Life Audit

Up Close and Personal

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It’s exhausting just thinking about Kristin W. Ensign’s daily routine. Weekdays, the Iowa lawyer helps get her boys, ages 9 and 12, ready for school before heading off to work for the special litigation division of the Attorney General’s Office, where she handles cases in­volving correctional officers and institutions.

After work, she helps with homework, initiates evening reading time and enforces bedtimes. Not to mention that she supports her kids’ full schedule of extracurricular activities, like basketball and scouting.

Weekends are reserved for church, movies, outdoor activities, housework and obligatory errands like the grocery store and taking the dog to the vet.

Ensign also teaches a Bible class, is active in the parent-teacher organization at her sons’ school, volunteers at a hospital, has coached high school and undergraduate mock trial teams, and she’s involved in the Association of Trial Attor­neys and her local chapter of the Inns of Court.

In the midst of this whirlwind, Ensign does manage to set some time aside three times a week to exercise on the stationary bike she owns. As to which three days and at what time, well, that’s a little harder to predict.

“Ideally, I want to work out when I come home from work, but then the dog has puked on the carpet, or my boys are running around or I have to make dinner,” she says, laughing. “If I don’t get to do it when I get home, sometimes I can do it when they go to bed.” Despite the time crunch, Ensign has been able to up the length of her bicycling sessions from a mere 10 minutes at a time to 40 minutes. She also tries to add weights to her routine, lifting small 1- and 5-pound weights when she can.

Now, Ensign wants to take her workouts to the next lev­el. She admits she wouldn’t mind losing some weight and toning her upper arms–a common trouble spot for 40-something women. More than vanity, though, is motivating Ensign: She hopes to increase her energy level.

“I want to be there for my kids, both physically and emotionally, and I feel this will help me keep up with them,” she says. “And if it makes me feel better, well, that’s great, too.” But Ensign can’t amp up her workouts by taking up Thai kick boxing or hitting the slopes at the first sign of snowfall. See, she has osteogenesis imperfecta also known as brittle bone disease. Because of the disease, she has endured multiple operations and must use crutches. But it has hardly slowed her down. “I was brought up to believe I could do anything I wanted to do, and I have,” she says.

And her disease is certainly no obstacle to her undertaking a workout routine that will help her slim down, tone up and re-energize, says Life Audit fitness expert Jim Karas. Without a doubt, he says, Ensign would benefit from being as fit and strong as possible. The catch, he says, is that she might not be able to get there by herself.

“I would like to see her work with a personal trainer, at least in the beginning,” he says. “She could keep up the cardio but add a strength and resistance program using ex­ercise tubing to minimize strain on the joints.” Ideally, a qualified trainer–someone with expertise working with her specific needs–would help her develop a custom­ized routine, work with her until she felt comfortable doing it on her own and then return to update it once every month or so to keep her muscles challenged.

But personal trainers aren’t just for those with physical challenges, or for celebrities or the superrich, Karas says. They’re for anyone who wants a safe, effective exercise routine mixed with some serious motivation.

The key to getting the most from a trainer is commitment. The goal, of course, is to develop a long-term relationship. But even having someone come once or twice to get you started on a customized, home-based routine can be beneficial, Karas says. “With just a few sessions, a personal trainer can get you on a successful program where you’re going to see results and stay motivated,” he says. “Because if you’re seeing results faster, odds are you’re going to continue.”

A personal trainer is also a boon for those who, like En­sign, keep hectic schedules. Not only can a trainer come to your home, saving you valuable time (and perhaps membership fees at a gym), but a trainer can also help keep overburdened minds focused on reps rather than responsibilities, increasing the efficacy of the workout. And for busy parents like Ensign, personal trainers have an added benefit, Karas says: They show kids their moms and dads are serious about fitness. “The best way to have kids adopts healthy habits,” Karas says, “is for you to adopt those healthy habits.”


Jim Karas

Jim Karas is the author of the health and fitness workbook Flip the Switch (Random House) and The Business Plan for the Body, a New York Times best seller. A graduate of the Wharton School of Business and a high school gym flunkout, he is now the owner of Solo Sessions Personal Fitness Training in Chicago. He also appears regularly on ABC’s Good Morning America.


Kristin W. Ensign

POSITION Assistant attorney general, Iowa Attorney General’s Office in Des Moines

AGE 44

GOAL To lose weight, tone upper arms and increase energy level.

Life Audit Hot Tip: Training with Tubes

Strength and resistance training doesn’t always have to mean lifting weights, says Jim Karas, Life Audit’s health and fitness expert. Many of the same results can be achieved by working out with exercise tubing. Basically, these accessories are rubber strips with handles on each end. To work designated muscles, simply grasp the handles, position the arms as directed and pull. “It’s not as strenuous on the joints,” Karas says. Because it’s so portable and light, exercise tubing also makes it easier to have a quality workout at home or in a hotel. And it’s reasonably priced. For example, the Xertube from Spri ( costs only $8.50 and is available in five different levels of resistance.


A Three-Step Plan for Hiring a Personal Trainer

  1. Ask friends for referrals. “We use referrals for haircuts and decorators. It should be the same with personal trainers,” says Life Audit health and fitness expert Jim Karas. Most important, he says, is to make sure the person you ask is actually practicing what he or she preaches.

  2. Interview a few people before making a final decision–even if you eventually decide to hire the first person you interviewed. Make sure to ask about credentials, too. (Trainers can be certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine or the American College of Sports Medicine.) Also ask about the different types of clients they’ve worked with, whether any physicians refer clients to them, and a bit about their background and exercise philosophy. “The moment you start hearing the words ‘quick weight loss,’ that’s a real red flag,” Karas says.

  3. Ask about pricing (in Chicago, prices can range from $65 to $110 an hour). Often, the price goes down as the frequency of visits increases. Karas suggests hiring the trainer to develop two or three exercise routines that you can rotate. You should sign on for a minimum commitment of two to three visits a week until you feel you can do the exercises on your own. After that, he suggests meeting with the trainer again every two to three months to change the routines, keep up the challenge and keep you motivated.

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