Massy Arias: Rise Above - Oxygen Magazine

Massy Arias: Rise Above

Authentic, ambitious and altruistic, cover girl Massy Arias — aka Mankofit — is on a mission to change the world, one social post at a time.
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An estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization. But despite its pervasiveness, there is still an unambiguous stigma attached to depression that makes it an unmentionable subject of conversation, no matter your race, creed, country or age. In fact, more than 50 percent of Americans don’t seek treatment for the condition, and even fewer admit to having a mental health issue at all for fear of judgment, shame and discrimination.

“Mental health is taboo everywhere, and in my country, we never talk about these things — people just get labeled as crazy, even if they are only depressed,” says the Dominican-born Massy Arias. “But I think we should be open about it, and depression should be treated the same as any other health condition.”

Exercise as Medicine

Arias is the voice of experience. She suffered from severe depression for years, hiding away in her room, sleeping for avoidance and even losing her hair. She tried everything short of prescription medication to assuage her condition, including meditation, hypnosis, herbs and cognitive therapy. Nothing worked until a friend suggested exercise. Arias had never played sports or been to a gym, but she was willing to give anything a try. Within six months, she was a new person.

“When I say fitness saved my life, I mean it,” she avows. “Movement puts you in a very positive hormonal state, changing the chemistry within your body and your brain. I was also occupying my mind with new challenges and was meeting people who were holding me accountable and making me feel good about myself. I had something to look forward to, and my life completely transformed.”

However, feeling those feels was a temporary condition, and within hours of leaving the gym, Arias would come back to earth — hard. “I ended up overtraining because I started craving that feeling of happiness — a feeling which I only felt during exercise or right afterward,” she says. “But once I started building a routine and collected a team of people and friends who helped me over that hump, things got easier. I got certified as a trainer and started teaching group classes, and everything fell into place.”

Sharing and Caring

Wanting to share her experience, Arias opened an Instagram account — a new platform at the time — and regularly posted raw and personal accounts of her struggles, failures and successes in her journey toward wellness.

“When I started exercising, I couldn’t do a lot of things, and people saw that process on Instagram and watched me go from not being able to do a push-up to doing clapping push-ups, not being able to run a full block to running a 5K,” she says. “My social media is not a bunch of curated pictures that look pretty; I don’t sell dreams — I sell reality — and you will find inspiration to keep on moving forward in everything I do.”

Providing a refreshing break from the typical narcissistic and vapid content of social media, Arias’ vulnerable authenticity garnered her rapid popularity, and she soon amassed a global following of millions, helped in no small part by her bilingual posts.

But depression was still lurking within, and after having her daughter, Indie, in 2017, Arias experienced postpartum depression, which renewed her advocacy of exercise as a defensible and valid prescription. “It was tough, but I used the same approach to help treat it as I did before — using movement and healthy food as medicine,” she says. “As long as I continue moving and eating well, I will continue to rise above my depression.”

Using this all-natural prescription, Arias once again prevailed, and a year later, she is beyond thrilled to be a mother. “Being a mom is tiring and it’s hard, but it has also made me an overall better person — a little more regimented, a little softer, more compassionate,” she says. “It also made me a better trainer and a better motivator because I can relate to so many more women who have kids. Now I have an understanding as to what women all around the world have experienced and what struggles they face with health and exercise and family.”

Exercise Rx

There are hundreds of studies supporting exercise as a valid prescription for depression. Here are just a few notable findings:

  • According to Harvard Medical School, exercise causes a series of internal changes that reverse the symptoms of depression, such as the release of endorphins, which actually help block physical and emotional pain.
  • Continued practice of exercise triggers the release of specific proteins that cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections, most notably in the hippocampus — the region of the brain that dictates mood — ultimately improving mental health and well-being.
  • A study published in ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal determined that even modest amounts of exercise alleviate depressive symptoms on a level comparable to pharmacological drugs, and another study showed that exercise reduced depressive symptoms in patients who failed to respond to antidepressant medication. How much is a modest amount? Just one hour per week, according to research published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.
  • Postpartum women who participated in exercise programs showed a significantly lower incidence of depression, and those at high probability for the condition had a reduced risk of 50 percent! This is especially good news for breast-feeding mothers who are worried about the effects medication can have on their newborn.

On the Horizon

Today, Arias juggles several sponsorships, and she is kept busy making appearances for companies such as Target, C9 Champion and CoverGirl. In fact, at the time of this writing, Arias was en route to Dallas to do an engagement in the inner city hosting workshops, an exercise class and a meet-and-greet. This sort of athletic philanthropy is her current MO, and Arias is ardent about reaching out to those with little access to exercise and healthy living.

“I never played any sports growing up, but I strongly believe that if I would have started at a young age doing what I am doing now, I probably would have been a great athlete,” she says. “That is why I am passionate about a project I am working on in the Dominican Republic: I am teaming up with a retired Olympic hurdler — a gold medalist — to build an athletic academy for performance training and nutrition. Hopefully, we can also integrate the Olympic committee and the government to be part of this initiative to help inner-city kids who don’t have the resources they need to play sports.”

She also continues to be an Instagram inspiration by living her fitness truth for the world to see, continuing to set and break goals. “Right now, I am working more on building strength and endurance, trying to be a beast!” Arias says. “I want to be able to jump higher, lift more, be more explosive and beat all the guys I train with. Be a ninja. I want to live my life in a way that changes lives positively every day. If my story can give people the confidence and reassurance that they can reach whatever goal they have or overcome any obstacle in front of them, then I’m fulfilling my purpose in this journey.”

Circuit 1

Kettlebell Pickup (30 seconds each side)
Banded Football Squat
Banded Jumping Jack

Kettlebell-Pickup-Oxygen

Kettlebell Pickup

Stand behind a kettlebell with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and your core engaged as you hinge from your hips and fold forward, reaching down with your right hand as you simultaneously lift your left leg behind you. When your torso and leg are parallel to the floor, grab the kettlebell handle and stand back up. Reverse the move to lower the kettlebell back down to the floor, release it and stand back up to complete one rep. Do all reps on one side, then switch.

anded--Football-Squat-Oxygen

Banded Football Squat

Secure a band loop around your thighs just above your knees and stand with your feet hip-width apart so there is tension in the band. Jump your feet apart and squat down quickly with a flat back to touch your left fingertips to the floor. Explode upward, jump your feet together underneath you, then jump them apart again, touching your right hand to the floor. Continue, alternating sides.

Banded-Jumping-Jack-Oxygen

Banded Jumping Jack

Secure a band loop around your legs just above your ankles and stand with your feet hip-width apart so there is tension in the band. Jump your feet apart and raise your arms overhead, then jump your arms and legs back together as with a normal jumping jack.

Circuit 2

Kettlebell Stiff-Legged Deadlift to Kettlebell Squat
Banded Side Shuffle
Banded Square Bear Crawl

Kettlebell-Stiff-Legged-Deadlift-to-Kettlebell-Squat-Oxygen

Kettlebell Stiff-Legged Deadlift to Kettlebell Squat

Hold a kettlebell with both hands in front of you, arms straight, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back straight, your knees soft and your head neutral, push your glutes back as you hinge forward, lowering the kettlebell toward the floor as low as you can, or until your back begins to round. Return to the start, then explosively pull the kettlebell upward in an upright row motion, catch it on the sides of the handle, and hold it at your chest as you kick your hips back and lower into a deep squat. Continue, alternating moves.

Banded-Side-Shuffle-Oxygen

Banded Side Shuffle

Secure a resistance-band loop around your thighs just above your knees and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Kick your hips back and lower into an athletic “ready” position, core tight, posterior chain activated. Hold here as you quickly drive your right leg to the side, swinging your left arm forward and across your body. Step your feet together and repeat. Continue, taking five steps one way, then five steps the other way for the duration of your time.

Banded-Square-Bear-Crawl-Oxygen

Banded Square Bear Crawl

Secure a band loop around your thighs just above your knees and get onto all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips, back straight and head neutral. Turn your toes under and lift your knees off the floor to get into the bear position, then using opposing limbs, take four slow steps forward. Then use your same-side arm and leg to take four steps to the right. Use your opposing arm and leg to take four steps backward, then same-side arm and leg to move laterally to the left and complete the square. Repeat in the opposite direction.

Circuit 3

Kettlebell Step-Out With Knee Drive
Squat With Opposite Arm and Leg Crunch
Banded Plank Step-Out and Leg Lift

Kettlebell-Step-Out-With-Knee-Drive-Oxygen

Kettlebell Step-Out With Knee Drive

Hold a kettlebell with both hands at your chest, elbows down, feet shoulder-width apart. Lift your knee to hip height, then squat down on your left leg as low as you can. Stay in this low squat position as you slowly step to the right, shifting your weight to your right foot. Balance on your right foot as you lift your left foot off the floor, then extend your right leg to stand, lifting your left knee to hip height. Continue, alternating directions.

Squat-With-Opposite-Arm-and-Leg-Crunch-Oxygen

Squat With Opposite Arm and Leg Crunch

Secure a resistance-band loop around both arches of both shoes and place your hands lightly behind your head, elbows flared. Keep your chest lifted as you kick your hips back and squat down, then stand and simultaneously lift your right knee as you twist to the right, aiming to touch your left elbow to your right knee. Replace your foot, perform another squat and continue, alternating sides.

Banded-Plank-Step-Out-and-Leg-Lift-Oxygen

Banded Plank Step-Out and Leg Lift

Secure a resistance band around both legs just above your ankles and get into a forearm plank with your elbows underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. Hold your upper body in position as you open your right leg out to the side, touching your toes down briefly to the floor, then return to plank. Then keep your right leg straight as you lift it upward as high as you can. Continue, alternating legs.

The Short Circuit Workout

“This program is something I would do myself,” says Arias, who created this workout exclusively for Oxygen. “Because I hate all cardio except doing stairs or sprinting, I like to do circuit training for my strength work, which allows me to get in both my aerobic and anaerobic training at the same time.”

This workout contains three circuits of three moves apiece. Do the moves in order for 30 seconds each with no rest in between, and rest up to a minute in between circuits. Do three to four rounds of each circuit, depending on how much time you have.

“Use a resistance loop or weight that challenges you for each move, and try to hit your max reps with each set,” Arias advises, noting that you should use a lighter weight band loop when placing it around your ankles and a heavier one around your thighs. “And make sure you can move that weight effectively in a controlled manner.”

Why a band loop? “It’s for the booty,” says Arias, laughing, who admits she has a hard time engaging her glutes. “I had muscular imbalances and my glutes didn’t activate properly. The muscles that were tight would turn on right away, preventing the glutes from engaging. But these bands ensure those glutes will fire!”

Full name: Massy Arias
Birth date: November 23, 1988
Hometown: Dominican Republic
Current residence: Glendale, California
Height: 5’8”
Sponsors: Target, C9 Champion, CoverGirl
Instagram: massy.arias
Facebook and Twitter: mankofit
Favorite saying: “But did you die?”

Follow along with Massy as she demos her workout here.

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