Sunday, April 14, 2024 Apr 14, 2024
71° F Dallas, TX

What It’s Really Like to Work Out with DCC’s Jay Johnson

The legendary Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader trainer gave us a taste of what the women go through.
Courtesy of Jay Johnson

Before half the country was doing drills in Hobby Lobby parking lots, Jay Johnson was pushing paratroopers in training out of helicopters. The former Army drill sergeant has since become one of the pioneers of the boot camp fitness craze and the official trainer for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, with whom he has made half a dozen fitness videos and appeared on CMT’s Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team (season 12 premieres August 3). As a new set of pompom shakers takes to the sidelines, Johnson gave two of us—a busy working mom and a dance pro—a taste of what the DCC goes through. Here are our notes:

The Workout

Ten basic exercises—as many as possible with perfect form—for 30 seconds each. We went through the list twice, keeping track of reps along the way and trying to beat our original counts the second time. The grand finale: climbing 24 flights of stairs at the downtown Omni (aka Mount O).

Cristi, 24

Fit life: Always working toward the next cheer tryouts, which means HIIT training in the am and pm plus dance classes. That’s three workouts. Every weekday.

First impression: “I’ve done Jay’s class a lot. I used to be so intimidated by him, but he became a great source of motivation in my life. It’s good to see him again.”

Worst part: “I love pushups, but when I hear ‘burpees,’ I want to fake sick and hide in the bathroom. I like coming from a place of ‘personal best,’ though. It’s just you against you.”

Takeaway: “Mount O is always rough, but he took it pretty easy on us. I did an intensive training session again after work, then took a class at Power House of Dance. Granted, I was exhausted by the end of the night.”

Holland, 36

Fit life: Sporadic pre-work YMCA visits and leisurely jogs around the White Rock loop every couple of weekends. Never done a burpee.

First impression: “Whoa. Jay is wearing head-to-toe combat gear, he talks like a preacher, and Cristi didn’t send me the memo about wearing mascara.”

Worst part: “The burpee rumors are true. They’re the worst. Climbing 24 flights wasn’t as hard on my legs as it was on my lungs. I thought they’d burst.”

Takeaway: “Hardest workout ever. After a Jay session, I realized I coddled myself too much. I was so pumped, I went extra hard at the Y the next few mornings and ended up tweaking my groin muscle. Frozen peas and a few days of rest took care of it.”

Out of the Mouth of Jay

Johnson is known for his tough-as-nails training approach and his motivational messages. “It’s like hearing Tony Robbins, but you’re actually doing it,” he says. A sample of what he bellowed during our session:

“It’s not willy-nilly exercises. It’s self-mastery. What we do out here, we do everywhere. So if we drag ass here, we drag ass everywhere.”

“Don’t be cute. Get ugly.”

“Where I come from, we run to save our lives.”

“You’ve got this. My granny does this. She’s dead.”

“Remember, you will never get this day again.”

“Comfort is more a hindrance to success than adversity ever could be.”

“Creeper’s after you. Is that how you’re going to move?”


[giflike_video id=”6″ /]

Mountain Climbers

“Go as hard as you can. The surgeon general recommends five days a week of vigorous exercise. He didn’t say, ‘Stay inside your comfort zone.’ Outside your comfort zone is where transformation is going to take place. With this exercise, make sure you step your front foot down every time your rear foot hits ground. There’s a way you can barely do that and it’s really cheating.”

[giflike_video id=”4″ /]

High Knees

“When we’re training, I say you ought to be able to pick your nose with your knee caps—try to get them up to your navel and also have knife hands. If you look at any relay runner, everyone has knife hands. It’s efficient, it’s aerodynamic.”

[giflike_video id=”3″ /]

Delt Tap

“Make sure your body does not sag. It’s a straight line from your heels all the way to your neck. A lot of people will go through the motions and just touch their biceps, but make sure you touch your delts. Everything is precise. Everything contributes to self-mastery.”

[giflike_video id=”5″ /]

Jumping Jacks

“When you come all the way up, clap your hands together. Sometimes, what we end up doing is some gym version of this, but it’s a full movement.”


[giflike_video id=”7″ /]

Push Up

“Spread your hands wide. If you can’t do any more, don’t hesitate, just let gravity take over and fall, then pick yourself back up. Therefore, you have a push up. Do not get on your knees. Transformation takes over because you’ll find your limits by pushing them. If you have the option to get on your knees, guess what, you’re going to get on your knees.”

[giflike_video id=”9″ /]

Squat Hops

“You get into a deep squat and jump as high as you can, then land in the squat position. That’s the key. You want your knees parallel with your hips and chest up, and since your muscles are absorbing this, you won’t have any knee pain.”

[giflike_video id=”10″ /]

Thunder Kicks

“Kick as high as you can and as fast as you can. It will put a demand on your triceps and, of course, your energy system. You’ll be fatigued because it’s not a normal position our body resides in.”

[giflike_video id=”1″ /]


“One knee to the opposite elbow, exchanging in a fast rate of motion. That works your abs, of course. And point your toes—that’s tough and that’s a point I always use.”

[giflike_video id=”8″ /]

Spider Lunge

“When finishing the rep, your butt is down low and both heels are next to your hands. This is a cardiovascular drill, and plyometric, too, because you’re bouncing back and forth. In my class, we use all three energy systems. That’s why it’s so fatiguing.”

[giflike_video id=”2″ /]


“It’s the ultimate exercise and calorie burner, and it will get you in shape the fastest. I have burpees in every class. In fact, I’ll have a class where there’s 30 variations of the burpee. A one-arm burpee, a bouncing burpee where you have to do one burpee then 180 and do another burpee—there’s a lot of variations.”



Related Articles


Botanical Mix Updates New Downtown Storefront for Spring

Florist Shane Friesenhahn gives a colorful refresh to his shop near Pacific Plaza Park.
Dallas History

D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: The Explosion that Forever Changed West, Texas

Next week marks the 11th anniversary of the fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 in the small town of West. For this week's edition, we revisit our story from June of 2013.

Dude Perfect Receives $100 Million Capital Infusion

Plus: Cariloop raises $20 million, StrikeReady raises $12 million, and more.