Ask the MisFits: To Flirt or Not To Flirt Edition

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Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, January 27, 2009; 12:00 PM

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.

This week, Vicky was online Tuesday, Jan. 27 at noon ET to talk about being lousy at sports, waking up early to exercise and whether or not it's okay to flirt at the gym.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archive.

MisFits Archive.

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Vicky Hallett: Sorry for the delay today, folks! We're a bunch of medical mishaps -- Howard's still stuck at the dentist and I got held up at the doctor's office. And you're very lucky not to be in the same room as me, because you will avoid getting hacked and sneezed upon. (The diagnosis: possibly more WEEKS of coughing! I thought cardio was supposed to prevent this stuff...) Anyway, I haven't been to the gym while I've been recuperating, but I've managed to do some stretching in my living room so I don't feel like a total lump. Which brings us to today's column and the idea of exercising at home. Any of you care to share about your home workouts?

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Anonymous: Hello, I set up a gym (in a room in my house) with a Gazelle exercise machine, an Orbitrek machine and a big ball and weights and a bench for sit ups but I find it hard to get into a routine to exercise daily. Do you have any good suggestions on how to motivate myself to just get there and do it. Thank you.

Vicky Hallett: I'd start by looking at the space and how appealing it is for you to be in there. Is there good lighting? Music to listen to? TV to watch? Roger Yasin (from today's column) says too many people have a treadmill in their garage and then don't realize why they never want to exercise.

Having a set time I think can help -- maybe it's an appointment with a particular television or radio show. And you need to make sure that time is really set aside. Don't answer your phone, don't stop to write that e-mail you're thinking about. Just focus on the task at hand (which is YOU!)

Any chatters have other advice?

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Philladelphia: I stink at sports. I mean STINK. I'm nothing but a liability in anything from basketball to field hockey to tennis. I also have exercise-induced asthma, which is much worse when I am active outside versus indoors. But there's the rub. I really love working out in the gym. I find it's a great way for me to take time for myself. So when my friends invite me to play Frisbee or touch football, and I decline, it's mostly because I don't want to embarrass myself. But I feel like I'm missing out on the fun. Also, since those friends don't see me at the gym, I'm sort of gaining a reputation as a lazybones. Should I just let people think that? Or should I allow myself to be the "least valuable player" on my friends' teams?

Vicky Hallett: Are your friends playing because they're crazy competitive or just to have a good time? More likely, it's the latter, and you're missing out. Just tell them to be prepared for you to suck. They're your friends! (And of course, sit out if you're having an asthma attack -- if your pals don't understand that, I'd reevaluate the relationship.)

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you consider splitting firewood as good exercise? I think of it as old-fashioned exercise.

I spent at least 20 minutes last night hacking away at one obstinate log. It wouldn't split. I must have hit it 200 times, it started to spark when I whacked it. I hope it's not petrified.

Vicky Hallett: Is this Abe Lincoln? Yes, dear, your log splitting is very good exercise. But be careful -- bad form can REALLY injure you with that one.

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Chapel Hill, N.C.: Hi! I have a question about calories burned on different types of cardio machines at the gym. When I exercise for 30 minutes, for example, and keep my heart rate at 145 the whole time, the elliptical machine says I burn more calories than the bike machine at the same heart rate. I know the "calories burned" should be taken with a grain of salt, but is it reasonable to assume I burn approximately the same number of calories on the bike vs. the elliptical vs. the treadmill at the same heart rate for the same amount of time (despite what the machine is telling me)?

Vicky Hallett: Yep, you're a smarty pants! Your heart rate is much more telling than the calorie counts on those machines. Of course, if you're getting your heart rate from the machines, that's suspect too...

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm in okay shape but used to be in better shape. I like running but don't have time during the day. Any suggestions on how I can force myself to get up 45 minutes early to run in the mornings before work? And how do I best warm up for a run early in the morning? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: When the days are longer, it's going to be MUCH easier for you to wake up earlier. So can you wait a few months?

Otherwise, I'd say the best motivation is a person waiting for you. Can you convince anyone to be your running buddy? Nothing gets you out of bed like guilt! As for warming up, if it's the very first thing you're doing when you get out of bed, I'd give yourself a bit more time to get used to moving. Maybe jump up and down a couple times, start with some fast walking, and then ease into the jog.

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Sleepless in D.C.: Hi,

I have become a chronic insomniac in the past three years. I can fall asleep, but can't stay asleep. I've tried plenty of medicinal remedies, to no avail, done meditation, and even tried drinking half a beer before bed (only thing that worked). One former remedy for insomnia was going to a physically exhausting yoga class after work and then collapsing into bed early. Are there other things I could try at the gym to help me stay asleep? Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: I think you're attacking this the wrong way, Sleepless. Drinking alcohol can help you pass out (oh yes it can!) but it's also likely to wake you up in the middle of the night, which seems to be your main problem. And exhausting yoga, or any other kind of tough exercise, is getting your adrenaline going and heating up the body, which are two things that can also get in the way of a goods night's rest.

But the yoga idea isn't so far off from what I'm going to suggest: Yoga nidra. It's yoga that's specifically designed to help you relax and sleep. You can buy CDs that walk you through a meditation, and there are also a bunch of local studios that offer classes (Circle Yoga, for one) and workshops (Yoga District has one coming up Feb. 8).

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Getting out of bed to run: I've been doing it for many years now, and it's hard to get started, it's true. Now I know that if I don't, I'll be kicking myself all day. That's good incentive!

But when I first started, I had to train my body to be capable of exercise despite its grogginess. So, I just started waking up early. Even if I didn't exercise, I still got out of bed. It taught my body how to come alive early, and quickly. If I wasn't yet up to running long-distances, I would still find any activity to do. It really worked.

It's especially hard when it's still dark out, but try to find enjoyment in the peace of an early-morning run, and watch the sun rise.

Vicky Hallett: A beautiful sunrise sounds like a pretty good motivator to me, too.

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Alexandria, Va.: Heart rate on machines is suspect? How so? My gym bud and I warm up with 15 minutes of cardio on the bikes at our gym. Our goal is 145bpm. Is the bike lying to us?

For what it's worth, sometimes the bikes won't read my heart rate at all and I have to switch to manual mode. (My buddy says I'm dead).

Vicky Hallett: That's exactly what I mean! Often you're dead, or you're picking up the heart rate of someone nearby (if they're wearing a personal heart rate monitor that usually overpowers the ones on machines). Sweat, which is commonly found on the sensors, tends to mess with them...I'm not saying they're always big fat liars. But take it all with a grain of salt.

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Heart Rate and Pregnancy: Hi, I'm almost 3 months pregnant. My OB-GYN told me I could keep exercising no problem, but that I needed to keep my heart rate below 140. Before when I did cardio, my heart rate was usually in the mid 160s. So this has been a problem. But then I was looking at the Internet and read that the 140 heart rate recommendation was based on antiquated evidence. There seems to be a split on whether it is still valid or not. So should I listen to my doctor, or get a second opinion, or what exactly? Thanks.

Vicky Hallett: As we like to say here at the MisFits, we're not doctors! So, yes, if you're concerned, get a second opinion. (Just not here...)

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Dulles, VA: I should be ashamed to admit this, but I hate exercising. I know I need to, but it just bores me. I love to take walks. Can I get the benefits from a good old fashioned brisk walk? If so, what do you recommend for distance/time?

Vicky Hallett: There's nothing wrong with long walks. That's the real secret to how French Women Don't Get Fat, right? But obviously, you're missing out on benefits you can get from other forms of exercise (particularly in your upper body). As for distance and time, it all depends on your goals and your current health. But as long as you're enjoying it seems like a good place to start.

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Cardio Question: I weight train with a trainer 3x a week but I am left to my own devices for cardio which I don't really like. Is it a must in order to lose weight? Will walking be enough?

Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: Again, this is the sort of thing that depends on your goals. But to see a real difference quickly, you're probably better off doing something more intense than walking. Maybe you can mostly walk but add in a few bursts of jogging? Or maybe a group fitness class? A good instructor can make a huge difference. And a lot of people prefer that to one-on-one time with a machine.

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Ellicott City, Md.: As a healthy 25-year-old I try to stay fit by running 3 miles 3-4 days a week but being a woman, one week a month my energy level is ZAPPED. Is it better to drag myself to the gym to run a mile, then walk the other 2, or just put as much energy into my 1 mile runs as possible? I just want to feel like I'm doing something and not wasting my own time.

Vicky Hallett: Running a mile is definitely something! So don't think of it as a waste of time no matter what. Just listen to your body and take your cues from that. Sometimes I bet you'll want to stop after one, other days you may have the energy to keep going. And don't beat yourself up over it.

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Washington, D.C.: I suck at sports too! I guess I'm getting better, but I really like playing with my friends and they always remind me while I may not be making the big plays I do contribute. And it's better than sitting on my couch and eating.

Vicky Hallett: And when they score on you, you're probably boosting their self esteem. Now that's a team player.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hello!!

Question for you and your readers, females please chime in.

What is the best approach for a guy to talk to a female at the gym? Is it a no-no?

Vicky Hallett: Oh. No.

Okay, I definitely know of people who've met at the gym and fallen madly in love. But for the most part, I think it's a terrible idea to flirt at the gym. If she doesn't like you, then it becomes weird every time you see each other...She might be nervous to go back there.

I suppose if you start a very casual conversation that is in NO WAY forward, it could be fine and possibly lead to something more if both parties seem interested. But it's tricky territory.

Chatters?

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Washington, D.C.: I read somewhere once that it takes 6 weeks to form a good habit. So when I'm trying to get a new workout routine going and I've found that to be about right. So during those early weeks I try to be really strict with myself and remind myself that soon it will become routine and it won't be a battle every. single. morning.

Vicky Hallett: It's true. Once you're used to it, you don't need to think about it. And it's your brain that tends to get in the way more than your body, I think...

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Massachusetts: Hey! Are there any exercises you guys would say are totally useless? Like doing push-ups against a wall or something?

Vicky Hallett: Push-ups against a wall are so not-useless! And they're a great place for people to start working toward one on the floor.

I'd say the most useless exercises are ones done with bad form. Not only are you not getting the right muscle benefit, you might also be injuring yourself. And that's definitely no good.

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Couples at the gym: This is unrelated, but on the "flirting at the gym" note, if you are an established couple, it's awesome that you want to work out together, but no one at the gym wants to see you sweatily make out in between sets of sit-ups. Just a PSA.

Vicky Hallett: I second that!

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Anonymous: I've read president Obama just isn't himself unless he has a daily workout. Any idea on what his routine consists of ?

washingtonpost.com: Looking for a Game, Mr. President? (Post, Jan. 19)

Vicky Hallett: I'd also direct you to this piece from Best Life: Solid as Barack

I'm just bummed I never saw him working out at Washington Sports Clubs. He was always spotted there (and other gyms on the campaign trail), but I think those days are gone...

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Washington, D.C.: A few weeks ago, Liz Kelly wrote on the Celebritology blog about the trainer Tracy Anderson, who apparently is Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna's personal trainer. I was intrigued so I checked out Gwyneth's blog where Tracy Anderson had done a short clip with some lower-body moves, kind of modeled after ballet/calisthenics. Anyway, after a few weeks of hemming and hawing, I broke down and spent $30 on her workout DVD. it's supposed to arrive today. My question is, have either of you heard of her and her workout methods, and if so, what do you think?

washingtonpost.com: Celebritology Live: Gwyneth, Brangelina and Lilo, Oh My.: You've Been Served... a Heaping Plate of Gossip

Vicky Hallett: Never heard of her, but just went to her Web site, and oh dear! Why is her shirt like that? And her pout reminds me of a character from "Fraggle Rock." (Although not in a bad way! That came out wrong.)

Anyway, the ballet-inspired exercise trend is certainly in full swing and there are loads of people who do it. It can definitely be effective. I just wouldn't expect it to make you look like Madonna or Gwyneth.

Report back on how the DVD is!

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re: Flirting -- please no!: At my gym, there are two or three men who go out of their way to say good morning to me, and it really creeps me out. I haven't made eye contact with them ever, or behaved in any way that suggests I'm even remotely interested in interacting with another human at 5:30 a.m. Please please PLEASE, unless conversation comes up naturally (and you greeting her out of the blue is not a natural start to a conversation; "are you using this?" is, but you had better actually mean it) please do not try to flirt at the gym.

Vicky Hallett: Not looking good for you, dude...

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Re: Approaching women at gym: Please, think twice about this. If a woman is intensely working out, please leave her alone. If she really likes you, she'll approach you. (And, not saying you do this, but don't stare either)!

Vicky Hallett: Yeah, if you think there's real chemistry, wait for her to make the move. Maybe I'm sexist, but it seems less creepy.

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Love at the Gym: I say absolutely yes, anytime and every time. If a guy knows when the time is right, and can be engaging, funny, without being intrusive, its a great way to meet women that are similarly inclined to fitness. And the other way around too. Now if the guy (or girl) has an annoying, desperate, or pitiful manner, they should be sent to Loserville, somewhere in northern Greenland.

Vicky Hallett: Another opinion from Chatterland, which I believe is far from Loserville. But my geography is bad.

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HELP: My gym is closed due to the snow! What can I do at home without a DVD or weights or machines since I didn't plan for this?!

Vicky Hallett: There's always shoveling! That's a mighty good workout. Snowball fights, snowman building and sledding (or at least the climbing up the hill part) are also calorie burners.

Or, if you want to be inside and dry, stick with body weight exercises. Push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, squats and tricep dips should keep you busy. Bored? Do a set of jumping jacks.

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Getting up early!: Twice a week I get early to run, as it IS the only time I have available to run during the week. It's hard, BUT the peacefulness of the morning is great. No traffic, no people, no nothing. I see foxes, deer (once a buck! with antlers and stuff!) and the newspaper delivery guy (okay, so not a draw, but we wave at each other!) I live in a very close in 'burb and its nice to see the world all fresh, clean and peaceful.

I think the key is to just set your mind to doing it, pick your days, then set your alarm (DO NOT HIT THE SNOOZE BUTTON); have your running clothes all laid out, and GO. Think of the bragging rights! Truly, you may start out slow, but once you get going you get into a groove and feel pretty proud of yourself when you are done!

Vicky Hallett: More advice for our wannabe morning runner! I think the laying out the clothes tip is an awesome one.

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Flirting at the gym: I really hate it when guys try to hit on me while I'm at the gym. I'm there to work out, to sweat, to not care how sweaty and gross I'm getting, and I usually am working out before work so I don't have time to chat anyways. So I would say hitting on girls is a no-no. Maybe if a girl seems new to the gym, unsure about how to work some of the equipment, you could offer your assistance. But if a woman is really focused on her workout, don't disturb her.

Vicky Hallett: And another vote against flirting...

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Flirting at the gym: What if the two strangers see each other at the gym often, and friendly smiles are exchanged, is it okay to talk/approach at that point?

Now to my question. I am a healthy 29-year-old male, I work out with both weights and cardio about 4-5 times a week. Do you think I should be taking any vitamins?

Thanks

Vicky Hallett: If everyone's all smiles (and it's not just in your head) then that wouldn't be so weird. I suppose.

As for the vitamins, just make sure you're getting enough in your diet. They're much more effective that way. Not sure how to get Vitamin E? Maybe ask this woman at the gym...(And if she doesn't know, it's in nuts and leafy green vegetables.)

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Flirting at Gym: And please, if you do want to flirt don't do it while sitting at a machine making it hard for other people to use it! If you want to flirt at the gym, at least have the decency to move it to an area where you are not preventing other people from doing their workout!

Vicky Hallett: And that's our final word on gym flirting for the day. Sorry to everyone I didn't get to. But we're back (both of us!) next Tuesday at our regularly scheduled time. Enjoy the snow!

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