follow the advice from today's column...Have any of you noticed how watching different shows affects your workouts?

And speaking of shows, since Howard hasn't RSVPed for my high heel race party tonight, I assume that means he's running. For him and the rest of the costumed competitors, I offer this article from last year on how to sprint in stilettos:

And for anyone looking to cover a longer distance in more suitable footwear, I suggest this Saturday's Heart Walk on the National Mall, benefiting the American Heart Association. It's three miles, noncompetitive and you can even register day of...

Howard Schneider: Vicky you know I don't do weeknight parties...Even if high heels are involved....


The Perfect Pushup: I saw this thing being sold on television and I was wondering how it is that much more effective then doing a regular push-up. Does it isolate muscle groups more effectively or does it just isolate money from my wallet?

Vicky Hallett: I'm wary of virtually anything advertised on TV (unless it's in a Target ad) but people who are a lot smarter than me dig the Perfect Pushup. Even Justin Spring (the Olympic gymnast from Burke) is a fan. My boss -- a former body builder -- also recently tested the Perfect Pullup and loved that, too...

Howard Schneider: It does seem to be easier on the wrist, but at the same time you're losing a chance to build strength and flexibility in that joint...Also, one of the nice thigns about pushups is diversity of hand position. This really only lets you work in one position...


Fairfax, Va.: I am thinking of doing a triathlon sometime next year, probably a sprint (no Ironman!). Are there any training programs or groups in the DC area? I run, lift weights, and do cardio; I'm in generally good shape, but am a novice when it comes to training for a triathlon. I think there's a triathlon club around here, but want to make sure I do something beginner-friendly. Any suggestions, either for groups or training in general? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: If you can snag a spot in the DC Tri Club's new triathlete program (find it at, you'll be in good hands.


Tampa, Fla.: Hi, Misfits! Thanks for taking my question. I lift weights three times a week, run twice a week and swim/bike on the weekends. My question is about diet. A friend just asked me to do a two-week no carb diet with her. While I wouldn't mind getting leaner, I'm not so sure eliminating carbs will go well with my workout routine. I've tried cutting out carbs before, when I wasn't working out quite so much, and it left me bloated and grouchy. What's your opinion on low-carb/no-carb diets?

Howard Schneider: Run awaaaayyyyyyyy...................If your friend said no processed white refined sugar, whatever, we could have a chat...But if you are working out six days a week it is nuts to try to eliminate your major source of energy...


Irvine, Calif.: I've just had some mouth surgery that will keep me on a soft bland diet for a couple of months (at best). I'm planning to have nutritious smoothies for a couple of meals a day: mainly soy milk, fruit, 1 egg. I'm wondering about whey protein, which seems to be steak in a scoop, to make up the protein deficit. I'd also like to "drink" fibre if possible, blending vegetables with tomato juice -- but does that work and do you have any advice about drinkable fibre?

Vicky Hallett: I've tested Metamucil (they now hawk pink lemonade flavor!), Benefiber and assorted other drinkable fibers for my job, and while they're not always the tastiest (or in any way like pink lemonade), they seem to work. I won't go in details. There's also Fiber One yogurt, which you could probably also manage...

But there's no reason not to juice veggies, too. Very healthy and popular, especially with raw food enthusiasts. And if you're lazy, you can always buy a V8. You might also be able to come up with some nutritious soups to keep your diet interesting.


Falls Church, Va.: I work in a very large office building (six floors) and can get some lower body exercise taking the stairs, but is there an easy way to get some upper body exercise at work while wearing business attire?

Vicky Hallett: Tricep dips on your chair! Or how about pushups against the wall in the stairwell? Resistance bands are also fairly discreet -- maybe keep one on hand for a few curls?


On TV: Thanks for today's column. I definitely understand the benefits of dissociation during exercise; I regularly listen to music and focus on the beat during a difficult run. But I'm really not a fan of TVs in the gym. My local YMCA just installed large screen TVs, positioned such that you cannot get away from television. I spend much of my day in front of the computer, and it was always nice to get a break from screen time at the gym. Exercising outside isn't always an option as it gets dark earlier. Did you run into any gym employees or patrons who also felt this way, or am I the lone Luddite in the crowd? (I'm only 26, too!) For a Good Workout, Try Some Channel Surfing (Post, Oct. 28)

Vicky Hallett: You aren't alone, but good look trying to get away from them. There are a few gyms that have designated TV-free areas (the Washington Sports Clubs in Columbia Heights has a corner overlooking 14th Street where the machines are TV-less so people can enjoy the view instead), but it's getting to be a pretty expected perk. The silver lining: As gyms get TVs for every machine, you'll be able just to keep yours off.


D.C. Dancer: Hi Misfits,

I'm submitting this early. I'm a dancer and my ultimate goal is to teach fitness classes at a gym. I know I need to be certified as a fitness instructor and then go and find a job.

I was wondering if you had any opinions/advise about getting started, maybe how to become certified, which certification to get or any other training you think could be valuable.


Vicky Hallett: All certifications are not equal -- so I'd aim for one from the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Academy of Sports Medicine or the American Council on Exercise.

As for how to get started, I know City Fitness in Cleveland Park offers classes for fitness professionals. If you're already a dancer, you may be able to get a gig teaching dance even without a certification though (or maybe you'll want to get certified in something specific, like Zumba, which is smoking hot right now).

Another idea: Try to get a job at a gym you like in a non-trainer position, like front desk or membership. I bet they'll help you through the process so you can get your certification, and it'll probably be easier to get a trainer position there after you do complete the process.

One thing I know for sure is that with all of the new gyms opening around town, the biggest struggle is often getting skilled trainers on staff. If you really know what you're doing, you won't hurt for work.


Sterling, Va.: Hi Vicky & Howard!

Do you know if there's a "Couch-to-5k" type equivalent for biking? I'd like to get back into riding, and would like something with the motivation & guidance of that sort of program. I'm not looking to bike a century, just 10- and 20-miles at a time.

Another question: in the grand scheme of exercise, how good is swimming? I love swimming and always feel like I've worked very hard after a swim, but have no idea how much of a fitness and/or health benefit I'm getting. Any info you have would be appreciated.


Howard Schneider: Biking is alot different than running when you are starting out: whether you walk or jog, it is only your energy and strength that is creating motion. With a bike, mechanical energy, momentum and gravity can all give you an assist (the gears help you tailor effort to your strength...momentum lets you take brakes...gravity lets you coast downhill). Point is: You can probably get on the bike this weekend and manage a few miles on a flat trail, without doing a whole lot of research. If you are just starting out, you won't be that interested in speed, cadence, etc. You just want to go for a ride. There are plenty of trails in all the local jurisdictions. Check out the Washington Area Bicyclist Association web site ( for local maps. Also check out their guide to local biking groups: have friends to ride with can make a big difference, and the local cycling groups usually structure rides for all fitness levels.

As far as swimming goes, it is a great workout. One thing to think about is to vary your stroke...use the different gizmos and floats that are available to focus the effort on your arms and legs...and think about working in sprint sessions instead of working at a single pace -- that will add different dimensions to what you are doing...


Arlington, Va.: Love the chat and I have a question. I am a week out of having laparoscopic surgery on my abdomen and I would like to start exercising again. What would be some good exercises to do to get back to the moderate level where I was before surgery? Thanks.

Howard Schneider: I continue to be shocked when people leave operating rooms without any guidance from their doctor about what can and can't do...Laparascopy is meant to be as non-invaisve as possible, but it seems to me that even if the exterior scar is tiny the answer to the question kind of depends on what happened inside as well...You really need to talk to your doc...A couple of weeks off won't destroy your fitness...What were you doing before the operation?


Falls Church, Va.: Enjoyed your column today. I Tivo shows on HGTV and watch them when I work out on my elliptical. This works great -- it's very visual, so it's easy to keep track of the show if I get distracted. The thing that always bothers me is that when I travel hotel exercise rooms never have HGTV as an option -- they can have 10 sports channels, but no HGTV. I've often wondered if this is because more men travel on business. Your thoughts?

Vicky Hallett: So funny! I actually talked to a lot of people (including guys) who use HGTV for their workouts. But I can see why that's not conventional wisdom...Keep complaining, and maybe things will change.

In the future, as exercise machines get fancier, you'll probably be able to bring along a video iPod (or similar device) and get to watch whatever the heck you want.


Sunshine State: Hi! Thanks for taking my question, which is this: how important is it to take that one day off a week? I feel much better, clearer-headed and more able to sit still on the days I work out. I'm a grad student, so I'm either teaching or being taught, and in either case, focus is key. Does everyone need the rest day? Can I just take it every few weeks instead of every week? If it matters, I'm a 26-year-old woman in good health. Thanks!!

Vicky Hallett: It depends on how hard you're working on those non-rest days, sunshine. Can you have an intense work out every day and not eventually collapse? Probably not. But you can certainly be active every day -- tons of people have a daily yoga practice, walk their dog a couple miles every morning, or do a certain number of crunches before going to bed at night. And they're just fine.

Humans are meant to get some physical activity every day (did you read Howard's piece about the new exercise guidelines last week?). Your body will clue you in if you're overdoing it. And, of course, at that point, give it a rest.


Cleveland Park, D.C.: Morning, MisFits!

I just bought a jumprope to supplement my work outs. Any suggestions for ways to amp up this work out so I get the most out of it?


Howard Schneider: If you just bought it, you will find out soon enough that it does not need much amping -- your heart will be thumping...A couple of approaches and ideas:

It is common to do jump in three minute chunks -- which is probably an offshoot of boxing training, since that is the length of a round. You could set goals -- three rounds with a couple minutes rest in between...

You can vary pace to make it harder ( assuming you have the coordination down).

The other thing to play with is skipping patterns -- maybe 50 jumps with both feet, then 50 skipping, then fifty with high knees, then repeat....For a break, you can go side to side with both feet, which gives one set of muscles a break and trains the knees for a different motion...You can also throw in a few one foot jumps (I cant do more than 10 or so, if that, before screwing up, but it is fun to try...).

One thing to keep in mind (at least from my experience): If you do this as a warmup, or from a low resting heart rate, it will really cause the heart rate to spike...that will settle down after a couple of minutes and you can settle into more of a rhythm...


It's getting cold...: and your review of all-weather gear is no longer in the archive.

What was the bottom line or your experience since the article? And is the Brand X stuff as good as the high-priced stuff?

Howard Schneider: Hey...That was last fall and sorry it is not available. Newsprint is way more expensive than server space, but I guess even that is a commodity with a price...By Brand X, if you mean the house brands at places like REI, yes, it is fine. To me, this is not a place to skimp. The brand is not so important, but the material is. If you buy something waterproof and windproof, you want it to work - and that generally means, I think, sticking with the specialty stores that know the gear.


Rockville, Md.: One thing I've noticed about TV and exercise is that when I watch a program about people making themselves over through exercise, such as The Biggest Loser or a few cable shows I've seen, I start getting antsy about wanting to exercise myself. Not so much when I'm watching other shows -- even shows that require actors or stuntmen to perform physically difficult work -- but there's something about watching regular people get in shape that reminds me that I can do it, too.

Howard Schneider: Hmmm....the nature of the comment sounds kind of passive....Does getting antsy imply that you've acted on the antsiness? Having been reminded, what happens next? This is an interesting topic -- whether being shown or told the benefits of exercise actually works. Some research suggests that what makes more of a difference is suggestions for small changes in behavior as opposed to grand lectures...


becoming a fitness instructor: Vicky and Howard -- the certifications you mentioned are mostly personal training, NOT group exercise, which is what I think the poster wants. The gold standards for group exercise are ACE (which you mentioned) and AFAA (I am a group ex instructor).

Vicky Hallett: Sorry to get my certifications confused! Any other tips for our wannabe instructor?


Washington DC: Are there any gyms in the area that combine cardio machines with DVD players? I would LOVE to be able to bring in my own shows/movies to watch while I worked out.

Vicky Hallett: Not that I know of, but I'd guess it isn't too far off.

Your best shot might be at Results (either at Farragut West or Mount Vernon), which has screens set up in its Spinning studios so you can take a previously recorded class. Maybe they'd let you pop something else in while you ride? They have the same setup at the Sport & Health in Old Town. (And probably other places, too...)


Illinois: re: TV in gym. I personally don't do gyms. But my brother used to tell me how he uploaded a program to his Palm long ago that turned it into a universal remote and would turn OFF the TVs. He doesn't do gyms anymore either.

Vicky Hallett: How very sneaky! But mean...


Wake Forest, N.C.: I started running about three months ago and am slowly getting back in shape. I was thinking of doing a marathon next summer -- for a longer term goal. I seem to be able to jog for long distances but not very fast. How long do they wait around for the slowpokes at marathons? I am thinking about 6 hours as a goal but was wondering if race organizers have packed up and gone home by then.

Vicky Hallett: I'm having a little trouble getting the results of the Marine Corps Marathon to download, but it looks like the slowest person on Sunday clocked a time of 7:14:30. But she still finished! I think the amount of time they give you depends on the race -- the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler that Howard and I did earlier this year kicked folks off the course if they couldn't keep a 16-min-mile (or was it 14?). So I'd just make sure that whatever event you sign up for has forgiving organizers. And more power to you.


Arlington, Va.: Please help me settle a long-standing debate: I'm 6-6 and my workout buddy is 5-3 (or so he says....) I argue that, assuming my arms are twice as long as his, I should have to exert twice the amount of work/energy as he does to do exercises (such as using a bench press). Isn't work equal to force (or weight) multiplied by the distance an object moves?? He says no way and that I'm letting my engineering degree cloud my rational judgment. Who's right??

Howard Schneider: I am no engineer, but just thinking about the nature of things I hope you didn't build the building I am sitting in...Isn't there some Newtonian rule about objects at rest staying at rest? And wouldn't that imply that the 100 pound barbell lying on your chest needs a lot more force to start it moving than it does to keep it moving? And wont that initial force requirement be the same regardless of how long your arms are? In fact I'd argue that since your body is a foot shorter and, in all likelihood, proportionately larger, he works harder pound for pound than you do (i.e., you should be lifting more weight than he does because you have more infrastructure, to borrow another engineering term....) I think you definiti of work is off, btw...A ball rolling down hill is weight moving over distance, but little or no work is being done if i ruin along behind it...


San Francisco: Thank you for doing the chats!!

I've been on an exercise and diet routine for about 4 months. I've lost between 10-12 pounds, but still have the "beer belly and love handles".

My routine consists of 4-5 times a week at the gym, a mix of weight training and elliptical (which is pretty much the only cardio I can do because of knee problems). My supplements include creatine (sustaining), multi-vitamin, amino acids, and occasionally RedLine VPX before if I'm working out in the mornings (usually on weekends).

Is there anything else I can do? I've maintained the last few weeks and can't seem to drop any more (even when not working out because of knee or being sick). I think I hit a wall, and maybe only need another 10-15 pounds to go (I'm 30 male, 183, 5-11). Thanks!

Howard Schneider: I have not done a ton of research on this concept, but one thing that Nancy Clark writes about in her very common sense book on sports nutrition is that it is very hard to drive your body below what she calls the "set point" -- the weight you sort of hover around, genetically, if you are eating reasonable and getting enough exercise. I am stuck at 210. I'd love to break 200 but I feel pretty good at this weight, the clothes fit well, the energy level is good and I am not cranky from starving myself...So I am kind of not complaining...Your BMI is basically normal where you are. If that last bit of weight loss is really important, the things to try might include looking really closely at your diet (beginning with the supplements...unless you have a photo shoot coming up for Fitness Magazine, you should be getting everything you need through diet...the creatine studies have not shown that it does much, and you can cover the amino acids by getting enough protein...)...Also, consider trying some high intensity intervals for your cardio (which might, given the knee, mean taking up biking or swimming)...Research seems to how that higher intensity is more helpful in weight loss...


Austin, Tex.: Good morning, MisFits! Two questions -- do you have any recommendations for exercises to help avoid IT Band syndrome, and are anti-inflammatory medicines useful in at least delaying IT Band pain over a span of a few days?

Howard Schneider: Here is a good rundown from RunningTimes...The stretches and exercises are pretty standard and this has photos...Another that I like is to cross one leg over the other and then lower youself into a one-legged sitting position (use a wall or something stable as a brace). Ice and the NSAIDS will help, but if you are intending to run on it in the meantime, tread carefully....The association of family physicians has more on the anatomy, etc., in this article This is a common injury, but can sideline you for a while if it gets really aggravated...


Chantilly, Va.: Hi Misfits,

This might be a weird question, but I'm going to ask it anyway. I've started doing some yoga breathing exercises while I'm holding postures and during strength training (specifically the kapalabhati/cleansing breath, where you exhale in bursts until all the air is out, then hold for a second, then let the air back in) instead of doing the breathing as separate "exercise" on its own.

It feels like I'm getting a much more intense workout when I do this -- my heart rate increases, and I'm definitely breathing harder. My question is, are there any safety concerns with doing this? Am I doing myself any good?


Howard Schneider: Have not talked to any "yogis" about this, but I would be careful about messing with any type of breath holding while you are lifting weights...I'd keep the disciplines separate: use good steady breathing when you are lifting, and save the yogic breathing for afterwards (or before, or later,,,but not during...dont want to blow a blood vessel or something...)


Vicky Hallett: Sorry to everyone we didn't get to today, but we have to head off. After all, there is the high heel race to prepare for. See you next week!


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