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Welcome back to our Hottest Trainer competition: our search for NYC's most talented fitness instructor! Over the next two weeks we'll be profiling 16 of the city's top workout pros before you get to vote for your favorites.
Many of the trainers we've profiled thus far were born athletes, so Danny Zapata of CityRow gets bonus points for having the courage and discipline to transform into one. "Until about 16 years old, I was a couch potato, an overweight band geek who occasionally picked up a tennis racket," the 31-year-old from Texas told Racked. "I then discovered running, which quickly became my outlet." Once he could run a mile without stopping, he joined his high school's cross country team, and eventually made his way to varsity rowing (foreshadowing??) in college, "until my junior year, when theatre and dance took over my time, energy and—dare I say—'passions.'"
That passion brought him to New York City to pursue a career in the field, but it didn't quite work out as Zapata expected: "The dance world can be quite the bitch." But at least it gave him a frame of reference as to where to go next. "I knew I had to find a career where I could move my body and let my wild side out. Just as I felt inspired after my first one mile run, I wanted to find a way to help inspire others." Fast forward to last October, where the East Village resident joined CityRow as "an instructor, motivational leader and DJ," in addition to teaching gigs at Flywheel and SLT.
Read on to learn more about Zapata, from how he's handled clients asking him out and where he sweats outside of his own studios to his favorite cheat meal (hint: it comes in a glass).
Describe your training style: Are you a drill sergeant? More laid-back?
I wouldn't say "drill sergeant," per se, but when you come to my class, you come to work. The operative word is "work" in workout, and the operative word is "instruct" in "instructor." That's what I do: I'm an instructor first, a motivational leader second, and a DJ third.
If we spilled out your gym bag right now, what would we find?
Lots of clothes! BCAAs and protein powder, my laptop, my microphone, some Quest Bars, my toiletry bag for when I feel "less than fresh," and a notebook.
What's your favorite outdoor workout spot in the city?
I love running around the Bridle Path near the reservoir in Central Park. Not only is the ground soft for my old knees, but the landscape—especially in the spring and fall—is amazing!
Gym style (or athleisure) has totally exploded over the past couple of years. What's your favorite way to rock it?
I'm usually more fashion-driven in the fall or winter; during the summer, I try to wear as little as socially acceptable to and from classes. Lately, that's a lot of tanks and cotton or gym shorts. I also like color, and don't shy away from it. There are so many awesome apparel brands out there that make it possible to do this and still look hella cute.
If I weren't a fitness instructor, I'd be...
I'd like to think maybe a journalist. I love to discover new things, and I ask a lot of questions.
Besides your own studio, whose classes do you love?
Lately, I'm all about Barry's Bootcamp and Mile High Run Club. I have good friends that teach there and I love the methods at each. It's nice to zone out and not have to think when working out, because even when I take class on my own at the studios I work with, I'm constantly on, thinking about ways I could use what the instructor is having us do in class.
Have any of your clients ever come on to you or asked you out? What did you do?
I've gotten asked out before. Different instances warranted different reactions: One time I was actually interested, and we went on a date but decided to be friends after. Sometimes, it's awkward, especially when you're approached right after class in the studio! Either way, it's flattering, of course. (Why lie?)
Where can we find you when you're not working out?
My Bed! And lately, I've been trying to catch sun while catching up with my friends...Christopher Street Pier, anyone?
What's your favorite cheat meal?
Cheese! I'm a huge cheese fan, but I try to stay away from it (and yes I could probably make a "meal" out of it). I love a Tex-Mex cheat meal as well—but in that case my cheat normally comes in a glass with salt on the rim.
What advice would you offer to someone who is just starting in your class?
I would tell them to check any ego at the door and have a sense of humor about it. You may feel awkward and confused at first, and you may not be perfect—that comes with the territory of doing an exercise that 's new to the body. I would also tell them to try every exercise before they decide they can't do it. And for the love of God, pick a weight heavier than three pounds!