Fitness guru Joe Wicks has made a name for himself with his quirky brand of recipe-and-exercise videos filmed in the kitchen of his one- bedroom flat and posted on Instagram. Now he has an army of followers and subscribers — many of whom have tried his three-month programme and transformed their bodies.
They post dramatic before and after images — but weight loss is never discussed. “It’s not about weight, it’s about being lean and fit,” he explains. Until now, Britain’s top personal trainers have been an option only for wealthy celebrities, but Wicks’s cheeky-chappie online tips, bish-bash-bosh recipes and short living-room workouts have made him accessible to everyone.
Now, his diet and exercise book is No 1 in the charts and he is head of a giant and ever-growing business. More than 90,000 subscribers have each paid £147 for a bespoke version of his 90-day “Shift, Shape & Sustain” plan and he employs a team of 50 — which is about to double.
He maintains a relatable, low-budget look with amateur-style clips filmed in his humble kitchen in Surbiton, southwest London. His legions of online fans expect to see him, day in, day out, posting 15-second videos of himself preparing his meals — a gratifying number of which seem to involve him appearing topless.
His slightly eccentric mix of “Lean in 15” recipes delivered in a frenzied Russell Brand falsetto have won him truly broad appeal. Since launching himself at social media two years ago, he has 600,000 followers on Instagram, and an office in neighbouring Richmond. The 90,000 people who have paid for his plan are walking advertisements for his waistline-shrinking method and word of mouth from these lean-bodied followers is a huge part of his success.
His first book, Lean in 15, was published to catch the new year’s resolution crowd — and instantly became the bestselling book in the UK, shifting 77,000 copies. Two more books will follow this year, and his turnover is expected to be “considerably more” than the £12 million predicted for him in the autumn. He’s about to launch in America, while businesses are falling over themselves to get a piece of the Wicks magic; his latest tie-up is with Fitness First, for whom he will be a brand ambassador for the next six months and has designed classes based on some of his signature HIIT (high intensity interval training) classes for people to try.
Wicks, 30, thinks his success is down to his message: that diets don’t work and that everyone can be leaner and fitter with the right mixture of short, intensive workouts and plenty of the right food. He has it in for Britain’s £2 billion diet industry and sees it as his mission to rescue people from its clutches. He delights in the number of his followers who have tried other famous weight-loss programmes. “They follow me because they know what I’m saying is the only thing that works. Diets where you cut calories and restrict what you eat then spend hours in the gym are not sustainable.”
It obviously doesn’t hurt his career that he looks the part too — with eyes that a romantic novelist would call “liquid brown pools”, a head of soft curls and that torso. He has legions of enthusiastic female fans, although 40 per cent of those who buy his Shift, Shape & Sustain programme are men. It should be irritating that he takes his top off to make a protein smoothie, but Wicks gets away with it because he’s fanciable and endearing at the same time, a kind of Jamie Oliver on steroids.
He does get some rather eyebrow- raising comments from women on social media, which he and his long-term Swedish girlfriend, Caroline, laugh about in their flat in Surbiton. “The topless thing is just part of the business, really; you get 10,000 likes for one of those photos but 3,000 for a recipe. People like to see you are fit, that the programme is keeping you lean too. But I’m not trying to be someMade in Chelsea celebrity taking their kit off to be famous. I’m on a mission.”
Even he is sometimes surprised by the dedication of his fans — or his “leanies”, as he calls them. On Christmas Day, 100,000 of them watched his 20-minute live workout on Facebook. “I sort of did it as a joke — I didn’t think anyone would be watching, but I got loads of comments and thanks afterwards.”
Wicks says he never dreamt of being famous. He grew up in Epsom, Surrey, the middle son of a roofer and a social worker. He didn’t excel at school other than in PE and went on to study sports science at St Mary’s University in Twickenham. After a spell as a teaching assistant, he moved to Surbiton and launched himself as a personal trainer. It was while trying to boost numbers at his early-morning boot camp that he joined social media; Twitter first, where he delivered motivational mantras and diet tips as The Body Coach, then Instagram early in 2014, where he flourished.
“A lot of my followers had tried every diet going, and were starving themselves on low-calorie diets and not getting the results. I saw it all the time; they were really struggling and would ask me what they should be eating and how they should be training.” He found himself answering their questions and realised there was a business in there . He claims he was financially naive in the early days. “I didn’t really know I was building a business at that time — I never knew you could monetise your following.”
His first product — the 90-day Shift, Shape & Sustain plan — sold solidly from the start. For £147, subscribers got a tailored meal and exercise plan plus email support from an assigned “support coach” when morale was sagging. Followers were encouraged to take a picture of themselves at the end of each month to see their progress (photos are far better than scales, which he urges people to throw away).
He noticed clients were complaining that they didn’t have time to cook healthy meals, so as soon as Instagram offered a video-uploading service, he started posting his now-famous 15-second recipe videos for meals he promised would take only 15 minutes to prepare, hence the LeanIn15 tag.
But is this cheeky-chappie shtick where broccoli becomes “midget trees” and ingredients are hurled across the room in any way real? “It’s me, but an overexcited me,” he says. “It’s a character, yes — it’s me turned up to 11. I was having fun and I was loving the idea that through the 15-second videos I was teaching people to cook and eat healthily without them knowing it.”
His secret, he says, is that no food group is banned or restricted — you just eat more carbs on the four to five days you work out and fewer carbs and more good fats on rest days. “You’re never hungry and you don’t feel like you’re denying yourself, so it’s sustainable.” Workouts are high-intensity cardio and resistance training, which has two main advantages, he says: they take only 25 minutes a day and you carry on burning fats for up to 18 hours afterwards.
His Instagram feed is peppered with fantastically compelling before and after pictures of his success stories. “They’re all real, you know — no Photoshopping,” he says. He still tries to answer all his followers’ questions and thinks he manages about 70 per cent, but — like all social media stars — he is finding it harder as the business gathers pace.
His older brother, Nikki, 32, a former magazine editor, is now helping him and he’s about to take on a social media team. He knows the real challenge will be to keep the Joe Wicks voice authentic. “You have to engage with followers — it’s what they’ve signed up for and it helps that I’m obsessed with my work. I certainly didn’t set out to create this huge brand; I never dreamt it would grow at such a crazy rate and that 500 people a day would sign up to the plan. Once a month I get those ‘s***, wow’ moments when I can’t believe this is happening.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, his biggest hero is Jamie Oliver, whom he filmed with recently. “He was just how I imagined — and wanted — him to be: so smart but still humble. I wasn’t always ambitious, but the more success you have the more ambitious you become.” He is off to America in May, when his book is published there. He’d like to follow Oliver into schools and also take his plan into the NHS, which has a tie-up with Weight Watchers.
He is careful with corporate work; he has done tie-ups with Björn Borg underwear (of which we see a lot, naturally — but says he has been wearing the brand for ten years), and with a Philips juicer, Microsoft fitness band and with Lucy Bee coconut oil, which he has used since the start. But he recently refused to speak at a Lucozade-sponsored event because of the drink’s sugar content. He regularly told off his personal training clients when he saw them holding a bottle of the drink.
You have to admire the man’s ambition, which you can’t quite dismiss as a millennial’s swagger; he might just do it. “I truly believe it’s the next Weight Watchers,” he says. “No one can see it yet other than me, but we will be the biggest fat-loss company in five years.” He’s already eyeing up a second floor of his office building in Richmond and expects to have 100 staff within three months. “Even that won’t be enough to cope with the demand, though. If I can get five million followers, I would need 300 to 400 staff, and that’s going to happen in a year or two, no question.”
And the flat? Even though he has bought a plot of land near by and is building his own house over the next 12 to 18 months, and could easily afford to rent somewhere swankier in the meantime, he’s staying put.
Fitness First gyms are holding ‘Red Monday’ on January 18, when the gyms will all be open to non-members, with free HIIT classes,fitnessfirst.co.uk
The rules for a lean body
Work out every day
Aim for 15 minutes of tough, high-intensity interval training four or five times per week (plus a five-minute warm-up and warm-down). It’s too much of a strain on your body to do any more than that. You should still do gentle exercise on the remaining days, though, such as yoga, cycling or walking.
Exercise as hard as you can
High-intensity training sessions should be really tough. If you’re not breathless and sweating throughout then you aren’t pushing your body hard enough. It’s unlikely you’ll overdo it during such short bursts of exercise, so give it everything.
Lift heavy weights
You need to use heavy weights to create muscle growth and definition. Lots of repetition using light weights won’t work. This applies to women too — it’s a myth that weights make women bulk up. Start with the heaviest weight you can perform ten repetitions with and increase the number of repetitions as you feel your muscles getting stronger.
Don’t go on a diet
If you’re working out regularly you should be eating three meals a day, plus one or two snacks. If you restrict calories and undereat, it lowers the metabolism and causes a loss of muscle tissue, making it really hard to get a toned body. You don’t need to feel hungry to lose weight, and your body needs the extra fuel when you’re doing high-intensity workouts. Any diet that is restrictive in terms of carbs, fat or protein is not going to work in the long term.
Get rid of the scales
Taking before and after pictures is far more effective; seeing how much your body has changed is the most powerful motivation. It’s pointless obsessing about your weight and it can be really misleading because it’s only one part of the picture. You can transform your body, making it toned and lean, without seeing much difference on the scales.
Don’t cut out food groups
It’s wrong to cut entire food groups, such as carbohydrates, from your diet — you just need to eat the right thing at the right time. On a training day, you need good carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, quinoa and porridge oats for energy. White bread is a high-GI food, which means that it provides energy after a tough workout that can be rapidly absorbed by the body. On a rest day you should have fewer carbs and more healthy fats, such as avocados, coconut oil, flax seeds and Greek yoghurt, which will help you to get a lean figure. Good sources of protein, such as chicken, turkey, extra-lean minced beef, cod and salmon will aid muscle growth and recovery.
It takes 90 days to transform your body
You will never change your shape overnight, and you shouldn’t try to. It takes 90 days to change your body and the way you think about food in a way that will last. It’s about exercise and eating the right things on a daily basis.