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Vicky Hallet and MisFit Contenders
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 28, 2009; 12:00 PM

MisFit columnist Vicky Hallett and the final four MisFit contenders will be online Tuesday, April 28 at noon ET to discuss the best way to stay in shape, exercise tips and what motivates them to become The Post's newest MisFit.

This Story

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Vicky Hallett: Did you miss me? Well, I've missed you -- and I've missed having a MisFits partner! So we're going to fix that today right after this chat. Now's your chance to meet our four fabulous contestants to ask them about their columns and anything else on your minds. (I know, sports bras and farting. As usual.)

Then the super important editors are going to name a winner and the two of us will head off on a secret fitness adventure. You'll get to read all about it next week...

But before we get started, some stuff you should know about!:

-We're in the middle of Dance is the Answer, the D.C. area's celebration of movement, and that means FREE classes. See the schedule at Danceistheanswer.org.

-And get ready for DC Yoga Week (12 local studios offering FREE and $5 classes). The fun starts May 2 and ends May 9 (with yoga on The National Mall). Get the details at Dcyogaweek.com.

-Don't live around here? The whole country is invited to take advantage of the Gold's Gym Fitness Stimulus Package (Goldsgym.com/stimulus), and get a free 7-day pass.

And now, Ryan Seacrest-style, I present your final four!

Contender 7: I'm laughing over here, picturing my three male rivals in sports bras!

Contender 1: You mean we weren't supposed to wear them for this chat?

Contender 2: Yes, that and your jock strap. If you can't figure out which goes up top and which goes on the bottom you're going to get voted off the island.

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www.washingtonpost.com: In the Long Run, You Can Find a Way to Make It to the Finish Line (The Washington Post, Contender 3, April 7)

Losing Weight Is Easy. Losing Bad Habits Is Something Else. (The Washington Post, Contender 1, April 14)
Mixing It Up With Women Who Like to Talk Derby (The Washington Post, Contender 7, April 21)

Even After a Boomer Goes Boom, the Race for Fitness Continues (The Washington Post, Contender 2, April 28)

Vicky Hallett: In case you missed one of their columns...

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Washington, D.C.: Why the anonymity?

Contender 7: Good question. I think the editors want to sheild us from the embarrassment of having our weights become public knowledge.

Vicky Hallett: It's also sort of an unusal way to apply for a job! One thing that I think maybe hasn't been clear is that our contenders are Washington Post staffers. So all 10 were pretty brave to go through the process in the open at all...The bonus for readers, of course, is that you know these folks are up for anything. And that's an important qualification for this gig.

Contender 1: It would be unfair if you knew which of us was Weingarten.

Contender 3: We are high-level background sources. This is DC after all.

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Washington, D.C.: I was a daily bike commuter until total knee replacement in October. It's been six months and I'm still not on the bike. The doc says I don't need to go to physical therapy anymore -- just "do what you need to do".

It's very depressing as my daily routine has been disrupted (not to mention walking distances and being without pain in other areas as a result).

Any suggestions as to what I can do to get out of this funk and on the bike?

Contender 2: Many years ago I went to a orthopedic doctor for my knee problem. He said so long as I didn't run more than two miles it would stop hurting. He was shaped like a pear and looked like a heart attack waiting to happen. These days I've got the best doctors in the world, but if you get one who doesn't understand your desire for fitness, you'll get pear-shaped advice. There is no reason you can't return to biking. (I did it within 10 days of having my hip screwed back together in 2006.) If I knew the nature of your problems now I could put you on the path to a lifetime of happy riding. Tell us more.

Contender 1: What exactly is keeping you off the bike? Is it pain in the hip? If so, has your doctor cleared you to take OTC painkillers? I've torn up both my knees over the years, and some naproxen usually helps me with any aches from running (which I've also been advised against by various docs.)

And is it the good kind of pain -- muscle soreness from exercising in a way you haven't for awhile -- or something sharp and specific and just "wrong."

Is it a flexibility issue? Maybe some yoga or Pilates can help loosen it up. Both would also help with strengthening the hip, also.

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Germs at the Gym: With swine flu cases on the rise, I am worried about touching the weight machines and treadmills at the gym. I also often see people not wipe down the machine after they use it. Please, please remind them it is the polite thing to do!

Contender 2: Swine flu is coming our way, according to the local health officials, so being alert to it as you would to any illness is smart. This will serve to remind people, but be proactive about it and grab a couple of wipes yourself as you world your way around the equipment.

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New York City: I want to buy my 68-year-old mother a heart-rate monitor, the type she can wear like a watch. I am willing to spend up to $50. She is going through cardiac rehab after finding out that her recent gall-bladder attacks may have been heart. The display will need to have big numbers due to her vision. She hates gadgets and computers and frustrates easily. What models do you recommend?

Contender 1: The Omron HR-100C, available online for around $30, has a good rep for being easy to use and relatively reliable given the price, but I think the conventional wisdom is that, to get truly accurate readings, you're going to spend upwards of $100.

The display looks like a decent size, at least.

Contender 7: In the $50 price range, your best bets are probably Timex or Omron. Personally, I think the Timex display looks brighter and clearer. If you hunt around you might find a Polar FS1 for that much, but they generally start around $60. The Polar FS1, FS2 and FS3, all have the same nice big display, with extra options (and higher pricetag) in FS2 and FS3. For pictures and more descriptions, look at this: http://exercise.about.com/od/cardiomachinesresources/tp/HRM.htm

And just for the sake of looks, check out this: not-quite-as-affordable pea green women's heart rate watch by Suunto.

Contender 2: I've been using Polars since they first came on the market eons ago. Their first model was half the size of my current cell phone. I now have three on my bikes and one on my wrist. How often do you get to buy a product from Finland?

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Minneapolis: Hi Misfits!

I work a high-stress job which keeps me moving and on my feet the much of the day. Even so, I do manage to get in a 15-20 minute jog 2-3 times a week (I am just too tired to make it any longer!). Morning runs are out of the question - I can't make it through the work day after completing one.

I know I am supposed to be engaging in aerobic activity for much longer than 15 minutes (and more than 2-3 times a week), but I don't feel particularly guilty. Should I be doing more in the name of health? How bad is it for my health if I am not working out regularly?

If it matters, I am 25, otherwise healthy and a former collegiate athlete. I'm definitely not overweight, but I am certainly not fit and toned like I once was.

Contender 7: So let me get this straight... You're active at work and you go jogging on top of that. And you're not overweight. You sound like you're in shape to me!

If you really want your college body back, you could always get back into the sport that kept you super-fit, assuming you still enjoy said sport and have some time to devote to it. But if you're looking for permission to ease off on the workouts, you have my blessing!

Contender 1: It's great you're working out at all, and yeah, you don't need to feel "guilty."

As to if you should be doing more -- I guess it depends on your goals. Just because you're not overweight doesn't mean you couldn't benefit from aerobic exercise -- it's good for your blood pressure, your bones and your stress levels.

And, I know this is one of those "easy for you to say" pieces of advice, because for all I know you're working 12-hour days, but if you're too tired to jog more than 15-20 minutes, you might need to get some more sleep.

Contender 2: What you're doing is just fine. Would more be better? No question about it. But, guess what? That's going to take care of itself in time because as a former college athlete you know the benefits of working out. And eventually you will begin to slide down that slippery slope and realize you're not fit and you don't like what you see in the mirror. Then you'll be movtivated to do something about it. By the way, gaining fitness is a matter of over stressing your body and then allowing it to recover and adapt. You'll find the same thing happens if you workout in the morning. After a rough week or so, your body will adapt and you'll be able to make it through the work day.

Contender 3: Agreed, with all of the advice from the other contenders. Also, have you tried changing the time of day you work out to see if you can squeeze in a few more minutes (is lunchtime an option)? Or working out with a friend so you can push each other?

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Ramsey, N.J.: Which is a more efficient use of a treadmill for weight loss/maintenance: walking at the maximum incline (15 percent) or a lower incline? Because I have balance issues, I hold on to the bar.

Contender 7: The highest incline will certainly work your body harder. The question is, will it wipe you out too soon? You may be able to better tolerate a few more minutes by switching back and forth between steep and low inclines. Think of it as interval training.

And please do be careful not to fall. If you think your balance issues might have something to do with the blood going to your brain, maybe power equipment isn't such a good idea. Passing out on your treadmill could get ugly!

Best of luck to you!

Contender 1: Good advice from No. 7. One thing you didn't mention -- do you walk faster at a lower incline or not? Picking up your speed can help make up for using a lower incline. The important thing is that you're doing something though.

I believe the difference in calories burned between walking more slowly at a steeper incline or a bit faster at a more level incline isn't going to be major, so I would do whichever you find most comfortable (and safest.)

Contender 2: Put that puppy at one percent and walk. Remember that it's an endurance activity which will activate your fat burning muscles most effectively. When you turn that treadmill into a mountainside at 15 percent you might as well be working a weight machine. Don't. Walk lower and longer. You'll lose weight faster.

Contender 3: I'm a believer in long, slow distance for burning fat. I think a lower incline would be more effective. You could go a bit higher than 1percent, but I definitely wouldn't do 15 percent.

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Alexandria, Va.: So glad you are back! I've missed you.

I have a question I've been meaning to ask for awhile. Four months ago I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer at the age of 34. I was in fairly good shape at the time, not overweight, but rather inconsistent with exercise (would barely get in two days a week and regularly skip whole weeks). I underwent four months of hard chemotherapy and am now facing six weeks of daily radiation treatments that will end in mid June.

My oncologist has informed me that exercise can tremendously reduce my risk of a cancer recurrence. She says I need to work up to five hours a week of vigorous exercise. Believe me when I say that I will no longer be slacking off. What better incentive than your life, right?

I have been exercising on my home elliptical machine while in treatment, but when I finish I'd like to treat myself to a really nice gym membership. My ideal place would have a pool, a steam sauna, knowledgeable trainers, and many classes, including yoga. I'd like a place that will lift my spirits rather than, for instance, a smelly basement atmosphere (my previous gym). I am rearranging my work schedule for this and am looking to get into the best shape of my life. Any suggestions for a fantastic place?

Contender 2: Good for you! There's no question that exercise can improve your overall health and keep your body on the right track. There are several good gyms in and near Alexandria. Approach it like you're buying a new car. Go to several places and kick the tires before you select one. In addition to the setting, you want a place full of people you feel comfortable with, so before you plunk your money down on a place make sure you visit it at the times of the day when you're most likely to be working out.

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Washington, D.C.: In defense of Finland, Nokias come from there and saunas too!

Contender 2: Does Finland need to be defended? Are the Russians massing on the border again?

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Re: Germs at Gym: Swine flu or not, wiping down equipment is just a good idea all around. MRSA infections, the common cold, nasty sweat, whatever...

Speaking of the gym, any recommendations for outdoor workouts that are not running? Obviously, there is joining a formal sports league, but what about in terms of things we can do on our own on trails, at parks or in the city?

Contender 2: People tend to underestimate the value of simply walking. It activates your muscle groups, burns calories and keeps you limber. I'm a great believer in cycling. It's easier on the joints and provides a terrific workout. Kayaking is a major sport in the Washington area, and you don't have to shoot the rapids to do it. Very good exercise!

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Washington, D.C.: How can we influence the ever-important, knowledgeable, kind, attractive editors who choose The MisFit? Seriously, do readers get a vote, chad or otherwise?

Vicky Hallett: Promising new subscriptions always helps...But seriously, we've been soliciting reader thoughts throughout this process. Have you emailed yours to health@washpost.com? And feel free to pose some questions more directly to the contenders -- think of it as a job interview. All of that stuff is going to help inform the gorgeous, marvelous editors' decision.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi,

What do you think of skipping for exercise? (Not skipping rope, just skipping). I haven't been able to find anything substantive online about intensity, injury prevention, etc. I'd like to integrate this into a walking/running routine to relieve boredom. Thanks.

Contender 2: Why not skip? Exercise is about activating your muscles, getting your heart thump-bumping and developing your fitness. Skipping is fine exercise so long as you listen to your joints -- knees and hips in particular. They're going to absorb the impact of that skip. If they begin to ache, then skipping isn't your best path to fitness. For now, try to find a nice, grassy field or a path through the woods rather than concrete and asphalt.

Contender 7: Yeah, skipping works. I guess it would fall into the "high-impact" category with running and jumping rope, since you're lifting off the ground. Out of curiosity, do you have someone to hold hands with? That seems like a major equipment requirement :)

Contender 1: You should see the quads on Goldilocks!

Have you talked to any boxing trainers? A retired boxer at a gym I used to go to would alternate between skipping in circles and shadow boxing.

I did not make the Goldilocks joke at him.

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First-time sprint triathlete: I registered for a triathlon later this summer. . . any advice? I'm concerned about the logistics of switching between the three sports and about the swimming. I'm a competent runner and am not too concerned about the biking. But how can I improve my swimming? I'm very slow.

Contender 1: Does the race allow water wings?

I will largely defer to Contender 2, a triathlete himself. But I would think a Master's swim class, if there's one available in your area, would be a good way to get in a laps and improve your form (and confidence.)

Contender 2: The logistics of switching between the three sports is fairly simple so long as you plan ahead and arrange the things you'll need in an orderly fashion.

Swimming for beginners is about two things: overcoming the conviction that you are a lousy swimmer and then refining your technique. The book you want to lay your hands on is "Your First Triathlon" by Joe Friel. Or, after we rid ourselves of the cloak of anonymity, e-mail me!

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Blisters during marathon training: Love the article on marathons! (The Washington Post, Contender 3, April 7) I am training for my fifth marathon and I am getting awful blisters on the outside of my big toe on my right foot (I know, pretty specific!). I haven't changed my brand of shoes and have successfully trained in this brand for the past three marathons. I also buy new shoes pretty regularly. Why do you think I am getting blisters now but never have before? Could my feet have changed and that is why I am getting blisters now?

Contender 2: Sure, your feet can change. More likely, however, your gait has changed in some fashion. Have you had any other injuries? Knee problems? IT band soreness? Does your back ache after a run? We all tend to look at the point of the apparent injury, in your case the big toe and the shoe, for the cause of the injury. You want a pure guess? If I were looking I'd begin by testing the flexibility of your left IT band. I'm betting it's tight and your over compensating.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Vicky and potential MisFits! A challenge for you: last week, my husband and I began the South Beach Diet. We're in week two of the super strict Phase I (no carbs, no sugar) and are also doing cardio and/or weights most days of the week. I've already lost four pounds and feel absolutely fantastic. I feel like four pounds down, 30 to go! My husband, who has about 50 pounds to lose, however, hasn't budged. He has been much more strict with the diet than I have, following it to a T (I have allowed myself two glasses of red wine), but hasn't seen any results on the scale or in attitude/general overall health feeling.

Is it possible that this "diet" just doesn't work for him?

Thanks!

Contender 1: I have to say, I'm a little surprised to hear this. One of the main ideas behind South Beach is that you get a psychological boost from quick weight loss during those first two weeks. Sometimes results don't show up right away on the scale though -- are his clothes any looser? Does he look any slimmer?

If he has been good about the quantities of what he's eating and not just the fact that it's low-carb, it might be worth a trip to the doc's office (which is always a good idea before going on any seriously strenuous diet/exercise program.)

Contender 7: I, too, am surprised your man hasn't lost any weight after two weeks of strict dieting. You tend to see the most dramatic weight loss in the early stages of a diet, before your body starts to get used to it.

Contender 3: I've never tried the South Beach diet myself, but I would give any new approach -- diet, exercise -- more than a week before worrying whether it isn't working. Even if it is designed to yield early results, I'd have to assume various people will see different results.

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Alexandria, Va: Thank goodness you are back! How long does it take to get your stamina back after an injury? I had Achilles tendon surgery and my right leg has no muscle tone!

Contender 2: I wish there were a simple answer like "six to eight weeks." Unfortunately, the truth is that it depends on a lot of factors. One of the most important is the quality of your physical therapist. After my knee surgery (2005) I went to a local PT outfit where they wanted me to do two-pound knee lifts in reps of 10. I could have punted the two-pound weight through the ceiling, so I split that scene and found a sports physical therapist who has nursed me back from much more serious trouble. She understands that, fortunately, I'm not couch potato without muscle tone. Yours is a tough injury and you need the best care. Find it!

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Contender 1: To Alexandria, in search of a luxurious and uplifting gym -- I'm not a member, but I think Vida strives for the kind of opulence you are looking for.

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Arlington, Va.: Well, summer is about here and I frequently drive up to Massachusetts to a beach cottage. However, now that I am aging, I wake up stiff the next morning from the long drive. What kind of stretches can I do along the rest stops so I am not so stiff the next day?

Contender 7: Sounds like you are suffering from the syndrome known to travelers as Driver's Butt. Try toe touches and lunges!

Contender 2: There are a bunch, but your big issues in the car are likely to be your back and your hamstrings. If you don't mind being gawked at by fellow rest stoppers, try sitting flat on the floor with your butt firm against a wall. With shoes off, extend your feet and toes away from you, with knees and ankles touching. Slowly rotate from the hips, keeping legs straight, until your feet form a V. Then rotate back until you touch. Repeat this with your toes and feet pointing straight up. (That's for the hamstrings.)

Then sit on a straight-back chair with your back straight. Bend at the waist until you feel those back muscles stretching.

Next, same chair, your back straight. Put right ankle crossways on right knee. Press down on left knee until you feel it in the hip. Switch and repeat.

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Big Arms: Hello Misfits! Just wondering if you or the peanut gallery had any tips. I lift weights pretty regularly: once or twice a week during the winter and fall, less often during the spring and summer as I'm outside more and at the gym less. I do the standard major muscle groups on the machines including chest press, shoulder press, seated row, and the tricep and bicep machines usually for three sets of 10 reps. My arms are very muscular, but they don't really look muscular, they just look big. I'm considering buying some small hand-held weights to keep at home and use to develop a more sculpted, toned look. I'm looking for suggestions for a good routine to get my "Michelle Obamas" in shape. I would also love tips for how to stick to an at-home routine. (I typically need to force myself to the gym or outside in order to work-out.) Thanks!

Contender 7: I have no idea what weight you should buy, but if you happen to be built like me, the perfect freeweight would be a 5 pounder. I'm guessing you're much stronger than me, though. You want to pick a weight that seems light to lift once, but kinda burns after 20 reps. Then switch arms and do 20 on that side. Then switch again. When you curl, start with your weight parallel to your leg and twist it toward your face as you pull up.

To make this a regular part of your life, you'll want to pick a time of day that you know you'll be home and free from other obligations. Also, stretch first by grabbing a corner of the wall at about shoulder height and twisting your body toward the floor. I forgot to stretch Sunday before I used my new weed whacker and my arms are still sore!

Contender 7: Almost forgot... keep a TV or stereo near your freeweights!!!

Contender 1: In general, you're on the right track -- you build muscle with higher weights and fewer reps, and you sculpt with lighter weights and more reps.

It might be worth at least one session with a personal trainer, to whom you can explain your goals and come up with a routine. He or she can also help with things like proper push-up form, or recommend a sculpting class.

To look leaner and more defined overall, it will also help to add some aerobic exercise, like running or biking.

Contender 3: I had the opposite problem, I could never build bulk. A trainer explained I was doing too many reps with too little weight. Changing that up helped some. A good bit of it is genetic. Lance Armstrong says in his books that he was thick-chested for a cyclist and had to adjust his workouts accordingly.

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Baltimore: OK, I have read your articles. Now what about those of us in the older bracket that are fighting that age-related weight gain. What advice do you have for us? What I did in my 30's even my 40's doesn't work anymore.

Contender 2: Hmmm, well, I can relate to that. But without knowing what you did in your 30s or 40s it's hard to know where we need to make adjustments. You need more endurance activities because you're not burning calories the way you once did, so the challenge is finding the right activity that suits your lifestyle.

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Vicky Hallett: Alexandria: Your fancy gym needs sound like a good match for Equinox in Tysons. There's a pool, a ton of yoga classes (in a gorgeous studio) and poshness galore. But you'll pay for it...

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Misfits,

My husband and I are thinking of getting into bike riding to break out of the semi-vegetative state we've been in for the last few years. We plan to take leisurely trips down the trails around the area, at least to start. Is this a good way to get moving? Or are we just fooling ourselves into thinking we're getting good exercise?

Contender 2: It's great exercise. As I said in responding to an earlier post, it's easier on the joints than jogging and you get just as much benefit. Set some goals in terms of mileage. Be reasonable and never increase more than about 10 percent a week. If you want a grand goal, plan to "train" yourself into shape so that a year from now you can do one of the 100-mile "century" rides that usually take place in the fall. They are great fun. And, please always wear a helmet, properly buckled. I'd be dead had I not been wearing mine.

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Burning Calories: How many calories are burned while reading your chat? (Reading, scrolling, typing...)

Contender 2: 212 if your are sitting up. 97 if your are lying down.

Contender 7: Are you still lying down, Contestant 2? I'm so jealous.

Anyway, this is a trick question. There are so many variables, like whether we are chewing gum or doing butt squeezes or thinking about Dwight Schrute in heels...

Contender 1: On a Mac or PC?

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Washington, D.C.: This could be the dumbest question you've ever gotten, but here it goes: I started working full time about six months ago and my posterior has gone completely flat. Bright side? Calves look great because I wear high heels all the time. I still try to do about 40 minutes of running a day or one hour of other cardio a day, but I was wondering, without looking like Dwight from "The Office," is there anything I can do to offset this unfortunate situation? Maybe special desk exercises or something to sit on that would challenge my balance and force my body to work out, that kind of thing?

Contender 7: Nice... Thanks for making me think of Dwight Schrute in heels!

I know this is going to sound funny, but you can do butt squeezes while sitting in your chair. I've never committed to an exercise regime involving seated butt squeezes myself, but I've heard it works. If all else fails, you could get push-up jeans!

Contender 1: I'm a little confused by the question -- you've lost your butt since you started working full-time (no small feat nowadays, btw) -- but you're still working out 40 minutes to an hour a day?

What in the world were you doing before your new job to maintain the junk in your trunk? Or you've just lost it from sitting all day? Does that really happen?


You could try an exercise ball as a chair, but that's going to work your core mainly (not a bad thing.) Can you sneak away and get some squats in somewhere during the day? Maybe do some step-ups on the staircase?

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For Ramsey, N.J.: If you have to hold on to the bar to stay balanced, you're going too fast and need to scale it back. As the muscles that stabilize you side-to-side grow stronger, you'll be able to bump it back up.

Contender 2: If you're holding onto a bar to stay balanced you probably ought to stop drinking. (If you're having balance issues, practice standing in front of the mirror on one leg. Hold it for 30 seconds each leg, then repeat five times. Once you have that down, start over doing it with your eyes closed. Not so easy, but eventually you can progress to a balance ball.)

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Philadelphia: If you aren't lucky enough to be chosen as the next MisFit, which of the other contenders would you vote for, and why?

Contender 7: I think Contestant 2 is the most knowledgeable about fitness and Contestant 1 is the funniest.

Contender 2: Always vote for the contender from Philadelphia. And as a Philadelphian, I can assure you it's perfectly fine to vote several times in the same election, particularly if you live in Ward One. (Has Vince gone to prison yet?)

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Houston: But there are no Gold's Gyms in Houston...sob...sob...I miss my old one in Ballston....Gold's, at least the ones in the D.C. area, are above and beyond!

Vicky Hallett: What about the one on 16211 Clay Road?

But I agree it may not be as nice as the one in Ballston -- love how it's a former car dealership. Great windows.

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Soon-To-Be-Biking-To-Work Guy: Contenders: If you were a gladiator on "American Gladiators," what pseudonym would you use?

Contender 1: Crueller

Vicky Hallett: I know you don't care about my answer, but I'd wanna be Sprain. (Also, I interviewed Wolf not too long ago, and asked him how they came up with his Gladiator name. His answer? I look like a wolf. He also can howl pretty well, so I suppose that helped.)

Contender 7: Is there a one-word name rule? I guess I'd go with Belcha.

Contender 3: The Incredible Bulk.

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Stretching: Stretching before running is of little or no value and actually may slow you down. True or false?

Contender 3: True. Warm up those muscles for 15 minutes or so before stretching. Don't stretch cold muscles. Sometimes it feels good after a long day at the office, but it's the wrong approach.

Contender 2: Stretching before running used to be a ritual. Now research indicates it 'tain't so. Two of the reasons are these: cold muscles can develop micro-tears when stretched, and over stretching can lead to joint injuries. Instead, try what's called "dynamic stretching."

Contender 1: This is completely anecdotal, I realize, but stretching has definitely helped me cope with and overcome various injuries.

In general though, this seems like one of those issues where the conventional wisdom changes every six months. (I blame all those studies sponsored by Big Stretch.)

Contender 2: The best book in my library on stretching is "Stretching Anatomy" by Nelson and Kokkonen. Great art work and explanation.

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Washington, D.C.: After training hard and shaving 10 minutes off my previous year's results, I am finding that running post-Cherry Blossom race is a real drag and darned difficult. I'm sure some of the difficulty I'm having is due to burnout, but I don't want to lose my running fitness. I'd also like to start adding in weights and cross training. Do you have any ideas about training programs that will allow me to stop losing momentum but mix it up a bit? Any advice encouraged. Thanks in advance!

Contender 3: This is a very common problem among runners -- maintaining fitness without getting stale. You've actually answered your question, at least partially. Let's say you were running five to six days a week as you prepared for Cherry Blossom. You could drop a day of running and go for a bike ride instead. Or drop a day and simply rest that day each week, at least for a few weeks. When you do go running, choose a different route, which will allow you to see new things and cover new terrain. It's warming up--maybe you're switching from a treadmill to the outdoors? Have you been mixing in a track session with your distance running? That helps your speed and is another way to change things up. Lastly, you should try to get into the gym twice a week for some work with the weights. But between work, family and putting in the miles, I find this to be the biggest challenge.

Contender 1: What was your Cherry Blossom training routine, and is there a way you can make it more interesting? Like No. 3 said, by choosing a different route. Or you could join a running club -- check out Pacers or Fleet Feet for one near you -- you could run intervals or (hee hee) fartleks...whatever you think will keep things from getting stale.

And, signing up for another race is always excellent motivation.

Contender 2: Without knowing how many days a week your training or the mileage your putting in it's hard to diagnose your problem. That said, my guess is that you may be overtrained and that you may be addressing that by training harder. "Overtrained" actually is a serious condition that takes 3-4 months of recovery. My recommendation is that you think about triatlon. I was a dedicated runner for 30 years before I took up cycling at the behest of a fellow runner who was injured and wanted company riding. Then I got hurt, so I took up swimming. Now I'm a triathlete. How did that happen? Anyway, it's great training.

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Baltimore: Hello, I have a question about intervals (high-intensity interval training). How often should you incorporate them into your weekly aerobic schedule?

Contender 1: I think the general rule is no more than 1-2 a week, because they can be hard on your body. (Full disclosure -- I happen to love running intervals and have certainly exceeded that from time to time, and paid for it.)

Which reminds me -- Vicky mentioned she's working on a story about exercising with one's dog. I've recently gotten a new pooch, and an excellent way to work intervals into your run is to sprint whenever another dog is around in order to keep him from pulling and barking...

Contender 7: I have a highly intense dog too, but he's on Prozac now!

It's been a while since I did any gym workouts, but when I used to go three times a week, I would do a little bit of high-intensity training once or twice a week, followed by some strength training and 20-40 minutes on the elliptical, set to easy.

Contender 2: Pacing your workouts really depends on your goals. If it's just fitness then one to two hard workouts a week is correct. If your goal is race-oriented -- like running the Baltimore Marathon -- you want to structure your workout schedule by working backward from the date of that race using periodization that incorporates base building phases with strength building phases that use more interal workouts.

Contender 2: that would be "interval" workouts!

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Contender 1: I wanted to mention (it got published before I could chime in) that if I had to vote for another contender, it would be No. 7, for invoking Danzig and the Misfits in her "get to know me" essay.

The Misfits were the rivals of Jem and Holograms, right?

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RE: Alexandria, Va.: Whichever gym you choose, please be sure your trainers understand how to train someone who has undergone mastectomy and reconstruction. There are specific protocols in training women who have undergone these types of surgery.

Vicky Hallett: This is a very good point. And I think it pays to be extra picky about stuff like this -- make sure you're working with someone with extensive experience with breast cancer survivors. No sense in being someone's guinea pig.

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Potomac, Md.: My kids seem to take up all available time, including exercise time. They're too young to run or bike with me (if I want to get a decent workout). Any tips for getting a good workout with the kids in tow?

Contender 2: When my kids were small I got a trainer for my bike and did my riding in the basement. You can do the same thing with an exercycle. There are lots of good workout tapes to help you along (See Troy Jacobson's Spinervals series.)

Contender 3: When mine were really young, I had one of those trailers that I hooked to the back of my bike. It was great exercise, but make sure you have the right gears for steeper hills. Also it was unusual enough back in those ancient times that cars, joggers, inline skaters stayed out of our way. On a couple of vacations we would collapse it, throw it in the car and then hook it to rented bikes wherever we were. I'm not a huge fan of pushing one of those jogging strollers, but sometimes you have to go with what's possible.

Contender 7: Games like soccer and basketball are easy enough to get small children in on. They'll love it, especially if you let them win.

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Vienna, Va.: I'm thinking of ditching my gym membership and buying a functional trainer machine for home. Am I going to regret the decision down the road?

Contender 7: I ditched my gym membership and bought Dance Dance Revolution. I only regretted letting a fat friend use my floor mat. I've gone through several floor mats.

Contender 1: Better than a non-functional trainer, I suppose.

I can't predict my own future emotional states, let alone yours, but I guess whether or not you're going to regret it depends. Are you more likely to use a machine if it's at home, even if it's not as versatile as a gym? Or are you more likely to utilize the variety of the gym, even if you have to schlep over there?

Contender 2: Think about your motivation for going to the gym in the first place. If you're self-motivated and know you'll stick to a workout plan at home, then ditch that membership.

Contender 3: Any home gym equipment I've ever bought becomes a very expensive clothes hanger. I HAVE to go to the gym for exercise. I just won't get it done on home equipment. I wish I knew why.

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Re: Treadmill incline: Anything involving holding onto the bar is not a very effective workout. Do the highest incline that you can (without holding on!)

Contender 2: I watch people do that in the gym. It's pointless, but they like it, so good on them. At least they're doing something and if going 15 percent for three minutes rocks their boat, so be it.

Contender 1: Right. Given that the poster said balance was a problem, walking while holding the bar trumps not walking while holding nothin'.

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Contender 1: I just wanted to say thanks for the questions today, I hope we were helpful, and we have some lovely waivers we would like you to sign...

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Contender #1 Is the Best: This is my official vote.

Vicky Hallett: That will be taken into consideration. (I could so be a press secretary.) And with that, I'm going to let them all say goodbye.

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Contender 3: MisFit editors: Free food at my desk. For the next two years. It can be healthy stuff if you insist. Posters: Hope we can do this again sometime...

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Contender 2: This has been fun. When it comes to fitness, remember what our pal Tom Krause said: "If you only do what you know you can do -- you never do very much."

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Contender 7: Bye everyone! Thanks for reading! It's been quite a brain workout trying to answer all these questions!

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Read more information on all the contenders.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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