Enter the basement of 294 Broome Street and you’re faced with a row of lockers and “mug shots” under bright lights. Jail cell bars open into a sparse studio with a graffiti mural of two figures escaping through a barbed wire fence. It almost feels like the police are about to take you in for questioning. Instead, this is where ConBody trainees “do the time” with prison-style bootcamp workouts.
The decorations are more than a gimmick. It was in solitary confinement that Coss Marte first dreamed up ConBody. He saw it as a chance to transition from busted drug dealer to a legitimate entrepreneur, helping provide jobs to other former inmates in the process.
Marte is a Lower East Side native and still lives in the area, but he landed in prison about 10 years ago after spending much of his teenage years dealing drugs in the neighborhood. While incarcerated, he shed 70 pounds in six months working out in his cell and began training other inmates with his techniques. Eventually, he says he had a wake up call and realized personal training was a chance to go legit once he got out.
“I wrote out the whole program while I was in the cell, and I thought about giving back to the society that I once damaged,” he said. “Giving something healthy instead of unhealthy – like I did before.”
Still, it took some time to get to the point of opening his own studio. When he got out of prison three years ago, he initially found a job cleaning toilets at hotels for $8 an hour and was only training people in his spare time, at Sara D. Roosevelt Park.
“I had no alternative. When I was released from prison I was sleeping on my mom’s couch on Rivington Street,” he said. “I just used a broken pipe of a soccer post and stuck it between the fences and started doing pull-up training there.” But his no-bullshit workouts attracted a following and finally, in January, he opened ConBody for real.
If you’ve been scared off by all the CrossFit bros marching through your neighborhood recently bragging about how much they can lift, Marte says his routine isn’t anywhere close. The ConBody workout is made up of high-intensity interval training but doesn’t use any weights, putting more emphasis on posture and positioning to avoid injuries. The classes are rigorous and small (only 12 people per class), with different themes for different days “Lock Down Wednesday” focuses on lower body, for example, or “Hard Core Thursday” for ab work. If you’ve never done a pull-up in your life, Marte even has a class for that too.
All the trainers have also been in the prison system. “At the beginning I was scared of promoting it that way, just ’cause I didn’t know how people’s perceptions were going to be about formerly incarcerated people,” he said. “Some people are too scared and stuff like that. But I took a risk and I had nothing to lose.” So far, he says the community has been receptive, even excited to embrace him.
He also tries to keep things personal and light, even while pushing his clients. It makes the workout fun, but also helps people see another side of former criminals, who often deal with prejudice and difficulty getting jobs.
“In my class I play around a lot, like I partner you up with a ‘prison bunky,’ we all joke around–we take the prison theme into a joke,” Marte said. “It’s just cracking a smile instead of looking at formerly incarcerated individuals in a stigmatized negative way. And that’s my thinking: smashing that stereotype between young professional and formerly incarcerated people.”
If you want to see what it’s all about, this Saturday ConBody is hosting an afternoon party to release their debut workout video (turns out a workout conceived in a 9×6 cell is pretty well suited for a LES shoebox apartment) and celebrate their first months in business.
This isn’t a health cult, so there’ll be Heineken, Coronas and other regular-person snacks – but still, it’s not really a bootcamp party without some exercise. Test your muscle mettle against the trainers with pull-up, sit-up and push-up competitions (or, you know, just grab a beer and ogle like a creeper…you can sign up for that pull-up class later).
ConBody video release party and pull-up competition, Saturday, March 19 at 2 p.m. At 294 Broome Street, near Eldridge Street.