“Diet hard!” Those are the words I hear when I think of celebrity fitness trainer and motivator Mark Jenkins, whom I recently had the honor of interviewing. Mark’s star clientele includes a roster of celebrities: Mary J. Blige, D’Angelo, P. Diddy, L.L. Cool J, and more recently, Rick Ross and DJ Khaled.
When I met up with Mark at his photo shoot in the East Village a few weeks ago, he was ending a long day of shooting for the French clothing company Marithé + François Girbaud. (He’s their new brand ambassador.) The action was winding down – the makeup artist was cleaning his face off, his assistant was packing up his gear for his ride back to Washington D.C. – the stylist and jeweler were leaving…
Actually, the photo studio looked more like a very eclectic apartment – a 6th floor walk-up, with vintage photos lining the walls, and an old-fashioned ice box in the living room. We sat down on the couch to chat, and I realized immediately that Mark is exceptional at his craft. Not only is he personable, and knowledgeable; he’s a walking billboard – standing over six feet tall, and more chiseled than my mind’s eye could have ever fathomed, he’s a well-oiled machine. (*Eye-candy provided herein.)
My Female Persuasion: I typically write about dating and relationships, but I think fitness is a very important topic that we should all focus on and its something that should be at the forefront of our minds.
Mark Jenkins: Absolutely. Me too.
MFP: So, as a fitness trainer and motivator, what do you see as the biggest obstacle to women getting in shape and staying in shape?
MJ: In terms of women, you would have to break it down into different racial categories, because there are different motivating factors for different races of women. So are you talking about black women in particular?
MFP: Well, we can talk about black women.
MJ: Well the biggest obstacles facing black women are: 1) the myth that they’ll lose their ass and tits. That’s a good one. 2) They’re worried about messing up their hair. That’s actually number one – messing up their hair. So they would rather be obese, and worry about getting their hair done. I’m just talking about my experience as a trainer. Oftentimes I’m trying to schedule with a female client and she schedules me around getting her hair done. And a lot of times, they’re morbidly obese. And that’s an issue if you’re putting your hair before your overall health. So i would say that’s the biggest one.
And then the third, would be being acclimated to a certain type of eating and lifestyle and not being open to the advantages of the fitness lifestyle – not really understanding that every meal doesn’t have to taste good. You’re eating so you enjoy other aspects of your life more as opposed to making the meal the focal point of your life.
MFP: It’s interesting that you brought up the point about women thinking they’re going to lose their best assets, from a man’s perspective. Having worked out, I’ve had guys say “I don’t want you working out. Don’t go to the gym, you’ll lose your butt,” etcetera. What are your thoughts on that specifically, from the male perspective as far as how they don’t want women to work out?
A lot of women have fat asses, but they also have big guts so it negates the effect of having an ass. It doesn’t make any sense.
MJ: It’s a misconception because it’s not per the size of the woman’s ass; it’s the waist to hip differential. A lot of women have fat asses, but they also have big guts so it negates the effect of having an ass. It doesn’t make any sense. So, if the woman was to tighten her waist up by training, her butt would automatically look bigger. And also from a trainer’s perspective, you want your female client to look like an hourglass. You don’t just want the man — I train women to get men. A lot of women come to me because they want to get married, they wanna get husbands.
MFP: (laughing) What’s the magic in that?!
MJ: So I try to contour them in a way that’s attractive to a man – like when you want man looking at you, you don’t want him to go directly to your ass. You want him to look at the whole package. When you’re looking at a woman from the back (he stands up and demonstrates with his hands and his own ass), you’re supposed to see three things. You’re supposed to see the ass, you’re supposed to see the hamstrings, and you’re supposed to see the calf. You’re supposed to see a nice line going into the glutes. And that’s the type of thing–
MFP: Now that’s the first time that I’ve heard that. And I don’t even think men look at it that way.
MJ: Most men don’t realize [exactly] what they’re attracted to – that’s why I do it for a living because I understand. They don’t really understand. In their minds, it’s just like “wow, she looks good.” But they don’t really understand what’s happening. For example, if a woman doesn’t have hips, you can create a waist taper by rounding off her shoulders, and bringing out their lats. So now you have an hourglass on a woman, so she looks more appealing although her structure is not that much better. So you build and improve upon the structure that every woman has.
MFP: And then a lot of men like thick thighs as well, so they don’t want you to lose any of that. They would rather you have health complications than to slim down.
You have to make a decision – like my health is more important, or maybe this is not the man I need to be with if he’s gonna keep me unhealthy for his visual pleasure.
MJ: That’s real – but you as an individual have to make a decision. It goes back to women existing for men. You have to make a decision – like my health is more important, or [maybe this is not] the man need to be with if he’s gonna keep me unhealthy for his visual pleasure. And also you can get that same look by building up muscle. You can be more of a stallion and less of a jiggle. You know what I’m saying?
MFP: So having trained celebrities – we know you’re Mary J. Blige’s trainer, and she always looks fabulous. What about this craze –?
MJ: Because Mary’s the same way – she’s like “Look Mark, I don’t wanna get skinny. I don’t wanna lose my audience. I don’t wanna lose my ass.” And she squats heavy and her butt pops out even more. It’s the same thing. If you squat, your butt pops out even more. You get a better effect.
MFP: I’ve seen Mary’s workouts on Instagram.
MJ: Most women will over diet and they end up losing– or they don’t know nutrition because if you’re dieting as a woman, you’re supposed to raise your fat up, and lower your junk food – like your essential fat – your avocado, your fish oil… so your breasts and your butt stay full. So a lot of times, it’s not having the information.
MFP: That’s true because it seems like the fat on the butt is the first thing to go when you’re training heavy.
MJ: Right, right. But if you add fat to your diet, then you lose body fat from your abdominals but you keep your breast tissue. So that’s a good tip for women. You add essential fat; you raise it up.
MFP: So what do you have to say about women risking their lives to get bigger butts? With injections, and implants – and all those things?
MJ: I have a friend of mine who’s doing a documentary now on women getting butt injections – and, you know, she’s showing me the pictures of chics who just had to get their ass amputated who have no ass now, just from bad procedures, over development… And you know, you can’t tell people what to do with their own bodies – because your body is yours so if you want to change it, or if you want to get a tattoo – I like tats – you know if you want to augment something, you can’t tell somebody what to do with their own body. I don’t like to pass judgement on people.
But I’m just trying to make sure they use every healthy means necessary before they go to the surgery – because most people go straight to the surgery. So try to work out first, and even if you do get the surgery, you’re gonna have to maintain it. So you’re gonna have to integrate workouts anyway or you’re gonna end up getting another procedure. So work outs are always going to be a component.
MFP: Working out with celebrities, and in an industry around Hollywood, and movie stars and you see the average woman who’s not in that industry risking their lives to get those procedures to look like those women. What do you have to say about that?
Every woman is beautiful in her own body type. And women need to learn to accept that and accentuate their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
MJ: Every woman is beautiful in her own body type. And women need to learn to accept that and accentuate their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. And just be happy with the body type that they have. It’s alarming in this day an age that that’s still going on – that women are sacrificing so much, and oftentimes it’s just to get a man.
MFP: Well to look more appealing to men, and it doesn’t work to keep a man.
MJ: And it doesn’t work. Yea, because that look – that super voluptuous [look]- it can only last for a good five to ten years, because then it turns dimply and cellulite and then the guy doesn’t want you anymore because then you’re over, it’s too fat – because you’re stretching your skin. You know when you’re young, it doesn’t show the lumps because your skin is tight, but as you get older and your skin loosens, then it’s not that appealing anymore.
MFP: Then you have to go back under the knife.
MJ: Yea, so it’s a limited – it’s a short-range plan.
MFP: We kind of want instant gratification a lot of times and it doesn’t work that way for long-term.
MJ: Exactly. So, you need to look at it from more of a holistic, you know, full perspective as opposed to a superficial pursuit. You’re not supposed to be working out to look better; you’re supposed to be working out to transmit and receive more blessings by tuning your instrument – and you looking good is a side effect or after effect of that. That’s not supposed to be the be-all, [end-all] of it. Just looking good…
MFP: That leads me to this question because I know you focus on a holistic approach to health in terms of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. So what do you suggest for people who need to be in alignment in those areas? Because if you’re going to the gym and you’re working out, it’s physical, but at the same time, a holistic approach is also the spiritual and the mental.
(Mark’s make-up artist begins to say her good-byes to us.)
MJ: Yoga and meditation, you know? Because yoga—
(Make-up artist as she’s gathering her things to leave: “This is really educational!” Mark says to another young lady, “Hey! Take care. Thank you for coming. Stay in touch. Bye! Watch your diet!”)
MFP: Your favorite line… (laughs) Okay, so in terms of aligning the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of it , you say incorporate yoga and meditation…
MJ: Absolutely. Well, think about it as tuning your instrument as opposed to you going to look better for somebody else.
MFP: Which doesn’t last, as you say.
MJ: And giving yourself more of an opportunity to be successful by adding years to your life, or increasing the quality of your life. So this way–
MFP: And the energy. Your overall energy is better. I just feel like a happier person when I’m training.
(The bell rings. The person waiting for Mark’s make-up artist is still downstairs. “I’m right behind you,” she says, and begins to leave.)
MJ: Yea, your overall energy, so you have more energy to– It’s supposed to be an empowerment tool.
I think women are more inclined to utilize superficial measures than to actually get in shape, and they don’t understand like [most men would prefer] a fine body than hair done, constantly.
MFP: I agree. So, again, I write about relationships, so moving on to that topic, specifically… a lot of women find ripped abs on a man to be very attractive. You know – you’re very lean, you’re in shape. A lot of women find that attractive, but as we know, it takes a lot of energy and effort for a man to maintain that. From your perspective, is there an imbalance when it comes to women investing the same about of time energy into looking good?
MJ: Yea, absolutely. I think women are more inclined to utilize superficial measures than to actually get in shape, and they don’t understand, like men, most would rather, or prefer a fine body than hair done, constantly. You know, I keep telling my women clients this all the time —
MFP: That’s true, because every time I’m outside with a head scarf on, I get stalkers!
(Make-up artist: “It’s crazy!”)
MJ: Because they don’t care about the hair! So you’re doing all that for nothing. It’s like, putting on all the makeup and all of this stuff you don’t wanna mess up, guys don’t really — guys are not that concerned about that. You know, I’m a guy, I can tell you.
(Make-up artist: “Yea, that’s true…”)
MFP: So we need to invest more, to attract the man with the ripped abs who we’re into.
MJ: Yea, if you really wanna — and the guy with the ripped abs, he wants a woman who can prepare healthy meals for him. He doesn’t want a woman sabotaging his meals so he gets fat when he’s with her. He’s gonna be less inclined to be with her – although he might eat the meal. Afterwards, he’s gonna be thinking “Okay, I can’t mess with her too much. She’s getting me fat. I can’t.”
A lot of black men don’t want to deal with a sister that’s empowered. So, that has to be kept in mind too. It’s both ends of the spectrum. You know, men have their own agenda as well.
MFP: So from my personal experience, as I mentioned, a lot of black men discourage women from working out. We’re gonna lose our physical assets – or they’re very insecure – about you meeting other men in the gym, or other people looking at you…
MJ: You know, a lot of black men don’t want to deal with a sister that’s empowered. So, that has to be kept in mind too. It’s both sides of the spectrum. You know, men have their own agenda as well. So a lot of times, they don’t want a lot of other men looking at their women. A lot of times they don’t want the women to feel too empowered because she might get up and leave them. So you know, guys have their own agenda too.
(Make-up artist: “Or insecurities.”)
MJ: Well, the agenda is based off of insecurity.
MFP: Very interesting. So I know for you, that fitness is–
MJ: I ain’t making no guy friends with this interview apparently, but…. (laughs heartily) I’m telling the truth.
MFP: Well you’re not. I can see that, from my perspective. (laughs)
(Make-up artist: You’re keeping it real. That’s why I stuck around. That’s why I stuck around. Because I need to hear that.)
MJ: I try to keep it one hundred, on both ends.
MFP: So I know for you, fitness is a family affair. Your wife is very much into health and wellness. You involve your children… How is fitness beneficial to romantic relationships as well as the family dynamic?
MJ: Well, my wife – women peak sexually at a lot later age than men. You know, men peak in their twenties, and women peak in their late forties to fifties. So. Right?
MFP: That late? That’s kinda late.
MJ: Sometimes. Sometimes. Mid-to-late forties and fifties. So it’s enabled me to be able to keep up with my wife. (laughs) Since she’s peaking, I haven’t declined. I’ve been able to maintain. Keep my baseline testosterone levels up, from exercising and having more muscle mass, so that’s always good.
MFP: (laughs) And you look good, so that’s good for her!
MJ: I’m just talking about from a performance aspect, because that’s all guys care about, you know – how their performing.
(Make-up artist: “Yea, yea…”)
MFP: Okay, and how does it affect the overall family dynamic?
MJ: Uh, it’s good because um, you know, my wife when we got married, my only strict rule with her — I only knew her for two weeks – I proposed the first week, we got married the second week– my only rule with her was that she could not straighten her hair, because I wanted somebody I could be active with. And she’s kept that promise and we’ve been married fourteen years, so she never straightened her hair. So, that was something that was a prerequisite for me, that was a deal breaker.
I didn’t know her at all, but if she wasn’t going to be active with me, then I knew we couldn’t have a relationship. Because all of my hobbies involve hiking, running, swimming, some type of physical – you know, yoga, meditation… I didn’t want any of that stuff to separate us.
MFP: That’s interesting. Especially because you work in an industry with women who have to maintain the glamour.
(Make-up artist: “She’s hollering at me. I gotta go. You’ll see me again. Nice meeting you!” She leaves.)
Meditate. So you can find that inner reason, and listen to that inner voice, and find your intuition that will lead you to the perfect exercise system that’s right for you.
MFP: I did an unscientific poll of women that I know, and specifically, what advice would you have for women 35 and older, in terms of maintaining their fitness level as metabolism declines, and around a busy lifestyle?
MJ: Well, studies have shown, that one of the biggest problems with women getting older is bone density. And weight training definitely helps to maintain the bone density and sustain their hormonal levels, and keep their body fat down long-term. Longer than cardiovascular exercise for that matter. And it keeps you firm, so when the guy grabs you, he feels some type of firmness to it.
So I would say lift – weight train, and again, more importantly, meditate. So you can find that inner reason, and listen to that inner voice, and find your intuition that will lead you to the perfect exercise system that’s right for you. Because if you’re meditating it, and radiating it, you’ll attract the right system for you because I believe there’s a different system for each person. And a good trainer finds that system – for their client, as opposed to trying to make them perform to their system. It’s a journey – and eventually, you let the person go.
MFP: Yea, that’s the hard part. That leads into this, In terms of fitness being a lifestyle, any tips for staying motivated over the long haul? Because as you said, you know, the trainer eventually lets go.
MJ: The biggest tip is for you to make it a spiritual journey. If you make it something that has to do with your personal development, you’ll always be in shape. If you make it an exercise, you’re not just dieting to look good, but you’re practicing detachment so you can enjoy other aspects of your life, you’ll always be in shape.
You have to find the um, I mean, even for men– I’ve been in shape since 1992. If I was doing it to look good, I would’ve stopped already..
MFP: Why? I mean you still need to look good. (laughs)
MJ: You know, but it was the inner– Well most people who achieve their fitness goal, that’s when they fall off. So you have to find that other reason–
MFP: I just wanna fit my clothes!
MJ: Well, for your own personal development – to oversee boundaries– Yea, wanna fit your clothes– you have to find that– you know, monks practiced – originally they created karate and martial arts for monks because they were falling asleep during their meditation – just to strengthen them physically, so they could develop their spiritual. So you know, and that’s where exercise and spirituality meet.
MFP: Thanks Mark. your insight has been extremely valuable and I know it’ll be well received. Do you have anything else you’d like to add? (laughs)
MJ: I hope so! (laughs) I don’t know if I’m getting too new-aged for people, or too far for people, but just the energy and the vibration is changing now. And we need to look inward now and start making it a point of, you know, I’m not eating meat – not to lose weight, but because I don’t want to eat animal products. I don’t want to eat food that has GMO, you know, that’s genetically modified. I don’t want to lower my vibration because it affects my meditation. Eating foods that will ground me. We need to, as a people, start to embrace more of those concepts.
And we need to invest more — more money into our health and fitness.
MFP: I completely agree. It is an investment.
MJ: Exactly. It’s part of your business plan. It’s part of your family plan. The average American gains five pounds a year, so any way you look at it, you’ll be buying clothes.
MFP: Thanks Mark. I learned so much! It’s been great.
MJ: Likewise. Great to meet you.