He’s a best-selling author, social media sensation and upcoming TV star… so how does Joe Wicks have time to stay lean – and so cheerful? The experts over at our sister brand Men’s Fitness catch up with the biggest name in British fitness.
JUMP TO: Joe Wicks’ Four-Week Fat Loss Workout
If there’s one thing Joe Wicks knows about, it’s working at high intensity. Obviously, that’s how he’s made his name – those all-out 15-minute HIIT sessions that regularly rack up millions of views on YouTube and form the backbone of his best-selling 90 Day Shift, Shape and Sustain plan. It’s still how he trains himself, fitting in bursts of burpees and mountain climbers on beaches and in hotel rooms as his schedule takes him jet-setting around the world expanding his empire one emoji at a time. But it’s also how he operates from day to day: high energy, always on, ever ready to meet and greet, create content or build the brand. It must be exhausting. But Wicks doesn’t seem to mind.
Case in point: this Men’s Fitness photoshoot. Though the real-life Wicks dials the intensity a notch or two down from his super-exuberant Snapchat persona, he walks through the door ready to go – there are handshakes all round, a bit of banter with the crew members he’s met before, and then it’s shirt off, pump up, and camera ready.
In between shots, he’s talking to the gym owners – we’re in the London Bridge branch of new franchise F45 – about how business is going, their approach to training, what they’re doing on social media. At one point, we see his hour-by-hour schedule on a flawlessly colour-coded spreadsheet, and there’s barely a glimmer of white space among all the red, blue and green. Even for a man who’s made millions from being high-energy, isn’t it ever… a bit much?
“Well, the rewards are so high,” says Wicks. “Yeah, I’ll be tired when I get up in the morning, but when I get to whatever I’m doing, the people there, the questions they’re asking me, the response I get… every day is different. Going to Abu Dhabi to film a DVD, that’s wicked, that’s fun. Doing a Channel 4 show, that was really awesome. Doing book tours, hearing from people who’ve changed their lives – I never get sick of that. I do get holidays – I had a little break in Antigua, I had a couple of days in America, so I do manage to squish little holidays in here and there. But yeah, this year’s been mad.”
This, if anything, is an under-exaggeration. The last time MF shot Wicks – only just over a year ago – it was for his first UK magazine cover, when he had 400,000 Instagram followers and a booming business in bespoke training-and-nutrition plans, a book deal in the pipeline and a chance at stardom. Now he’s published the best-selling cookery book in UK history, Lean In 15 (with a pair of sequels doing almost as well), been featured on dozens of front covers, been questioned by the Loose Women, and set off on a world tour to bring Lean In 15 to America and Australia. There are fourth and fifth books planned for next year, and almost certainly more to follow.
2016 also brought Wicks’s Channel 4 show, a 40-minute compression of the Wicks workout philosophy into a handful of success stories via members of the public. It was an interesting experiment for more than one reason – the Wicks persona, so perfect for 15-second soundbites on Instagram, could have been irritating stretched to a longer format, and one reviewer noted that his enthusiasm “could make Jamie Oliver seem positively indifferent”. So how did Wicks feel about the final product?
“It was a very small crew, it was just one cameraman, one lighting guy, a really polished team… but I had no idea how it was going to come out of the edit,” he admits. “But I watched it, I laughed a few times, I thought the information that was in it was good. I was worried that I was going to come across as shouty and annoying, but there was quite a good balance I thought: a bit of bosh and wallop in there, but they like a bit of that on TV, don’t they?”
He concedes that there wasn’t much in it for people who were already fans. “Some of it probably came across a bit boring to people who’ve followed the rest of my stuff. But I had to try and get across the basics to people who’ve never heard of it before. What did you think of it?”
That’s a question, I tell him, that we’ve discussed among the MF team. We saw more “serious” personal trainers complaining on social media that the show oversimplified matters, pushing a one-size-fits-all solution above education on how to make better food choices or structure a workout.
But let’s be honest, education is not what sells TV shows – and it seems a bit unfair to ask Wicks to pack into half an hour what the government’s been trying to do with years of (mostly ineffective) health campaigning. Most of the criticism, it has to be said, felt a bit like griping from people jealous of the Wicks juggernaut. But surely he’s used to that. Right?
“I don’t even really acknowledge it,” says Wicks. “Sometimes my brother (Nikki, a former magazine editor who helps run Wicks’s PR effort) shows me stuff, or I catch something on social media. Some of it’s just not true: one guy was comparing one of my Lean In 15 recipes to a KFC meal, saying they were just as bad as each other. Whatever you think about me, that’s unfair – I’m encouraging people to eat unprocessed food, drink water, learn to cook for themselves. It’s not the same thing at all.”
This simplicity, of course, is part of the Wicks appeal. It’s easy enough to go “full Wicks” – cook the recipes in the book, follow his workouts on YouTube – but he’s also endorsing a set of lifestyle changes that couldn’t be more straightforward. Do some high-intensity training a few times a week (he’s an evangelist for morning training, crediting the resulting endorphin hit with getting him through those ultra-long days), prep and cook your food whenever you can, and stay off the booze (“It’s probably one of the reasons I stay so lean – I don’t drink that often. Alcohol’s one of the things I have to keep under control”).
He promises that he practises what he preaches, and swears that his tabloid-selling torso comes from a hotel-room regime of close-grip press-ups and other bodyweight moves. This is probably true: warming up for our photoshoot, he does a genuinely staggering amount of pull-ups, only pausing to switch from wide-grip to narrow, and back again. But every trainer worth their salt adapts their approach over time, as their knowledge expands. Has the Wicks approach changed in the last 12 months?
“A bit, yeah. Now I do a bit more mobility stuff, a bit of yoga when I can. I’ve started putting a stretch and a cool-down in my videos. It’s one of those things – if you tell people ‘OK, now stretch and cool down’ they won’t do it, because they don’t always know what you mean. Put it in a video, and they can follow along.” He’s also been tweaking his views on sleep and stress. “In the new book I talk a lot about them both. If you feel negative the moment you wake up, it changes the direction of the day.”
He stays abreast of diet trends, he says – he’s heard of Sirt, for instance – but doesn’t worry too much about keeping ahead of the latest superfood studies. The Body Coach philosophy is about what works for most people, most of the time. “Don’t cut too much out too quickly,” he says, when nudged for his single best tip. “Just make small changes and see the benefits. Do it so that you enjoy the journey. Keep going.”
Enjoying the journey, of course, is easier when you’ve got a cheerleader like Wicks. He’s always on social media, with a biceps emoji here and a shades smiley there, exhorting people to smash out a session first thing in the morning or not be too down on themselves if they’ve fallen off the wagon at the weekend.
And MF has first-hand experience of how it extends to real life – 20 minutes into our shoot, there’s an unexpected knock at the gym door from a young Wicks follower called Dylan, who’s come along with his mum after getting an invitation on Snapchat. Dylan, his mum tells us, was heavily overweight before he picked up Wicks’s first book and starting to follow it, eventually losing more than 25kg and gaining a ton of self-confidence in the process.
This could feel like a stage-managed moment, but Wicks is genuinely delighted to see him, grabbing him at half-a-dozen moments during the shoot to take selfies and stage impromptu press-up competitions.
At one point, the pair pose for a photo that’s gone on to get more than 27,000 likes on Instagram, with hundreds of comments congratulating Dylan on his success. But even then, there’s an example of the downside to this level of fame.
“Somebody said, ‘Oh, why’s he got his top off, why’s it all about him?’” says Wicks, when we catch up with him a couple of days later. “It’s one of my most liked pictures ever, but it’s not because I’ve got my top off. I wouldn’t normally reply, but I had to explain, had to say look, it’s not about me, it’s about stories like that. Meeting Dylan, that really touched me. That sort of thing without a doubt is what keeps me on the hamster wheel.”
And those stories, of course, are why Wicks is far from finished. He’s already strategising, for instance, about how to deliver more success stories like Dylan’s. “I’ve got to somehow get into schools, roll things out there. Like, imagine if kids learned one healthy recipe a week, then their homework was to go home and cook it with their mum and dad. They’d learn 30 recipes a year, and they’d be set up for life.”
At the same time, his conquest of America is in progress (“Over there it’s all based on selling products. It’s all fat burners and operations, or detoxes and cleanses. That isn’t what they need”) and more TV shows to consider (“We’re talking to people about the format. I’m thinking about making my own stuff where I produce myself – a lot of people do that these days”).
There’s also YouTube, where Wicks can already connect with more people than watch TV shows every week, and social media, where he’s cross-promoting his Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter accounts better than most multi-million-pound brands.
There are more books, more plans, more lives to change… but first, he’s going on holiday. “I’ve booked the whole of February off. I’m going to South America, explore as much as I can.” A short pause. “I’ll have to do a lot of content for that month, get a load of recipes done, just so I can keep posting things while I’m away.” High-intensity as always. But there’s no doubt he’s enjoying the journey.
Interview: Joel Snape. Photography: Glen Burrows
Joe Wicks: The Body Coach Workout DVD is out now (BBC Worldwide). Buy on amazon.co.uk