Fitness guru Joe Wicks speaks to Liz Connor about the viral success of his online P.E lessons and his ambition to get kids moving through uncertain times.
“You know you’ve made it when Louis Theroux does your workout,” laughs Joe Wicks, the curly-haired personal trainer who recently volunteered to be the saviour of parents everywhere and step up to the role of the nation’s P.E teacher.
He is currently hosting live fitness sessions aimed at kids on his YouTube channel every weekday at 9am, to help little one’s stay active while the UK and many other countries go into lockdown and schools are closed.
“I had the idea for ‘PE with Joe’ while I was lying in bed at night. I wanted to create a new workout for kids every Monday to Friday, as a way to replace their missed P.E lessons.
“I announced it last week and the response has been completely overwhelming,” says Wicks. “Parents are sharing it, schools are putting me in their newsletters and people from all over the world are getting involved.”
The first class, which aired on Monday, had over 800,000 live streams, while Tuesday’s workout saw 954,000 households tune in. So far, over 5 million people have watched Wicks’ P.E sessions, on his YouTube channel The Body Coach TV, over the course of the past two days.
“It’s about giving people that 30 minutes in the morning to get up off the sofa, move your body and get your heart pumping,” enthuses Wicks.
“This isn’t about getting people lean, it’s about saying, ‘Do this today to feel good’. Then, when your kids sit down to do some academic work, they’re energised and mentally prepared for a lesson at home.”
Aside from being the most likeable person on YouTube, the celebrity fitness coach is also genuinely well qualified for the role. He trained to be a P.E teacher at St Mary’s University and planned to move into the profession before he found fame on YouTube.
Since then, he’s visited thousands of schools around the UK, putting children in playgrounds and sports halls through their paces with his bounding enthusiasm for physical education.
So why stream the workouts at 9am? Isn’t that a bit cruel for kids? “It’s a good time to start the day with exercise,” says Joe. “It gives you routine, raises your attention span and gets you focused.
“The consistency for me is important. I feel better for exercising in the morning and I think kids do too. Once you’ve done a workout and you’ve physically pushed your body, I think you can take things in your stride a little bit more.”
Wicks continues: “I’ve always exercised from a very young age and now during this time, whether you live in a big or a small house, we all share that feeling of wanting to get out. It’s a very confusing time for little people.
“[Exercise] a great way of forgetting about it for half an hour and getting them fit and moving. It’s also about lifting people’s mental health too – raising their energy levels, clearing their minds and letting them have a more optimistic and positive approach to the day. Whether you’re five years old or 55 years old, you’re still going to get the same benefits from exercise.”
Wicks, who originally found fame with his Lean in 15 recipes, says that while his current focus is on exercise, he believes that parents shouldn’t overlook the importance of nutrition.
“It’s going to be hard for parents that rely on school dinners during the daytime, but my advice would be to keep it really simple,” he says.
“I’m a big fan of making things like chilli, bolognese, risotto and stir-fry that you can batch cook and leave leftovers in the fridge for the next day.
“Chopped tomatoes and coconut creams are good bases for a curry with some spices. We’re going to be burning less energy and consuming more if we’re grazing throughout the day, so try to focus on three meals a day.
“Use this time to put healthy food on the table, exercise more and let’s see this as a positive. Flip it on it’s head and think, ‘OK, this isn’t ideal, but I can make the best of this and I can get myself feeling good again’.”
Wicks, a father of two himself, says that while the series has become an overnight success, the motivation behind the project remains a genuine drive to help children find some normality during the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve committed to doing this in term-time. If kids are supposed to be in school, then I’ll be their P.E teacher. I’m not going to be able to keep it going through the summer holidays, but I’m still going to dip and out and do my best.
“There are so many negatives that people are focusing on, but there’s also a lot of positives too. I really think this is going to bring families together. If I could have a long-lasting effect on the culture of fitness within the household, that would be my greatest achievement,” he says.
“When this is all said and done, I really believe that people are going to miss the routine of getting up and bouncing around the living room with their kids. I’d like to ingrain something in parents’ mindset that says, ‘This is fun, let’s keep doing this together’.”