In the hip-hop community, Mark Jenkins is considered the go-to guy for helping the stars get in shape for music videos, tours, or other big events. The names of the people he’s worked with over the last two plus decades could be read like a Who’s Who of music — D’Angelo, LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige, and Beyonce just to name a few. Jenkins may be most famous for helping Diddy train for the New York Marathon in a matter of weeks when the hip-hop mogul had no experience with long-distance running.

He got his start in this field by working with members of the United States Military. He said he joined because he had to deal with bullying as a kid, and he needed a way to help him survive. He also was thinking about the pressure that his mother was dealing with during that time.

“I said, ‘Yo, I’m not going to survive,’ because every day, literally, we were walking over crackheads because that was the crack era,” he said solemnly. “I walked by a military recruiter’s office one day and I was like, ‘Man, if I could join the military, it could take the burden off my mom.’ She took my sister to college. So, there was no money for me to go to school after that.”

Mark Jenkins made the decision to serve his country, but he wasn’t sure which branch he wanted to go in. He would eventually opt for the Navy because the recruiter who reached out to him made him a unique pitch — one that is surprising considering what Jenkins does now.

“The Navy guy goes, ‘You know, you should join the Navy. They got McDonald’s on the aircraft carrier,” he says. “You can’t get that on the Air Force.’ I signed up right there.”

From Big Macs to bigger biceps

Mark Jenkins performing a pullup at the cable station in a gym
Courtesy of Mark Jenkins

Once the decision was made, he went into boot camp, which he said he barely got through. After that, he was transferred to Mississippi, a far cry from where he grew up in New York. While he was there, he wasn’t allowed to leave the base because they weren’t responsible for what happened outside of the base.

“There had been incidents with blacks leaving the base. So, here we were defending the country, but we couldn’t leave the base, and the government wasn’t responsible for protecting us,” he said. The blessing that came out of being there was that he was introduced to training. He met someone who clearly knew his way around a weight room. After some convincing, the man agreed to train Mark Jenkins, and the rest is history.

“Maybe a year and a half later, I was 250, 22-inch arms, 29-inch waist, empowered, and in the Gulf War.”

While he was overseas, Jenkins discovered his opportunity to thrive. The carrier he was on had two gyms, which excited him more than any amount of Big Macs when he first joined. He trained, read, and lived fitness, wanting to learn and apply all he can about this new passion. By the time his commitment to service was approaching the end, he was asked to train new enrollees to get in shape as well. Considering where he started, this new point in life and service empowered Jenkins in a way he previously never thought possible.

“The Navy was an awakening period for me,” he explained. “I never even played sports because I had a dance background. The Navy was the first time I played football, basketball, interacted with different races — that was my introduction to manhood. I was 21, I had been in war, I had been training men, many older than me. I felt pretty empowered.”

After his active career in service was over, Jenkins wasn’t sure what was next, but he knew he wanted it to involve training. He would start working as a trainer when he eventually got the opportunity to work with D’Angelo, who at the time was enjoying the success of his hit song “Untitled (How Does it Feel?)” When it came to working with him or any other artist that he met later on, he approached his training and nutrition strategies in a similar fashion as he did when he was in the Persian Gulf.

“I was analyzing and problem-solving. I think being able to look at things and finding ways to attack from all different angles helped me, and that was something I learned in the military,” Jenkins shared. “I think I still use it all the time.”

Believing in yourself

Navy veteran and personal trainer Mark Jenkins
Courtesy of Mark Jenkins

Jenkins has had a long road of success since he’s started working with celebrities and clients, but there was one aspect of his journey that he may have been too early on. The New York native could be considered a pioneer of influencers. However, the opportunities he saw weren’t met with the same enthusiasm by the people he was sharing his ideas with.

“They just wanted you to stand behind a green screen and do the exercises,” he said. “I couldn’t sell what I was wanting to do to the corporations. They couldn’t see it.” Fortunately, he never gave up on his ideas, and he is proving himself right today.

“A lot of the projects and treatments I wrote back then, I am actually implementing now, 20 years later” he said. At the age of 51, not only is Mark Jenkins still in tremendous shape, he’s still challenging himself on how to improve. Before the pandemic, he was wanting to learn mixed martial arts. Now, he’s following through on that desire. He admitted that he still has work to do, but he’s excited about what lies ahead.

“I get my ass kicked on the ground,” he confessed. “I want to get back into jiujitsu. Once I get that back, I want to get ready for a fight. I want to fight within the next two to three years.”

Giving back to the next class

Another important part of Jenkins’ life is his ability to make a difference for kids. He speaks to groups and classes often, and he is very aware that there are numerous flaws in the system, but he shares his story to serve as proof that change is certainly possible. Most importantly he wants to see the next generation become the leaders that can create the change that is necessary.

“If you don’t get in the system and go change it, it’s not going to happen. If you’re looking for change from adults, most of them that are my age are already on the way out. You have to actually get successful, infiltrate the system, and go affect change. You can’t do that if you tune out or ignore society. You have to actually go and make the system better.”

Follow Mark Jenkins on social media

Instagram: @themarkjenkins

Twitter: @themarkjenkins

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