ConBody is the cult fitness program transforming bodies and lives

Today, Coss Marte is the vision of a successful and determined fitness entrepreneur. The 32-year-old has given TED Talks in Hong Kong and New York and each week he receives dozens of letters from people desperate to work for him.

But life for Marte, an unlikely fitness guru, couldn't have been more different just nine years ago.

At age 23, the New Yorker was a drug dealer running a million-dollar network. In 2009, he was arrested by the NYPD and sentenced to seven years in prison. Dangerously overweight, a prison doctor told Marte his high cholesterol and blood pressure would kill him within a few years.

A healthy turning point

Determined not to die in prison, Marte began working out. He lost 30 kilograms in six months before he started training other prisoners. More than 20 men lost 450 kilograms.

"It just happened organically. At the time, I didn't think much of it. It was just like, 'Let's get together and work out and hold each other accountable'," Marte tells Executive Style.

"It was a combination of exercises I learned from inmates who had probably done 20 to 30 years in prison and then a combination of exercises I learned from this military program. Basically it's ex-marines turned correctional officers who beat the crap out of you."


Before I walk into the exercise cell, a trainer hears it's my first time and tells me good luck. It's unnerving, but as someone who regularly works out, I brush off his well wishes as misplaced.

What follows next is the hardest workout of my life; a gruelling non-stop 45-minute routine using nothing but bodyweight. At the halfway point, my body starts to crumble and my head pounds. I've unwittingly signed up to a "Maniac Monday" class.

"We don't have painkillers in prison," barks Marte before commanding me to do another 20 push ups - naturally, knees are not allowed. At the end, I'm drenched in sweat but feel triumphant.


Breaking the chain

ConBody is a prison-style bootcamp workout as much as it is a social enterprise. Marte employs formerly incarcerated individuals as trainers and is deeply concerned about America's high recidivism rate.

"Seventy-six per cent will return within five years. Now they have a statistic which is 83 per cent will return within eight years, which is almost everybody. Everything is stacked against you when you come out."

Marte has employed more than 25 people who would otherwise have struggled to find a job after prison like he did, giving him an immense desire to expand.

"One guy has a contract with Nike, one guy is working for a movie production company, another is a model now. They progress and start their own things. Nobody has gone back to the system, nobody has gotten locked up again, and that's unheard of."

Support from the inside

With success stories such as these, it's no wonder that Marte has a whole filing cabinet full of what he calls "jail mail" - letters from inmates who have heard about ConBody and want to work for Marte when they are released.

"They say: 'Please consider me, I'm coming home in six months, I've been working out for 10 years in the yard', and it's just sad knowing what they're going to come out to and I don't have the funds or the means yet to hire everyone who is approaching me."

But the 32-year-old is in talks with one Queensland company about bringing ConBody to Australia and has upcoming appearances scheduled in London, Israel and Detroit.

"We give them the steps to succeed," Marte says of his employees. "It's also individuals that want to contribute to a socially-minded company. They know the background story."

"Some people come and they just want to get the mugshot and say 'I did it' for Instagram. You do get those couple of people, but most of the crowd wants to contribute."