What’s next for Joe Wicks, the nation’s lockdown PE teacher?

How to keep under-sevens moving

The culture in your household has huge impact, says Wicks. “Indie, aged two, is already learning that Daddy and Mummy go up to the gym to exercise. It’s so incredibly important. If all she saw was me on my laptop or phone, that would change her perspective. You have to visually show them and talk about it.” But avoid making fitness a chore. “You’ve all got to not see exercise as a pain in the bum. This is fun, this is going to make us all feel better.” 

He adds, “It doesn’t need to be a structured 45-minute workout. It could be playing stuck in the mud in the garden or hide and seek, or frisbee or going to the park and feeding the birds, or ‘let’s see who can run to that tree and back the fastest’ – you’re burning energy, releasing endorphins, you’re going to feel good.” 

Over summer, go on bike rides and walks together, try to get into nature. “Kids’ playgrounds, outdoor adventure playgrounds have all started to open up, so use those as much as you can.” 

At home, get small children moving by playing together: “You could bounce around your living room, listening to music, doing silly-billy dances.” He squeezed quizzes, games and dressing up into PE with Joe, recorded in his minimalist lounge (“it’s the only room in the house that isn’t a mess”). 

Joe also has five and eight-minute workouts for little children on his YouTube channel, The Body Coach TV, called 5 Alive and Active-8. One 5 Alive is hosted by a familiar-looking chap in a green costume called ‘The Froggy Coach’.

Make-believe can be helpful. “Kangaroo hops, the Spiderman lunges, the bunny hops – you could say, ‘Show me how you do your Spiderman lunges.’ ” Not only do children love this, he says, when parents join in they can’t help laughing. That’s motivating for kids too. 

They’re never too young to have a conscious understanding of exercise. “Indie,” he asks, “what exercise do you like to do in the gym? You know when you hold the weights and go up and down?” She lisps, “Squats!”

And, he says, from a young age, “It’s good for them to have benchmarks to see that they’re making progress.” Every four weeks on PE with Joe, there was a fitness challenge. “We measured squats, press-ups and burpees – a minute of each.” If people wrote down their numbers, they could track themselves getting stronger. Over the summer, why not do the same?

Top tips for the under-13s

Don’t make it too easy. “You know when an exercise gets tough and you just stop?” says Wicks. “You go, ahh, I can’t do it. I think if you don’t learn to get through that, if you’re a child or adult that’s never physically exerted and pushed yourself, it is easier to quit.” He adds, “If you teach children at a young age to physically push themselves, they come out of it emotionally stronger. And that can help with life, with relationships, or getting knocked back.”

Don’t be prescriptive, he adds. “Some children have more focus with reps and numbers and getting stats. Other kids want to run around and do their own thing. So bring in toys and balls, games and frisbees.” Adapt. “You might have a child with a short attention span who can only do five-minute bursts of exercise, or you might have a kid who’s focused.” Your child might enjoy challenges such as, “How many press-ups can you do today?”

PE with Joe, he notes, is structured fitness, but, “It’s fitness to feel good. It’s not about saying ‘you need to do a certain number of push-ups’, or competing with your brother. It’s you against the clock. It’s how much can you do.”

If there’s a sport or activity you love, summer is the perfect opportunity to share that passion with them. Wicks says, “I just had Gordon Ramsay on my podcast. He loves endurance sports, and he got his family involved – his kids do marathons and triathlons.” 

And support them too in the discovery and pursuit of what they love. “I like the idea of letting Indie try lots of different exercise, different sports, and when she wants to, help her go in one direction – support that, help her get to practice, join a team, encourage her,” says Wicks. Days after he gives this advice, my 13-year old (an exercise-refusenik during lockdown) asks for a bicycle so he can ride around with friends. This time I listen.

Ways to motivate stubborn teenagers

If you haven’t instilled a love of exercise in your children by the time they’re stroppy teenagers, it can be hard, Wicks admits. “It’s not cool. They’re more self-conscious, more resistant, they get into other things.” Indeed. My husband is still in disbelief that two of our teenage sons refuse to play cricket. Over lockdown they were about as active as a pair of bollards. Summer could be the chance to change all that – but how?

“The reality is, it’s effort and it takes work,” says Wicks. “As a parent, you’re busy, you’ve got a career, you’ve got commitments, you’ve got to clean the house, do the cooking. Getting them to exercise is another thing that’s difficult. Some days they’ll say, I want to go to my room and watch TV. You can’t always let them.” 

It’s normal in life to need persuasion, to feel resistant. “Motivation and energy is not there at the start of exercise,” he says. “It’s at the end. If they or you are in the mindset of, ‘I haven’t got time, I’m stressed, tired, not in the mood’ – you’re never going to get into the mood for it. You have to be the one to say, ‘Come on, you know how good we felt the other day after we did PE with Joe?’ You need to have that positive cheerleader voice.”

If you give up, they’ll get less and less active and ultimately it’s about their health and happiness. “Being a teenager’s hard. Everything feels intense,” he says. “If they’re starting a new year at college or school, exercise is going to help them deal with their emotions. There’s nothing more important,” he says. “Set boundaries, prioritise that time. Say, ‘30 minutes a day, we go to the park, or once a week I’ll take you to your football club, or indoor rock climbing.’ Don’t let the habit creep in of, ‘We don’t need to do that today.’ ”

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