Joe Wicks—aka The Body Coach, the man behind #LeanIn15, which has been used more than a million times on Instagram—is on a mission to get you fit and healthy. It's his upbeat Instagram persona (he films 15-second recipes for the platform) and charm that has scored him 4 million followers and his own ITV show, Joe Wicks: The Body Coach. He is also a bestselling author with the book, Lean in 15: The Shape Plan. He's nearly a household name, so I'll say no more on what his credentials are. What I will tell you is that Wicks has some rules for getting and, more crucially, maintaining lean muscle mass.
Wicks reveals his top 15 rules for getting stronger, fitter and leaner.
Rule 1: Do HIIT Cardio 4–5 Days per Week for 25–30 Minutes
Wicks recommends High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT as a quick and efficient way to burn fat. If you follow his short, sharp workouts, your body will continue to burn fat after you have stopped exercising, and your metabolism will stay revved up for longer. Get yourself a good pair of training shoes if you're going to take up HIIT; we love the Nike Flex TR8.
To get the best results, make sure you are pushing yourself to get into that “high-intensity” zone. You should be working out at a level of 9 out of 10—but remember it is only for 20 to 90 seconds before a short recovery period. Start out at 20 seconds and progress to 90 seconds as your endurance improves. HIIT can be hard on your body and is not for everyone, so you should start slow and build up your fitness base first.
Rule 2: Drink 2–4 Liters of Water per Day
We know: Everyone says drink more water, from models and actors to personal trainers. But that's because it's key to weight loss. If you don't drink enough water, your body can become mildly dehydrated and in turn, slows down less vital processes like the metabolism of fat to compensate. Plus, more often than not, we think we're hungry when we're actually just thirsty.
Keep a water bottle with you throughout the day to remind yourself to drink. At mealtimes, opt for water over sugary sodas or alcohol. The benefit will pay off in healthier skin, improved digestion and more energy.
Rule 3: Prep and Cook 80% of Your Meals Each Week
It's simple: If you prep your healthy home-cooked meals and plan what you're going to eat, you'll stay on track. Wicks creates tasty meals that are super quick to cook, which means he's less likely to reach for that takeout menu.
Wicks suggests you write down and plan out what you plan to eat for the week so you know what to prep for. Stock up on Tupperware so your meals are already prepared which makes it easier to stick to the plan. Stick to nutritious meals with unprocessed foods that are high in protein and healthy fats.
Rule 4: Eat Out 2–3 Times per Week
Dining out is fun and, let's face it, sometimes you get tired of eating at home and cleaning every single night. Treat yourself a couple times a week to a fun restaurant. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean splurging on a greasy meal for lunch every day and then eating out at restaurants two or three evenings. Those lunches count, so choose your away-from-home meals wisely.
Choose lean meats or fish, such as salmon or grouper, with a side of vegetables instead of fried foods with heavy sauces. In fact, ask for the sauces on the side to keep it on the lighter side. Look for healthy swaps as well, such as a side salad or steamed veggies instead of fries.
Rule 5: Get Boozy Twice a Month
Yes, you can still drink on Wicks' plan, but only twice a month. When you break your healthy routine to drink, you should have what you fancy, and if that's wine, so be it. However, a tequila with soda and fresh lime only has around 80 to 100 calories, whereas a large glass of wine has around 160. It all adds up.
During those times you are cutting back on alcohol, switch up your regular water routine with sparkling water or unsweetened ice tea. Adding chopped up fruit to beverages adds flavor and, as a bonus, makes it look pretty.
Rule 6: Treat Yourself to Chocolate or Ice Cream Twice a Week
Well, that's what Wicks treats himself to. If you're more of a savory person, have a bag of pretzels and enjoy them. Then move on. It is important to get out of the mindset that this is a restrictive diet. You are allowed to treat yourself, but it has to be a healthy moderation.
In fact, if you have a bad day and splurge more than you intend to, don't beat yourself up over it. Get back on your healthy eating and fitness routine the next day, knowing that one day is not going to derail your goals in the long term.
Rule 7: Repeat Every Week, All Year
Stay consistent with your fitness and nutrition plan, and it will become a way of life versus a temporary diet plan. "Staying lean is a lifestyle choice," says Wicks. "It's a habit which we can all adopt."
"I enjoy a chocolate bar and a gin and tonic just like you, but I stay active and I mainly cook healthy food at home," he explains on an Instagram post from February, 2021. "It can feel quite scary and complicated or confusing, but really it’s just about making small daily choices and being consistent."
Rule 8: Keep Your Focus on Health, Not Weight
Wicks says it is important to keep the right motivation and focus in mind. "My motivation to exercise isn’t to be lean, that’s just a side effect of my lifestyle choices. What truly motivates me to exercise is my mental health," he adds in his Instagram post. "I exercise to feel good. I want to feel happy and energized and have patience with my kids and feel driven and inspired to work hard everyday. This all comes from 3 things: sleep, movement and nutrition."
He says that shifting your mindset from losing weight to being healthy will help this become a lifestyle. "Try to shift your mindset from being about body weight, fat loss or body image and focus on your mental health. When you do that you’ll realize what exercise and healthy food really is about. Then when you live that lifestyle long enough you will get stronger, leaner and fitter."
Rule 9: Plan Your Post-Workout Meal
Wicks says that for optimum results, plan out your post-workout meal so you can refuel your glycogen stores and repair your muscles. This is especially important after those HIIT days. He says the ideal meal is high in healthy carbs and protein, and low in fat.
A smoothie is an easy choice and is one of his favorite choices for a post-workout refuel snack. He recommends a shake with protein powder, ground oats, a banana and a few dabs of honey for sweetness.
Rule 10: Avoid Weighing Yourself Every Day
Wicks says not to weigh yourself every day on a scale, which he calls the “sad step.” He said that doing this can be demotivating and cause people to fall back into unhealthy habits if the scale isn’t moving in the right direction. Plus, he points out that muscle does weigh more than fat so the scale isn’t always a good indicator.
Instead, he says to take a before and after photo. In fact, he recommends taking photos every four weeks to see your progress. Seeing your improved muscle tone and healthier physique will motivate you to continue this healthy lifestyle.
Rule 11: Stretch It Out
Wicks says to end your workouts with a full body stretch. Take it slow and feel all the tension ease away as you work on your flexibility. “Stretch for 10 minutes after your workout,” he says. “It will help to relax your body after a HIIT, improve your flexibility and cool you down.”
If you want a longer stretching routine, Wicks has 30-minute “Sunday Stretch” on his The Body Coach app in which you follow along to improve your full-body flexibility.
Rule 12: Schedule Your Workouts
You schedule your work meetings, the dentist appointment and zoom calls with friends, so it is equally important that you plan time for your workouts. "Schedule your workouts for the week ahead and treat them like appointments you can’t miss," he says.
Some people like to get up early and schedule their workouts before work or before the kids are at school, while others like to work out later in the day. The important part is planning your day in a way that you make time for exercise.
Rule 13: Do an Ab Burner
One way to strengthen and sculpt your midsection is to do an ab burner set after you exercise. The key here is to work continuously without rest to really challenge those core muscles. Wicks shares his favorite “ab finisher” set on his Instagram.
“20 seconds on each exercise, with no rest between the moves. Complete the circuit, then rest for 1 minute and repeat 5 times,” he says. Each exercise will work your abs a little differently so you target both your upper and lower abs.
Rule 14: Snack Smart
Wicks says that it is better to eat three healthy and satisfying meals so you don’t have the urge to snack, but if you feel low-energy to be ready with some nutritious snacks. To avoid grabbing a sugary or processed treat, he recommends vegetables, fruits or high-protein snacks, such as:
- Protein Shake
- Nuts (Just a handful as they are high calories)
- Fresh berries or apples
- Avocado (Eat half and save the rest for later)
Rule 15: Don't Skip Meals
Wicks says to keep your metabolism cranking, don’t skip meals. He says to stick to three healthy meals, with small snacks as needed. This is why it is good to pick a day to prep your meals for the week, so you don’t grab something unhealthy or skip meals altogether.
If you find yourself hungry without any meals prepped (hey, we’ve all been there!), he says that the supermarket has plenty of grab-and-go prepared items that are healthy and satisfying. He recommends a plain refrigerated salad and you can top it off with “ready-to-eat protein” such as cooked chicken breast, boiled eggs or smoked salmon.