Coss Marte is leaving Flywheel when he calls me to chat, but two days ago, he was sweating in a very different scenario—with inmates at Rikers Island.
“They’ve got everyone in a classroom, we have to move all the desks,” he says. “It’s not padded mats and Flywheel shoes.”
The weekly classes are just one small piece of his next chapter, in which Marte—who created his own bodyweight workout in a jail cell while serving time for drug dealing—is using fitness to empower and create opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.
Marte made news with his inspiring story of weight loss and entrepreneurship (even Hillary Clinton is a fan), and ConBody now has wait lists for many classes at its studio on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
But his goals have always been bigger than helping young professionals work on their abs. “I feel like it’s really playing out what my mission was from the beginning—giving people a second opportunity to gain employment and be viewed as humans, not ex-cons,” he says.
We got the details on how he’s making that happen via the unlikely platform of boutique fitness.
First of all, you’ve got a lot going on right now beyond the studio.
I came out with videos, and we’re selling those on our website now. My book will come out in spring 2017…with how I came up with the idea, how I did the workout in a prison cell, with workouts in it, pictures. I’ve already got a lot of prisons interested in buying that book.
How did you convince Rikers to let you teach there?
I spoke at the American Correctional Association convention in New Orleans…where all the wardens across the country come together. I approached a lot of wardens and people didn’t want to hear me out. But one of them was the deputy commissioner of Rikers. He gave me his card…I went there and spoke to them and they were super receptive. He took over the position recently to change how Rikers is viewed, so they’re putting a lot of money into that.
I feel like it’s really playing out what my mission was from the beginning—giving people a second opportunity to gain employment and be viewed as humans, not ex-cons.
How have the inmates responded so far?
I’m teaching 50 guys once a week, and I told them my story. Basically, it just gives them inspiration, you know? It gives them some type of hope. A lot of these guys have been in and out of jail since they were kids. They see there’s still hope to do something in the future rather than selling drugs or whatever they were doing back in the day. A lot of these guys are like “I want to be a trainer.” I’m getting fan jail mail from every single correctional facility. I can’t respond to letters anymore, it’s too much.
And you’re working to increase those employment opportunities, too?
I have 10 employees, eight people that have been incarcerated. It’s become bigger than just me. I just spoke to a whole bunch of HR people from AMEX, Target, and other big corporate companies. I was letting them know how to hire formerly incarcerated individuals and market it in a positive way so people don’t say “I don’t want to go to Target now,” but instead they see that the companies are giving people second chances.
Is switching that perception a big challenge?
There’s that mentality out there, there are a lot of conservative people. I use those haters as my motivators.
Read more about Marte’s crazy popular workout and his own inspiring story from drug dealer to fitness entrepreneur. And try this inspiring 5-minute full body workout next, and you’ll be empowered to change the world, too.