Conbody Is Reducing Recidivism Through Fitness—and Offers a Serious Workout

Coss Marte of Conbody

@conbody

For those of us who have never spent time in prison or had a loved one be incarcerated, chances are we haven't given much thought to how complex life within one can be. There is no shortage of ways that being incarcerated presents huge challenges to a person's well-being, with the ability to stay in shape being one of many.

Despite the difficulties exercising behind bars presents, one person decided to get into shape regardless. He invented a form of fitness called Conbody, which can be done anytime and anywhere, requiring little space and no equipment. We spoke with Conbody founder Coss Marte and Conbody trainer Peter Roman to get all the information about this unique fitness platform.

What Is Conbody?

Conbody is a 45-minute workout performed HIIT-style, requiring no equipment at all and very little space. That’s because it was founded by Marte while he was incarcerated in solitary confinement. After re-entering society, he initially started Conbody in a park because it proved difficult to acquire business insurance or a physical space due to his prior involvement with the justice system; the stigma associated with being formerly incarcerated often results in employment and housing discrimination. Eventually, Marte received assistance from a nonprofit organization and founded the Conbody gym, located in the Lower East Side of New York City.

Marte only hires formerly incarcerated people as trainers, with a shocking zero percent recidivism rate. He has also founded a foundation to help incarcerated people receive fitness certification while still in prison. Conbody provides opportunities for formerly incarcerated people in a field where they’d otherwise encounter barriers and discrimination. Their mission is to "de-stigmatize the formerly incarcerated community, ease their integration back into society, and change the systemic inequity of the criminal justice system." They achieve this by working with organizations that share their vision. 

Roman notes that if not for Conbody, he’d likely be working in construction or maintenance, as those were his fields before he went to prison. He credits Conbody with “the opportunity to show the world that just because I’ve been to prison, it doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person or that I’m not capable of being successful.” 

Conbody is a fitness class, but it’s also a way for Marte to change how society views those who have been incarcerated. "It has been an incredible experience to give back to a grateful and trustworthy community," he says. "I have met the smartest and most charismatic people inside the system, and I want the rest of the world to know that.”

Classes are available throughout the day in person or via streaming through Zoom. There is also the option to access the platform on-demand, which costs only $14 a month for unlimited access. The Conbody workout is a surprisingly difficult one considering the lack of equipment or space needed. Ahead, we have everything you need to know about this unique fitness platform. 

Type of Class: HIIT

Conbody is a HIIT class—and the intensity is very high. You'll do a variety of different workout moves. Some exercises will be done in sets, where you will cycle through different moves repeatedly, while others are standalone and done once only.

Best For: Cardio and Muscle Building

HIIT workouts are great for building up your cardiothoracic endurance and strengthening your muscles. This workout can be used for toning and muscle growth, depending on how hard you go on different exercises and how many reps you're able to perform. Expect a strong cardio workout throughout the entire session and for your breathing to be significantly labored at times.

What to Expect During a Conbody Class

From start to finish, be prepared to work at warp speed. You’ll mostly perform exercises you’re familiar with if you work out regularly, but with little to no rest in between. You’ll begin with a 5 to 10-minute warm-up, move into over half an hour of nonstop HIIT exercises, and end with a 5-minute stretch and cool down. You’ll want a mat to reduce impact from jumping, and you won’t be leaving it; everything is done within the space of a standard-size yoga mat. 

Even if you consider yourself very in shape, you’ll be sweating through this 45-minute class. It’s nonstop, and exercises are done for long enough to burn out your muscles. They’re also done at a very fast clip, so be prepared for your heart rate to be high throughout.

Benefits of a Conbody Class

  • No equipment needed: This is a bodyweight workout, and you’ll be using all of your body for it.
  • Little space needed: The amount of space that a yoga mat takes up is all you’ll need for a Conbody workout, and you won’t leave the mat for the duration of the class.
  • It’s fast-paced: If you’re short on time, have difficulty paying attention for long periods, or don’t like workouts that drag on with many pauses, this is an excellent workout choice. It moves along from one exercise to the next without pauses, save for a couple of very brief water and towel breaks. 

Safety and Injury Considerations 

Conbody is an advanced class. It’s not suitable for beginners who aren’t well-versed in HIIT workouts, and no explanations of exercises are offered by the trainer leading the class. You’ll need to already be familiar with the proper physical form for all of the exercises, as no guidance will be given if you are streaming the class.

Additionally, no modifications are offered for any of the exercises. If you have any injuries or are physically disabled, you will need to decide for yourself whether or not a workout move is safe and appropriate for you to do. If the pace of the workout is faster than you can handle, you’ll want to take your own breaks in addition to the very brief ones offered. Conbody is not a match for anyone looking to be guided gently or to receive one-on-one coaching in a personal manner throughout the class. 

Conbody vs. Insanity

The Conbody workout is somewhat similar to a Beachbody workout program series called Insanity. Insanity workouts vary in duration, but Conbody classes are always 45 minutes. The Insanity program is six days a week for 60 days, whereas with Conbody you can select for yourself how often you want to go and can attend classes for any duration you choose. 

Conbody and Insanity are similar in that both are fast-paced and bodyweight-based. They’re HIIT workouts that use standard moves like burpees and mountain climbers, but at such a quick pace that those moves are made far more challenging than when done in a leisurely manner. Both Conbody and Insanity are done in a boot camp style, where the trainer tends to yell more than talk. Both encourage you to keep going and to focus on your goals, no matter how tired you get during the workout or any individual move. 

What to Wear to a Conbody Class 

Wear whatever you’d normally wear to a fitness class for Conbody. You’ll want to avoid anything loose that can get in the way of fast movements since you’ll be transitioning from one move to the next so quickly. People with breasts will want to wear a sports bra underneath their shirt since there are a lot of jumping moves involved. You’ll want to wear supportive athletic shoes that have a good grip. Bottoms can be leggings, gym shorts, or pants, but they shouldn’t be too loose so that they don’t get in the way of any moves. Your hair should be out of your face, and ponytails should be held back snugly so that they don’t come loose with all the bouncing around. 

The Final Takeaway

Conbody is a 45-minute HIIT workout. It requires no equipment, and very little space is needed. It was founded by Coss Marte when he was incarcerated, and he hires only formerly incarcerated people as trainers for his gym and online platform. The Conbody classes are very challenging, despite the lack of equipment. It’s a boot camp-style class where you will move very fast from one exercise to the next, with little or no rest in between. It’s ideal for anyone who is advanced in fitness and loves a fast-paced workout. It should be avoided by anyone who has injuries or requires modifications or personal guidance. Conbody classes can be taken in person in New York City, or you can stream them online. 

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