x

Get Stronger in 3 minutes (or less)

World records, results, training, nutrition, breaking news, and more. Join the BarBend Newsletter for everything you need to get stronger. Join the BarBend Newsletter for workouts, diets, breaking news and more.
BarBend Newsletter

Coss Marte: From Solitary Confinement to CONBODY Empire

Today we’re talking to Coss Marte, the founder and CEO of CONBODY, a prison fitness-style boot camp offering in-person and virtual classes based out of NYC. Coss developed the idea of CONBODY based on his own experiences in prison, where he turned to fitness after becoming overweight and at a high risk for cardiac problems. Since founding CONBODY, Coss has hired over 40 formerly incarcerated individuals as trainers, and he’s also become an advocate for prison reform and former inmates looking to build new lives. We talk about Coss’ inspiration for CONBODY while in solitary confinement, what to expect from their high-intensity workouts, and much, much more.

We want to take a second to give a special shoutout to our episode sponsor, Transparent Labs. If you want clean, clearly labeled supplements with ingredients backed by science, Transparent Labs has you covered. (Seriously, no hidden ingredients, no proprietary blends, and nothing artificial.) That includes their uber-popular BULK pre-workout, with ingredients we love to see for focus and energy PLUS vitamin D3, boron, and zinc. All the good stuff, absolutely no fillers. Use code “BARBEND” at checkout for an extra 10% off your order.

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Thomas Tao talks to Coss Marte about:

  • The inspiration for Coss’ fitness journey in prison (2:40)
  • Working out with other prisoners in the yard (5:20)
  • Access to fitness equipment in the prison system (9:05)
  • How CONBODY’s prison-style workouts are taking off during quarantine (11:50)
  • Doing 1,200 burpees a day (14:15)
  • How CONBODY recruits former inmates and trains them to teach classes (17:03)
  • The reactions after taking a first CONBODY class (20:15)
  • The prison-style fitness challenge you can try today (22:45)

Learn more about our sponsor Transparent Labs and get 10% off your order with code “BARBEND.” (We may receive commissions on items purchased through links on this page.)

Save 10%
Transparent Labs BULK
Transparent Labs BULK
Transparent Labs BULK

Like many Transparent Labs products, it's an extraordinarily well dosed pre workout supplement for endurance, power, and focus. Use code BARBEND10 to save 10%.

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Coss MarteCoss Marte

I came up with the idea of CONBODY while I was in solitary. My story gets a little bit deeper there. That’s where I created the whole CONBODY routine, the exercises. I came up with the 90-day program there. I actually came out with a book. The whole workout that we’ve done is all designed for small constrained spaces, just like a prison cell.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao. This podcast is presented by barbend.com.

 

Today I’m talking to Coss Marte, the founder and CEO of CONBODY, a prison-style fitness boot camp offering in-person and virtual classes based out of New York City.

 

Coss developed the idea of CONBODY based on his own experiences in prison, where he turned to fitness after becoming overweight and at a high risk for cardiac problems.

 

Since founding CONBODY, Coss has hired over 40 formerly-incarcerated individuals as trainers. He’s also become an advocate for prison reform, and former inmates looking to build new lives. We talked about Coss’s inspiration for CONBODY, while in solitary confinement, and what to expect from their high-intensity workouts, along with much, much more.

 

I do want to take a second to give a special shout out to our episode sponsor, Transparent Labs. If you want clean, clearly-labeled supplements with ingredients backed by science, Transparent Labs has you covered. Seriously, no hidden ingredients, no proprietary blends, and nothing artificial.

 

That includes their uber-popular, bulk, pre-workout with ingredients we love to see for focus and energy, plus vitamin D3, boron, and zinc. All the good stuff, absolutely no fillers. Use code BarBend at checkout for an extra 10 percent off.

 

Coss, thanks so much for joining us. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear you speak about your journey in fitness, which is really, in many ways, your journey in life before. For folks who might not be familiar with CONBODY, and with your story as an entrepreneur, and someone in the fitness community, tell us about the circumstances in which you began your own fitness and wellness journey.

Coss MarteCoss Marte

Just to tell you what CONBODY is, CONBODY is a prison-style boot camp where we hire people coming out of the prison system to teach fitness classes. It was derived from my personal experience when I went into prison. I went in for running a multi-million dollar drug business, was incarcerated at 23, and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

 

My journey began when I went in the prison system and was told that my cholesterol levels were in danger of catching a heart attack within five years, if I didn’t change the way I ate, change the way I exercise, because I was not exercising. I was pretty overweight, my blood pressure was extremely bad. My cholesterol levels were extremely bad.

 

I was placed on medication, and I didn’t have the best food in prison. I did what I can, I stopped drinking all the, we call it, excuse my language, the sperm killing juice. That’s what they used to call it in prison. I stopped drinking that, it was fake cool idea, you know what I mean.

 

Then I stopped eating bread. All the complex carbs like spaghetti and all that stuff, and pasta, all that prison food, I just eliminated and threw it in the side of my plate, and just ate mostly vegetables. I did eat meats, mostly fish. That’s the diet I lived, and then I worked out excessively.

 

At first, it was extremely hard. I started working out probably 5, 10 minutes. I was like, “Fuck, this is way too hard.” I gave up, and I had the time to just reflect and think. Then just sit and being bored and just be motivated by seeing other people work out.

 

I put my head down and just started going out to the yard and running and going back to my prison cell and doing dips, push-ups, all types of calisthenics exercises. In the beginning of my journey, people would make fun of me because I was a big guy. They would call me fat Forrest Gump, or all these honeybun jokes like sweet cheeks, and stuff like that.

 

I just run around, and stick my middle finger out to them, and just keep going. I was just on a mindset of just getting in shape, and I continued moving, and I kept doing it for a very long time. I managed to lose 70 pounds in six months, and then I caught the eyes of other inmates.

 

There was one particular inmate named Buss. He was about 300-something pounds, really bad shape. He came up to me and said he wanted to run with me.

 

That same day, the prison yard had light poles around it, so we were running to one light pole, and then walking to the next light pole, running to one light pole, and we kept going with that. He was, not my client, but my friend that I was working out with.

 

Then he brought two of his other friends, I brought another friend, and it just became a camaraderie built where I helped over 20 inmates with over 1000 pounds combined.

 

I took that same workout method and started doing that in the local parks here, opened up the studio, have hired over 45 individuals now coming out of the prison system to teach fitness classes. It’s just been a crazy journey.

David TaoDavid Tao

When you were incarcerated, you began your fitness journey. You didn’t have that base of fitness knowledge, you didn’t have a certification. You didn’t have this thing, this body of experience you could pull from, and your own fitness training. A lot of it was just stuff you were trying on yourself and seeing what worked.

 

Were there any other resources, or are there other inmates who were working out, who you turned to for advice, anything like that?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

Yes, I was not always in bad shape my whole life. As a kid, I was pretty active in sports. I played baseball, soccer, basketball, pretty much every sport. I was pretty active. Then once I started hanging out in the street, I always dreamed of playing for the Yankees, but I realized really quickly that I was not the best player. I left that life alone and just hit the streets.

 

I knew how to work out, and then it was not my first time incarcerated. I was incarcerated before. I did a year, when I was 15. I did another year, when I was 19. I did a few more years, when I was 23. I was in shape before, and knew how to work out.

 

I did this program called Shock. It’s ran by ex-marines turned correctional officers. They beat the crap out of you. You’re working out three hours a day. You can’t sit down at all. The whole stand-on-your-feet for 16 hours a day. It was a program that mostly through exercise.

 

When I was 19, I took that same workout method and incorporated myself, when I did this longer bid. Then, also incorporated exercises that I learned from other inmates, like my bunky, or people, that’s been in the yard for 10, 15 years, working out.

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s talk a little bit more about the culture of working out in prison. The stereotype that a lot of people have is the bench press, and hitting the weights, and people in prison getting really buff. We see that in movies all the time. I just watched “Bill and Ted Face The Music,” and that’s the stereotype they play on in that movie.

 

That’s obviously not everyone’s experience, and it’s not every prison facility has a superbly nicely outfitted gym. It’s just you’re making do with what you have. Tell us a little bit more about that, and the differences you saw, and what you saw different inmates do with access to varying levels of equipment.

Coss MarteCoss Marte

I’ve been in various jails and prisons, and there’s places that have no equipment. You create your own equipment. What you see in the movies, obviously, we don’t have the nice beautiful decked-out weights, but there are guys that are just — there was a one particular prison that I was in, they had a weight shack.

 

You go into this cage and they have the weights there, it’s old raggedy weights. You, basically, don’t even have handles to hold the weights together, so you’re tying stuff to keep it in place.

 

People get big, people will workout, and you’ll see those big guys lifting — there was one guy that was squatting 600 pounds, it was crazy. People use different type of stuff to make due. We were making water bags.

 

Basically, we’ll take the biggest gallon bags of recycling of water, clear ones. We’ll take them from the staff. We fill them water, and then we’ll tie that up. We’ll tie another bed sheet up. We’ll have a handle with magazines. We’ll wrap magazines with bed sheets.

 

That will be our handle and then we’ll just do curls with that or you have bottles. You can have Pepsi bottles or whatever they sold on commissary they have the two-liter ones. Using those you tie those up and you have 5, 6 gallons on the side, and you taking a mop stick and bench pressing that. That was creative, man. You got to work with what you got.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ll get back to that in just a moment, but first another quick word from our sponsor Transparent Labs. You know Hafþór Björnsson, 2018 World’s Strongest Man and one of the strongest human beings in history? Yep. He uses Transparent Labs to fuel his performance.

 

Now not everyone is a 6’9″ isolated world record holder and you probably don’t eat 8,000 calories a day, but Transparent Labs has the goods for every strength athlete. Clinically effective doses, nothing artificial, and a label you can actually read. Now back to the conversation.

 

When COVID-19 hit we were both in New York City. Things went to lockdown. People didn’t have access to gyms and people just started going crazy. They were like, “How do I work out at home? How do I make my own weights? How do I get weights?” Everything was sold out.

 

It seems people should have…I mean, did you have people approaching you asking “Hey, what did you do in prison when you didn’t have access to this equipment?”

Coss MarteCoss Marte

Yeah, I just told them sign up for a class.

 

We are teaching virtual classes non-stop. Even the first day they told us to shut down. I right away turned to Zoom. It was like, “Hey, here is the link where I’m going to run the classes from the studio,” and that’s part of it is that we never used any equipment in the studio.

 

The exact same product that they got in person now they could just get it at home. It worked out perfectly for us to transition in COVID to that mindset, but there’s a lot of stuff that you just work off what you got, and I feel our body is a temple when we have everything we need within ourselves.

David TaoDavid Tao

Take us through a normal CONBODY class. Everyone’s got a bit variations, obviously. It’s going to depend a lot on the instructor and things but what are we getting when we come in and we do this prison-style workout at a combat facility or via Zoom when we are taking a virtual class?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

It’s just non-stop 45 minutes of just moving. I’ll start it off 10 minutes of cardio just as a warm-up. Right after the warm-up I’m going right into the next strength exercise, tackling the core as I basically work from the bottom to the top and just it’s non-stop, 45 minutes cardio, strength training, and then we end it at the 40-minute mark where we have 5 minutes of stretching.

David TaoDavid Tao

Is it all bodyweight?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

It’s all bodyweight. Sometimes there’s a lot of burpees.

David TaoDavid Tao

Did you do burpees in prison? Was that part of your routine?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

Yeah. Burpees and then I had a lot of squat thrust, I’ve been doing a lot of squat thrust. Then bodybuilders, which is like a squat thrust including a plank jack and a push-up.

David TaoDavid Tao

Do you have any idea of how many burpees you did over your time incarcerated?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

 Oh, I don’t know but…

David TaoDavid Tao

Are we talking like this, hundreds of thousand or the millions is really my question?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

I have, but there was days that we were doing 12,000 burpees.

David TaoDavid Tao

12,000 burpees. How would you split that up?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

We’ll do like 50 a stat. We’ll go back and forth, so we’ll split it up. We’ll do 20 something stats. Basically, I’ll knock on my 50 while somebody else is taking a break, they’ll knock out their 50 — 50, 50, 50. We’ll have three different groups and we’re to say, “50 boom, 50 boom, 50 boom,” and just going around in a triangle form.

David TaoDavid Tao

You say 50 burpees like it’s just doing five push-ups but it’s a little more…For a lot of people, they’re like “done”, 50 burpees and they’re done.

Coss MarteCoss Marte

We were taking shit to the next level and just working out obsessively. Because you just have the time to commit and you’re seeing that everybody else just sitting around sometimes. You use the time to move around.

David TaoDavid Tao

When you were incarcerated or when anyone is incarcerated, you obviously talk about going out to the yard and running laps or running from light poles, like a way to start when you were on that weight loss journey.

 

What about people who might be confined to their cells or in solitary confinement, did you know prisoners who were working out, trying to find to do in solitary or when they were restricted to a smaller space?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

Yes, I was in solitary. I came up with the idea of CONBODY while I was in solitary. My story gets a little bit deeper there. That’s where I created the whole CONBODY routine, exercises.

 

B

 

I came up with the 90-day program there, I actually came out with a book called “CONBODY” that I wrote basically in solitary, and teamed up with a co-writer that helped me construct it a little bit better.

 

The whole workout that we’ve done is all designed for small constraint spaces, just like a prison cell. Like right now, COVID time, it’s been a blessing for us than a curse. I mean it’s a bad time for a lot of industries but thankfully we’ve been able to thrive because of the simple nature of what we’re doing.

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s talk about the opportunities that you as a business have opened up for formerly incarcerated individuals. I know it’s a huge tenet of what CONBODY is, you hired instructor who are either coming out of prison or who were formerly incarcerated.

 

How are you finding and connecting with those individuals and what is the process…Like someone comes out of prison, they’re interested in fitness. Are you finding them or are they finding you at this point?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

Right now, everybody is just finding us. I get jail mail from across country, sometimes around the world. Right now we had a DM from, I think, somebody that was locked up somewhere in Europe.

 

He’s taking a phone into the prison system to DM me on Instagram because he wanted the job. It’s crazy the amount of people that are coming out and want to get into this field, but also they know the lockout opportunity is out there for them because of the discriminatory factors that one has to face when coming out of the system is real.

 

It’s not an easy process to get through what we do. I have people going through a two-and-a-half-week internship deal before they’re ready to be part of the team. That’s what we do, basically.

 

For example, somebody that will come out of the prison system, I’ve had people knock on our doors the next day, and they’re like, “Hey, I’m looking for a job. I’ve been training in the yard for 10 years. I know how to work out.” I’m like, “Do you have any personal trainer’s certification?” They’re like, “No.”

 

I was like, “You need to get that first.” There’s that also, “How do I do that?” “I have other organizations that would sponsor your personal training certifications, but you have to go through these programs.”

 

I’ll have them go two weeks soft skills, hard skills, resume-building workshop through one of our non-profit organizations. They start working with us and we’ll pay them a stipend for two months. After two months, if they get their certification and they want to get on board, that’s how we on-board them.

David TaoDavid Tao

When a new instructor is certified and comes on to the CONBODY team, are they bringing their own twist to the workouts? Maybe things they were using in prison? Or is it pretty much you are telling them, “Hey, this is how a class…This is exactly how I want the class to run?” How much individualization is there?

 

Coss MarteCoss Marte

They get creative. I like to give them the creative factor and the power to do what they do. They have to learn my routines and be able to deliver my routine first. Once they get through that, they review any type of workouts they want to experiment with through me or one of my other trainers. We put hiring on pause unfortunately, right now through COVID.

 

Right now, all the trainers on our team, they can get creative as much as they want. As long as they keep it high-impact. We consider ourselves the hardest workout out there.

David TaoDavid Tao

What feedback do you get from people the first time they take a CONBODY class? I’m sure it’s a lot. I’m sure there’s a range.

Coss MarteCoss Marte

Most of them say, “Oh, shit. This shit was hard.”

 

They feel good afterwards, they feel like they accomplished something. The fact is that, you don’t have to be a person that does 1,200 burpees a day to come to CONBODY class. My mom is 65 years old, and she does CONBODY four times a week. It’s basically trying to keep up with the instructor.

 

We’ll set the bar really high. You take as many breaks as you need. We will push you out of that break, and not have you lay down as much. There’s people that just give up, and they want to stay on the floor. I’m like, “No, get your ass fucking up.” We will push that body.

 

Everybody’s very thankful, once they go through the whole program and they feel they’ve accomplished something really well.

David TaoDavid Tao

Do you encourage people to just only do CONBODY, or do you have people who are doing CONBODY in addition to other realms of fitness, that might be running a few times a week, or doing traditional strength training, or something like that?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

Yeah, there’s people that jump around, more like partners with class-pass and they allow the individuals to pick as many different classes as possible. I recommend stick with a routine. If you want to put some strength training into your workouts, I feel we deliver strength training through our workouts.

 

It depends on what you want. If you want to be like Arnold, you have to lift a 1,000 pounds, you know what I mean. If you just want to lean, cut-out body, and want to look good, you can stick with us. There’s people that like running, so we do do running classes as well. Right now, we’ve been incorporating running through our workout classes, outside and apart.

 

I encourage a [inaudible 22:28] fitness, and I even yoga as well, stretching classes, and everything.

David TaoDavid Tao

For folks who might be listening to this, who might still be working out at home, they want to get a taste of how some of the intense workouts that you might have been doing in prison, that you might be also carrying over to CONBODY classes.

 

I’m not going to ask anyone to do 1,200 burpees on this podcast, but what is a workout that might be a bit that you did in prison, that could be deceptively challenging, that would be a really good fitness challenge just for some of the folks listening to this podcast?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

I saw I was doing my push-up routine. I do 21 down, 21 up, push-ups. That’s just regular hands-on-to-the-shoulders-type of push-ups for our back. I’ll start off with 21 push-ups, stand up, I’ll do some oblique, side-to-side, that will be my break. Then I’ll go right into 20 push-ups, 20 oblique.

 

I’m basically standing-up straight, I’m reaching down to the side of my knee, engaging at that oblique area. Then I’m going down to 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, all the way down to 0. I’m doing two-sets of 21, and then I’m working myself back up 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. That’s 524 push-ups that are incorporated in my routine.

 

If you’re not doing a lot of push-ups, I recommend just going straight 21-down, and try to do half of it.

David TaoDavid Tao

What is a lead time for that?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

I do it in 23 minutes.

David TaoDavid Tao

 [laughs] That’s certainly more push-ups than I’ve ever done in a day. You’ll see [inaudible 24:13] who will be able to rip out a set of 100 push-ups. They’ll also feel real good about themselves. The gap between that and being able to do over 500 push-ups in a workout under a half hour, it’s just a whole other level of muscular endurance and ability with that movement.

Coss MarteCoss Marte

You’d be surprised, I put people through that test. They’re surprised how much push-ups they can do.

David TaoDavid Tao

If they have someone pushing them, or they have someone yelling at them, and making them not rest.

Coss MarteCoss Marte

Yeah. There’s also my 10-down routine, which is doing 10 push-ups, and then to doing 10 gravity push-ups. Gravity push-ups are putting your hands over your shoulder, and just doing that 10 times. Then going back down to 9, 8, 7, but doing your gravity push-ups in-between. They say you do that, 10-down without any breaks, you are consider an athlete.

David TaoDavid Tao

You seem skeptical about that. You seem skeptical if that’s the mark of an athlete.

Coss MarteCoss Marte

I don’t know, try it, David, and let me know.

David TaoDavid Tao

Gravity push-ups, just to be clear, so I do my regular push-ups, then I get on my knees and I’m just raising my hands full-extension overhead.

Coss MarteCoss Marte

Basically, pop-up to a squat thrust so you get on your feet, and then you 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and then you go on back down, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and still they’re going to burn right out.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s just a shoulder presses out of the weight. It’s just keeping that blood in the muscles, basically. I’m going to try that later today after this podcast, and I’m probably going to hate you tomorrow morning.

 

Coss MarteCoss Marte

[laughs] Yeah, you’ll definitely fall on your shoulders.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s 10 down to 1, I can do that. I can attempt that. For a guy who doesn’t do a lot of bodyweight stuff, this is good. If you inspire one person on this podcast, it might be me, so I’ll call that an absolute win.

Coss MarteCoss Marte

Success.

David TaoDavid Tao

How big is CONBODY now? I know you’re based out of New York City, but how many studios you have right now? You said you’ve hired over 40 trainers coming out of the prison system. What is the size of CONBODY right now, and where do you see that going over the next year?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

Right now, we’re just focused on doing a lot of digital play. We have one studio on the Lower East Side. We’ve done a lot of pop-ups in Midtown, partnerships with hotel in the UK. Right now, we’re just really focused on a digital side of the business. We’ve trained, today, probably over 50,000 people now.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s fantastic. That’s absolutely fantastic, including your mom who comes four times a week. That’s the most important client. What is your mom…?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

[inaudible 27:00] client. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s something if you can convince — in fitness, there’s always this unspoken rule that family and fitness are separate. It’s just one of those things like you never talk about politics and religion at the dinner table. You never talk about fitness at the dinner table, at least not in my family.

 

That is the best mark of it being an accessible workout for everyone, if your mom’s just coming back over and over again.

Coss MarteCoss Marte

My mom is a beast though. When I came out of the prison system, I came home, just straight motivated like crazy. I was working out obsessively. I work out probably once a day now. Before, I was working out three or four hours a day.

 

She was doing power walks and doing Tai Chi. I lived not far from Chinatown in the Lower East Side, so she would go to the park and be following them. I’m like, “Mom, you ain’t doing shit with that shit. You want to really see a difference? Start working out with me.” She started doing it with me.

 

She became my number one advocate. Even today, she’s rocking CONBODY gear and stopping people on the train. She inspires. I get these 20, 30-year-olds that are coming to classes and they’re dying, and I’m like, “Look at my fucking mom. She’s non-stop.” She now could do pull-ups. She’s a beast.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s one of the best lives you can touch, in addition of the 50,000 plus. That’s pretty awesome. Coss, where is the best place for people to keep up to date with the work you’re doing and with what’s happening with CONBODY?

Coss MarteCoss Marte

The best place is Instagram. You could DM us @conbody, C-O-N-B-O-D-Y. Check out our website. We’re constantly doing a little bit of updates there. Represent our gear. Right now, we have a whole line of new merch, which is very dope. Hit us up on every platform if you want. We’re on Twitter, Instagram, mostly Facebook, Snapchat, everything above.

 

We’re doing this whole TikTok campaign soon, so watch out for that.

David TaoDavid Tao

Awesome. Thanks so much for joining us, and giving some insight into your story and what you’re doing these days. Appreciate it.

Coss MarteCoss Marte

All right. Thank you, man.

Leave a Comment