Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, January 13, 2009; 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. Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider are the MisFits, The Post's fitness writers. They were online Tuesday, Jan. 13 at 11 a.m. to discuss running at night, dancing shoes and more.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archive.

MisFits Archive.


Vicky Hallett: Hiya fellow MisFits! Gearing up for Inaugural craziness? There's a whole lot of yoga that's happening this weekend -- Shiva Rae will be in town for Chant4change ( and workshops through Flow (, and there's also that Om Ball (

Speaking of balls -- and today's column on ballroom dance -- good luck to anyone planning on cutting a rug next Tuesday (and finding your coat at the end of the evening). We won't be here to get you warmed up because the powers that be think people will probably be focused on something else at 11 a.m. Silly, I know.

Also, one more very important piece of news to share. And it has nothing to do with the Obamas. Thursday is BRight Choices Day at Baskin Robbins -- people with proof of gym membership get a free scoop of one of the healthier menu items. See, you knew that membership would come in handy one day...


Learning to Dance: Do you or the chatters know of where I can find a dance instructor? I'd like to learn salsa and have taken group classes but I tend to learn at a faster rate (or maybe just want to go at a faster rate than group classes offer). I also learn better when I have a partner who knows what they are doing. I guess I need one on one with an instructor a la "Dirty Dancing"...just w/o the inappropriate teacher student relationship. Is there a place in DC that is affordable that offers this? This is one of my new years resolutions from last year that I'd like to accomplish! Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: Well, the one-on-ones definitely seem to be popular at that Chevy Chase Ballroom. Willie Hendricken (from the article), Ian Gillett (also from the article), and a bunch of other instructors who work out of there offer privates throughout the day, as well as group classes at night. And while they're all seem very charming, they're also professional, so I don't think you have to worry about any funny business.

It was my mom who signed us up for our four person class, so I'm not sure how much it was. But certainly group classes are going to be more affordable...

My fiance and I just started the six-week intro to social ballroom class at the Joy of Motion in Dupont, and that's just $99 per person. But if you're looking for higher level skills, it's definitely not the place for you.

Another thing to remember is that there are all sorts of jams and open dance nights (at dance studios, restaurants, Glen Echo's Spanish ballroom) that are very affordable, and give you the chance to dance with people who know what they're doing.

One more idea: The National DanceSport Championships are in early April in Baltimore. I bet that's a great place to network with other dancers and find some partners/teachers/pals.


Federal Triangle, D.C.: I loved your article on the fitness results of dance! I am getting married in August and was thinking of taking some social dance classes both to help with the "wedding dress diet" and to look better on the dance floor at my wedding!

My question to you is what dance studios would you recommend? Price is definitely an issue, with all the various expenses going into weddings these days! Do I Really Get Some Exercise Out on the Dance Floor? I Do, I Do. (Post, Jan. 13)

Vicky Hallett: Well, I've taken exactly one class with Willie and one class at the Joy of Motion, so I'm no expert. But I've enjoyed both experiences.

There's a website ( that has a huge list of studios, classes, parties, etc. You might want to take a look at that to see what sounds best to you, and make decisions like salsa or fox trot...


Berlin, Germany: Dear Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider,

Could you indicate how many calories can be burnt by 30 minutes Rock n' Roll dancing?

I love to dance Rock n' Roll, I am too lazy to run or exercise, but I need to get rid of 10 kilograms of weight.

Vicky Hallett: The number of calories depends on how many kilograms you are now! But if you're really shaking it, I'd estimate it's between 150 and 350 calories.

I think the reason rock 'n roll dancing isn't generally considered such a good form of exercise is that it's often paired with drinking, and then, of course, late-night eating. Over here, it's pizza. Where you are, doner kabob, right? Neither does such great things for one's waistline.

If you manage to avoid those temptations, then you'll be well on your way to dropping some kilograms.


Columbia, Md.: So I've started to go to the gym in the morning before work. I'll have a banana on the way (so that I don't faint on the treadmill) and I'll run a few miles. Just curious, does this workout produce better fat burning results because I do it in the morning, or would it be the same if I did it in the evening?

Howard Schneider: I have not seen anything definitive. If there is any morning "edge" in fat burning, it is probably minimal. The chief determinant of what fuel your body turns to is the level of intensity of the workout...It takes longer for the body to oxidize fat, so as workouts become more intense -- and energy has to be delivered more quickly -- it turns more to stored glycogen and other sources to supply it...


Carlisle, Pa.: I am a fit 58-year-old man who cycles, swims and works out. I'd like to add running, but I suffer from shin splints. They are so bad that I can get them from walking uphill. Is the solution as easy as correctly fitted shoes, stretching or exercises?

Howard Schneider: Could be all of the above...Having the wrong type of shoe (as well as poorly fitted ones) can aggravate things, so get that checked off first. Stretching and strengthening may also help...Try to get into it slowly -- walk on flat surfaces, then add a few minutes of running and build up. If the problem persists then you may need to see an orth or physical therapist to figure out the cause...


Washington, D.C.: Hi there,

I'm training for the National Half Marathon in March and would like to incorporate more outside runs at night during the weekdays. I've found the Mall a little scary at night (I actually don't think its that well lit). Any ideas on running areas for night time that have soft surfaces and don't have stop lights? Or is this just wishful thinking? Thanks.

Howard Schneider: I am pitching this one to the crowd because I don't have much night running experience...Any thoughts out there, or is it pot luck?


Taking Supplements: My husband just spent a boatload of money on supplements to get back on his workout regime for the new year. Are these things really needed for Joe Plumber to lose 50 pounds in the next 6 - 8 months? Things are tight. You know we are in a recession right?

Howard Schneider: The two big problems with supplements are...

1)It is a dice roll as to whether any given one does what it claims or even is what it claims...Unless you are bodybuilding or working out at a very high (like semi pro)level, the advantages are unimportant, and there are often substitutes (whey, for example, is basically milk powder)...Others have been found to be ineffective, so you really have to carefully research the type of supplement and the particular brand to see if it has been objectively tested and works...

2)You are setting yourself up for a lifetime of expense. Why not figure out how to reach your goal with good food and good work, rather than with a pill or powder?


Re: good workout music: Regarding last week's chat -- anything by the Ramones. Call me old school, but I listen to the Ramones when I'm doing intervals. Their songs are all so short that I can go hard for one song, recover the next, go hard again, etc.

Vicky Hallett: And it's a good idea for our German rock 'n roller! Thanks for the tip...


Fort Myers, Fla.: Good Afternoon -- I just started going to the gym, and after a couple of workouts realized I need new sneakers. I will usually be going to the aerobic classes (cardio kickboxing, step etc...) rather then "free" workouts. What is the best type of sneaker for this?

Howard Schneider: Tennis shoes and "cross trainers" are built for the side to side motion you'll encounter in aerobics, so shop for those...Don't get running shoes, which aren't designed for aggressive lateral motion...


More about food than fitness...: I'm cutting back on the junk I've been eating, and eating just veggies and chicken. Besides a preworkout mini carb snack, am I missing anything that my body really needs? I just want to get rid of all of the processed crap that I eat.

Howard Schneider: Look at your target calorie intake and make sure it is reasonably divided -- with maybe 40 to 50 percent coming from carbs, maybe 35 percent from protein, and 20 percent or so from fat...Don't forget the fruits and dont be afraid of healthy carbs...


New Year's Abs, DC : My New Year's resolution is to get a flat stomach with defined abs by my cousin's wedding at the end of June. I thought 6 months was a realistic time frame for this. (I'm 26, 5-4, 127 pounds.)My problem is that I really don't know where to start. I'd rather not spend the money on a personal trainer, so are there videos or websites you'd recommend to give me some ideas? Also, are there any good Pilates studios in the Van Ness/Chevy Chase/Tenleytown/Cleveland Park area? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: Your dress must be pretty revealing if you'll need defined abs for the wedding! But I won't question your fashion decisions. Let's just talk ab exercises. It sounds like you're already skinny, so you're not looking to lose a lot of weight, just get a stronger core, right? Then your instinct to go with Pilates is a good one.

I've never been to Body College ( in Tenleytown, but that sounds like it's in your neighborhood. Anyone have reports from the field? And I've only done yoga at Circle Yoga in Chevy Chase (, but they have a bunch of Pilates class, too, and I'd guess they're quite good...

As for DVDs, "Abs of Steel" is back with a new workout for '09. (There's also a new "Buns of Steel," in case you were worried) And this one is a bit older, but "Star Trainers Ab Blast" might also be a fun one. It's five 10-minute workouts each with a different instructor. I tried it a year ago so I don't remember the specifics, but I remember liking it.


Washington, D.C.: Howard -- A few weeks ago you got your VO2 max measured. So, how'd you rate? Measuring 'Gas Exchange' (Post, Jan. 9)

Howard Schneider: Just at 37, which is hovering around average, though looks better if you count me as 50 instead of 49...something to work on, still...


NW DC: Hi there. I'm looking for an intense cardio DVD to act as a replacement for a 5-mile run on extra-cold or raining/icy nights this winter. All the ones I've tried are either focused on mixing in strength training with short bursts of cardio, or they are cardio, but only last for maybe half an hour. I do strength training on other days so I don't need that. I want something that gets me breathing hard for at least 45 minutes. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: I'm a sucker for the Biggest Loser DVD series. And according to Collage Video (the very best source for DVD info) "Cardio Max" has 40 minutes of straight aerobics. Ooh! Also, that Star Trainer series has a Cardio title, and each of the five workouts is over 30 minutes. So basically, it sounds brutal. Maybe that's perfect?


Arlington, Va.: Need your advice. I have been running on the treadmill for several years, 2 to 3 times a week between 3 and 6 miles. Two weeks ago, I developed some fear of falling off the treadmill and my mind keeps stopping me from running by making me jump off onto the sides of it. It is almost like my mind decides before my legs and won't let me run. Now I am petrified to run (and sometimes walk) on the treadmill. Ever heard of this? What can I do to overcome this fear?

Howard Schneider: Even going really slow? Was there an incident that set this off -- a stumble, or near fall, or did you talk yourself into it? Maybe take a break and do someting else for a while -- just forget about that machine and swim or use the elliptical, or better yet walk/run outdoors...Perhaps getting away from it for a while will let you forget the fear, and start again later once your mind has readjusted...Just a thought...Never encountered this myself...Anyone out there have a suggestion? Have you talked yourself through other things that your afraid of? I can understand being nervous if the machine is rolling at 8 miles an hour or something, but one thing to think about is that even if you did start to fall while walking you'd probably be able to catch yourself...


Bethesda: Pilates studio -- not quite Chevy Chase, but almost -- Balance Studio just north of the Bethesda Metro is excellent.

Vicky Hallett: That's where you can find Kelly Bradley, who suggested the kale coleslaw a few weeks back. So Pilates and kale coleslaw in one place! I think that makes the trip to Bethesda worth it.


Washington, D.C.: Just wanted to throw in my two cents on this week's dancing story--bellydancing (and there are so many studios in the area!) is incredible for stress relief, exercise, and body confidence (as a thoroughly curvy lady, it is an asset to have assets in this form), and the social dances at Glen Echo, both contra/square and swing, are not only great ways to meet people but will also have you sweating up a storm, even in the middle of January.

Vicky Hallett: Good advice. But let's just hope my mom isn't reading. She really might start showing off her new moves at the wedding...


Elliptical interval training: So I've already gotten bored with my elliptical workout and I've done a little reading on interval training. Do you guys think this is a good idea to shake things up? Any good resources for how to plan different interval workouts? Also, are you supposed to keep the same pace during the different levels or do you adjust pace based on difficulty? Thanks!

Howard Schneider: Sure, give it a try. You can vary both pace and difficulty, or either...Different trainers will have different interval strategies, which they'll argue is based in science and "the best." You can follow those, or just play around - warm up, then go hard for a minute (either fast or by resistance), then rest for two...repeat that cycle five or ten times -- then cool down. Or whatever strikes your fancy. I did find online these elliptical specific workouts...Hope it helps...


For the Night Time Runner : I've found I'm most comfortable running on busy streets (on the sidewalk, of course) at night. I live in Upper NW, and stick to Connecticut and Wisconsin Aves mainly at night. It's not exciting, but between rush hour traffic, people walking home from the metro, and street lights, I've never felt unsafe. When I can, I run on the little strip of grass by the road to give my knees a break.

However, I would recommend wearing one of those reflective orange vests (albeit dorky, also live saving) for when you're crossing side streets. I also run with RoadID on my shoe (has blood type, emergency contacts, address, etc.) just in case something terrible happens.

You could also run with a training group - although the only evening groups I know of are Hashers, and they stop to drink beer during the runs, so that might not be what you're looking for. But it is fun!

Howard Schneider: A bit of night running help....Also, our chat moderator at the Web site says taht the Thomas Jefferson Community Center at Glebe Road and Route 50 has a lit gravel track...Which suggests there may be neighborhood resources scattered around...


Richmond, Va.: What are the best foods for a nice complexion?

Howard Schneider: I have focused on red meat for most of my life and have quite a complex....Don't know much about this myself, but I am guessing adequate water and lots of vegetables will be at the top of the list...Maybe healthy oils -- olive? -- and nuts?...Anyone in the crowd have any favorite skin-friendly snacks?

Vicky Hallett: Howard's right on. Take a peek at the "Better Skin Diet" from iVillage:

It votes for water, nuts and veggies rich in vitamin A (carrots, broccoli), as well as stuff like fish (good oils) and flaxseeds.


YMCA National Capital: So I was taking an Intro to Yoga class at the Y on Wednesday nights. However, the straight intro class seems to have been dissolved for the spring semester, with several "all-levels" options instead. I have expressed my dissatisfaction, but other than adding another all-levels class, the Y management hasn't done much. As a still relative beginner, choosing among the styles of 3 different Yoga teachers, how do I know what's too difficult or too far for me?

Howard Schneider: Presumably all levels means just that -- and the instructor should accomodate beginners. One of the purposes of yoga is to learn these things about your body -- the know the weak spots and strengthen them up. Talk to each of the teachers and explain your concerns. If there are particular parts of your body your are worried about, tell them, and ask which poses they plan to lead that might be tougher on those spots...That will help you understand the concept of "edge" -- how far you are comfortable going in different poses. Basically: take it easy. Yoga is not competitive, and if you start with a light version of each pose you can little by little move more deeply into it...


Alexandria, Va.: For those asking where to take dance classes -- I enjoy the ballroom classes at Dance Factory in Arlington, next to the Virginia Square Metro. You only sign up for four weeks at a time, and the prices are reasonable, so you can try it out with little cost. They offer many levels of instruction, in many dances, and you can take private lessons if you choose. It's a low-pressure, social-dancing kind of place.

Vicky Hallett: And they're promoting one upcoming class with this line:

"Learn to Polka, Lindy Hop, Bachata, Zydeco, Zumba, even do the Peabody!"

I'm intrigued. The Peabody? Seriously? Does anyone know what that is?


Alexandria, Va.: Hey MisFits,

Do you know where you can find PT's that come to you? And if so is this very expensive? I have a gym in my condo building, so I don't want to join a gym, but I need a PT to push me (self motivation is seriously lacking). Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: Almost any personal trainer not affiliated with a huge health club makes house calls. It will probably cost you more than doing it at a gym -- but not so much more, as long as you find someone fairly local. (And if the trainer is just starting out and doesn't have a studio, if could be even cheaper.)

The easiest way to find someone is definitely going to be through personal training studios in your neighborhood or through a referral (friends, neighbors, co-workers). Or maybe someone reading this chat can help you out. Anyone have a rec for a great trainer in Alexandria?


Columbia, SC: Hi! I started running about a month ago and have incorporate strength training and some cross training as well. When I'm done working out, especially after running for about an hour, I am completely exhausted and can barely function the rest of the day. Runner's World says to eat a banana right after you work out- but I hate bananas! What other foods would have the same effects as a banana and do the trick until I can get home and make dinner?


Howard Schneider: Above all make sure you are hydrated -- than can have a big effect on your energy level. Unless you are really spent, try for a decent meal -- a sandwich or something like that, and a fruit of your choice. That will be slower into the system but is best nutritionally. If you are absolutely one the verge of not functioning, try sipping a sports drink before a during the workout to make sure you have the sugars needed to fuel the activity...


BMI: Hi Misfits, I have a meeting so I hope you'll be able to answer this.

Yesterday I went on the BMI calculator and according to my height and weight, I'm at 22 or 23. Seeing that I'm on the higher end of the scale, that concerns me. I don't know how I can lose weight since I'm 5-2, 125 pounds and work out 5-6 days a week. I've been lifting weights so that can account for much of the weight and I already feel like I eat a balanced diet (i.e., not eating out a lot, eating junk or fast food) so how can I cut calories? My doctor isn't concerned and I've always considered myself within normal limits but seeing me at a 23 suddenly makes me concerned. Should I be?

Howard Schneider: The charts I see put normal at 25, so you have some leeway. Remember, BMI is not a measure of body fat, which is really what we want to worry about...Nor does it account for those with an athletic or muscular build...If you are working out, eating well and staying at a steady weight, why worry? Congratulate yourself...


Night Running: I've seen signs along the Custis Trail about informal groups doing early-morning and evening runs, so people feel safer running in the dark.

There's also the Rock Creek Park bike path from P Street down to the Memorial Bridge. The round trip there would be around 5 miles.

I'm also okay with running on the Capital Crescent after dark as long as it's still rush hour--so many bikes it feels like the middle of the day. (But definitely wear a lamp and something reflective so the commuters can see you!)

Personally, anywhere without a lot of stoplights tends to be more deserted and thus creep me out. I really only do shortish runs on the towpath if I have to run at night, and then I always take my dog. The Mall is actually where I go if I need to run in the dark and the dog can't come. So if s/he's creeped out by the Mall, I don't know if any of these suggestions will work.

Howard Schneider: More from the nocturnal crowd...I'm in bed by sundown...


Bethesda, Md.: I have been trying to walk places instead of drive. What is the best way to deal with shin splints? I have shoes with good support and I stretch daily, but I still get them. Thanks!!

Howard Schneider: Like any chronic pain, something is pulling in the wrong direction, or is too weak to do its job...When you say "good support," have you been to a shoe store where the staff is qualified to check your feet for pronation/supination. "Good support" in the arches, for example, could be a bad thing if you supinate (i.e., the foot rolls out, not in, as it strikes the ground)...So that's the first thing to check. Also, how long have you been pursuing this? If you went from no walking to walking everywhere and carrying groceries, you may simply need to build up endurance in those muscles...If so, cut back a bit and add to your distance over time.


Vienna, Va.: I'm working on losing weight, and my husband insists that in order to be successful, I've got to do weight training. The only exercise I do at the gym is the elliptical. At home, I use workout DVDS. What are your thoughts about weight training? I'm 44 and my goal is to lose 30 pounds.

Howard Schneider: To lose weight, you need to scale your eating to the amount of activity you do. Some argue that weight training aids the process by building muscle and boosting metabolism, but I think the benefits of this as a weight control tool can be overestimated. However, it will make you healthier in ways that the elliptical or the DVDs will not. To me, it's a package deal: you can lose weight without exercise, but you won't be as healthy, and will only get weaker over time. So I think your husband's advice is good, for reasons other than the bathroom scale...


Scottsville, Va.: Here's what I don't understand. If I eat 800 calories too much one day (say, 4 of my husband's home baked peanut butter cookies), I will gain two pounds two days later. How come it never takes 3500 extra calories to gain one pound?

Howard Schneider: The numbers talked about in this regard need to be looked at long term. Day to day calorie fluctuations occur on their own -- based on retained water, how much you have been working out, etc...Does that two pounds hang around permanently? If so, than there is probably more than on day's worth of peanut butter cookies involved...Look at the trend -- are you hovering around a certain weight, or steadily going up?


Darnestown: Hi Misfits! I am a 24 year old female trying to get back in shape. My boyfriend suggested I do Crossfit (but a somewhat modified version - I can't do even one pull up!). Are there any Web sites or online groups that post modified Crossfit workouts? I know that I can use a pull-up machine instead of doing actual pull ups but there are so many other exercises they list that I am sure I would have to modify. Any suggestions?? Thanks! Can We Really Find You a Free Workout in Washington? Yes, We Can. (Post, Nov. 11, 2008)

Vicky Hallett: The CrossFit site has some advice on substitutions in the FAQ. Like this one:

3.7. What if I can't do pullups?

Jumping pullups (use as much leg push as needed, lower slowly . . . this really keeps the cardio going in a WOD like Fran)

Pure negatives (climb to top position using whatever means necessary, chair, bench, whatever, then lower slowly)

Assisted Pullups: use a Gravitron machine (if you're lucky enough to have access to one), or, even better, a human spotter to give you a lift. Bend your legs at the knees so that the tops of your feet are facing down, have the spotter support you there to provide some lift.

Assisted pullups 2: Get a large elastic band (surgical tubing works great), loop over the bar, step in it to provide some lift

Reduced load pullups: Suspend a bar (maybe an Olympic bar for weights?) at a height less than overhead . . . maybe about chest high . . . get underneath it with you legs in front and body straight . . . do "pullups" with your legs still on the ground, supporting part of your weight . .

All of these have the advantage that they are neurologically more valuable than the fairly un-natural motion of locking your knees under a pad and moving just your arms . . . in all of these, your arms are going to be drawing your whole body up . . . you will progress toward "full" pullups faster.

But yes, you can do pull-downs, and doing those are infinitely better than skipping this workout. Courtesy of Dave Wood

If you need more than that, the best way to do it safely would probably be to go to a CrossFit affiliate and have them show you modifications that make sense for you. That's why they're in business!


Arlington, VA: I'm used to a certain type of elliptical machine that I've worked out on at my old gym for quite some time. I decided to try my apartment building's gym this weekend, and used their elliptical, which appeared to be a newer design. Even at 5-7 I felt very short on the machine and that it was making me lift my legs higher than in a normal running motion. My legs were burning and I could barely last 15 mins. Is it just me or has anyone else experienced such drastic differences between machines?

Howard Schneider: A good example of adaptation -- you are used to a particular machine, developed certain muscles in a certain motion, and not the rest of the stuff... There can be big differences between machines, but the more important point here is the importance of diversity...


RE: Learning to Dance: Etiquette: I don't know where you took classes, but instructors have always offered private classes. Dancing is a social activity as well, maybe your belief that others didn't learn as fast as you, got in the way of dancing. I've never known a dance teacher who didn't offer private classes. Go back to those group classes and ask the instructor, you may be surprised at what you learn. Etiquette is part of the dancing as well,even when it means dancing with those who aren't able to keep up.

Vicky Hallett: Indeed! My previous experience with ballroom dance was in fifth grade with other awkward elementary school kids, and all I really remember was the etiquette we leaned. And that can come in handy even off the dance floor. Although I refuse to wear white gloves again.


10,000 steps: I am trying to work in a workout throughout my day. With a 6-months-old baby, getting up early to workout after getting up throughout the night just ain't happenin'. My issue is finding a pedometer that is easy to set up. I have had them in the past but I don't think I set them up correctly. Can you suggest one that is easy to set up and go?

Vicky Hallett: I recently tested a bunch of Sportlines and they were a cinch to get started. Obviously, the higher tech you go and the more accurate you want results to be, the more complex setup is going to be. I've used ones in the past that required me to walk a certain number of steps and measure the distance to determine stride length. I'm thinking that's the sort of thing you want to avoid? If I were you, I'd skip that and just realize that the numbers you're getting might not be totally accurate, but they're at least a good way to compare your activity from day to day.


Vicky Hallett: We just danced the hour away! Sorry to anyone we didn't get to. But hold that thought -- for two weeks. We'll see you after the hoopla has subsided...


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