Coss Marte developed his boot camp workout, ConBody, while he was in a 9-by-6–foot prison cell, serving time for dealing drugs. As a result, his workouts use just body weight—and good old-fashioned grit. His story of transformation—physical and spiritual—is incredible, and all of his trainers make you believe that the same is possible for everyone. When I started taking his classes, I never thought I could do 10 burpees in a row plus chin-ups next to extremely cut men, but I’ve left each ConBody class feeling like an invincible badass. I credit Marte with reshaping my body; I’ve got (small but there) abs for the first time ever.
So I was excited to chat with him about his past, what he learned in prison, and ConBody’s new pop-up studio at the Saks Wellery.
What Should We Do?!: What inspired you to start ConBody?
Coss Marte: What inspired me was a spiritual awakening [I had] while I was in prison. Long story short: I basically went to prison and was told I was going to die there because of my health issues. I weighed more than 230 pounds and suffered from all types of issues—high cholesterol, all that stuff—and they told me I had five years [to live]. My sentence was seven years, so I told myself that I’m not going to die in this place. I began exercising in my prison cell and then started running in the yard, and I lost 70 pounds in six months. I helped about 20 inmates lose over 1,000 pounds combined. Toward the end of my incarceration, I got into an altercation with an officer and had a spiritual awakening while I was in solitary confinement. For the first time, I started praying and realized that I wanted to help people when I got back into society. So I came up with the concept for ConBody while I was there.
WSWD: How did you make ConBody a reality?
Marte: I said I was going to do this as soon as I was released, so I started doing it in the local park. The day after I came home, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. [to work out] and told people that I knew from the neighborhood that I was doing it and invited them. It just started growing from there.
WSWD: How is the space at the Wellery at Saks Fifth Avenue different from your studio on the Bowery?
Marte: It is very different. It looks bougie and cleaner [at Saks]. Downtown is grittier and rawer. It’s the same workout, though; it’s straight getting down and dirty. We work hard.
WSWD: Walk us through a typical ConBody class.
Marte: It’s all body weight. We start the class off with jumping jacks as a warm-up and then we do planks, high knees, and mountain climbers on the ground. We’re getting our heart rate up. Then we’ll do strength training such as leg workouts and [more] planks. We always work from the bottom up. We start off with our cardio workout, and every day of the week we concentrate on different body parts. Like, we have leg day, arm day, ab day, full-body day, but you’re also going to be doing a little bit of everything. Depending on what day of the week you come in, we might be focusing on one body part more.
WSWD: And these are the workouts you did while in prison, right?
Marte: Yes. I had to tailor some of it because not everyone could do what we were doing in prison. But most of the workouts are the stuff I was doing in prison.
WSWD: What was it like growing up on the Lower East Side, and what’s it like running a business in the neighborhood now?
Marte: It’s surreal because I’ve always wanted to start the gym down on the Lower East Side. We started doing the workout there, and now there are many studios popping up around ours. ModelFit has been there a while, but Mark Fisher Fitness, yoga studios, and barre spots have been opening right off and on Bowery.
Trying to find a space in New York is insane. I was looking for a space all around the Lower East Side and no one was willing to rent one out to me, but I called a friend who was a real-estate agent and asked for help. The next day, she called me back and had two spaces for me to see. With one I was like, “I don’t know about it,” and then she showed me the next one, and I was like, “This is perfect. This is exactly what I’m looking for.” The landlord, a Buddhist lady who believes in second chances, gave us a chance. We opened the studio on the corner of Broome and Eldridge; that’s the same corner where I used to sell drugs.
WSWD: How does ConBody make fitness affordable and accessible for everyone?
Marte: We started a scholarship program for students and people who cannot afford class packages. I’ve had clients come up to me and tell me that I was too expensive, and I said, “Pay me the $20 you would pay at Planet Fitness and I’ll find someone to sponsor you.” So it’s like an 80/20 split. Half of our clients take advantage of that program and nobody knows whether you’re in the scholarship program or not. We’re a true judgment-free zone; we’re all human beings and we’re all breaking down stereotypes.
WSWD: What’s your favorite slice of pizza in New York City?
Marte: My favorite pizza is Scarr’s Pizza at 22 Orchard Street. I get the Sicilian squares; we call it saucy because it’s layered with sauce and cheese and extra sauce on top. It’s the only pizzeria that really makes its own sauce in-house. It’s an amazing spot, and in the back you can drink a beer or have wine.
WSWD: If you had just two hours to do whatever you wanted in New York City, what would it be?
Marte: I have a motorcycle. So I would love to have the highways cleared and circle around the whole entire city.
WSWD: What are your wishes for New York City?
Marte: I’d like to end the mentality of old-school law enforcement. When I speak with wardens and people in the justice system, I tell them we need to rewrite the script, end discrimination, and make everybody equal. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what you wear, respect people for who they are. There are so many divides in the city; you go to Spanish Harlem and walk 10 blocks and you’re on the Upper East Side—it’s crazy. I want my son to grow up in a city that’s accepting.