Growing up, Amy Johnston was the toughest kid in her school. That tends to happen when your dad is a martial arts instructor. Now, she puts those fighting skills to good use as a stunt performer in movie productions. Her lifetime of fitness experience has prepared her for jumping off buildings and crashing through plate glass windows for many years to come.
But she has a lot more going on when the cameras aren’t rolling, including her involvement as one of the six trainers for Openfit’s Rough Around The Edges program. Here’s a behind the scenes look at who Amy is — on and off set — and how she stays in top shape for her physically demanding career.
Openfit: Are there any unique lessons you learned growing up from your martial artist father?
Amy Johnston: The most important things it taught me were discipline and the importance of physicality. Both of those stuck with me and have helped me keep fit as an adult. A lot of us spend so much time sitting at our desks and we’re stagnant throughout the day, but I’ve always been motivated to move. Martial arts helps me with the physical aspects of life, as well as the mental.
We could all probably use a little more discipline. How do you stay motivated when you don’t feel like working out?
You need to think of your health as a priority. We know we need to do things like work and make money to pay bills. We make all of those things priorities because they have to be. But you should think of your health like that as well. Fitness is a way of life, not just an addition to your day. It’s like brushing your teeth. If you schedule fitness into your day, it’s going to change your mindset and help you get the work in.
Is it hard to fit in workouts with your stunt performing schedule?
I am a morning workout person. When I’m on set doing stunts all day, I typically don’t want to come home and work out again, so I get it in as soon as possible. Plus, it gives me more energy. There are so many benefits to starting your morning with a workout. Even 10 or 15 minutes of activity can have a profound effect on the rest of your day.
Is that part of what helps you get ready to perform stunts? Is there anything else that helps you get in the right headspace to fly through the air?
Rehearsal is crucial for stunts because it helps you trust the process and reminds you that you know how to do what you’re about to do. Visualization and meditation are also important. I close my eyes and think about how I’d like to perform the stunt and even how I’d like to feel while I’m doing it. I’ll think about the sounds around me as if it’s happening. That helps clear my mind and relaxes me and gets me into that ready state.
That may surprise some people who think performing stunts is all about getting all pumped up.
So many people think stunt performers are daredevils or crazy adrenaline junkies, but there’s so much practice, rehearsal, thought, and science that people might not be aware of.
Does your crazy shooting schedule affect the way you train?
High-intensity interval training is perfect for the kind of conditioning we need. We’re often sitting around waiting to do our stunt for hours before jumping into an explosive stunt at 2 a.m… It’s always “wait and then go hard,” so that kind of high intensity work is crucial for me.
You’re not afraid of dangerous stunts, but is there a specific exercise that you dread?
One thing that really taxes me is the fire hydrant kick. You get on your hands and knees and practice side kicks and round kicks. It lets you practice kicking technique without having to balance on one foot, but it isolates your glutes and it starts to burn right away.
Once you’re done with your time in the gym, what do you do for fun?
I love the outdoors and snowboarding. I love getting outside in general. I love photography, reading, and video games. I love anything that stimulates my mind. I love hanging out with my friends and family. I direct my own projects and do a lot of dancing. Learning is really my pastime. Working out is great, but there are so many fun things to do out in the world once you’re done.
Is there a specific food that you can’t live without?
I love coffee—I’m kind of a snob about it. I’ll put coconut oil and MCT in it with a little bit of stevia with a little bit of froth and call it a day. It’s wonderful.
From the perspective of a stuntwoman, what’s the best movie action scene?
For me, it’s the scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where Michelle Yeoh faces Zhang Ziyi. It’s a weapon fight and it’s not just because of the action, even though it’s fantastic. It has a beautiful story to go with the physical aspects, and that makes it very satisfying.