Thanks to Instagram, fitness has become a 24/7 lifestyle. You can pull up a quick routine with a double tap on your smartphone, or gawk and stalk your favorite social media fitness gurus. One of the 'gram's most sought-after: Mankofit, the personal trainer and Dominican Republic export (she moved to New York when she was 13), who's now followed by nearly 1.5 million strong.
Besides her chiseled physique, the Instagram goddess (real name Massiel "Massy" Arias) also boasts a quirky post-workout dance, informative captions and a positive aura that sticks out in a sea of memes and thirst traps. After struggling with depression two years ago (partly because her brother suffered from, then eventually beat, cancer), Mankofit opted for a healthier lifestyle to get both her body and mind right.
Once the poster child for "skinny fat," she says she was 5’8'', 114 pounds with a borderline obese body fat percentage (over 25% for men and over 30% for women). Now, she's working out and working hard daily to be a role model for people (not just the ladies) and maybe even start a charity for cancer and train Oprah. No sweat.—Adelle Platon (@adelleplaton)
How did social media become part of your fitness journey?
Mankofit: When I was going through [depression], I was in a very dark hole of my life. I evaluated myself and asked myself which people, activities were contributing to me feeling this way, and I literally changed phone numbers and erased all of my social media. I isolated myself to try to start a new life. I decided to open an Instagram account just to socialize with different people because it was very intriguing to me how you can connect with all these people from around the world, and because my circle became so small. It was just sharing my journey, little by little, and people started adding me.
I created a mini-community where people were sharing their stories. Back then, I was just a very skinny girl who didn’t know much, so now I’ve transformed and people have seen my progress with time. I feel like that’s how I’ve managed to have such a huge following. It’s not like I came out of nowhere. It’s been a very personal journey for me and I’ve been very open with my life because I’m trying to help people who are in the same situation as I was before. It’s a little bit harder to be more personal now that I have such a huge following because I run all of my social media and I only have two thumbs, and there’s only 24 hours in a day.
You actually carry two Instagram accounts: @mankofit and the other is @mankofit_challenge. Do you personally write all the captions?
Yes, I write all the captions. I run my Facebook, I run my Twitter, and finally I have a little help with YouTube, but all the content, I do on my own.
When did you start incorporating your happy dance at the end of your videos?
I believe last year I started [doing it]. I was in Gold’s Gym. I remember one of my friends and I were trying to do a crunch on a punching bag, and I was nervous because I’ve never did that before, and I just suddenly started dancing in the beginning of the video. Before, [the dance] was in the beginning then I made it the end. All of a sudden, one of my friends said, "That’s your thing. Look at you when you’re done with a workout, this is you, this should be it," and I just started. People loved it.
Is this the same friend who records your videos?
It’s different people. My brother records my videos, my boyfriend records my videos, random people if I’m in the gym. Not random, but I usually workout with someone in the gym so whoever is around me.
Has your popularity gotten to the point where you’re at the gym or out in public and people recognize you as the girl from Instagram?
Everywhere I go, I feel like someone knows me or knows who I am. I no longer go to commercial gyms. Because I don’t get a workout in and people don’t understand sometimes that I’m in the gym to workout. People just want to say hi to you and talk to you. Only when I’m in California, I go to Gold’s Gym. If I go to a gym or anywhere, someone happens to know me and they do ask me to dance sometimes [laughs].
Does it surprise you at all?
Before, when I started getting recognized in the street, it was kind of like , Whoa. Now I’m getting more used to it, but it’s still a little off-putting because you don’t have privacy. I [can only] imagine how big celebrities really feel because sometimes I’m out and it’s like, "Oh my God." Maybe I don’t want to talk to them, or maybe I look like a mess, but I can’t avoid it.
I’m pretty sure your popularity skyrocketed even more after you were a part of the Trey Songz video. How did that cameo come about?
He just contacted me via email and it went from there.
How was the experience of working on a music video?
That was a little exhausting [laughs], but it was fun.
Are there any plans to do more music videos in the future or possibly your own workout videos?
I have online coaching and a subscription website that’s going to be launched very soon. Just like you see on my Instagram, I’m going to try to help people on a larger scale. I haven’t monetized my account or made any type of money other than the supplements that I use, so right now I’ve been working on a project to actually do it on a larger scale. With music videos, I don’t think so. I don’t know, I’m not a model like that. I wouldn’t want to get off track of what I’m trying to do. I don’t want to be known as a video vixen or "Yeah, that’s the girl that did a video." I have goals. It’s very hard when you’re a female, young and look a certain way to be taken seriously. When you’re 25 years old and most people say, "You’re a pretty girl with a nice body," I’m trying to get away from that and really go towards the route that will get me to where I need to be. I want to be on TV, maybe have my [own] show that really educates people on how to eat, and how to exercise. I always say and I always tell people my body is a result of my lifestyle change and not [just to get] slim for the summer. I didn’t start working out because I wanted a six-pack or because I wanted a nice body but because I needed to be healthier mentally and physically.
When you first started, did you look to magazines, books or any fitness role models that you wanted to emulate?
It really just happened. Honestly, when I first started, I didn’t think I was going to be able to inspire so many people. I never thought I was going to make this my career. It just happened that I was very good at it. Instead of me wasting my time, I sat down and studied and prepared myself. I promised myself that I was going to be the best I could be because after you reach a certain point, say on social media, I felt like I had a responsibility of giving people the right information. I can’t just post irrelevant information or misguide, or misinform people. If I’m going to inspire all these people, I need to educate myself.
Are there any fitness books in particular that you recommend?
There are different books, but the information is out there. Wikipedia or Bodyism.com. These are articles being written by normal people so it’s like where is the real information? You can’t just say, "Oh because I saw it on Google or the Internet, let me believe it." You just have to find a reliable source. There’s different styles of training, different diets and nutritions. I don’t believe in diets. I believe in healthy eating, but whatever you believe in, go for it. For example, the Paleo diet is a diet that most CrossFitters follow. I don’t follow a Paleo diet. I don’t really like CrossFit because of the rate of injury, so it doesn’t really apply for me and I don’t really believe it, but there’s people that love it. You have to find what works for you and what you really like.
Describe a typical day for you. What time do you wake up? What time do you workout?
I usually wake up very early, around 6, 6:30, 7. I do my morning routine, then go train my clients. I’m working 24/7. There’s not one minute of the day that I’m not working because I have to create content. Sometimes, I stress out because my social media is very close to my heart. That’s where I get the motivation. I have 1.5 million people watching me constantly and I cannot fail. I have a goal to change the world even if it’s one person at a time, to give people the same feeling I get because I feel amazing inside and out. I’ve been posting for almost two-and-a-half years, posting every single day and it’s different information, and that is very hard to do. It is very hard just to manage and every single day from the moment I’m up to the moment I go to sleep, my day revolves around people and fitness.
Everything is planned out.
I don’t have a social life right now, but when you’re focused, that’s what you need to do. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice certain things. I sacrifice a lot. I sacrifice a lot of time with my family and friends. I have dreams of building a brand that is built through integrity and based on getting the respect from people, from personalities that I looked up to. I still look up to them, but people that tell you, "I respect your work" and it’s very hard as a female of color and also, people sometimes look at me like, "Oh yeah, you’re just a pretty girl." No, I want to be taken seriously.
It’s not about the money for you.
No, because I make my money training one-on-one. I don’t make my money through Instagram. I’ve done maybe a couple of collaborations with certain companies. I did a JBL event, but I believe in the product. I’ve been using the product. I bought the product before I was even introduced to it.
You just want your collaborations to be organic.
Yes, everything you see, I believe in it. You have no idea. Everyday, I’ve been offered something from all these companies and a lot of money but I choose not to because I’m not looking to make a quick buck.
Like fitness products?
Everything, anything like weight loss supplements, watches, headphones, yoga, equipment and dresses from companies that see me anytime I post a picture of a dress. It’s incredible how much money can be done through social media. And people tell me, "You’re wasting that, you need to monetize, you’ve created something huge." It’s not for me. My page was created for the community and yes, it’s about me, but not only about me. It’s about my journey, trying to help other people.
If you could train one of your favorite celebrities or personalities, who would you choose?
I would love to train Oprah. I’ve been approached by my fitness idols already, just hoping that I… Every time I think about it, I get the chills because I feel like, don’t get me wrong, I feel like the fitness industry is going a different route. It’s going more towards sexy like, "Oh my God look at me," and fitness models taking their clothes off. I’m not a model. I just take pictures randomly for whoever wants to shoot me, but I feel like, now, the fitness industry is more about other things besides health and wellness. I would love to have the chance to train Oprah because of who she is, what she represents, what she went through because she’s an idol and a role model for a lot of women. One of my clients is La La [Anthony] and I tell her all the time that I respect her because she’s the wife of a great athlete and she can sit down and just go about her life [if she wanted]. She does not do that. She makes her own money, she’s a great mother, she’s a great friend, she’s a great daughter, and she’s been doing her own thing.
What would you say is your favorite body part to work out and why?
My legs because I restrain myself from doing a lot of heavy upper body lifting upper. Apparently, I have really good genetics so I build muscle quick, but my favorite part I think it would be glutes and my legs. I can tell you this: I had no butt [before working out]. I’ve been able to grow the little booty that I have right now.
What would you say are the common misconceptions about women and bodybuilding?
That if you lift weights you’re going to look manly or bulky. Say you’re a larger person, you need to do cardio first and then focus on the weights later. [Another misconception] is that squatting is the only way of getting a booty. Squatting is very important, but it’s not the exercise that everyone’s talking about that’s going to give you a butt, because that didn’t give me a butt. Other exercises gave me a butt so I think the squatting is very overrated.
What exercises did you do?
Exercises that focus on that particular muscle only. For example, I have very large quads. Sometimes it’s not about we don’t have enough. Sometimes it’s that we have so much more in other areas that that other area looks smaller. I have very large quads that overpower everything. It was just that my legs were so big that my butt looked so small. Exercises that actually isolate that particular area, those are the exercises that you want to do. A squat doesn’t only work your butt, it works mostly your quadriceps. If it’s a back squat, it works more of your hamstrings. If it’s a front squat, it works most of your quadriceps and your core. I don’t do core work. I got my abs squatting, but it usually works other areas. For example, a weighted glute bridge is an exercise that isolates the glute. A kick back, that’s an exercise that targets the glute area only. There’s different exercises. If you really want to work on that muscle you need to do a specific exercise that isolates that area.
What's your favorite pair of sneakers to work out in?
That depends on whoever gives me a deal. [Laughs] There are different sneakers for different things. This is why you never see me rocking a particular style of shoe. Anytime you see me wearing my Supras or my Converses it's because I’m doing legs. Anytime you see someone working out legs, squatting in running shoes, it’s wrong because running shoes are for running. Running shoes push your toes forward. Usually when you’re doing a squat or a lunge, or when you’re doing most of the lower body movements, you want to stay on your heels. You don’t want anything pushing you towards the front of your feet, your toes. Anytime you see me wearing something super flat like the shoes that I told you before it's because I’m working out legs. I want a stable platform, something flat that is enabling me to stay grounded on my heels. My favorite shoes are the Nike Frees.
What’s your favorite Dominican meal?
I just love food. That is so hard. It’s a dessert, the name is sweet beans. It has sweet beans, coconut milk, condensed milk, evaporated milk, butter, raisins and sweet potato inside.
Now you’re making me hungry.
It’s so fattening it’s ridiculous. Just looking at it you’ll have a heart attack.
Which artists do you currently have on your workout playlist?
Childish Gambino is on my playlist, Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey. For my workout, Major Lazer is there, the Black Eyed Peas, A$AP Rocky, Trey Songz, Drake, Rihanna, pretty much all the good stuff.
What can we expect from Mankofit in the future?
My subscription website, my online coaching, and boot camps around the country.