For someone who’s known as a beacon of good vibes and positive energy, Joe Wicks is a refreshingly straight-talker. Leaning against the bed in his Surrey home, the 35-year-old known as The Body Coach admits that enduring the isolation of Britain’s lockdown with two small kids – Indie (2) and Marley (1) – has definitely impacted his mental health at times. “Exercise has kept my mood up,” he says. “Without that I think I’d be flat and low like a lot of other people.”
Figuring that what works for him would also help other people, Joe launched his “PE with Joe” YouTube fitness sessions to try and keep Britain active during the pandemic. Their success has proved frankly mind-boggling with the videos receiving more than 80 million views. They’ve consolidated Joe’s status as a one-man fitness industry on the back of his range of bestselling cook books, TV show and The Body Coach fitness app.
Such success is even more impressive given that it’s entirely self-generated. Joe chats openly about the “madness’ of his childhood growing up on a council estate with a heroin addict father and a mother on benefits. He left school at 15, but managed to wring positive motivation and drive out of his unpromising circumstances. As Joe explains below, that’s a mindset that’s useful in fatherhood, too.
In the following interview, Joe talks to The Father Hood with characteristic honesty about anger management, patience and the one habit that could transform your relationship with your kids.
“My dad was a very absent father. He was a heroin addict, so when I was a kid, he was in and out of rehab – he would be there for a few months, then he’d be clean for a while, then he’d relapse and go off on a bender. So it was quite confusing as a kid. Life at the time was chaotic. But my mum was amazing – she had me when she was 19 and the fact that she raised me and my two brothers pretty much on her own shows how incredible she was. Whereas my dad just couldn’t handle the responsibility. Addiction is a very powerful thing. But I always felt that my dad still loved us. I always felt loved. I always felt cared for. Today, I don’t have any resentment towards my dad – our relationship now is really, really good.”
“I’ve also learned so much from my dad. You can either go down the same path as your parents or you can learn from them and use them as a model to stay away from that. Dad’s experiences with drugs really shaped my views because they frightened me, I didn’t want to go down that route. So when my friends were going down the park smoking weed and boozing, I was playing football, going to the gym, staying fit. As a teenager, I literally made a decision that I wasn’t going to be like my dad.”
“The hardest thing I’ve found about fatherhood is patience. If I’m working or trying to do something and the kids are screaming and crying it can really get to me. In my head, I catch myself swearing, but then I just take a breath and say to myself: “Right, this is a baby not an adult, you can’t have a rational conversation with this person.” I’ll take that breath and I’ll pick them up, give them a cuddle and just be like, “You all right? What’s wrong? Tell me how you’re feeling.” Well, nine times out of 10 I do that – the other time I might have a scream and shout. But then I just instantly feel bad and it makes the situation worse, so I remind myself, “Right that didn’t work, so next time do the other method. Take a breath. Take a pause. Come at it differently.”
“At the same time when you do have a shout at your kid, don’t feel too bad about it. Because I always think, ‘Well, I was shouted at and I still love my mum – I don’t hold it against her.’ You’re not going to be perfect every time, but it’s just working on trying to be better. I’m learning to try and have emotional control in stressful situations.”
“I didn’t used to be like that. As a teenager I used to punch walls, throw my phone or smash my PlayStation remote. I was well angry and stressed out. But realising that you can choose to react differently – that’s a powerful thing. It’s like with road rage, you can shout and swear and call someone a name or you can just have a breath and let it go. That’s how I think about stress and negative thoughts now. I don’t want to be someone who screams and shouts and scares my kids. I was shouted at all the time when I was a kid, but I don’t want to be that parent. Plus I know that screaming at my kids doesn’t help. It doesn’t make them any calmer.”
“Before having kids, I used to want everything to be perfect. I didn’t want my car to get scratched, I wanted my carpet and cushions and sofa to be immaculate. But now if I get a bit of shit on the floor, I just think, ‘That’s life’ and let it go. Nothing in this world stays perfect forever. That mentality has helped me a lot. When the kids are eating and the kitchen’s a mess or if they write on the walls now I don’t look at it and scream, ‘Fuck!’ I just accept it this is what it’s like with kids.
“The broken sleep is hard for me because, as The Body Coach I need to be energized and wake up feeling alert and alive. My wife and I have realised the best way of dealing with that is just trying to go to bed earlier. Once the kids are down at say 7:30pm, we try and make our way to bed at half eight, nine, to get a head start. We watch a bit of Netflix and fall asleep. Getting that two hour advantage on the sleep makes a huge difference as those hours add up over the week and it really starts to feel different on your body. People forget how important sleep is. You’re recharging your mind and your body. Without it everything goes out the window.”
“When it comes to exercise, a lot of parents think – ‘Well, I’ve been working all day, I should be with the kids now, I’ve got to do my bit.’ But at the same time if you’re stressed and anxious and looking at your phone the whole time, then you’re not really enjoying that time with them. It’s almost like you need to take a timeout and say, ‘Look, I’m just going to run round the block or go out into the garage for 20 minutes and do a quick little HIIT session.’ Then when you step back into the house you’re a different person, you’re calmer, you can leave your phone, you can be present. You’re more patient.”
“All parents – men and women – should find that time to look after themselves and know that when you’re doing your exercise it’s for your mental health. It’ll improve your relationships with the people you’re at home with. You don’t have to have a gym membership and loads of equipment, you can really get an amazing workout in your living room or your garden. Home workouts are amazing with things like Peloton, FitTV, The Body Coach app or YouTube, which is an amazing resource for home workouts. Breaking into that mindset of doing 20 minutes a day is really powerful, and I think it’ll transform your life as a parent and your relationships with your kids and your wife.”
“To be honest, I don’t even see exercise as a physical thing anymore. Through lockdown I just see it more now as an essential mental health tool. I mean I like being fit and lean – it’s great, it feels good – but what’s more important is that I need the mental stuff. When I don’t exercise I can just feel my mood’s lower, I’m not as productive, I’m procrastinating. Forget about the muffin tops, the moobs, the body image. You’ll lose all that as a byproduct if you’re tapping into the mental health benefits of exercise.”
“My new motto is basically you’ll never regret a workout, you’re always going to feel better so exercise to feel good. It’s not about body fat and looking good for the camera. It’s about looking after your mind. Sometimes you can wake up feeling really flat, but 20 minutes later you completely change your mindset through fitness.”
The Body Coach App by Joe Wicks is available to download here