Joe Wicks is not a man of modest ambition. When Men’s Health last spoke to him, two months into the first lockdown – and the cultural touchstone that was PE with Joe – his stated objective was “to be the person who completely transforms the health of the nation”.
It was a formidable goal. Yet it’s hard to deny that he’s making good progress. With 2.8 million YouTube subscribers, 3.2 million cookbook sales, a multimillion-pound training app and an MBE, the 34-year-old roofer’s son from Epsom has not so much exceeded expectations as confounded them.
Now, he has another ambition: to make the nation happier. With a new role as ambassador for Lululemon, Wicks wants to teach his followers to use exercise as a tool to improve how they feel, not just change the way they look. MH sat down with the Body Coach to find out more.
Men’s Health: You made your name as the Body Coach. Now, you want to turn your focus away from the physical and towards the psychological. Why the change?
Joe Wicks: I don’t think it was a conscious decision. It was more of an observation. The more people I worked with – the thousands of people who do my plans, my YouTube workouts – the more I realised that the thing they celebrate most is not the before-and-after but the story behind it. I started really tuning into that. I thought, “Let’s amplify it. Let’s really shine a light.”
I know I still share the before-and-after pictures. People say, “Why do you share them? If it’s all about the mind, why are you still focusing on the body?” Some people really like those transformations. They like to see a body shape that might look like theirs, something they can aspire to. But overall, I really try to emphasise the testimonial written below – and it’s always about how people feel. It’s about how they’ve overcome anxiety, or certain illnesses, or depression. We need to talk about that more, because that’s the thing that keeps you coming back. The reason we keep returning to exercise is that it makes us feel good.
MH: More and more people are talking about the benefits of exercise for mental health. Why is this conversation happening now?
JW: I’m not a psychologist, but I truly believe in the power of exercise. We know that if you feel down, or stressed, or anxious, exercise can really help. Maybe not permanently. It’s a temporary boost. But after a workout, when you feel a bit more positive – that can save a person’s life, in some instances.
I’m not the only man talking about mental health. So many people have come out and been open about their experiences. I think it has made other people feel, like, “If Stormzy’s gone through it…” or whoever it may be. It helps people with similar issues to talk about it.
I think that during lockdown, people suffered more than ever. Whether you like to admit it or not, we’ve all been affected. From not seeing our friends and family to being disconnected from our social networks, it has affected us.
MH: After the year we’ve had, do you worry about the mental health of the nation? Do you feel a sense of responsibility?
JW: I do worry about it. It is something I think about. I’m in tune with so many people through social media. I am aware of the energy of the nation. I am aware of the fact that people are struggling. That’s why I’m always promoting communication, talking about how you feel. I did an Instagram Live where I burst into tears. I didn’t mean to. But I had messages afterwards from people saying they felt relieved that I’d shown that side, that it’s okay to feel emotional.
I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility, but I have an opportunity to help people. That’s why I work as hard as I do. What I did with PE with Joe got a lot of people exercising at home for the first time. I made it really accessible. Hopefully, people now realise that you don’t need a lot of time to feel good. You can fit it into your day. And PE with Joe was completely free. Affluent people, people in one-bedroom flats and council houses – everyone could take part.
You can read the rest of our interview with Joe Wicks in the July issue of Men's Health. Out now.
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