“What sound does a bunny make? Is it boing?”
It’s not the sort of question I’m used to considering during my morning workouts, but Joe Wicks is not a normal trainer. Having already built a business empire by simplifying fitness into a few sensible rules (don’t worry about calories, build good habits, focus on high-intensity workouts) for the chronically gym-phobic, he’s now reaching out to new audiences - including one that most coaches never consider.
Since 2016, Wicks has been visiting schools around the UK, building a loyal following among teachers and kids with a combination of relentless enthusiasm and fun, high-energy exercise. Now, with millions of children confined to their houses, he’s launched a daily 9am PE lesson - and viewing numbers are going through the roof.
One of the notable things over the last few days, as these PE sessions have taken off, is that parents seem to be enjoying them just as much as their kids. Mums and dads are joining in to do kangaroo hops and bouncing bunnies alongside their enthusiastic offspring - and then merrily reporting that they've got the 'Wicks ache' the next day.
But are the 9am sessions actually any good for grown-ups?
Generally speaking, anything that gets kids moving is beyond critique: kids are robust, they don’t have the sorts of muscular imbalances you develop from a desk job, and they naturally do everything with near-perfect form (watch a toddler do a squat sometime and take notes). Grown-ups are heavier, stiffer and (generally) less used to exerting spectacular amounts of energy first thing in the morning.
Not me, obviously - I usually train at 7am thrice weekly and the first thing I did when the lockdown was announced was order a pull-up bar for the garden - but I’m still suffering from a lack of motivation to work out in my house, where all my videogames and my mad two-year old are. Besides, a sizable chunk of my Twitter feed is made up of people talking about how they’re struggling to walk down the stairs after joining in with their kids, and I’m naturally competitive. So I decided to give the Wicks workout a try (and so can you, by following the below class, which is the one I did).
And... it starts really well. There’s very little preamble before the warm-up kicks in, with exactly the sort of stuff I know I should be doing in my own workouts but typically skip: arm circles to get the synovial fluid going, open-the-gates for a bit of hip mobility, knee-to-elbows to actually, you know, warm up before the hard stuff.
Joe is amiably energetic throughout these opening salvos, thanking everyone for joining in and repeating the YouTuber mantra - ‘Please Like and Subscribe!’ - so that more people will benefit from it. Yes, this is all clever PR, but I genuinely feel like he means it.
Then it’s into the workout. The format’s roughly the same every day: 30 seconds of exercise, 30 seconds of rest, 10 exercises altogether and then once through again. For most people, this isn’t a bad idea - it’s a solid 20 minutes of cardio, with the sort of intense-work/short-rest ratio that’s pretty good for fat loss.
Things start with heel kicks, and then it’s straight into squats, where my first (minor) worry for the adult audience creeps in: I’ve seen middle-aged people do these with absolutely appalling technique, and a bit of minor technique correction (‘Heels on the floor!’) would go a long way. The slow-motion burpee is much better - it’s a simple regression of a move that’s too tough for most people, and not too high-impact for anyone with downstairs neighbours. Then it’s into the bouncing bunnies, followed by jumping Spider-Man lunges, which - I’m not even a tiny bit ashamed to admit - I really enjoy, even if I stop short of making ‘Thwip!’ sounds.
Joe’s energy is infectious - if we’re still allowed to use that as a compliment - and when he starts forward-rolling and literally running up the walls during the second round I start to wish I’d cleared more space in my flat. Leg scissors and crunches come next - I’m not a fan of the former, but definitely approve of the latter, since the feet-off-the-floor variation Wicks demonstrates is much easier on your lower back than a traditional sit-up.
The round ends with reaching jumps, crane kicks and a short digression on what a great film the 1984 version of the Karate Kid is - no argument from me. Then there are two minutes for some shoutouts to at-home exercisers (names delivered by Wicks’ off-camera assistant Nicky, who I expect to shortly become the fitness equivalent of No Deal’s silent banker), and it’s into round two.
Am I tired by the end? Yes, obviously: do almost anything as vigorously as you can for 20 lots of 30 seconds and you’ll work up a sweat, as every Bootcamp instructor in the country knows. Will I be sore tomorrow? Doubtful: delayed onset muscle soreness typically comes from doing the unfamiliar, so anyone who sticks with Wicks for a week or two should be suffering less by the time we’re done with lockdown. Did I get any benefit out of it? Almost definitely: I don’t do as much cardio as I should, and more certainly helps.
But here's the key question: would I have been better off doing something else? For grown-ups, there are more targeted, resistance or mobility-heavy quarantine options available, from the genteel Yoga With Adriene to the savagery of Bas Rutten’s MMA workout. But your youngsters are much less likely to be into those, and that’s kind of the point: Wicks is doing this for the kids, to help them stay active during an extraordinarily difficult time in their young lives, and (hopefully) teach them to take joy in physical movement in a way that’ll stay with them for the rest of their lives.
As a kid who hated team sports but secretly wanted to be the Karate Kid and Spider-Man, I’d have loved to have his YouTube channel in my life. And as the parent of an endlessly-energetic toddler who’s not quite old enough to do high knees yet, I hope he sticks around for years to come.