Making Flexibility Fun

by Cherryh Cansler, MA


Chalene Johnson, of Turbo Kick® fame, has a reputation for having a fit body, lots of energy and confidence, plus the ability to do any type of workout. Her lack of flexibility, however, has led to injuries over the years. After hearing from her doctor, chiropractor and kinesiologist that the only way to avoid future injuries was to become more flexible, she decided to figure out a way to make it fun.

That’s when Johnson got the idea to create PiYo®, her high-energy version of flexibility training. “I didn’t enjoy yoga or Pilates,” Johnson admits. “I didn’t feel comfortable announcing that because…everyone is so in love with yoga and everyone is so in love with Pilates, but I kind of hated it. I felt like it was boring and I didn’t look forward to it.”

She started crafting PiYo at home on her own, then introduced it to group fitness instructors at a variety of gyms, which eventually led to creating a DVD series via Beachbody®.

“I just don’t believe you have to settle for something you do not look forward to because there are so many different ways to exercise,” she enthuses. “We don’t have to have rules; we just have to know what the goal is. Whatever [that] is, you can get there any way you need to…and make it fun for yourselves.”

Why PiYo?
The goal with PiYo was to create a program that would achieve the same functional flexibility results as yoga or Pilates but was movement-based as well. “I wanted something that didn’t just challenge my flexibility at a stagnant joint angle, but [also] took into consideration the dynamic movement—and something that made me strong, not just flexible,” the fitness entrepreneur says.

Johnson believes that much of the time and focus during standard yoga classes is spent on correcting postures—that too often the goal is to get everyone to look the same. Since people are built differently, however, she thinks poses may need some manipulation in order to benefit each individual. 

“PiYo isn’t based around rules or practices,” Johnson explains. “Instead of all the rules, just think about what’s the goal. If I’m trying to get my adductors to be more flexible, I might look different than you, because maybe you have a longer femur or I have a longer tibia.”

Her other problem with traditional yoga and Pilates classes is how slow-paced they often are. While she realizes that many people love to hold long poses in a hot room, she isn’t a fan. That’s why PiYo is quick, packed with up-tempo music, and incorporates a variety of workouts. 

“You aren’t just doing a static Warrior lunge, but you move through it so you are building heat and building muscle, and it feels really delicious—especially for people who don’t like to hold still,” Johnson points out.

The workout is also geared for anyone, according to the fitness pro, who admits some of her past workouts, such as Turbo Kick, required a bit of coordination and the ability to stay on a beat. PiYo, on the other hand, is much simpler and is for all body types.

“I will have…some [clients] who are really uncoordinated and not flexible, but the people who gravitate toward it are the people who like to move,” she states. “You have to use your own body weight and if you are very heavy, we teach you how to modify so you are not using so much of your weight. As you get stronger, then you can add more of your own weight.” 

Finding the Fountain of Youth
Johnson, who has been in the fitness business for nearly two decades, believes it’s important for women of all ages to stay fit, flexible and strong. But she also finds that the key to longevity as you age is to take more cues from yourself and fewer cues from external motivators. It doesn’t matter what the hot new workout trend is, for example. 

“I found myself going, ‘Should I take CrossFit, should I do this type of workout?’ But I am not motivated by competition. I am not motivated by hurting myself anymore. I had back-to-back injuries where I cracked ribs and bruised my spleen, and [losing] the ability to exercise really made me understand how important it was to my mental well-being.” 

As she ages, Johnson’s No. 1 goal when it comes to her health is to spend more time trying to make sure she feels 100% instead of killing herself in the gym.

“It’s just about enjoying what I do and looking forward to every workout and trying new things because [they sound] good—not doing things because that’s what everyone says you should do, but because it’s what my body is craving.” These days, that means weight lifting three times a week along with a mix of low-impact exercises, including cycling, low-impact Tabatas with slide discs, PiYo, push-ups, pull-ups and handstands. She also runs very slowly twice a week as a way to clear her mind. “It is like meditation. I don’t do long-distance running for the cardio effect—I do it for the therapeutic effect.”

The most attractive women, according to Johnson, are those who are confident and who love themselves. “They aren’t nervous or anxious or consumed [with] what other people think about them; they’re just, ‘You get what you get.’”

“I think it’s the best way to look your best and reduce your stress,” she says. “Happiness is the fountain of youth, so if you aren’t happy with yourself, it’s hard to be happy with the rest of the world.” AF

Meet our experts

AFM-Author-Cansler Cherryh Cansler, MA, is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor in Kansas City, Mo. She has a master’s in journalism and contributes to magazines, newspapers and websites all over the country.

The information provided is without warranty or guarantee and NASM disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information. Learn more