Ask the MisFits

Get fit with your significant other: These two-person exercises use your partner's body weight for resistance or leverage. Video by Amanda McGrath/
Vicky Hallett and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Health Section
Tuesday, February 17, 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 Feb. 17 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archive.

MisFits Archive.


Howard Schneider: So I hope everyone has checked out the two person exercises we write about today...A bit late for Valentines DAy but they are fun to do with any time of year (and there need be nothing romantic about -- these are legitimate exercises)...I was carrying Eleanor piggyback through Takoma Park just the other day, but that was after a couple of drinks and we were both wearing cowboy boots so it was not really a proper workout...

By the way, I am going to be leaving town in a couple of weeks to take over as the Post's correspondent in Israel, so I will be winding down my involvement in the column and the chats. Vicky will still be manning fort and the column will live on in some form -- so stay tuned...

Vicky Hallett: And don't worry -- I'll pester him for updates on how he's staying fit in Jerusalem. So no crying, okay? On with the show!


Washington, D.C.: Hi, I am 31 year old male in relatively excellent physical shape. I suppose that I am somewhat addicted to working out as I tend to go to the gym for about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours everyday of the week. Typically, I will run 4-5 miles on the treadmill for 45 minutes and spend the remainder of my time doing sit-ups and light lifting. What is considered a safe daily routine for those who find it difficult to miss a day at the gym?

Vicky Hallett: It really depends on the person and what kind of shape they're in. Professional athletes spend hours exercising every day and take almost no time off -- but, of course, what they're doing is being monitored by coaches and supplemented by proper diets. And I'm guessing you don't have that kind of supervision...

What you're doing doesn't sound so out there though. But I'd really pay attention to signals from your body. Exercise should make you feel more energized, so if you're really dragging after not taking any time off, that's a signal to give yourself a break. That said, certain things actually can be done every day for your entire life -- like long walks and gentle stretching -- without causing any problems. So if you're having trouble not going to the gym, realize you can be active in other, less stressful ways too.


Washington, DC: Over the past few years, I have been a member of a regional sports club that has a number locations throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic U.S. (and is quite prominent in the D.C. area). The location that I frequent, which is less than a year old, has an extremely high level of dust buildup in spots that aren't relatively visible (back of the big screen TVs, fans on the treadmills, ventilation ducts in locker room, on inner portion of the cybex machines, etc. I addressed it to the general manager about a month ago and nothing has changed. There aren't tons of fitness facility options in NW D.C. so I guess I kind of have to deal with it for now, but what would you suggest as next steps to resolve this situation?

Vicky Hallett: Is the dust buildup affecting your workout? Do you have a severe allergy to dust? Even if you don't, telling them you do might be a way to light a fire under their butts.

But if it's just bothering you on principle, I'd let it go. There are plenty of places that have dirt in visible spots, so I'd say this club is probably not the worst offender out there.


Ashburn, Va.: Hello, I need some advice -- I have an undergrad degree in physics and engineering but I am obsessed with sports, health and fitness. I have worked part/full time in the health club industry for almost 20 years- the other jobs in engineering which I do not enjoy. The last year I worked as a full-time knowledgeable, uncertified personal trainer and was very popular and successful at it. I want to return to training full-time (engineering job at the moment) again but working for myself. I really don't want to get a certification (lazy). Any suggestions? Is there a market? I'm ready to jump ship!

Thanks and have a great week.

Howard Schneider: If you labored through physics and engineering you are certainly not too lazy to get certified -- and you owe it to yourself and your clients to do so...If you are taking cash from people, you owe them to know what you are doing...Also, I don't know this for certain but my guess is that you are somewhat exposed, legally, if you injure someone in the process...It isn't just about knowing the exercises -- it is about how to do proper intake so you don't take someone with diabetes or a heart condition or some other issue and hurt them...Educate yourself before quitting the day job...

Vicky Hallett: I would never send anyone to a trainer who wasn't certified no matter how smart and popular he was. So if you're serious about making a living at this, take the time to get a certification.


New York, N.Y.: Hi MisFits!

I've always been into working out and have never had a problem with motivation to go to the gym. My boyfriend, however, stopped working out when his high school football career ended 8 years ago and is fairly overweight. A while ago I told him I was concerned about his health and he said he knew it was an issue and has started going to the gym.

He's been really great about it (riding a bike/lifting weights 5x a week or so) but he HATES it. I really thought after he got into the habit and started seeing some results (which he has), he'd start to like it, but he says he's never liked being at the gym, even when he was working out regularly.

To make matters worse, I'm in school several hours away, so the most I can do is encourage him over the phone rather than trying to work out together or do something like that. How can I help him stay motivated?? I've suggested trying to find a team, but the only ones we know about are softball/kickball and those are more social than fitness oriented. Any suggestions?? Thanks!

Howard Schneider: He clearly was an athlete in his day so encourage him back down that path. My hunch is that if he has a competitive goal, it might be more interesting to him. A basketball league? A 5k race to start out -- with more to come? Just remmber, you can't make him do this, but you can tell him that you're not going to stay involved with a guy who is going to clock at out at age 42 with a heart attack or spend countless hours managing his diabetes...The risks are real -- and if you check out today's Health section you'll see that men are really bad about admitting the fact...

Vicky Hallett: Another idea: Send him the book "Move a Little, Lose a Lot" by James Levine from the Mayo Clinic. I read it over the weekend and it's about his research into NEAT (nonexercise activity thermogenesis), basically, how to burn calories without going to the gym. He's a big fan of pacing around your office, parking far away from your destination, taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

None of this is totally revolutionary, but if you manage to do enough of those things, you end up burning way more calories than you would during a short gym visit, plus you don't need to "make the time" to do it or go to a place you hate. Anyway, I think it could be a real eye opener for people who say they don't like to exercise. They just need to rethink what exercise is...


still sick, or just lazy?: Between holidays and the cold weather, my regular (4-5 times a week) exercising had gotten a little sporadic (more like 2 times a week) in January. Then I got that nasty cold that's been going around, and was sick for about 2 weeks. I've been "better" for about a week and a half, but trying to get back into workouts is rough. My stamina seems really shot and I can't do cardio at much more than about half the intensity I used to. How do I tell the difference between "not quite recovered from illness" and "lost conditioning/got lazy from not working out"? Because the solution for first is indulge myself in some extra rest, and for the second is push myself to work out a little harder, right?

Vicky Hallett: I'm actually writing a piece about just this topic for next week's Express, but I'll give you a little preview...

Taking even a week off, you're going to experience some deconditioning. After two weeks and a cold, it's even worse. So it's only natural you're coming back with less stamina. In fact, the doctor I talked to said you should start at 50 percent upon your return, so you're right on target with that.

There are a few rules about returning: Don't do it if you have a fever (you can't regulate your body temperature), don't do it if you have a chest cough (might make it tough for you to breathe) and don't do it if you're on cold meds (you might FEEL better, but that doesn't mean you are). Anyway, if you pass those tests you're probably OK.

And as for the difference between "not quite recovered" and "lost conditioning/got lazy"? It's how you feel afterwards. Are you feeling more sick? Then you came back too fast and your body needs more rest. Otherwise, just start with what you can do and build back up to where you were. It won't take that long.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Is there a heart rate monitor that you can recommend for a beginner who is looking for an accurate way to measure their heart rate and calories burned, I've heard the treadmill counts are not accurate. I'm looking for something fairly basic and hopefully not too expensive. Thanks.

Howard Schneider: Check out the Timex models -- they are the least expensive and will give you that basic information...Polar also has some good entry level models...


Berlin, Md.: I would like to take my strength training workout to the next level. Should I increase the weight, the reps or the number of sets?

Howard Schneider: That all depends on what you mean by "next level" -- and what you do now. As a rule of thumb, few reps with more weight will build strength, greater numbers of reps with lighter weight will build more muscle endurance and augment shape and tone...There are lots of philosophies and theories about how to incorporate both strategies -- 12 weeks of one...12 weeks of another, etc. There's a whole different school of thought that argues against "isolation" exercise of any sort -- i.e. the old-fashioned bicep curl -- and in favor of more complex lifts. I have been moving toward that, and really like the book Power Lifting by Dos Remedios...Lots of exercises and a clearly spelled out philosophy. Check that out in a bookstore to get a sense of whether you think it would work for you...


Philadelphia: Hi Misfits! More of a question for Vicky here: over the last couple months I have been slowly getting back to working out after a 4 month illness. In the last four weeks I have been going to the gym 5 times a week doing some weights, cardio, and abs. On three different occasions, I've had some "spotting" (ie not a full blown period) after strenuous workouts. The workouts are the only thing that I can correlate the random spotting to and it seems the harder the workout, the worse the spotting. I've scaled back on the weights in the last week and the spotting stopped. My doctor said he has heard of this happening in women doing strenuous workout routines. Is this common or am I making a connection that isn't there? My guess is that I am overdoing it and started doing too much too fast, I'm starting physical therapy in a couple weeks to help the transition. Any ideas?

Vicky Hallett: I've heard of women who exercise intensely and stop getting their periods because of that, never the other way around. But if your doctor isn't worried and you've managed to stop the spotting, I suppose that's what counts. You might still want to see your gynecologist about this just in case though...


Washington, D.C.: Hi guys,

I need some new-activity brainstorming help. I used to use the rowing machine fairly regularly -- I was a rower in college -- varying my intensity level/distance, etc and always getting a good workout on the erg. About 8 months ago, though, I was diagnosed with a pilonidal sinus and had surgery to remove it. The area has since healed, but I'm terrified of starting up my rowing routine and having this problem return. I've since taken up running, but it just doesn't hold the same level of interest for me, and 5k is about all I can do before getting bored. Meanwhile, the weight is starting to creep up... What other activities would you recommend that provide a similar level of intensity as rowing, but don't require putting pressure on my tailbone?


Howard Schneider: What about swimming? Or triathlon? The biking part of that might give you pause because of the sitting, but keep in mind that you can shop for different seats until you find one you feel will minimize the chance of aggravating the problem, and also wear padded shorts (not to mention that on a bike you can give yourself occassional breaks by lifting out of the seat, which you cannot do on the rowing machine...). Also, how about some cardio intensive sports like tennis or basketball or ultimate frisbee...?


Washington, D.C.: The lady of the house is out of town on assignment for next few months and I've really gotten good at working out regularly again. And I was really good at it the last time she was gone for an extended time. Problem is..I can't force myself to work when we're together. How has everyone gotten into the habit of couples gym?

Howard Schneider: This is an interesting question for me given the departure for Jerusalem. Eleanor and I have gotten into the habit of keeping each other honest -- and now we'll have to fend for ourselves a little better. Your wife does not work out? Is there a way to draw her into it?

Vicky Hallett: We've gotten into this territory before, and a lot of couples don't like to work out at the gym together. But that doesn't mean you have to stop exercising. You can't pull yourself away from her for an hour? You just managed a couple months, right? So that can't be that hard. And if it is, try to find active things you can do together that aren't at the gym -- long walks on the beach (or in the neighborhood) are more romantic than sitting on the couch together anyway.


re: still sick: Thanks! How I feel afterwards is tired. Not sick, but not energized, either, which would be more normal for me. More like I could use a nap.

Vicky Hallett: Then take a nap! Naps are sooooo good for you, even if you're perfectly healthy. And I'd dial down the intensity even more the next time you're at the gym.


Reston, Va.: In the last couple months I've noticed I now have knee pain in my left knee. It's particularly aggravated when doing lateral lunges and single leg squats. Are there any exercises I can do to strengthen it? Does glucosamine really make an impact? Should I get new shoes (I'm due anyways)? At what point is seeing a doctor recommended? Thanks!

Howard Schneider: Morning Reston...If you really doing single leg squats -- sometimes called "pistol squat," lowering yourself on one leg and then back up with the other leg extended -- I can't imagine strength is an issue. That is about the hardest leg exercise there is. It puts a lot of torque on the knee and you might well have pulled something...


Herndon, Va.: I'm sort of new to trying to lose weight -- I'm female, 5-6, and in the 150-lb range. I've always been able to just kind of maintain my weight, watching what I eat but not depriving myself and working out about 3 times a week. I've put on a few pounds and now I want to lose about 5-10 by summer. I went a whole week keeping my calorie count below 1500 and exercising every day (didn't see any noticeable results on the scale or in my clothes.... yet), but am worried that if I keep this up, my body will just get used to it and it won't work either. Any advice?

Howard Schneider: It will work. Your body will adapt to the exercise, but so what? It is an adaptation that leaves you stronger. And if you keep the calories in line, the weight will come off...

Vicky Hallett: And of course you didn't see any noticeable results in a week! Losing weight isn't easy and it isn't fast (if it's healthy). But you're on the right track!


Columbia Heights, D.C.: Hello, I'm a regular gymgoer, and have recently become interested in pursuing physical training as a career. Can you point me to any school programs in the Washington, D.C. area, that prepare students to get certified and become a personal trainer? Have any other advice or tips on the subject? Thank you.

Howard Schneider: Some of the certifying agencies -- like ACE and the NSCA -- offere their own courses. You sign up, they mail you material, you study it, and take a test...No need to go back to college...I'd start by checking out their Web sites. Also, go to a local gym, find a trainer or two to talk to, and ask them how they got certified. Also might want to ask the gym manager whether they regard one certificate or the other as more authoritative when it comes to hiring...


Jazzercise or Pilates: Can you please help?

I am thinking of taking a class outside of the gym to keep myself on my toes on weekends. Goal really is to lose weight and be more active. I never tried Pilates before and Jazzercise worries my two left feet. Which one should I try?

Vicky Hallett: Why do you have to choose? You can take a drop in of either! And then you can decide which you'd prefer. Although you may find you like both of them, and there's nothing wrong with that. Pilates is strength based, while Jazzercise is more focused on cardio. Finding a way to incorporate each (maybe switch off from week to week?) will only make you healthier.


Rockville, Md.: Hi there. Every long-run (6+ miles) for the past five weeks I come home and am unable to eat any food because of my parotid gland. It freaks out -- my parotid gland -- and causes me so much pain that I can not eat. I can hardly think about food because then my gland goes into spasms -- or whatever it is -- and it so awful! Have you ever heard of such a problem? It doesn't happen on my shorter runs. The first time it happened I had chewed gum on my run and thought that was why -- I had overstimulated the gland or something. But I haven't had gum the last 4-5 weeks and it still happens. Thoughts? Thanks!

Howard Schneider: I think this is one you should check out with a doctor. I was just looking at some of the med sites on line and there are a vareity of things that can afflict the salivary glands -- including something akin to "kidney stones" that can form and become irritated...This seems worth checking out, however, becuase the fact that the problem just started indicates that something has changed. While the irritation is only triggered by your long runs, you want to get to the bottom of what changed and why...


push-ups: Hi, I have been a couch potato for a long time and started working out an year ago with a trainer about an year ago and had moderate success. While I got good at lifting weights, I haven't been able to do push-ups at all. Can you give me a few tips on how to go about doing basic, basic push-ups? Thanks.

Howard Schneider: Congrats on getting back into the game. Here are a couple of tips:

1)Start on the knees and work up to the full version. Do sets of five or ten that way -- but be persistent and regular. You build muscles by using them.

2)As an alternative, lean against a counter top and do them on an incline.

3)Practice "negative pushups" in which you focus on fighting gravity on the way down. Start at the top off the motion and lower yourself as slowly as possible, then use your knees to help yourself back up. The negative phase of the exercise will still strengthen the muscles used on the way up.

4)Practice keeping the shoulder blades retracted. This helps ensure that you are using the muscles of the back in the exercise, and not shifting stress to the shoulders...


I feel jipped: i belong to a local gym with weights, showers, cardio stuff and one group workout room.

I have friends that go to other gyms of the same brand and others in the area that have pools, hot tubs, steam rooms and more amenities.

They are paying the same price as me.

Not fair!

Vicky Hallett: But you could belong to those gyms if you wanted to...The reason you don't, I'm guessing, is that your gym is more conveniently located. And like in the world of real estate, one of the biggest selling points for a gym is location, location, location. (I live across the street from my gym. I'm spoiled...)

Of course, I've talked to people who drive an hour and a half to get to a certain gym to take a class with a particular instructor. So if you're really bummed, take your membership dollars elsewhere.


Rockville, Md.: Arg! I did great losing weight for the wedding, but now (4 months later) it's been too easy to gain all that weight back. Lost the motivation of the wedding dress, I guess. I still work out, but I'm probably eating more. How do you keep up the motivation after the wedding is over?

Howard Schneider: Think about that 60th anniversay diamond...


Arlington, Va.: I wrote in to Bob Harper's chat last week, but alas my question/comment was not addressed.

I asked Bob to address the benefit/risk trade-off of some of the exercises the contestants are asked to do. For example, two weeks ago, one of the contestants was carrying another contestant on her back for a distance designated by Bob.

I am NASM certified and work as a personal trainer part-time. I would NEVER have a client, let alone an obese client, carry another overweight individual on their back as an exercise.

I know that some of these moves are seen as "motivators," but I think these sorts of depictions send the wrong message about the importance of vigorous but safe exercise movements. Isn't the goal long-term health and protecting our bodies from injury? Bob Harper of 'The Biggest Loser'

Vicky Hallett: Bob's not here to defend himself...but I'm inclined to agree with you. A lot of what's depicted on that show should never be done by people at home, who aren't going to have the same sort of supervision. Let's hope that viewers are smart enough to realize what makes for good television (and motivation) and what actually makes sense in their workouts.


Israel: Congratulations on the new assignment, Howard, and thanks for all the humor you have brought to the health and fitness reporting! As someone of approximately the same age who has been spending the last five years or so getting back into shape, I've really enjoyed your writing in the columns and also on this chat.

Vicky Hallett: Howard's actually already logged off to partake in some "goodbye cake," so I'll pass on your sweet message...We're gonna to miss that guy too.


Washington, D.C.: Okay, I need a "how embarrassed should I be?" assessment. I tend to do some pretty intense workouts, and every once and awhile I start to smell bad about halfway through. It's not like you can smell me from across the room, and I don't often smell it unless I really try, but I know if you have a good nose you can tell if you are next to me. I'm really good about changing up clothes, and keeping stuff clean/bacteria free. It's not related to a particular outfit, I think I know what it is, I'll spare the gory details since we are close to lunch, but there is also no real way for me to know when it happens and there isn't much I can do about it. Last Friday though, I know someone with a keen nose moved away from me because of my odor. I was almost so embarrassed I was going to quit, but then I thought if I did that I would have missed my weekly cardio goal and besides, it is a gym, not everyone is going to smell like roses.I decided as soon as I finished I'd pose it to you to what I should do.

Vicky Hallett: This is a bit too cryptic for me. Are you saying you don't wash your clothes between workouts and you do intense ones that make you stinky? That's a no no. And then are you saying you farted during your workout? Because if you did (and it's common!), think about what you're eating ahead of time -- like, cut the dairy. But don't let embarrassment keep you from exercising. Just be aware that you're sharing space with others and you should be considerate of their olfactory needs...


Vicky Hallett: Howard's going to Jerusalem, but don't worry -- I'm only going to lunch. So I'll see you next week!

Oh! And one event to highlight before I sign off: Fit Friday in Crystal City this Friday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Workout clothing fashion show, exercise class demos, free nibbles...If I weren't getting married the next day, I'd be there. More details here:


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