Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, November 25, 2008; 11:00 AM

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider are the MisFits, The Post's fitness writers. They were online Tuesday, Nov. 25 at 11 a.m. to offer advice and to take your fitness questions and share their picks for fitness-related holiday gift giving plus holiday survival from a fitness standpoint.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archive.

MisFits Archive.


Howard Schneider: For anyone needing inspiration to get moving, here it is: even a shrimp can do it. But don't get carried away. A newspaper that shall remain nameless reports from Santa Monica that police have had to establish a no-Pilates zone in some medians. Maybe we need a High Oxygen Volume lane on I-66, along with the commuter HOV.

Check out our gift guide in today's paper...

Now what's up?


Alexandria, Va.: Short of having ones toes bust out of their shoes, how do you know when it's time to replace a pair of sneakers? I have a pair of cross trainers that I've had for at least a year, if not more, and during a kickboxing class last week, not only did my knee start hurting (lots of crazy turns) the top/side of my foot felt bruised. I attributed it all to the possibility that maybe my sneaks aren't as supportive as they once were.

Vicky Hallett: I'd say hurting and bruising is a sign your shoes are overdo for a replacement. For running shoes, you're supposed to swap them every 300-500 miles. For cross trainers, I don't think there's as handy a guide. But if you're wearing them to a lot of cardio classes, and using them to hoof it around town, they can get plenty of wear and tear in a year.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Misfits,

I recently had a free consultation with a personal trainer and they went over my current physical activities and diet. They mentioned that I probably wasn't getting enough protein based on my activity level and recommended mixing whey protein powder into a morning smoothie or oatmeal. Are there any disadvantages to using this stuff on a daily basis?

Vicky Hallett: I don't know of any, as long as you're using a reasonable amount. But certainly, you can up the protein in your diet in other ways -- grab a handful of nuts as an afternoon snack, spread some hummus on your sandwiches, start dinner with a bowl of lentil soup.

Howard Schneider: Whey protein is basically powdered milk - in fact one nutritionist told me you get basically the same effect if you used milk powder but double the concentration. Of course it does not have a fancy name or sell for a fancy price. The advice i have gotten consistently -- from trainers, books, etc. -- is that the best place for 99 percent of use to get our macronutrients -- protein, carbs and fat -- is from food. People with diagnosed deficiencies or metabolic issues may need supplements; people performing at a very high level, and in need of extra calories or in each of that extra .001 percent of performance, may need supplements. The rest of us need to eat a balanced meal. Ask the trainer to estimate how many grams of protein you need a day - it will probably be somewhere between .3 and .7 grams per kilo of body weight. Then check out what you can get from a can of tuna, a fish filet, a chicken breast, rice and beans, etc. I think you'll find the whey an unncessary expense.

_______________________ Perky Turkeys: Work Off a Thanksgiving Feast

Vicky Hallett: Also, for your viewing pleasure, from today's Express -- a guide to exercise opportunities over Thanksgiving weekend. One particularly cool thing to do on Friday: Bike riding around DC with Ed Begley Jr. Free stuff, hanging out with an eco-conscious celeb and getting a workout seems like a fine way to spend Friday morning to me. Well, that or sleeping in.


Washington, D.C.: Good Morning,

I have done a few 5ks and I want to try a 10 miler. Do you know of any training programs I could follow? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: Are you talking online or live? If you happen to be signing up for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler (registration opens, and will certainly also close, Dec. 16), there's a virtual training program you can sign up for that'll help you plan your schedule. Looking for live help? Both Pacers ( and Potomac River Running ( run training programs. also offers a lot of free online training programs, but unfortunately, they don't have one specifically for the 10 mile distance. But that's worth a peek, too...


Washington, D.C.: Hi Misfits...

I am getting increasingly out of shape because of a crazy work schedule. I'm talking 7 a.m. - 9 or 10 p.m., with no end in sight. Since I'm working so much, I'm eating out all the time since I can't get to the grocery store as well. So, any tips for quick workouts I could sneak out of the office for 30 minutes to do, or little things I can do at my desk? And secondly, any low-cal places to eat around Dupont Circle? Chop't, while it serves salads, is no help to the waistline.


Vicky Hallett: Geez, how about beating up your boss for making you work those insane hours? That'll burn some serious calories. Another option (which should help you with both of your problems) is to walk beyond Dupont for that healthy grub. Expand your options while reducing that waistline -- I know one super popular place is the Juice Joint, which isn't too far away at 1025 Vermont Ave.

If you're really crunched for time, I wouldn't total ban Chop't. Can't you customize your salad to be better for you? Or how about a Moby Dick kabob with salad (not rice)? Or sushi from Nooshi or Singapore Bistro? Or Java Green?


Alexandria, Va.: I injured a hamstring -- don't know how. I walk on a treadmill and use some weight machines. So how do I exercise more carefully while this heals? Or do I have to stop altogether for a while?

Howard Schneider: You'll probably want to ditch the weights for a while. Walking should be fine, but dont use any incline. There are different grades of injury -- from a minor tear to a complete separation (if that had happened you'd know it...).

Most times you can bounce back from this just be keeping the effort very light for awhile, and building back up to where you were. Here is a bit more detail. And as always, if this keeps hurting, see a doctor. And if there is any sign off bruising, also consult with a professional - that's a sign of a more serious injury (likewise if you heard a "pop" at the time of the injury...but since you say you "dont know how" you hurt it I doubt that happened....)


Washington, D.C.: I've made due with old T-shirts and shorts for exercising, but I'd like to get some better exercise clothing, any suggestions? Sweating is definitely an issue for me. Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: Well, nothing handles sweat better than wicking fabrics, and luckily, that's most of what you'll find in athletic wear departments these days. Under Armour is a popular brand, but your options are vast. It depends on what you want to spend and how good you want to look...

Also, if you're looking to be eco-chic and want to support a local business, Atayne (based in Arlington) sells performance shirts made from recycled plastic bottles. Buy 'em at


McLean, Va.: For the person wanting to run a 10 miler I would just say to follow a half marathon training program but reduce the weekly long runs by 2-3 miles. That will make the 10 mile race seem pretty easy. And if you want to run the Cherry Blossom then sign up the day that the registrations open.

Vicky Hallett: Good advice from McLean! Registration opens for the Cherry Blossom at 8 a.m., and if it's anything like last year, if you're not online trying to snag a spot by 8:30, you're not running...


Washington, D.C.: I usually hit the gym about three times a week. However, due to scheduling conflicts with work, I won't be able to hit the gym regularly for at least the next month. What do you recommend I do in the mean time, besides the usual push-ups and sit-ups at home? I was thinking about jogging during the weekends, but that's about it.

Howard Schneider: Jump rope...jumping jacks...squats...lunges...-- all good bodyweight exercises and (except for the jump rope) things you can do without equipment or a gym...


Running Clubs: I am interested in joining a running club and have a few questions. Do you know of any that hold their track sessions on the weekends? Also, are there truly a range of levels at the running clubs or will I end up being with a bunch of speedy people!

Vicky Hallett: Got to admit, I only know of clubs that do track stuff on weeknights. Any chatters know of a club with weekend track sessions?

But from what I've seen, there really are a range of ability levels in most groups (and there are some that are meant for beginners, so you might be happier there).


Pittsburgh: When in a rush, is cardio or strength training a better option?

Vicky Hallett: Depends on what your goals are and what else you do, Pittsburgh! (Don't you just love answers like that?) Don't think about that one quickie workout in a vacuum -- consider what your body needs to stay balanced. Maybe you'll find that time is best spent stretching...

If every workout is a rush, then consider combining cardio and strength into a circuit routine. That's the Curves model, and a lot of ladies love it.


Exercise Clothes: Yes, the wicking fabrics are the best. Target has the Champion brand for prices much cheaper than the others (Under Armour, Nike, etc.). I've been wearing them for biking, flag football, raking leaves, hiking, etc., and they've worked great. Don't know why I didn't buy some sooner. Much better than a soaking wet cotton t-shirt.

Vicky Hallett: Doesn't every chat need a plug for Target?


Dupont Circle, D.C.: Since turning 30 this year, I have noticed a not so subtle creeping of fat (where the heck did all this cellulite come from!).

I've decided to fight the battle by doing cardio at least five days a week, mainly in the form of spinning classes and the elliptical. The thing is, I don't want to lose weight, I'm 5 feet 4, and 110 pounds, so there's not much to take off. What I want to do is build some muscle to replace the fat.

My question is, how many times a week should I lift weights to switch over from my current state to a new, toned, muscular state? Thanks!

Howard Schneider: Based on your body mass index (18.9) you are verging on underweight. All the cardio is burning up calories you dont really need to consume -- and depending on the intensity may actually be dipping into your protein stores, i.e., breaking down muscle to fuel the activity.

So you want to be careful about overdoingg it on that front if the aim is to build muscle. In fact, I'd venture that what you want to do is put on a few pounds -- but have a better balance between body fat and lean tissue.

To do that try lifting three days a week -- but it is going to have to be a program that taxes your muscles close to fatigue, meaning heavier weights and fewer repetitions. For now cut the cardio to maybe two days. Nancy Clark's book on sports nutrition has guidelines for how to estimate calorie needs to gain weight -- take a look at those, and use them if you in fact stick with the weightlifting.


Washington, D.C.: For the runner who wants to move from 5Ks to 10 milers, try the SMART COACH on You enter your current level (speed, miles per week) and your target race distance (choose from 10 different distances, from 5k to marathon), and it generates a training program.

Vicky Hallett: Yep, it's right there, smack in the middle of the home page. Thanks for reminding me!


Help!: Hi, gurus -- I have a super urgent question! I'm running in my first ever race, a 10K Turkey Trot this Thursday... in Detroit. It's been snowing there (although will hopefully be clear during the race). Could you give me some tips for running in that cold weather? I'm planning on wearing fleece-lined running tights, an Under Armour long-sleeved shirt & t-shirt underneath the race long-sleeve shirt. Gloves & head wrap that will cover my ears. Also, hopefully will be able to hold water bottles, which I'll fill with some luke-warm water. Anything else I should do to prepare? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: Sounds like you're pretty darn prepared. One thing though: Don't wear the race shirt on race day. I don't know why, but it's not considered "cool." (Although perhaps you're not trying to be cool, which is also totally fine.)


Boston: Hi! I'm submitting early...

I have a question about the difference in the workout you get from running/treadmill and an elliptical. I like the elliptical because I can easily tune out with a magazine or TV, which I find I can't do so easily with running. (Also, it doesn't make my knees hurt like running sometimes does.)

I do the elliptical at a high speed and intensity but it just seems easier to me and I never get that feeling in my chest that feels like I worked out soo hard that I get after running. Does this mean I'm getting a better workout on the treadmill?

Vicky Hallett: One of the bonuses of exercising on an elliptical is you don't get the sense you're working quite as hard because you lose the pounding on your joints.

But the best way to find out which one is giving you a better workout is to check with a heart rate monitor. And my pal Howard happens to have written about those very gadgets for today's paper. Take a look!

Howard Schneider: Hi Boston...Ellipticals give you a bit of a momentum assist...All things equal, a treadmill will give you a better workout. Plus as a weightbearing exercise it is better for your bones, so there are other benefits that a heart monitor won't capture...If you find it hurts, then take it easy and work into it over time.


Pool Etiquette?: About half the days I show up at the pool in the morning, all the lanes are taken and it's time to start sharing. I'm hesitant to jump right into a lane, since I've been 'buzzed' by a new swimmer in my lane and it can be startling. Standing waiting to get the swimmer's attention before jumping in isn't all that effective; I usually have to wait until his or her set is over. My inclination is to stick a kickboard in against the wall, so that they see the yellow/blue/red foam and understand that someone is trying to get their attention. Is this rude? What would be the appropriate way to signal my intentions?

Howard Schneider: Happy for tips...I don't swim that often but to me it depends on how many people are in the lane. If more than one, you can assume everyone is conscious of the fact and simply work into the flow. Obviously choose the lane that best fits your speed. If only one try to figure if you are faster or slower then work in directly in front off or behind them. They'll figure it out...


cold weather runner: Boo - I don't care about being cool! No one in Detroit will ever see ME again, anyway!

Vicky Hallett: Take that, running hipsters of Detroit!


Winter running: I did a 5K on Saturday; not my first. I've been running for almost a year and was doing great until recently. This was the worst 29 min. of my life . . . it was so freakin' cold. My legs never really warmed up. I was tense and cramped. I had to stop and walk for a few seconds twice b/c of leg cramps. . . . and breathing in the cold air left me coughing something fierce the rest of the night. What gives? Am I to be forced indoors until April? What do I need to do to condition myself for winter running? Simply change out my gear (I had thick cotton pants, long-sleeved/short sleeved layered shirts, a vest, hat, gloves)? Or is running in the cold -it was COLD- that much harder on your body? Am dying for any advice you can give. Thanks.

Vicky Hallett: Some people (me included) are not so hot on cold-weather running. Hence, the genius of the treadmill! But, of course, loads of people keep jogging outside all winter. Dressing appropriately is key (although it sounds like you did that). Breathing through your nose instead of your mouth can help. You might also consider warming up indoors before going outside.

I'm guessing that before the run, you were probably just standing around being cold, and that doesn't help things...


Alexandria, Va.: Are there any fitness tools where the listed calorie burn can be trusted? I know you have said previously that we should take the total calorie burn on elliptical machines and such with a grain of salt. What about heart rate monitors?

Howard Schneider: Read our article today -- the heart rate monitor takes acccount of more personal information, and will be closer than a machine, but it is still an estimate. There are simply too many variables to account for. But heart rate is important, and a monitor will give you a better estimate...


Alexandria, Va.: I recently received a heart rate monitor, which also tracks how many calories I burn during a workout.

The numbers are very different from the ones on the fitness machines and the software I have been using to track my progress.

Can I trust that the number is in the right area if not absolutely correct? For what it is worth, it is a Timex Ironman Watch with Heart rate monitor and I had to plug in all my vitals, including weight, when I set it up. Thanks!

Howard Schneider: Morning...As we noted last week, the machines seem to err high -- and have less personal information worked into their algorithms. So the heart rate monitor will be more accurate. But these are all estimates. The key to using them is to track trends...If it shows you using more calories in the same amount of time, that's a sign you are working harder and getting stronger...


Washington, D.C.: Are there any accurate heart rate monitors that don't require a chest strap?

Howard Schneider: There are some models that use a device on your finger and a friend has one that picks up a wrist pulse. But I have not looked into accuracy. I would note that the major companies involved in that market all use chest straps...


Wake Forest, N.C.: I am 72-year old female; had meniscus surgery on my knee in April following injury last December. I had a few months of physical therapy and have continued to try to do something each day like workouts in the pool, but not only my knee but my entire leg swells, aches and stays very sore all the time. It feels as if it was traumatized during surgery and hasn't recovered. Should I continue to push through the pain every day or give it a rest. I am overweight and need to exercise for that reason but it leaves my leg in terrible shape afterward. What do you suggest?

I take ibuprofen for joint inflammation. It seems to be the veins as much as anything. I feel very discouraged. I feel much worse since the surgery than before. Thank you.

Howard Schneider: Aches and pains are one thing. We all put up with some of those. Swelling is another, particularly after surgery. I think you need to go back to your doc and/or PT and ask for some advice. It may be that you need to address the weight issue as you scale up the exercise. Less weight means less pressure on the joints and the veins, and may let you exercise without the problems you are experiencing. Bottom line, though, is you should get some professional help to guide you through this...


Washington, D.C.: Hi there-

Any good suggestions for someone with all the following going against them: money is tight, waistline is expanding, motivation is incredibly low, probably mildly depressed, but really in need of exercise both physically and mentally...I feel like I need a major kick start. I tried swimming, but that becomes very high maintenance in the cold.

Vicky Hallett: Join a sports team! It's usually cheaper than a gym and good exercise (both physical and mental). Competition is motivating, and there's built-in socializing, which helps with depressive tendencies.

In today's Express, there's a piece about joining the DC Rollergirls. (I'll get Paul to post a link in a sec...) Too violent? The JCC's winter sports leagues start up in January: indoor soccer, basketball and volleyball.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Misfits,

I had a baby a few months ago and I want to get back into working out. I realize now that it's impossible to be up any earlier than 5:45 a.m., and I am exhausted after feeding and putting the baby to bed, then getting everything ready for the next day.

So I have discovered my office gym which is free to use. I need to squeeze in time during the day to do this. So figuring time to dress and walking back and forth -- I have about 40 minutes to work out.

I want to do 2-3 times a week. Was wondering what a good strategy for working out would be. Gym has good equipment -- treadmill, elliptical, bike, plus free weights, some machines, mats. Should I do all cardio, mix weights, etc? I have bit of preg weight to get rid off, and am in decent shape (no running 10Ks though).

Any advice? Thanks!

Howard Schneider: Variety is the key...So may try one day of just cardio...Start where you can but really try to build the intensity over time. One the other two days mix cardio and weights -- and make sure the weight program covers all the major muscle groups....Does your company have a trainer on duty? If so ask for help...If not maybe ask whoever runs it whether the firm woudl spring for a one day seminar on what to do and how to do it....Remeber, they have aninterest in your staying healthy...


Cold Weather Running: For the person who ran the 5k and was really cold -- you say your pants were cotton, although you don't say what your shirts were made of. Do not wear cotton in the cold, it won't keep you warm, and it will absorb any sweating -- you would probably be better off naked.

Get some running tights, preferably some marketed as "cold weather." Get some base layer shirts -- either silk or a hightech fabric. Just look for something marketed "base layer" and not cotton. Then get a fleece shirt or jacket to wear over that. I like the half-zip fleece shirts, because I invariably get hot during my run and can unzip the neck a little bit. I like a fleece earband or hat, plus fleece gloves. Get glove liners if your hands are cold.

Howard Schneider: Clothing advice for the weather...We need it....


For the swimmer:: Don't stick a kickboard in to get their attention. If they are in the middle of a set, they'll feel obligated to stop and that'll throw off their times. Either jump in shortly after they've pushed off the wall, or get in the pool when they are about halfway to the wall and stand waaay off to the side so that they can see you, but not so that you're in their way. Then, give them a half or full length lead and start swimming.

Howard Schneider: Some aquatic advice....


Washington, DC: You don't wear the race shirt at the race because it's bad juju. The shirt makes a statement that you finished. Wearing it before you've finished is just tempting fate.

But otherwise, Detroit sounds like s/he's ready to go.

Vicky Hallett: You really don't have any other shirts, Detroit? Just asking...


re: Pool Etiquette: No, there's only one swimmer in each lane. My problem is that they're swimming down the middle, often weaving (5:30 a.m. isn't exactly the straight-line swim hour). Hopping in the lane means I'll have to swim VERY close to them - 'buzz' them - before they see me (and having that happen as the swimmer once or twice, I find that somewhat rude and startling). My question was how to best let them know I'm joining them while they're swimming and I'm on deck?

Howard Schneider: See the above suggestion - get in the lane and hang to the side until they finish the lap, then work in behind them...

_______________________ Ladies of Wreck and Roll: D.C. Rollergirls

Vicky Hallett: If you want to become a Rollergirl, check this out.


New York: I live in a tiny place on a limited budget: so, no gym memberships or equipment. Two questions: I'm trying to get back into running, any tips on staying injury-free when my only option is sidewalks? Second, I've started doing sit-ups and push-ups every morning, but only haphazardly. Is there a systematic way I should be approaching them? A sets/reps formula, for example.

Howard Schneider: The key to injury prevention is patience -- regardless of the surface you are running on. Weight-bearing, higher impact exercise triggers changes in not just your muscles and tendons, but your bones as well. Take it easy as the adaptation takes place. Give yourself a good warmup of ten minutes or so. As you get back into it, take a walk break every few minutes to lessen the strain.

Regarding the body weight exercises, there are lots of routines...First off: dont just do sit ups. They focus on one of the more superficial core muscles, and dont do much for some of the deeper and more important ones.

For a few bucks you can get a stability ball and do some really good ab/back/core workouts. Here is one I like from

You can look at pushups like a weightlifting exercise in that the program kind of depends on how strong you are. Three sets of 10 might be hard. A full set of 50 might be a warmup. Either way, do what you can, rest a minute, repeat, rest, repeat. See where that leaves you and try over time to add repetitions on all three sets...


Bike to Work: Woo Hoo! I just moved closer to work and had my first bike to work day that didn't involve parking someplace first. 21 miles each way. The cold didn't bother me, but boy does it get dark fast on the way home! Even with a headlight and the WO&D the entire way, there's still room for accidents. Hopefully I'll be able to do this twice a week.

Howard Schneider: That's a good careful.


Washington, D.C.: Just a comment to the Alexandria, Va. kickboxer. I am into the fifth week of post-operative recovery from surgery to replace an ACL in my right knee which was torn while kickboxing. If you are experiencing knee pain, it's not likely to be your shoes, but more likely due to not having the moves down correctly (which was my problem). You might want to make an appointment with an orthopedic doctor and get an MRI on your knee.

Vicky Hallett: If new shoes don't do the trick...


Philadelphia: I thnk I bruised my coccyx about 9 days ago (I lost my balance while stretching, and came down on my coccyx on the corner of a step). My question is how long it will take to heal? It hurts when I use a stationery bike, and I can't do curl ups or other ab exercises that require me to be on my bottom.

Howard Schneider: I guess the key question is whether you are sure it is just a bruise and not something more serious...?


Alexandria, Va.: I have been hit with a horrific case of stomach flu and haven't been this sick in a long while. Once I am ready to workout I know I will need to take it easy, should I mentally prepare myself for starting from the very beginning again?

Howard Schneider: Depends on how long you have been working out...Studies have shown that after a couple of weeks you'll lose a bit of endurance/strength, but it takes much longer time to really regress. You'll likely notice it, but you will also probably bounce back quick...


Vicky Hallett: That's it for us today! Have a great Thanksgiving and we'll see you back here next week...


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