Gymnast Shawn Johnson gave local women a workout

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Former Olympian Shawn Johnson leads a cardio workout in Chicago. | Steve Green~For Nike

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A 10-minute workout should be a cinch for Shawn Johnson.

But even the gold-medal gymnast appeared a little out of breath after leading about a dozen other fitness gurus through a recent routine using the new Nike+ App that included lunges and jumping jacks, explosive jumps and stretches at Chicago’s Public Hotel.

Or maybe she was just trying to make the rest of women in the room feel a bit better.

Johnson said Nike helped create the workout based on her own training, which could be why those less accustomed to Olympic-level exercise might feel the burn.

“They designed it around agility, power, plyometrics, things to make you faster, stronger and quicker off the ground,” Johnson said about the workout.

She also said some of these moves have helped in her journey to healing and rehabilitation.

The 20-year-old from Des Moines, Iowa, racked up an Olympic gold medal and three silvers plus a world title before announcing her retirement earlier in June, citing ongoing problems with her left knee.

She has begun her recovery and said lately she’s felt nearly pain-free for the first time in months. “It’s going to take a long time,” Johnson said about her recovery. “I’ve done a lot of damage.”

At 4 feet 9 inches, this tiny athlete stands out. Her sunny, girl-next-door face and highlighted blond hair are complemented by strong arms and powerfully built legs. If she has taken any time off from the gym in the past few weeks, she doesn’t show it.

As it turns out, Johnson uses the term “retired” loosely.

She still travels around the country promoting her sponsors, leading fitness events and getting ready to work as a commentator with Ryan Seacrest at the London 2012 Olympic Games. And yes, sometimes Johnson still sneaks off to the gym despite her parents’ wishes that she give it a rest. Some patterns are hard to break.

When asked what’s up next, Johnson automatically responded with “training” before backtracking.

“Sorry, that’s habit,” she said.

She was in Chicago with Nike to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX, part of a 1972 law that banned sex discrimination in academics and sports, and to promote the Nike+ Training app.

“Girls grew up saying, ‘If I want to do this sport, I can,’” Johnson said, “We wouldn’t have that if it weren’t for Title IX.”

Even some of the most seasoned fitness junkies found the workout to be a challenge.

“It was definitely difficult,” said Kate Seiferth from FabFitFun Chicago, a local chapter of the popular e-newsletter generated by celebrity news personality Giuliana Rancic. “But I think that’s a good thing. Getting an athlete’s workout can give you the push you need to reach the next level.”

For Johnson, the next level includes plans to attend college in the fall of 2013.

She said she has her heart set on Stanford University, but Johnson will tour a few more schools before she reaches a decision.

“I didn’t get to finish high school quite like I wanted to or planned,” Johnson said. “I’ve always said when college comes around I want to put everything aside and go be a college student and have that experience.”

Though only 99 lucky girls had the chance to work out with Johnson in Lincoln Park on June 22, fitness hopefuls can take advantage of some of the athlete’s free advice. Like many, Johnson said she gets bored easily with a constant routine, and she suggests keeping things interesting by trying a hike, a new running route or some yoga. “Find something that’s fun,” Johnson said, “Because then you’ll stick with it.”