Anne Hjelle ran four miles the day before giving birth and again two weeks after delivering her daughter last year. Two decades ago, while serving in the Marine Corps, she passed the men's physical fitness test just for fun.
Hjelle also survived a mountain lion attack 10 years ago in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park during a bike ride.
For someone so remarkable, Hjelle remains accessible and low-key, a personal trainer who sees her purpose as building confidence and self-motivation among her clients.
"My focus is long-term change," she said. "I ask people, with workouts and nutrition, can you see yourself doing this in 10 years? If you can't you shouldn't be doing it now."
Hjelle, 41, has worked as a personal trainer for nearly 20 years. In September, she and her husband welcomed their first child, Elsa. In 2012, she published "Skin Deep," a memoir about the mountain lion attack and six subsequent surgeries to repair her face and ear.
Here she discusses her philosophy of working out, getting back into shape after having a baby, and how she stocks her home gym.
Q. How did you get into training?
A. I started when I was about 21, informally at first. I was in the Marines. They have to do a fitness test once or twice a year that plays a role in whether you get promoted. There were a lot of female Marines who weren't passing their fitness tests. I did well on them so they asked, 'Would you take a couple under your wing and help them pass?' After I got out of the Marines, I thought I could probably make that a career.
Q. What's your approach?
A. It's probably against the grain. One of my passions, even though I love training guys because they love to work really hard in the gym, my mission is just to help women become more comfortable with free weights. I think women tend to misuse their (workout) time. They go into the gym and want to do cardio and wonder why their boyfriend can go into the gym and eat so much food and not gain weight. A lot of it is men carrying more lean muscle tissue. I'd rather be the woman who can eat 2,500 calories and maintain my weight instead of starving myself. That comes down to having more lean muscle tissue.
Q. Did fitness play a part in your recovery after the attack?
A. Absolutely. I was talking to a woman who is pregnant about how I believe because I trained as I had been training all the way up until I had (Elsa), I had her less than 45 minutes after getting to the hospital. My body doesn't know the difference between stress from giving birth or stress from a workout. With my accident I think it's kind of the same thing. My body was accustomed to recovering from stress. The things I had been through in my life, even the Marine Corps, absolutely helped me a lot.
Q. Do you work out every day?
A. I try to keep it really simple. People have this all or nothing mentality: I have to work out an hour a day, seven days a week. My program right now is three days a week. After I warm up I'm lifting 20 to 25 minutes. I run with (Elsa) in the stroller one day a week. I'll do cardio maybe two days a week and I lift three days a week. I'm trying to make good use of my time.
Q. Was it challenging to get back into your routine after having a baby?
A. I was pretty rigid with my exercise program before but you can't be that way. You have to go with the flow. Even as a trainer, it was a lot more difficult than I imagined. There were days, especially in the beginning, when I didn't change out of my pajamas. There was just no way for me to get a workout in. I got clearance from my doctor to start running two weeks postpartum. ... I don't believe in cleanses, fasting, supplements or severe calorie restriction, especially for someone breastfeeding. You can't cut calories. If you cut too much, your body will stop producing.
Q. Do you still mountain bike?
A. Not as much because of Elsa. We just got a bike trailer that I'll hook to my bike to cruise with her.
Q. How did you turn your garage into a gym?
A. The gym I work out at is less than a mile from my front door but I knew with (Elsa) that the chance of getting there would be slim. We just started collecting stuff, Craigslist for a lot of it. A lot of people I've spoken to set up a home gym and will spend thousands of dollars on equipment that's really useless. You don't really need that much in order to have a pretty good setup. It's been a lifesaver for me. Sometimes I will just come down here with (Elsa) and put her on the play mat and I can get a 30-minute workout. I still have not been back to the gym yet and she's 8 months old.
Q. What's most rewarding about being a trainer?
A. Just to see people get excited about weight training, to see their confidence level boosted with that. Especially for women feeling confident going into a free weight area with the guys or going into a gym, if they're traveling, that they've never been in, they can walk in and know exactly what they're doing.