DJ Taylor is a Raleigh native who grew up on the soccer field. After high school, he played soccer in Spain on CF Torre Levante and eventually returned to his hometown to join the NCFC. When he's not training for his upcoming season, you can find him at O2 Fitness Park Place clocking 17.7 mph on the Assault AirRunner, finding his balance in a yoga class, or greeting members at the front desk.
When did you first start your fitness journey?
I started out playing soccer when I was 7 and I also played football throughout my childhood. I stopped playing football when I was in seventh grade because I decided I just wanted to completely give myself to soccer.
After high school, I had a scholarship to Chapel Hill, but I ended up going to Spain for two years to play professionally in a club called Torre Levante.
What brought you back North Carolina?
After my second season I was in a position that I wasn't really happy with. During the summers I always used to come back home and train with NCFC to keep my fitness up. They started to show interest in me and they really wanted to sign me so we negotiated and I signed a contract.
What's a typical workout for you at O2 Fitness?
During the season I usually go to O2 or recovery, like foam rolling my muscles and yoga. Yoga is hard! I started doing it last season because I need to get more flexible and I'm really not flexible at all. Off-season, I go to the gym to actually work out to do speed work and keep my fitness up.
A typical off-season workout for me is a warm up for 5 minutes, then the bike or treadmill. Then I'll stretch and go do some Olympic lifting like deadlifts and squats for my legs. Then I go do some explosive jumping. All plyometrics. Just working on explosive power and getting faster. I use the Assault Airrunner to just do a whole bunch of sprints and see how fast I can get every time.
The most crucial, important thing is the turf. It's always being used by everyone. For the plyometrics I do, you can't do it on a hard floor or you'll mess up your knees. I use it for box jumps, foot work, ladder work, you name it.
As a professional athlete, do you view your workouts as part of your job or do you work out for your own enjoyment?
Both. I can’t just sit around for too long or else I’ll go crazy. I gotta work out. I've been like that my whole life. I always like to work harder with everything I do.
Why do you continue to prioritize fitness in your life?
I think it’s important to stay healthy and to stay active especially as you get older and older. I think learned that through soccer. Fitness plays a big part in your overall lifestyle, how you feel, how you treat your body.
Was there ever a time in your life where you weren't able to workout for an extended period of time?
Yeah, it was the last time I got hurt which was when I was 14. I think I tore the plate in my knee and I was out for 6-9 months. It's really hard not working out. I couldn't work out for the first 3 months. That was awful.
There have also been times with soccer where I'm not playing or starting. That's the worst. It's happened to me twice. Those are some of the lowest moments for me where I need to try to stay motivated. It's very frustrating not playing because you're still working hard every session and practice. You just have to try to figure out how to get through it. It's not in your control to some degree. You just need to work as hard as you can and try to do everything right. All you can do is be ready for when the coach does play you and take advantage of that opportunity. Be ready for it.
What motivates you to get out of bed and head to the gym?
I want to push myself every day. It's just this self-motivation. It can be a different reason for a different day. For instance, I'm definitely more excited to work out now because the season is coming up rather than a month ago when I had just finished and was working out just to stay fit. Now I'm working out to get ready for preseason.
What would you say to someone who wants to start a fitness journey in 2019?
Start out with a trainer to open your eyes to what it's like to work out in a gym and find the right routine for yourself. I've had a ton of trainers in my life and I'm actually still close with 2 or 3 of my trainers that I've had since I was little. It just makes things more personalized to what you need to achieve. Whether it's more plyometrics, getting faster, working a certain muscle group, or focusing on your diet - anything more specific you want to work towards you can get there with someone who specializes in what that is.
What inspires you?
A lot of things inspire me. I'm always a hard worker. It's always what I've done since I was little. Being that way has taken me to different levels in soccer. I just want to push myself everyday. Growing up I worked hard mostly for my family. As I've gotten older, it's mainly just for me. Because I don't care what everyone else thinks. It's like how far do I want to go in soccer? How good can I get? You're against yourself. Try to beat yourself.
What advice would you give to someone who hits a plateau or who needs fresh motivation?
I would say just take a break. I feel like you can get caught up in working out too much. If you hit a plateau, take a couple days off to figure out what you want to do or how you can move on and move forward. See if you need help or need to go see a trainer to switch up your routine.
When you're doing something really tough, what do you tell yourself to get through it?
Just tell yourself you're gonna do it and then do it. I don't know how else to explain it. When you're struggling with the last few reps, just tell yourself two more or one more to get yourself through the last one you're struggling with.
For example, the most tiring stuff for me is plyometrics because it's all legs and power. I'm definitely the most sore after that, but I still do it! You just have to push through.
What does Look Forward mean to you?
Wherever you are at any point in your life or whatever you do, you can always be looking forward and trying to get better in all different ways of your life. Whether it's working out, your work ethic, dieting, nutrition - I think it's a simple phrase that you can keep in mind and look to to stay motivated.
What are you looking forward to in 2019?
In 2019 I want to have another successful season with NCFC and hopefully move up to MLS or go back to Europe. Fitness wise, I want to beat my record and run faster than 17.7 mph.