Health

How This Hip-Hop Brotherhood Transformed Each Other’s Lives

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fit lit club

Dave East goes big on bench with Jim Jones spotting.

AHMED KLINK

IT’S A RANDOM day in September at the New Jersey gym Impact Zone, and the sweat-drenched Jim Jones wants more from Maino on the bench press. As Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” blares from the gym speakers, Jones yells for Maino to “work for it!” Meanwhile, Fabolous and Dave East are already catching their breath.

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There are no entourages, no bodyguards, no designer outfits. Just four men who want more for themselves. They want more strength, more years to be fathers, more limits to break. Welcome to FitLit Club, the fittest group in hip-hop.

It all started where most fitness journeys die: a New Year’s resolution. After recording together for Jones and Maino’s collab album The Lobby Boyz and finding refuge at the Chelsea House, Maino’s family-owned restaurant in New York City, the friends set up a group chat. That’s where Fabolous challenged his friends to enter 2022 with a new diet: 30 days without eating empty carbs, junk food, or fried food. There may have been a few Krispy Kreme close calls, but discipline prevailed and FitLit Club was born. “We started coming to the gym together to get past that 30 days. Once we got on that journey, it became a lifestyle,” says Maino.

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The four rappers, who are in their 30s and 40s, started Fit- Lit at different points in their fitness journeys and careers. Fabolous has a slender physique and the least fitness experience in the group. He’s best known for raw love anthems like the Ne-Yo-assisted “Make Me Better.” Jones has been working out for decades and often hones his massive chest and arms in his own gym, Vamp Fitt. He also introduced “balling” into the cultural lexicon with his 2006 hit song “We Fly High (Ballin’).” Wu-Tang: An American Saga actor and Nas protégé Dave East has maintained the athletic frame he developed playing AAU basketball with Kevin Durant. Maino is a stocky calisthenics advocate whose T-Pain collaboration “All the Above” has been an inescapable radio anthem and sports walk-out song for more than a decade.

A FitLit Club workout is a hangout session with a purpose. Jones is the group’s unofficial trainer, calling out exercises and directing them to spot one another, sometimes in the middle of his own lifts. Soon the rhythm of sets and reps gives way to playful banter that even an outsider can tell comes from a genuine interest in seeing a friend reach new heights.

fit lit club

From left: Dave East, Jim Jones, Maino, and Fabolous, the founding members of FitLit Club, in late 2022.

AHMED KLINK

“That’s Jimnasium Jones,” Maino shouts after Jones wraps his legs around a punching bag to do crunches like a Creed III stunt double. “Fab is starting to look like a bodyguard at the club,” Jones jokes after complimenting the rapper on his improved definition. Sometimes they critique one another’s gym attire (“Jim worked out in [Timberland boots], too,” Fabolous says) or the intensity of their workouts (“[Maino and Fabolous] want to be the vibe guys,” East says).

Hip-hop is often a dog-eat-dog genre, full of artists constantly fighting to reach the top of the food chain by one-upping one another on and off songs. But FitLit Club does the opposite. At one point, Jones does bench presses while bringing his knees toward his chest between lifts. After watching his first rep, Maino makes it abundantly clear he would not be able to do the same. The group bursts into laughter before each goes back to his individual station. No one questions Maino’s manhood, and he doesn’t “feel any way about me not being able to do what he do.” FitLit Club has only one rule: no egos.

fit lit club

Fabolous (left) and Jones keep pushing each other and themselves.

AHMED KLINK

“Everybody’s battle and journey is different in the gym. The one thing we have in common is coming to the gym. The second thing is making sure we do the work,” Jones says proudly. “Everybody’s work is going to be different. I don’t expect somebody else to be able to do what I can do, and I might not be able to do what they can do.”

This lack of ego is how they’re able to hold each other accountable. Their busy schedules sometimes put them in different corners of the globe, making it rare for all four to work out together. But not a day goes by when they’re not in the chat discussing life events, sharing unfiltered commentary on pop culture, and, equally necessary, checking in on their workouts. “Dave might already be in the gym and send a text like, ‘Hey, I’m here already.’ Then I might get up and do 50 pushups in a row and text, ‘I got 50 pushups on the wake-up.’ It’s hella motivational,” Jones explains.

fit lit club

Jones (left) and Maino lift and laugh together.

AHMED KLINK

Fabolous, the slimmest member with one of the busiest schedules, self-effacingly considers himself the group’s “reverse motivation.” And it works. “I never thought I would see Fab working out. That threw me off a little bit at first,” East admits. “But to watch him lock in for a year has been motivational.”

Often, motivation is born from relatability. You can see yourself in the best friend who faces the same work-life-balance struggles as you do but who still makes it to the gym daily. FitLit Club is about that and more, because it’s how these men commune with the few people in the world who truly understand their life.

fit lit club

AHMED KLINK

When Fabolous needs to leave the gym early to pick up his child from school, he jokes that he doesn’t want to be late and look like “the bad hip-hop dad.” The crew empathize and remind him that he’s a great father.

None of them are the same men they were before FitLit Club. East can’t fit into any of his clothes now that his back is bigger. Fabolous is in the best shape of his life. As much as Maino may poke fun at Jones’s fixation on weightlifting, he’ll be the first to tell you it’s helped him get bigger. For Jones, the gains aren’t about what’s on the scale, but he feels them wherever he goes. “It got us closer than ever. I got three brothers out of it. It’s not just about the gym—it’s about life.” Before the workout ends, he asks the question that has defined this fitness group for a year: “Want to do one more set?”


FitLit Club Total-Body Burner

Warm up with 3 sets of 10 walking lunges and 10 pushups. Do 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps with enough weight to make each set challenging.

Plate presses

Strengthen shoulders. Keep the weight light!

Incline bench presses

Target your chest and shoulders.

Pullups

Build back, forearm, and core strength.

Sled pushes

Rappers need leg muscle, too! Do out-and-backs, maintaining a steady speed.

A version of this article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of Men’s Health.

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