A lot of successful businesses have similar origin stories — the founders graduated from college, landed a loan, and bit by bit, grew their businesses to successful franchises.
ConBody in New York City has a slightly different origin story — one that’s unconventional, and yet still inspiring.
ConBody’s founder, Coss Marte, came up with the idea for the training studio while serving time for being the ringleader of a multi-million dollar cocaine operation. During his incarceration, Marte began working to lose weight after realizing his life was at risk. “Doctors told me I could die in prison because of my health issues,” he said.
Within six months, Marte lost 70 pounds by doing calisthenic workouts. During that time of reflection, Marte said he felt like he needed to give back in some way. “I helped over 20 inmates lose over 1,000 pounds combined after I lost my weight,” he recalled.
His idea of developing an exercise program came full-circle while sitting in what Marte referred to as a “box” — a nine-by-six-foot solitary confinement cell with nothing but a bible, a pen and some paper.
“I actually took the side of my bible, and a long sheet of paper and a pen and started drawing out lines, like a chart, and putting my entire schedule and what I wanted to do — exercises and routines,” recalled Marte. “When I came home, that’s exactly what I did.”
A few years later, Marte graduated to the brick-and-mortar ConBody location that exists today, but has stayed true to his calisthenic roots. The only piece of equipment in the gym is a pull-up bar.
“It’s just an open space,” said Marte. “We start out with a 10 or 15-minute warm-up, we’ll do circuit training or group workouts, stuff like that. We change it up all the time — but it’s all about bodyweight, cardio, and that’s it.”
The classes, design of the studio and instructors all reflect the “prison style workout,” theme, with class names such as Prison Yoga, Tough Love Tuesday and Lock-down Wednesday.
The classes have been a hit in the New York City fitness scene, attracting attention from The New York Times, BuzzFeed and Business Insider.
Most of the instructors leading the classes have done time, and Marte views ConBody as an opportunity to break down stereotypes, in addition to bridging the gap between young professionals and those who were formerly incarcerated.
There are challenges, such as the fact that many of his staff missed evolutions in technology when they were serving time, and find it difficult to grasp. “It’s like Flintstones meeting the Jetsons — they miss a whole time lapse of time, and there’s no technology inside,” said Marte.
Recently, Saks Fifth Avenue resonated with Marte’s message. Earlier this year, the department story launched an in-store, pop-up version of ConBody, right alongside famous designer clothing brands.
For Marte, fitness has become a unifying force, stating the experience of a class breaks down stereotypes — and that drives him. “[Members realize] they could hang out with this person [who has served time], have a drink with this person after work — this person isn’t going to hurt me,” he said.