Ask the MisFits

Vicky Hallett and Lenny Bernstein
Washington Post Health Columnists
Tuesday, July 14, 2009; 12:00 PM

No exercise question is too odd or embarrassing for Post MisFits Vicky Hallett and Lenny Bernstein. They were online Tuesday, July 14, at noon ET to take questions on working out and staying fit.

MisFits Archive.


Vicky Hallett: In case you were worried after reading today's trapeze column, I'm no longer sore (at least, not from that class). And Lenny and I are warmed up and ready to get typing! Have you checked out the new Wellness Page? We're here to discuss what you want to see there in the future, and chat about fitness as usual.

Lenny Bernstein: Fitness, or lack thereof. I'm trying hard to spend this summer getting into better shape but life just keeps happening. Too many obligations. Sprained my ankle this weekend. But fire away, I'm ready.

P.S.: Is Vicky brave or what? You couldn't have gotten me near that trapeze ladder.


Arlington, Va.: Hi,

Do you or the chatters have any recommendations for really good prenatal exercise DVDs?


Vicky Hallett: I gave a bunch to my sister-in-law, who just gave birth on Friday (hi Eli!), but I didn't get much feedback...She's been busy :)

But I remember one of them was Erin O'Brien Prenatal Fitness Fix. Anyone have feedback? And I know Desi Bartlett (who I like) has a new prenatal yoga DVD.

You do know about, right? It's an incredible resource for DVD reviews. So if the chat isn't much help, head over there and poke around the pregnancy section.


Centreville, Va.: Is Chi Running for real? and if so are there any classes in the area?

Vicky Hallett: You mean, can Chi Running really make any distance "effortless and injury-free" as creator Danny Dreyer claims? It certainly seems to work for some folks, but I think it depends on how your body (and brain) takes to it -- there are a million tiny things to remember to do it all right. When I took a seminar a couple of years ago, I definitely didn't leave knowing what I was doing. (Although his technique for running up hills at a slight angle was a revelation. It's SO much easier that way.)

But if you're interested in learning more, you're in luck because D.C. happens to have one of the highest concentrations of Chi Runners and certified instructors in the world. Even Danny isn't sure why...When I interviewed him a couple months ago he said he thought it had to do with how smart we are...

I took my workshop with Lloyd Henry (, and there are a ton of other local teachers listed at

Also, FYI, Danny told me that his Chi program is going to expand soon beyond running and walking to other sports -- probably cycling and golf to start.


Columbia, Md.: I used to be fairly athletic before a leg injury ground my routine to a halt two years ago. I want to get back into exercising again. The injury has completely healed but I don't know where to start. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Lenny Bernstein: What was your fitness routine before the injury? Is there a reason you can't go back to it, at a reduced level, to start? Or are you looking for something new? Sounds like a serious injury if you've been out two years, or a much longer layoff than you intended.


D.C.: What is the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise? I heard that if you are trying to lose weight, you do not want to be in the anaerobic state (which I think is the upper limits of a person's target heart rate) because you won't burn fat. Is this true?

Lenny Bernstein: Generally yes. Anaerobic exercise means you are working hard enough to put you in oxygen debt. You can only do that for a short while. You want to work for a longer time at a lower intensity, as measured in heart beats per minute, to burn fat. There are charts everywhere--in gyms, on the Web--that will show you the general range for fat burning exercise at your particular age.

Vicky Hallett: But anaerobic exercise is also important for weight loss! It helps build muscle, which lets you burn calories all day long.

This site breaks it down for you.


New Biker, Alexandria, Va.: Welcome back! These chats have been greatly missed!

I just bought myself a new bike and have been actively riding it about 3-4 times a week. If I'm to set a goal to ride in a race, is there a training program, maybe similar to the Couch to 5K that I should follow?


Vicky Hallett: Right in front of me, I happen to have a new book called "Training Plans for Cyclists" by Gale Bernhardt. So that should cover it, no? (If you send your address to, you may find a present in your mailbox soon...)

But I'm guessing any local bike shop could probably give you advice. And several of them have group rides, which you might want to try, too.

Another option is one of those online training programs (like what Lenny wrote about for running last week). One you might wanna try is Carmichael Training Systems ( The guy behind it coaches a pretty good cyclist you may have heard of: Lance Armstrong.


Baltimore, Md.: I have a 1.5 mile walk to and from the train everyday. After a full day of work, this walking basically constitutes my exercise for the day. Are there things I can do while walking to make the most of my time? I try to contract my abs - not sure if this does anything, but I always here people say "engage the core". I try to increase speed, but I really don't want to get sweaty before work. Please keep in mind I carry a large purse with me so my range of motion is limited. Appreciate the help!

Vicky Hallett: I hear, "large purse" and I think, "heavy." Am I right? Because then you could be doing some strength training along that walk. When you're stopped at a light, try to pump out some bicep curls or lateral raises. Contracting your abs is great -- and so is squeezing your tush.

If you can wait two weeks for my next column, you'll get a bunch more ideas.


Washington, D.C.: So glad the chat is back!

My building just installed a gym in the basement with 2 ellipticals, a bike, free weights (5,10,15, and up), and a bench. For the past month I've been using it, along with downloaded aerobics and yoga classes and I am liking the situation. Therefore, I quit my gym.

Any ideas or websites to encourage the small gym user? Like make it more varied, etc. I usually use the elliptical and do the standard weight moves. Thanks!

Vicky Hallett: How about creating a mini triathlon? You could elliptical for 10 minutes, then run up the stairs of your building, then hit the bike for 10 minutes. And if you have the energy, do it again...

As for weights, you'll never run out of ideas for exercises if you use the directory here.


Washington, D.C.: Hi. I've had some issues staying on a strength training regiment. One of the biggest reasons for that is 'soreness.' After an upper body workout, I had ridiculous soreness around my elbows (like tennis elbow), which lasted a few days. Then my muscles became sore (D.O.M.S.) after the elbow/joint soreness. Is that normal or could it be a combination of 'tendinitis'/soreness? Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Lenny Bernstein: I would wonder if you're lifting too much weight, or doing too many reps. Perhaps you want to reduce one or the other. I'd definitely ask someone at the gym who seems to know what he or she is talking about, and if that doesn't yield a satisfactory answer, talk to a doctor.


Columbia, Md.: Hi, I just gave birth a few months ago and wanted to loose 5 pounds. With the demand of work and baby, I don't have time to go to the gym like I use to. I now take the opportunity of walking my dog as my exercise. We walk about 30 minutes each day on a trail. I was wondering if walking my dog is enough of an exercise? Thank you.

Lenny Bernstein: Walk at a brisk pace if you can, and do it as often as 6 times a week. Lately, researchers have been saying that short exercise sessions, even 20-30 minutes, are valuable if they 1. get your heart rate up and 2. are done frequently. I can't guarantee you'll lose the five pounds (though I wouldn't bet against it), but you will be doing good things for your muscles and cardiovascular system.


Washington, D.C.: Hi MisFits-

Two questions. One, I've been trying to get moving more and have started a Couch to 5K program. In running/jogging I find myself with severe pain on the outside of my calf. I bought new high-quality running shoes (my old ones were awful), but the pain has not subsided. However, the pain subsides shortly after running. Is this normal or something to be concerned about?

Second, how do I go about developing a strength-training routine without hiring a trainer? I'm a late 20s female and I feel really lost in the gym without guidance, but I am a bit broke and not wanting to hire someone. Are there good Web sites that will give me explicit instructions (suggested machine rotation, suggested reps and weight) to follow so I don't feel like a doofus?


Lenny Bernstein: This one really hits home, because I've been running recently with my 22-year-old daughter, who is suffering the aches and pains of getting moving again after getting out of the exercise habit at college. Forgive the Socratic method here, but let me ask a few questions: When you bought the shoes, did you go to a good running store? Did they analyze your gait, and fit you for shoes appropriate for your arches (i.e. flat feet, high arches or somewhere in between?) Has anyone ever suggested you need orthotics? If you're in the right shoes, are you running only on hard surfaces (concrete, asphalt)or do you occasionally run on trails (much easier on the legs. Are you building up your mileage gradually? Are there rest days in your routine?

Are you icing your legs when you get back? If all this checks out, then it's time to talk to 1. the running store guy, 2. friends, other runners who have suffered similarly 3. your doctor.

Strength training routines for runners are all over the web, in running magazines, in books. Generally they recommend twice a week, low weight-high-repetition routines.


Washington, D.C.: Happy to have these chats back! I'm starting to make my exercise routine more consistent (after making only sporadic trips to the gym over the last few months, and having the extra pounds to show for it). As I'm doing predominantly cardio, is there any hazard to me working out in the morning and the evening? I love the feeling I get after my workouts at night (okay, not immediately after, but 30 minutes after I feel great!) and would love to extend that to the morning too.

Vicky Hallett: Here's what I see as the problem: You want to be more consistent about going to the gym and you immediately want to go twice a day. I'm hoping my fortune telling skills are off, but that sounds like a recipe for burnout.

It's not necessarily bad to work out twice a day. Obviously, lots of athletes do it, and it's very common among folks training for triathlons. But if you've only been making sporadic gym trips lately, I'd start by aiming for a once-a-day routine.


Columbia, Md.: I practice Yoga about three times a week and I recently starting taking Pilates once a week. I go to "Yogafit" classes. Is this sufficient for a weight loss program, or do I need to add in cardio?

Vicky Hallett: Honey, you always need cardio! Some yoga classes will get your heart rate going (and they have plenty of other health benefits), but I wouldn't rely just on them.


Annandale: Any places in the area that teaches adults how to ride a bike?

Vicky Hallett: Hi Annandale! I'm betting you were inspired by that piece in the Health section a couple weeks ago. (The link is coming in a sec in case you missed it.)

Sara (the writer/new rider) enlisted a friend to help her out, and I don't know of any formal programs for adults around here, so that may be the best route for you too. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association teaches classes, but they tend to be for folks who know how to ride but are wary of city biking or handling maintenance tasks. It seems worth contacting them ( though if you don't know who else to ask.

_______________________ It's Time for the Rides of My Life (Post, June 2)

Vicky Hallett: You'll laugh. You'll cry. I swear!


Madison, Wisc.: I know there's no such thing as spot-reducing weight loss, but I need help. I'm 5-foot-8 and about 140 lbs, and while I'd love to be 5 or 10 pound lighter, I'm well within a healthy weight range. I'm normally proportioned everywhere except for my calves. They are HUGE! Seriously, I feel like I have balloons underneath my knees. I've always had very muscular calves (thanks, Mom!), but I feel like it's been getting worse the last couple of years. Maybe it's age, or maybe it's because I'm biking more - around 100 - 120 miles per week. Could that be doing it? I don't really want to stop biking, but I'm starting to get really self-conscious about my tree-trunkish lower legs.

Lenny Bernstein: I used to cycle a lot (though never 120 miles per week) when I was in my 30s and was always disappointed that I never developed those calves that look like a sack full of rocks. I remember reading that the look was largely dependent on genetics--two cyclists can do the same amount of work and have vastly different appearances. I have to tell you: If you're cycling upwards of 100 miles each week, I'd just wear those calves proudly.


Annapolis, Md.: I have so very much missed these chats as questions have popped into my head over the weeks. I have two concerns I hope you can help me with: for me - how do I go about making a 38 y.o. body run faster than a 36 min. 5K? How often do I need to run? Should I be doing something else like more intervals? I would like to run it in under 30 minutes. For my 10 y.o. swimmer, how and what should I feed her between swim events? Thanks!

Lenny Bernstein: You are on the right track. As the coaches say, to get faster you have to run faster. That means speedwork. Intervals, as you suggested, recruit your fast-twitch muscle fiber and get your body accustomed to the stresses of moving faster, such as muscles that produce more lactic acid. BUT--and I can't stress this enough--you don't want to start speedwork until you have enough miles in your legs to run comfortably. Pick up any of the beginner's programs and it will show precisely how to build mileage and when to add some speedwork.

Is your 10-year-old burning serious calories at these swim events? If not, I'd just stick to a normal, healthy diet and see how hungry she gets between races. If she wants more, give her more.


Germantown, Md.: I'm probably in the majority here - hour long commute to work each way means not much time to add in exercise. When I get home at 8 p.m. I'm tired, sleepy, and hungry - so I make dinner. And then I'm too pooped to do anything but veg out. Maybe I'm not eating the right things - sometimes I feel like my evening meal is too heavy and I have no desire to get off the couch and move. I want to be more toned and move more, but I don't end up doing it. Not having much free time is one thing, and motivation is the other. Help!

Lenny Bernstein: This is the eternal fitness struggle. And there's no easy answer. But a few ideas: Can you work out during a lunch break--even take a 20-30 minute walk if your job has no shower or locker facilities? Could you hit a gym or go for a run after work, let the traffic thin out and then drive home? You'll find that you'll eat less and may have more energy. And if you feel pooped after dinner, it won't matter if you just nod off in front of the tube (like I do). Finally, with the summer here, it's light and warm early in the morning. Could you work out then? There is nothing more glorious then a ride or a run just as the sun is coming up. And there are a lot fewer cars on the road.


Rockville, Md.: YAY! The chats are back! I have a question about what might constitute over-exercising. The last couple months I've really amped up the exercise. THEN I went on vacation for a week and happily bended on my diet. I was sick the following week and only worked out a little bit during that week. I thought I was in good enough shape prior to vacation/being sick and I still watched what I ate this past week. I gained EIGHT POUNDS!! How does that happen? I now feel like I can never take time off from the gym again. What gives?

Vicky Hallett: Weight fluctuates based on how much water you've been drinking, the last time you've gone to the bathroom and all sorts of other reasons. So don't stress about one bad day on the scale.

But less exercise and more food does equal more weight. So if you want to get back to where you were pre-vacation and illness, it's time to get back to the gym. (Everyone's allowed a break once in a while though! No need to beat yourself up.)


Washington, D.C. Runner Wannabe: I bought a pair of New Balance shoes, but they did not do any tests on me (I wouldn't know where to go to get tests like that done). I don't know what orthotics are. I've been running on a treadmill, with 60 seconds of running followed by 90 seconds of walking (the Couch-to-5k recommendation). There are rest days, mostly because I can't get into a good routine and the pain means I don't want to try. I haven't iced my leg because the pain subsides by the time I'm home (I used to ice my knee many moons ago when I danced).

Does this help?

Lenny Bernstein: These aren't really tests. At a reputable running store, the salesperson should look at your feet, suggest a pair of shoes and watch you run or walk in them. Orthotics are inserts in your shoes that support flat feet or very low arches. If your pain is over by the time you get home, what happens if you go a little farther? Icing would help anyway.


Arlington, Virginia: Is there a sequence or hierarchy of how the body burns elements during exercise? For example does it burn sugars 1st, then other carbs, then fat, etc.? Is that related to the amount of time, such that it will not even to the point of burning fat if you only exercise for, say, 20 minutes? Is it related to the parts of the body that are being exercised or the type of exercise, such as walking versus push-ups? Equally is there a hierarchy or sequence of systems from which it derives energy 1st?


Lenny Bernstein: Mike, I got my biochemistry degree from one of those matchbook ads, but I'm going to take a stab at this one. If you exercise for a short while, you burn the glycogen in your bloodstream first. As you go longer (and presumably a little more slowly) your body starts to recruit fat--which it uses less efficiently--for energy. So, generally speaking, if you exercise 20 minutes a day it is more difficult to lose weight than it is if you mix in some longer workouts. However, if you're doing nothing, any increase in exercise should result in some weight loss, as long as you also do not increase your calorie intake.


re: Spot Reduction: Here's an "exercise" I used to help me reduce my Thunder Thighs, if in mind only: for every person I saw for about a week, I made a conscious effort to pick out their weirdest physical attribute. Not only did I realize how hard it was to find something truly weird like my own perception of my thighs, but for co-workers, friends and family, I realized how I never even think about how they look until I force myself to do so.

I'm relatively in shape, successful and have a good life. My "ridiculously large" thighs don't interfere with my daily life until their interfere with my perception of me.

Vicky Hallett: Thanks for the tip!


Arlington, Va.: At what age can a child start running/jogging regularly? My 9-year-old is interested in going on a few runs with me but I'm not sure he's ready and if it's good for his development.

Lenny Bernstein: If your child is in good health, I think it's OK. My youngest daughter did the Girls on the Run program at the age of 10 and completed a 5K. Go slowly and build up gradually. And no super-long runs.


Vicky Hallett: Ack! So much we didn't get to today. I guess that's what happens when you go on hiatus for a few months...But that's what we seem to be doing again. Don't worry -- we'll be back for more of these "special" chats. And we'll think about you every day until then. Promise.


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