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Breaking a summer sweat

Hains Point, Banneker and even the ‘Exorcist’ steps are great spots for outdoor workouts



summer, gay news, Washington Blade

The National Mall (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Summer is here and along with it is the opportunity to get outside, get some sun, get some fresh air and get in some workouts. D.C. is brimming with countless outdoor workout spots. Here are just a few to get your beak wet and your sweat dripping.

Rock Creek Park — The oldest and largest urban park in the National Park System, Rock Creek Park has a bit of everything. With more than 1,700 acres to choose from, the trail running can’t be beat. Want technical terrain for a hike? You’ve got it. Want to hit a flat, smooth run in the woods? Check out the horse trails, where you can turn your mind off and just go on autopilot. Or, even take a horse out on it. Want to hit a bike ride up? Beach drive is closed to car traffic on weekends so you can pull that bike out of storage and grab some amazing rides in the shade. You’ll also find the occasional water fountain and bathroom along the way, making it even more convenient. Great parking located around Peirce Mill in the northern portion of the park.

The “Exorcist” steps — One of the most iconic places to train in D.C. can also be one of the more frightening, not just because it was featured in one of the scariest movies of all time, but also because of the level of difficulty. Meet, the “Exorcist” steps: 75 steps climbing five stories in height that can take the wind and legs from even the fittest of athletes at a hard run. On any given day, you’ll see a steady flow of runners trekking up and down, as well as the occasional “nut” carrying heavy objects like rocks or tires. Give it a go. If nothing else, it’s an experience!

The National Zoo — The Zoo is a local workout favorite. What’s better than getting some running in while catching a glimpse of the pandas or the lions? There are plenty of water fountains and bathrooms on this route too. Our advice: start at the bottom of the hill and work your way to the top. It’s a nice climb to throw into your run. Please note it gets crowded during the day, so before 9 a.m. is ideal for this location.

Rock Creek Park Exercise Trail (Parcourse) — Located beneath Woodley Park by Calvert Street, the exercise course is a series of bodyweight exercise stations including pull-up bars, dip bars, rings, balance beams and more. It also happens to be located dead center in the middle of a pretty large hill, allowing you to create some challenging workouts. Make try loops on the 1.5 mile course or throw it into a long run to add a bit of balance to your workout.

Hains Point — Located on the southern tip of East Potomac Park, Hains Point provides not just a quality view, but an incredible place to train. On any given day, you’ll see the area flooded with runners, walkers and cyclists. This location is best for those who really want to get out and hammer on the bike, as you can often encounter challenging head winds that will test your fitness and truly make you stronger. That breeze blowing off the water can also keep you cool on some of our hotter summer days.

The National Mall — Want to get a bit patriotic? Head down to the National Mall for some sightseeing while you run. You can take a 4-mile loop from the Lincoln Memorial down asphalt paths by the reflecting pool, through the memorials, past the White House, onto dirt lanes that take you through the Smithsonian and then up the actual Capitol Hill itself. When you return, try a couple laps up and down the steps at the Lincoln Memorial.

Banneker Track and Pool — Looking for a public pool? Banneker’s got that. All you need is a valid D.C. drivers license or you can drop in for $7. It’s not really the place to swim laps though, but rather a place to enjoy some lounging, wading and relaxation. Want to play some baseball or hit the track? Banneker’s field is open 24-7. And the square-shaped track is one of the most unusual tracks you’ll ever experience.

The Towpath — For a consistent dirt trail, check out the C&O Canal Towpath. The dirt trail extends from Georgetown all the way to Pittsburgh with minimal change in elevation. It’s the very same path used by beasts of burden to pull boats up and down the canal for generations. Unlock literally limitless running, hiking and even biking when you make it to the path. And for a twist, you can branch off and meet the Capitol Crescent Trail as you hug the Potomac River.

Roosevelt Island — Still looking for some hidden trails? Located next to Roslyn is Roosevelt Island, a tiny, water-locked plot of land just waiting to make you feel like you’ve left the city. Muddy trails, dense trees and plenty of shade make this a preferred destination for runners, hikers and even bikers alike. Add it into one of your treks along the Potomac for a nice change of scenery.

Meridian Hill Park — One of the more iconic places to train in D.C. is Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park. The park has plenty of options for getting some exercise in, including stair running, soccer games on the upper fields, and yoga on the lawns. You can catch the occasional boot camp there, run the dreaded 15th Street Hill, or even jump on one of the slack lines people set between the trees on the perimeter. And when you’re done, relax with a nice picnic on the lawn with one of the best views of downtown.

D.C. is full of opportunities to get outside and be active. To feel like you aren’t trapped by the confines of a busy city. And to enjoy your summer to it’s fullest potential. All you have to do is know where to look. The options are endless.



NEW YEAR NEW YOU 2020: Local VIDA master trainer on trends, tips and technology at the gym

Get good technique down first; you can always add weight later



fitness, gay news, Washington Blade
Fitness experts say the best results from a new program start to appear 12-16 weeks into so tenacity is important. (Photo courtesy Beth Caldwell/VIDA Fitness)

Jesse Johnson makes his living working as a master trainer at VIDA Fitness (U Street location) but he agreed to share some of his tips and advice with us for free.

The U Street location is one of five of the gay-owned chain’s D.C. locations. A sixth is slated to open this spring in Ballston (Arlington, Va.). Johnson is 33, gay and left a career in corporate staffing to join the VIDA team in 2011. He averages between 50-60 clients in mostly 30-minute sessions per week. Find out more at Free introductory classes are available this month. The offerings are listed at 

Johnson’s comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: How much does the coaching you give your clients vary from year to year as new studies and findings are made available? And how do you know if something is just another fitness fad vs. something we should really heed?

JESSE JOHNSON: There are always going to be fitness trends, that’s a given. However  before we alter what we tell our clients, we look to peer-reviewed literature. One or two studies doesn’t give much evidence — that’s not enough proof. We definitely pay attention to what is trending and we try to stay as current as possible, but we don’t incorporate it until it’s been through a more rigorous review process.

BLADE: What trends have you seen of late?

JOHNSON: In the collective big picture, there’s been a big uptick in group training. The term that’s thrown around is fitness cocktails where somebody may do a couple classes back to back, some cardio, maybe some core body work, different muscle groups — there’s been an uptick in that. And also more of what we call functional training. People want to be pain free and strong. Sure, there’s always the aesthetic benefit of lifting weights, but what people really want is to be functionally strong into their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.

BLADE: Anything else?

JOHNSON: I think workouts are becoming more mindful as people use technology — apps and wearable tech to be more aware of what they’re doing. From a metric-tracking standpoint, it’s easy now to tell your heart rate, number of calories burned, number of steps taken in the course of a day with Fitbit, Myzone, the Apple watch, to the apps themselves like the Peloton apps are pretty innovative and help people be more aware of what they’re doing, how frequently. There’s more mindfulness in working out. Also people see going to the gym as more of a club or social space among millennials and Gen Z. They work out with friends, it’s seen as more social, not punishment after a weekend of drinking. 

BLADE: How much does the industry really change? For instance, would you say there’s anything significantly different you’re telling your clients today vs. what you might have said when you started at VIDA nine years ago?

JOHNSON: Well, knowledge has increased dramatically and a lot of it is due to the fact that this industry didn’t even exist 40-50 years ago. People didn’t have the same needs then they do now. But a lot of the basic fundamentals are the same — keep moving, stay active, eat purposeful and do things you enjoy doing. If you enjoy doing it, it’s easier to make it a habit. I’d say we take more the sniper approach today vs. the machine gun approach. We target more instead of just spraying a bunch of bullets hoping something hits.

BLADE: So often with nutrition it seems you’ll hear one thing, then five years later the exact opposite is what experts are saying: don’t eat eggs, no eggs are good. Stuff like that. Does fitness advice change that drastically as well?

JOHNSON: Not as much. A lot of it has to do with whether people are already moving or not. We don’t take them right out of the gate to a high level of intensity. We let them work up to it. But no, I can’t think of any particular exercise we were advising a few years ago we’re saying, “No, don’t do that one anymore” or anything like that.

BLADE: What do you do if you see people working out on their own using improper technique? Can you really hurt yourself with bad form, like lifting with your back and that kind of thing?

JOHNSON: Well we try to be as polite as possible. We’ll only approach someone if we thinkg they’re about to injure themselves. But knock on wood, I haven’t seen very many injuries at VIDA and I like to credit that to the large staff of personal trainers we have on the floor. There is an inherent risk to working out — you can hurt yourself, but it doesn’t happen very often.

BLADE: Is it better to stay at a weight level at which you can maintain excellent form or push yourself out of your comfort zone with heavier weight even if your form suffers a little? 

JOHNSON: Numerous studies have found if you take a lighter weight and do more reps but push yourself to your failure threshold vs. doing fewer reps of a heavier weight to failure, the outcome is the same. And there’s a higher risk of injury with heavier weights. We like to focus on form and technique before we progress, especially if somebody is just joining the gym and they may not know much about resistance training. You can always add weight later. 

BLADE: How many of the New Years resolution folks really stick with it? Do you see many of those same faces by March or April? 

JOHNSON: Almost all my new clients stay with me for months, sometimes years. However statistically within the industry, the number is very low. The honeymoon period on average is about six weeks and it’s a shame because often you see your best results 12-16 weeks into a program. You’ll see more immediate results sooner but that’s when it starts to get really spectacular.

BLADE: How bad are the wait times for machines at VIDA? Is it pretty crazy at peak time? 

JOHNSON: I’m not gonna lie, the gym is very busy and there are peak times. But the U Street location is more residential and we have between 50,000-60,000 square feet of space so there’s not a lot of wait time for many of the machines. And people tend to be pretty aware. They’ll let you work in with them.

BLADE: How gay is it?

JOHNSON: I’d say 50-60 percent of our clientele is gay.

BLADE: Some lesbians and trans folks as well?

JOHNSON: There are lesbians. I don’t personally have any trans clients but we have 30 trainers on staff so there may be some but yeah, it’s mostly gay men. Obviously everybody is welcome. 

BLADE: Has that ebbed or flowed much over your years there?

JOHNSON: No, D.C. is a pretty good city to be a gay person in. I haven’t seen any major change. 

Jesse Johnson (Photo courtesy of VIDA)
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Why a personalized diet can help you achieve better results

One size fits all is not the best approach when it comes to eating and fitness



diets, gay news, Washington Blade
Research has found that not all diets and bodies work together the same way. (Photo courtesy Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

From custom-designed sneakers to tailor-made sunglasses, the trend of personalization is going head to toe, and for good reason, making its way to the world of weight loss and wellness.

Specifically, researchers have been studying two converging topics in recent years. One is the importance of body type in determining the combination of fats, carbohydrates and protein that will provide the best results for a given individual. The other is the variability of results associated with a single diet — the idea that if two people start the same diet at the same time, their results could be drastically different.

On top of that, consumer research shows that people overwhelmingly prefer personalized experiences. Sixty percent of consumers agree that personalization is essential to weight loss and overall wellness.

Here’s what to know about why personalized diets are becoming so popular and how to find the right diet for you:

The importance of body type

The places your body stores excess fat may be the single greatest predictor of health outcomes. This is the concept behind Nutrisystem’s assessment of the four most common body types: “Apple,” “Pear,” “Hourglass” and “Rectangle.”

“We’re going a bit old school here, because these categories have stood the test of time for a reason. They provide crucial information on how you respond to food intake and can help you to adjust what you eat based on your goals,” says Courtney McCormick, corporate dietitian at Nutrisystem. 

Body type can also influence how macronutrients like fat, protein and carbs are processed. To fulfill your individual needs, first determine your body type, food preferences and goals, then look for a weight loss plan that takes these important factors into consideration, such as Nutrisystem.

One size does not fit all

The DIETFITS study, a large, randomized research study comparing low-fat versus low-carb dietary patterns found no difference in weight loss between them. But drilling down into the data, one can see great variability. Some dieters gained weight while others lost a lot. But it’s not always about weight outcomes, as recent research has shown that factors such as body shape may play a bigger role in the determinants of health risks than body weight alone.

For instance, a woman who is apple-shaped tends to carry her extra weight in the mid-section. She would see best results on a lower-glycemic nutrition plan that is lower in refined carbs and higher in healthy fats and protein.

“Research shows that one size does not fit all when it comes to weight loss and disease prevention,” McCormick says. “That’s why we’ve created a unique, personalized approach that’s easy to follow and designed to help participants lose weight and get healthy.”

For more insights on how to personalize your diet and maximize results, visit

While it’s no secret that achieving one’s weight loss goals is challenging, personalizing your plan can help make things easier, ultimately providing you a greater chance of success.

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Al Roker blasts Jillian Michaels for criticizing Keto diet

The fitness trainer says the ‘personal attacks’ were ‘bizarre’



Jillian Michaels, gay news, Washington Blade
Jillian Michaels, gay news, Washington Blade
Jillian Michaels (Photo by Don Flood; courtesy True PR)

Jillian Michaels revealed she “hates” the increasingly popular Keto diet but “Today” show weatherman Al Roker slammed the fitness trainer for dissing the high-fat, low-carb diet.

Speaking with Prevention, Michaels says she doesn’t like the diet because “There’s no calorie restriction;” “You may miss out on important nutrients;” and “It could shave years off your life.”

In response, Roker, who is a fan of the diet, called out Michaels for her aggressive reputation as a fitness trainer on “The Biggest Loser” on Twitter.

“So @JillianMichaels says #Keto is a bad idea. This from a woman who promoted on camera bullying , deprivation, manipulation and more weekly in the name of weight loss. Now those sound like bad ideas,” Roker tweeted.

Roker further defended the Keto diet, which he says he has been on since Sept. 1, on “The Today Show.”

“My point is, what works for you, works for you,” Roker explains. “There’s science on both sides that says it’s not a great idea and science that says it is a good idea.”

Michaels responded by posting a video on Twitter saying she didn’t appreciate Roker’s “personal attacks”

“It’s bizarre, it’s unnecessary, it’s beneath both of us,” Michaels said. “Read my book, ‘The 6 Keys.’ I’ve extensively researched everything in that, and nutrition is about way more than weight loss.”

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