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At only 28 years old, Soulcycle instructor Akin Akman has been teaching fitness for almost half his life. "I started training to become a professional tennis player when I was five years old," the Miami-born, Turkey-raised athlete told Racked. "Tennis was my first real love, and it became my entire life as I trained eight hours a day at IMG Academies," which has had Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova play on its courts. He started teaching tennis in Boston when he was 15 while still working towards a professional career until he was sidelined by herniated discs. "It took almost a year of daily physical therapy and recovery to be able to fully return to training again."
He took his skills to Florida Atlantic University, attending on a tennis scholarship while studying sports medicine. It was there that "I sustained my second serious injury, bone bruising in my dominant wrist, that finally forced me to let go of my professional tennis dreams." But that led to a second, multi-faceted career that Akman probably couldn't have dreamed of: Moving to NYC in 2009, signing with a modeling agency and working for everyone from Banana Republic to Rag + Bone, and even landing the cover of Runner's World magazine last year—not to mention gaining some devoted followers.
"In 2013, I began teaching at SoulCycle where I have been able to reach an even larger spectrum of students and athletes," said Akman, who's typically at the Noho, Soho, and Union Square studios (when he's not running bootcamp classes at Crunch, hanging out on the East River tennis courts, catching up on sleep at his East Village apartment). Read on to learn more about the senior cycling instructor, from his training regimen off the bike to his sage advice for first-timers.
Describe your training style: Are you a drill sergeant? More laid-back?
I believe in coaching my riders to become athletes themselves and push beyond their comfort levels. I like to watch them grow and accomplish goals they never thought were possible. There's always room for growth to become better, faster, and stronger.
Reveal something that even your most dedicated students don't know about you.
I've hustled hard to get to where I am right now. I prefer to be independent and not rely on other people to get to where I want to be. I've been financially independent since I was 15 and put myself through college by working as a student loan officer, resident advisor, and fitness instructor in addition to my studies and playing on the tennis and cross country teams.
Gym style (or athleisure) has totally exploded over the past couple of years. What's your favorite way to rock it?
I like to keep it simple and comfortable: SoulCycle tee and shorts, compression shorts, and long socks. I also often wear an SC bandana to keep my hair out of my face.
What would you say is the hardest thing about what you do?
Because I teach so many classes a week, my music can get old quickly. I'm constantly searching for new music, which can be a challenge.
What's your go-to song right now for getting pumped up before or during a workout?
"Made You Look (Aazar Edit)" by Nas.
If we spilled out your gym bag right now, what would we find?
Five changes of clothes, my laptop, a cross ball, cycling shoes, facial wipes, and Advil.
What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
That all I do is cardio! I train with heavy weights several times a week and people are very surprised to see how much I can lift and how strong I am when I go full throttle during a strength workout.
Can you share a moment with a student that was truly inspiring?
One of my regulars was diagnosed with cancer and she continued coming to my classes throughout the entire treatment and surgical process. She is finally in recovery right now and it's been truly amazing to watch her beat cancer with such a positive and uplifted attitude.
Have any of your clients ever come on to you or asked you out? What did you do?
It happens, but I try to not let my work and personal life intersect.
What's your favorite cheat meal?
I don't necessarily go by a strict diet or cheat meals—I just eat relatively healthy and eat what I want in moderation. My only rule is no fried foods.
What advice would you offer to someone who is just starting in your class?
Don't get discouraged if you can't do everything in the class. Go at your own pace, focus on the form rather than speed, and remember that you can modify and take progressions to work up to the advanced levels.