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As Schools Reopen, Popular 'PE With Joe' Online Exercise Class Goes Bye-Bye

As hopes increase that life will soon get back to normal, there's one pandemic ritual that a lot of kids and parents are going to miss.

A year ago, as the coronavirus began to rage, fitness instructor Joe Wicks, known as The Body Coach, started a daily exercise class for kids on YouTube called "PE With Joe." The idea was to help children stay active during the lockdown.

"Because although this is a weird time we're in, we're gonna get through it," he reassured his viewers. "Everything's gonna be fine. We're gonna return to normal and we're all gonna be reconnected again."

"PE With Joe" has gotten more than 100 million views on YouTube in the past year. That's in part because parents liked the workout as much as their kids.

Wicks drove the enthusiasm with lines like this: "We're gonna do some squats. Show me. Down, up, down, up. Can we spin round like a ballerina? Ready? Spinning like ballerina!"

As Wicks told NPR's Michel Martin in March 2020, "The workouts are very simple. You can do them in a very small area. And I've got really funny moves. So we do kangaroo hops. We do bunny jumps. We do Spider-Man lunges where we sort of spin a web from our wrist.

"And all these little things that are really making people laugh, and it's really helping people at a time when we need to be feeling positive and optimistic, and exercise is such a powerful way of doing that."

But his classes were more than just stretches, lunges and jumping jacks.

Wicks often dressed up in costumes (including Buzz Lightyear, Scooby-Doo and the "froggy coach") and offered quizzes and other games and classes that were frequently interrupted by his two young children.

"It's really about having fun. It's a nice time for people stuck in their tiny little flats or apartments, and they need this kind of vent or outlet to let some of that stress and anxiety out," he says.

But Friday's was the last episode of "PE with Joe." (He dressed up as a duck.)

Schools in London, where Wicks lives, are scheduled to reopen on Monday and it seemed like the right time to wrap it up.

"My mission is going to continue, but I'm so tired," he says. "I've never worked this hard in my life. I've done so many workouts. It's time to rest, recover and let's just see what happens in the future."

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Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Barry Gordemer is an award-winning producer, editor, and director for NPR's Morning Edition. He's helped produce and direct NPR coverage of two Persian Gulf wars, eight presidential elections, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. He's also produced numerous profiles of actors, musicians, and writers.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.