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The Coach

This England Sevens Core Workout Will Improve Your Performance In Team Sports
Nick Harris-Fry
Tuesday, May 21, 2019 - 17:25

If you want to excel on the rugby field your training off it has to cover a lot of bases. You need to be fit enough to cover a lot of ground at speed, powerful and agile enough to charge past your opponents, and strong enough to ensure they don’t charge past you.

That goes for all kinds of rugby, but it’s especially the case with sevens, where the pitch size remains the same as in 15-a-side rugby but your team size drops to seven. That means each player has to cover a huge amount of ground and make a massive number of tackles in every match.

A strong core is central to success in a game of sevens, because it provides the foundations of the all-round fitness required. Below you’ll find a six-move core circuit devised for the England Sevens team by their strength and conditioning coach Tom Farrow, ahead of the HSBC London Sevens tournament this weekend in Twickenham.

“Within our England team training programme, we include this type of circuit one to three times a week,” says Farrow. “The main purpose of the circuit is to develop the muscles of the trunk to improve the players’ strength and endurance. The trunk is key to all athletic movements within rugby sevens, and any other running- or contact-based sport, because all the force that a player is required to withstand is transmitted through the trunk.”

The six moves of the circuit should be done in order without breaks for a total of three minutes of work. Then rest for one minute and run through the circuit again. Aim for three to five rounds in total.

Rugby Sevens Core Workout

1 Bowl hold

Time 20sec

Lie on your back with your arms extended behind your head.

“Keeping your arms and legs straight, simultaneously lift all your limbs off the ground slightly to form a bowl shape,” says Farrow. “Hold, making sure to keep your lower back on the ground throughout.”

2 Lateral long lever V-sit

Time 20sec each side

Lie on your side with your legs straight and held just off the ground, your left arm out to the side and your right arm stretched out behind your head.

“Keeping your right arm and both legs straight, bring your right arm and legs up to meet in the middle,” says Farrow. “Then reverse the movement, bringing your arm behind your head and legs back to the floor. Work continuously for 20 seconds and then repeat on the other side.”

3 Leg flutters

Time 20sec

Lie on your back and lift your arms and legs slightly off the floor.

“It’s a similar start position to the bowl hold, but your shoulders don’t need to come as far off the floor,” says Farrow. “Keep your lower back on the floor – you can put your hands under your bum if it helps – and your legs straight. Flutter your legs up and down slightly until the time is up.”

4 Lying back extension

Time 20sec

Lie on your front and put your hands behind your head.

“Keep your feet and hips on the floor and, keeping your hands behind your head, lift your torso as high as you can, then return to the start position,” says Farrow.

5 Crunch

Time 20sec

“Start with your feet on the floor, knees bent and arms across your chest,” says Farrow. “Contract your abs to bring your shoulders as far off the floor as you can, keeping your lower back on the floor. Return to the starting position and keep repeating the movement at a steady tempo.”

6 Crunch hold and rotate

Time 20sec each side

“Start sitting up with your feet on the floor and knees up,” says Farrow. “Lean back until you find the ‘nasty place’ – the position you feel you can hold just before you fall backwards – and then hold that position. From there, rotate as far to the side as you can, then come back to centre. Perform all your reps rotating one way for 20 seconds, and then for the next 20 seconds rotate the other way.”

The HSBC London Sevens comes to Twickenham Stadium on 25-26 May 2019. For more information and to book tickets, visit

The Best Flip-Flops For Summer 2019
Chris Sayer
Tuesday, May 21, 2019 - 16:14

After months and months of hiding them inside trainers, boots, shoes and those novelty slippers your other half bought that you’ve not managed to successfully sneak into the bin yet, bringing your feet out of hibernation for a summertime airing can feel daunting. Will you be revealing your horrendous Hobbit toes to a chorus of terrified shrieks and wails? Who can say? But what we can confidently declare is that doing so in a set of crisp, cool and stylish flip-flops vastly reduces the chances of onlooker horror. We’ve rounded up the eight best sets money can buy right now.

Orlebar Brown Haston Two-Tone

When it comes to sophisticated swimming style, Orlebar Brown hits the bullseye. From modern swim shorts to tailored shirts, this brand knows how to dress the guy who’s more concerned with the cocktail list than running bombs on the poolside. These super-comfy two-tone coral and blue sole-slappers fit into that ethos perfectly.

Buy from Mr Porter | £45

Quiksilver Massage

Those of you who’d rather swallow bees than let a stranger touch your feet – we feel you. Good news, though: no longer do you need to allow your crippling phobia of someone else twiddling with your toes stand in the way of some light relief below the ankle. The soft texture of the embossed footbeds on these flip-flops will work their feelgood massaging magic as you walk.

Buy from Quiksilver | £27

Birkenstock Gizeh

Ignore the middle-aged, middle-class associations – Birkenstock’s degree of plush comfort should be for all. We’re talking a contoured cork footbed, supreme arch support, a deep heel cup and soft suede lining.

Buy from Birkenstock | £55

Salomon RX Break

Think Salomon, and images of space-walking through an Alpine après bar in a set of gigantic plastic ski boots after a morning acing the red runs spring to mind. Surprising, then, to see that it has the most lightweight of footwear options wrapped up too. These sporty and super-cushioned flip-flops claim to be chafe-free and supremely comfortable, making them ideal for post-workout recovery as well as carrying all the family’s kit down to the beach.

Buy from Salomon | £50

Havaianas Top Photoprint

The simple, durable, world-famous Havaianas you’ve come to love and cherish after many a trip to the sunshine, only with big gnarly sharks slapped up top. Excellent.

Buy from Havaianas | £24

Reef Fanning

Talking of sharks, remember the pro surfer who once punched a Great White right in the kisser midway through a televised competition? Possibly the most Australian moment ever. That surfer was Mick Fanning and and these are his signature flip-flops, complete with beer-bottle opener in the sole and green and gold colours, for extra Aussie-ness.

Buy from Reef | £44

Sanuk Furreal Classic Grateful Dead

The super-chilled footwear dudes at Sanuk pay tribute to musical tie-dye lords the Grateful Dead with these spongy psychedelic numbers, the most far-out flip-flops you’ll find this year. We’re not entirely sure why, but with festival season right around the corner, we’re happy to just go with it.

Buy from Sanuk | $50 (approximately £38.50)

Calvin Klein Errol

Now with more than half a century of style tucked under its belt, Calvin Klein was always going to make flip-flops look this good. With their bold colouring, iconic branding and the classic stripped-back aesthetic that’s made CK world-famous, you should leave a little space in your luggage for these.

Buy from ASOS | £25

How To Prevent And Treat Blisters, From The Man Who’s Had A Few
Chris Sayer
Monday, May 20, 2019 - 21:05

James Williams’s midweek 4am alarm clock – set so he can squeeze in a quick 50km run before work – is not, amazingly, the most horrific thing about his current training regime. Not by a long shot.

“The worst blister I’ve ever suffered was actually the most recent one,” the amateur ultrarunner confides, after sneaking away from his desk at Sky – where he’s a performance controller – to chat on the phone. “It happened about five weeks ago, on the fourth toe of my right foot. It was horrendous – a huge, yellow, pus-filled balloon that not only covered the bottom of my toe, but ringed all the way around the top of it, too. It actually caused a slight infection in the rest of my foot and the bottom of my leg. Not ideal for a week when I was planning to cover 250 miles in training.”

Williams’s latest blister is the last in a long line of savage skin bubbles, through a career that’s seen him win the Autumn 100 Mile and the 100km Serpent Trail, finish four Ironman triathlons, and bag a marathon PB of 2hr 30min.

Now, the 31-year-old dad of two is setting his sights on a world-record run from John o’ Groats to Land’s End, and targeting an average pace of 6min 43sec per km to break the current record of nine days, two hours and 26 minutes. Here’s how he’s going to do it, without letting a little (or large) blister get in the way.

How did you manage to get such an epic blister recently?

I’m not entirely sure how it happened. It wasn’t anything to do with the socks or trainers – I wear Hilly Twin Skins and Saucony Kinvara runners all the time, and they’re both fantastically comfortable, fit perfectly and are excellent at blister prevention. In fact, I’ve worn the same make and model of trainer for eight years now. I think the culprit may have been a bit of grit in my shoe.

What did you learn from it?

That you need to deal with blisters as soon as you feel them forming. We call the early stages “hot spots” and if you feel one emerging, you need to get your shoe and sock off and deal with it, be that just shaking your shoe out or seeing the doctor at your next race checkpoint.

Stopping when you’re in full race mode must take a lot of willpower. How do you deal with that?

It does – but fundamentally, if you notice something happening on your feet and don’t sort it out right away, you’re looking at being out of action for far longer than the five minutes it takes to take off your shoe and sock. My sports psychologist has helped me with that mindset. One of our race strategies is called If/Then. It’s simple, but it’s about listing all the “If this happens” scenarios and coming up with “Then I will” solutions. It can be as simple as what happens if I haven’t eaten for an hour, but it also covers the action of stopping if a blister occurs. You’d be amazed at how much easier it becomes to follow rules like this when you write them down.

Any quick mid-run blister fixes?

I will have a very simple first-aid kit with me when I run from John o’ Groats to Land’s End, with sterilised needles and plasters. That’s the easy part. The hardest part is having the expertise to actually lance a blister – tough for me, because I’m not great with needles. Luckily, I’ll have an incredible masseur, Kerry Tibby, coming along with me as part of my team. She’s a pro at that sort of thing.

What are the craziest preventative measures you’ve heard of?

The best form of prevention is making sure your shoes are the right size. I’ve heard of people rubbing alcohol on their feet regularly or using light sandpaper to harden their feet, but I’ve not gone to those extremes so far. I guess the funniest one I do is with my wife, when we watch TV together. We’re rarely in front of the television, but when we’re on the sofa we tend to massage each other’s feet. It’s a good way of getting in some self-care, if your partner’s willing! I’m very lucky, given how haggard my feet are…

What’s the most common error that people make when dealing with blisters?

I’ve heard too many horror stories of marathon runners attending big expos before race day, and being lured in by flashy new trainers that they then wear on the starting line. Brand new shoes for a big race is a recipe for blister disaster.

Have you ever suffered the truly terrifying fate of a blister under the toenail?

I have had that before, yes. It happened in my training for the Marathon des Sables. It’s kinda gross actually – I was hosting a dinner party, walking around my home with no shoes or socks, when the nail popped off. Truthfully, they look a lot worse than they feel.

Wow. Did your guests make it to dessert?

Haha, they did. They’re aware of what I put my feet through.

And finally, how do I know when to pop and when not to pop?

To be honest, I don’t often get blisters that are horrendous enough to pop, or that warrant a full-blown medical emergency. I’d only pop one when it was at its most bulbous – don’t go at it with a needle too early. The key thing is to make sure you’re doing it with a proper surgical needle, and dressing it straight away. I also find that leaving as much skin over the blister as possible is important – exposing the red raw skin beneath is a no-no. Then put some effort into drying it out and airing it at home.

James Williams is a Saucony UK athlete and wears the Kinvara 10. Follow his world record attempt at and

The Best Smartwatches Of 2019
Nick Harris-Fry
Friday, May 17, 2019 - 13:31

The line between fitness trackers and smartwatches has become increasingly blurred of late, with most smartwatches straying into tracker territory and even the cheapest trackers providing notifications from a paired phone. That means that you can call pretty much any tracker a smartwatch – and some do – but we prefer to be a little more discerning when selecting our smart devices. Basically, we have some conditions that determine whether a wearable can truly be considered smart.

For our money a smartwatch needs to offer several features you’d otherwise turn to your phone for, including but not limited to notifications, music and contactless NFC payments, as well as running software that allows you to load apps on to the device, even if it’s only a very limited selection of apps. And of course our favourite smartwatches also have to offer top-quality activity and sports tracking, ideally using built-in GPS and a heart rate monitor.

Below you’ll find a range of smartwatches that fit the bill to suit all budgets and lifestyles.

The Best: Apple Watch Series 4

Even before the Series 4, the Apple Watch boasted the most impressive app market of any smartwatch, along with solid sports tracking and a gorgeous design that’s endlessly customisable. The Series 4 upped the ante by making the Apple Watch a medical-grade device, with the ability to take an ECG measurement from your wrist and monitor your heart health.

While the seriously sporty will not be satisfied by the basic native tracking, you can always add an app that suits your preferences, and the everyday activity tracking is excellent, with Apple’s addictive rings system encouraging you to move throughout the day.

The watch has built-in GPS, is waterproof, stores and streams music, and can be used to make contactless payments via Apple Pay. There is also a 4G version so you can take calls, download emails and stream music without being tethered to your phone. The only real downsides are its one-day battery life and the fact it only works in tandem with an iPhone, leaving Android users in the cold.

Buy from Apple | £399 | Apple Watch Series 4 review

Best For Android Users: Samsung Galaxy Watch

The Galaxy Watch runs on Samsung’s own Tizen software, which is compatible with both Android and iOS devices but is naturally at its best when used in tandem with a Samsung phone. One of the best features of the watch is obvious from the moment you pick it up – its Super AMOLED screen is outstandinglydazzling clear – and it backs up its looks with serious smarts as well.

Although the app selection is smaller than you get with iOS or Wear OS watches, Strava, Endomondo and MapMyRun are all there for fitness fans, and the Spotify integration is brilliantly simple to use, so you can sync across your playlists easily.

The everyday activity tracking is impressive too, with widgets available to check on things like your water and caffeine intake alongside the standard steps and calories. Despite being waterproof and having built-in GPS and a heart rate monitorThe native sports tracking is sub-par, even for casual runners and gym-goers, despite waterproofing and the presence of built-in GPS and a heart rate monitor, but the app market fills that gap nicely. There is also a 4G version of the watch available on EE.

Buy from Samsung | 42mm £279, 46mm £299 | Samsung Galaxy Watch review

Best Fitbit Smartwatch: Fitbit Ionic

The Fitbit Versa might be the company’s most popular smartwatch, but we reckon the Ionic is outrageously underrated and it’s often reduced to less than £200, a price where you’ll struggle to find any other devices that can match its extensive feature set.

This includes built-in GPS, a waterproof design, a heart rate monitor, music storage and streaming, and Fitbit Pay, which isn’t as useful as Apple, Google or Samsung Pay owing to having fewer partner banks, but can still get the job done when its comes to NFC payments.

The Ionic also has a truly excellent screen, which is bright and responsive to use if you like to swipe your way through menus, and its fitness tracking is great for both everyday activity and more intense workouts. That’s fortunate because Fitbit’s app market is tiny compared with Apple’s or Google’s, so you can’t dip into that for other tracking options.

Buy from Fitbit | £249.99 | Fitbit Ionic review

Best For Sports Tracking: Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

If your first priority for a smartwatch is that it’s capable of providing in-depth detail about your sporting activities, the Fenix 5 Plus is tough to beat. Garmin’s native tracking is second to none for both ease of use and detail, offering far more for runners and triathletes than even a fitness-focused watch like the Ionic. That includes info on the training effect of your workout, estimated recovery time and even live feedback on your running technique (if you link it with a footpod).

The Fenix 5 Plus also has outstanding navigation features, with colour maps and on-the-go routing, so you can head for the great outdoors for your runs, hikes and rides knowing you’ll always be able to find your way home.

The smart features are not as well developed as on the Apple Watch or equivalent smartwatch, but you can link a Spotify account to the Fenix 5 Plus to sync across your playlists easily, as well as plugging it in to load your own music and podcasts.

NFC payments are available through Garmin Pay, which suffers from the same problem as Fitbit Pay in not having a huge amount of partner banks. Garmin’s Connect IQ app store is also only really useful for those looking to find new watch faces and sports-related extras, like the Stryd footpod app, but there are some general apps in there like Uber ETA.

Buy from Garmin | £599.99 | Garmin Fenix 5 Plus review

Best Budget Smartwatch: Mobvoi TicWatch E2

The TicWatch E2 costs less than £150, which should make the ears of any bargain hunter prick up, and the news only gets better when you dive into the details of the watch. It’s waterproof, has built-in GPS and an optical heart rate monitor, and a bright AMOLED touchscreen.

It runs Wear OS and although its performance might be slightly more sluggish than that of top-end Android smartwatches, it’s still impressively snappy for such a cheap option, and the design is robust and good-looking.

One feature it’s missing is NFC payment, which is available on Mobvoi’s more expensive watches. However, the recently-released E2 and S2 watches are the first in the company’s line-up to offer swim tracking, with a 5 ATM waterproof rating.

Buy from Mobvoi | £145.99

Most Stylish: Skagen Falster 2

Keen to avoid being left behind, many analogue watch companies are releasing smartwatches, especially those in the Fossil Group like Skagen Denmark. Its Falster 2 watch is the pick of the bunch for style, with a slim, minimalist design that belies the amount of tech that has been crammed into it.

That tech includes GPS and a heart rate monitor, and the Falster 2 runs Wear OS so you can access a massive library of apps to customise your watch. The Falster 2 is also swimproof and the band is a standard 20mm watch strap so you can swap it out easily if you have one you already love.

Buy from Skagen | £299

The Best Weight Benches For Your Home Gym
Jake Stones
Friday, May 17, 2019 - 12:33
If you’ve got a set of dumbbells and a barbell with weight plates at home, and you use them regularly, it makes a lot of sense to add a weight bench to your set-up. You’ll expand the number of moves you can do, and your domestic chest training will go up a notch once you can add bench presses and flyes to the mix.

There are a few choices to make before breaking out your credit card, though. Should you get a fixed or adjustable bench? Do you need a rack? How much weight should it take? Thankfully we’ve got the answers to those questions. Here’s what you need to know, followed by our top picks.

Buyer’s Guide: How To Choose The Right Workout Bench For You

Fixed Vs Adjustable Weight Benches

Some weight benches include a notched mechanism that allows you to set part of the bench to an incline or, in some cases, a decline. A fixed platform is likely to be a sturdier product which will take a much heavier weight, but an adjustable bench will allow you to perform more exercises.

Do You Need A Rack?

If you only own dumbbells and don’t plan on expanding your free weights collection then the answer is no. If you want to work on your bench press with a barbell then you probably will need a rack. We recommend not going for the cheapest one. Some racks consist of little J-shaped hooks you’ll have to guide the barbell into when you’ve finished a set, which can be tricky if you’ve been going hard. Large hooks made from steel are better, but better still are racks with tall poles and pegs.

How Strong Should The Weight Bearing Be?  

The weight bearing the manufacturer recommends tends to clock in around the 150-200kg range, but the better-quality (and more expensive) models will reach a bearing of 300kg. You’ll have a good idea of how much you’re likely to be shifting now and in the short-term future, but always check if the listed weight includes the lifter.

Optional Extras?

Many weight benches also add in pads and handles to enable you to do different exercises, like leg curls. If this sounds like a good idea to you maybe what you really want is a multi-gym, but if you’re set on a weight bench with a few frills just make sure the configuration and spacing is right for your size.

The Best Weight Benches

Best For The Bench Press: Gorilla Sport Heavy Duty Weight Bench

This fixed-position flat bench is built to withstand 300kg of weight, which covers any weight you’re going to be lifting. However, the weight bearing alone isn’t what makes this bench great. A very useful feature is that the racks on the Gorilla are two tall steel poles and pegs – much like the design you’ll find in gyms – meaning there’s no chance of you missing the J hook.

Buy on Amazon | £209.99

Best Value: Gym Master Heavy Duty Flat Weight Bench

This cheap bench doesn‘t compromise on quality, it just strips out every extra feature to leave you with a fixed, flat bench – but what a bench. The steel frame can handle a 300kg load and the ample cushioning will keep you lifting in comfort (notwithstanding that heavy bar you’re trying to move). The bench is also 110cm long which should suit all but the tallest of lifters. And all for the price of a video game.

Buy on Amazon | £44.95

Best Adjustable Bench With A Rack: Marcy CB729 Barbell Weight Bench

Hit your chest from more angles with this bench that supports incline, flat and decline positions, and the height of the rack is easily adjustable so you can set it up to handle the overhead press too. The rack can handle 135kg, but the total weight bearing is 270kg. There’s also an attachment at the front for hamstring and quadriceps work which takes a total of 45kg.

Buy from Argos | £249.99

See related: The Best Smith Machines For Your Home Gym

How To Breathe Your Way To A Better Night’s Sleep
Chris Sayer
Thursday, May 16, 2019 - 17:36

For many, getting those all-important seven-to-nine hours of sleep a night has never been harder. As many as 16 million adults suffer from slumberless nights in the UK. That’s a statistic that’s worth losing sleep over.

Although we can all take a pretty confident guess at what might be causing the deficit – work stress, everyday anxieties, blue screens, that habitual afternoon caffeine injection – what we’re pretty bad at is knowing how to fix it.  

Performance coach Richie Norton has shared this breathing exercise that’s designed to help. Give the video a watch and find out more in the interview with Norton below, before taking your learnings to bed with you tonight.

How does this breathing technique work?

Studies have shown that breathing is an effective way of triggering the parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the “rest and digest system”, which creates a calm and relaxed state. Controlled breathing through the nose, in particular, plays a key role in switching on this system – it’s a more efficient way of activating the diaphragm, breathing from the belly and finding the fuller breaths that bring a sense of calm.

How will it help?

Personally, this breathing exercise has not only changed the way I train for performance, but it has also had a huge impact on my overall wellbeing. I use it most nights now. After a busy or active day, I may need to go through a few cycles of the practice to switch off my monkey mind, but if I’m feeling pretty chilled out, I might not even make it past the first round of the exercise.

What is going to be the hardest part about learning this technique?

As with learning anything, adjusting your breathing takes time and practice. Some people will find it easy to adjust, others might find it takes a little longer – it’s all about persevering and finding what works for you. Don’t force it or feel rushed. Take your time and play with a steady tempo and rhythm that suits your level and current state. It will eventually feel more instinctive with more practice and experimentation. If you are still struggling, maybe go for a walk and get some fresh air, or even do some very slow, light stretching.

And when I’ve nailed it, what can I do next?

The next level is beginning to deepen your connection to every single part of your body until every breath is capable of slowing down your heartbeat, quieting down your thoughts, and transforming a highly stressed situation to a calm and peaceful one.

Richie Norton is working with AXA PPP healthcare on the launch of Headstrong, an initiative that promotes an active approach to mental health. Visit to watch the video series

Healthy Ready Meals That Will Help You Avoid One Food Delivery Too Many
Jake Stones
Thursday, May 16, 2019 - 16:01

Preparing a healthy meal doesn’t have to take a long time – Joe Wicks’s Lean In 15 series is proof of that. However, at the end of a long day, even 15 minutes of food preparation can seem like more effort than you can muster up – especially when food delivery apps require a couple of clicks.

It’s not that a takeaway now and then is necessarily a problem, but if you find you’re relying on a delivery most nights, it’s probably time to improve your diet – and you can do so with minimal effort thanks to ready meals. Not just any old ready meal because some have hair-raising levels of salt, sugar and saturated fats, but as long as you go for one that has slashed the numbers on those three unhealthy characters while keeping the calories down, you’ll be golden.

Like takeaways, we wouldn’t recommend living on them, but they’re certainly better than another pizza turning up on your doorstep. Here are eight to look out for the next time you’re dragging your work-weary carcass around your local supermarket.

Waitrose LoveLife Calorie Controlled Chicken Tikka Masala With Pilau Rice

Tuck into a tikka safe in the knowledge you’re not blowing your calorie count for the day. While a typical tikka masala contains 50g of fat and 800 calories, this LoveLife masala is just 445 calories, low in sugar and fat, and packs in 31g of protein – ideal for the gym-goers looking for a quick treat. The salt levels aren’t bad, but they also aren’t good, so keep an eye on what else you’re eating that day.

Buy from Waitrose | £3.50

Kirsty’s Lentil Cottage Pie

The ingredient list on the back of this pack makes for easy reading: lentils, potatoes and loadsa veg. This vegan option packs in 10.4g of protein (let’s hear it for lentils!) and clocks in at just 272 calories so you could even consider doubling up. Although after seeing the salt content is 1.72g per pack, maybe stick to just one – you shouldn’t go over 6g of salt in a day.

Buy from Waitrose | £3

Wicked Kitchen BBQ Butternut Mac

Not so wicked when you realise this vegan pasta meal has only 5.4g of fat and 466 calories per serving, with a solid 19.3g of protein too. It’s also ready in next to no time – just three minutes 35 seconds in the microwave. Barely time to lay the table.

Buy from Tesco | £4

Tesco Beef Lasagne

When putting together this list we’ve relied heavily on the traffic light system on the packaging, making sure the fat, saturates, sugar and salt content are rated mostly green and there’s no red. This meal is green across the board with just 8.9g of fats, 3.9g of saturates, 10.1g of sugar, 1g of salt and just 356 calories. It’s also incredibly cheap at £2.50.

Buy from Tesco | £2.50

Sainsbury’s Be Good To Yourself Chilli Con Carne

If your Sunday plans to batch-cook enough chilli con carne to last the month went to pot, this is a great plan B. There’s 8.4g of fat, a decent 25g of protein and 11.1g of sugar even though molasses are used to add some depth of flavour. The salt levels are OK at 1.31g, but let’s face it, if you had made that chilli you’d eat way more than the 392 calories here.

Buy from Sainsbury’s | £2

LoveLife Butternut Squash Risotto

If you stay away from risotto at home because you can’t be doing with the long and constant stirring process, here’s a microwavable version. What’s more, this LoveLife concoction from Waitrose contains a welcome 6.9g of fibre.

Buy from Waitrose | £3.99

Tesco Salmon In Watercress Sauce With Potatoes

Salmon is well worth putting on your plate thanks to its omega 3 content and high B vitamin count. On top of that, this ready meal clocks in at just 297 calories and a mere 2.9g of saturated fat, making it quite the catch.

Buy from Tesco | £3

BMC Alpenchallenge AMP City Electric Bike Review: Great, But Too Expensive
Nick Harris-Fry
Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - 10:05

If you’re planning on buying an e-bike to get around a city swiftly and without breaking a sweat, there are two common problems that may make you think twice. The first is that e-bikes are significantly more expensive than regular bikes and the second is that e-bikes are heavy, which makes them unwieldy if you have to take the stairs to get to your front door. And that first point means you’ll certainly want to keep your e-bike inside.

The BMC Alpenchallenge AMP City minimises one of those problems, weighing just under 17kg with the battery attached and 14.2kg without it, all thanks to its carbon frame. This is impressively light for an e-bike – most others I’ve tested tipped the scales at around 24kg. However, that lightweight build comes at a hefty cost – £5,600. That’s an awful lot to spend on any kind of bike and after a few weeks of riding the AMP City I’m struggling to see how it justifies that price.

It’s a great electric bike, there’s no doubt about that. The Shimano Steps 504Wh system delivers a smooth ride and maximises battery life. When fully charged the range shows 183km in eco mode, 128km in normal and 91km in high, which is mightily impressive. With real-world use the numbers do drop a little – after 40km of riding mostly in normal since I most recently charged the bike, I have 100km of range left in eco mode, 70km in normal and 50km in high – but it’s still best in class. Even if you insist on only using the highest level of assist at all times you’ll get through a week of short commutes.

The bike is also light enough to ride reasonably comfortably with the assistance off once you’re up to speed, which is always a bonus if you’re looking to eke out a little extra from the battery. However, I did find it slightly sluggish off the mark in eco mode and I spent a lot more time in the normal and high modes than I have done with other e-bikes. Generally I leave e-bikes in eco, only switching to a mode with more assistance when climbing hills because the lowest setting is usually enough to get me to the 25km/h cut-off point anyway, but with the BMC Alpenchallenge AMP City I had it in normal most of the time.

You can adjust the level of assistance provided by the motor through Shimano’s E-TUBE partner app, but even when I turned on the sportive mode I found the bike a little slow off the mark at traffic lights compared with some I’ve tried. This is probably partly because of the smooth level of assistance delivered by the motor, but a little jolt of speed is no bad thing when you’re trying to get away quickly from a busy London traffic light.

See related: The Best Cycling Jackets For Commuters

The bike comes with high-quality built-in lights and I was especially impressed by the front light, which was bright enough to ride through an unlit stretch of my commute at full speed with no fear of coming a cropper.

A small console is positioned on the handlebars by the stem, while the buttons to increase or decrease assistance are placed next to the left-hand grip. The console’s screen is small but clear and easy to read, and it has a button on the bottom that scrolls through the various stats available like distance covered and range left.

The BMC Alpenchallenge AMP City is one of the better e-bikes I’ve tested, but I don’t think the difference between it and a bike that costs under £2,500 is great enough to justify the huge price disparity. Bikes like the Carrera Crossfuse (£1,800) or Raleigh Motus (£1,700) are heavier than the BMC and don’t have quite as long a range, but they’re still smooth to ride and you can roll through several commutes without worrying about battery life. The BMC Alpenchallenge AMP City might be tempting upgrade if it was closer to £3,000, but it doesn’t offer enough to merit its £5,600 price.

Buy from Evans Cycles | £5,600

See related: A First Look At The Folding GoCycle GX E-Bike

What Is The Best Verruca Treatment?
Nick Harris-Fry
Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - 10:17

Most people will have the misfortune of suffering from a verruca at some point in their life, that point often being when they start taking communal swimming lessons as children. While a verruca usually isn’t a particularly painful problem, it can be a persistent one if you don’t treat it, and they can also spread like wildfire if you don’t take steps to prevent that from happening.

For expert advice on the best ways to treat verrucas, we spoke to Pareena Patel, pharmacy manager at Well Pharmacy.

What are verrucas and what causes them?

Verrucas are small, rough, raised and flattened lumps that tend to occur on the pressure areas of your feet. They may have tiny black dots in the centre of the hard skin, and they can be painful. They’re caused by different strains of infection called the human papillomavirus.

How do they transfer between people?

They spread to other people through contaminated surfaces or close skin contact and they’re more likely to spread if the skin is wet.

How do you treat verrucas?

There are loads of creams, plasters and sprays available at pharmacies. Most of these contain an ingredient called salicylic acid, which is a chemical that helps to soften the outer, harder layer. Before using the treatment you need to soften the verruca by soaking it in water and then rubbing it with an emery board or pumice stone to remove the excess hard skin. Then you apply the treatment and once it’s dry you might want to cover it with a plaster. You might need to use that treatment for about three months, and the most common treatment available is Bazuka gel.

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Are there more extreme treatments available if this don’t work?

If that doesn’t work there is also cryotherapy, which is where you freeze the verruca using liquid nitrogen. This is available from your GP, but this might not be covered by the NHS. It causes the verruca to fall off a few weeks later, but you might need a few sessions for this to happen.

There are some freezing treatments available over the counter that you can do yourself at home. However, they might not work as well because they contain different gases, not liquid nitrogen, so they don’t freeze the verruca as successfully.

Will verrucas go away without any treatment?

They can go away on their own, but it usually takes years. In children it can take about two years for them to go away by themselves, and in adults they can stay there for ten years.

How do you stop a verruca from spreading?

If you have got a verruca it’s definitely wise to cover it with a plaster or swimming sock, just so you’re not spreading it around the area. Try not to share any towels, socks or shoes, and wear flip-flops in communal areas like showers or around the side of the pool. And don’t scratch or pick at verrucas, because they’re more likely to spread. If you use an emery board or pumice stone on your verruca don’t then use it on other areas of your body, and make sure to wash your hands regularly.

See related: The Hay Fever Remedies That Work (And The Ones That Don't)

Lose Weight By Changing The Way You Think
Nick Harris-Fry
Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - 09:23

Losing weight isn’t easy. No matter how motivated you are to do it and how much support you have around you, it still takes time to make the changes to your lifestyle that will help you maintain a healthy weight in the long term.

It often requires changing your mindset and even your emotional relationship to food, which is where cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help. Weight-loss app OurPath uses CBT in its programme, which is geared to creating sustainable lifestyle changes. We asked OurPath founder Mike Gibbs how CBT can help people lose weight.

What are the principles of CBT and how can it help you lose weight?

CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on stopping negative thought cycles and changing behaviours in a positive way. Unlike other styles of therapy, CBT doesn’t focus on the past, but concentrates on the current issues at hand.

CBT aims to help people cope with overwhelming problems in a more manageable way by breaking them down into smaller parts. This type of therapy can come in several formats, such as individual sessions, group sessions, self-help books and self-guided apps.

CBT has been shown to aid with weight loss, even though this isn’t the primary goal of the therapy. CBT helps to address certain obstacles that make weight loss difficult and addresses behaviours around food, rather than the food itself. For example, it’s highly effective in treating binge eating disorder, emotional eating and food-specific self-sabotaging behaviours.

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What is the evidence like supporting the effectiveness of CBT?

The evidence supporting the effectiveness of CBT is quite strong. It’s especially effective in regard to individuals with binge eating disorder or binge eating behaviours, but CBT has also been effective in addressing goal-setting, dealing with stimulus control, self-monitoring and the development of coping strategies for individuals trying to lose weight. Combining CBT with a weight-loss programme has been shown to be 5-10% more effective than traditional dieting alone. That’s even though, as mentioned before, CBT itself does not promote weight loss, but helps individuals reach their goals through a shift in mindset.

In a trial investigating the efficacy of adding CBT to traditional behavioural weight loss compared with only behavioural weight loss for obese patients with binge eating disorder, subjects whose treatment included CBT saw a greater reduction in binges and also achieved a larger BMI loss after a year, indicating its effectiveness in both the short and long term.

Does CBT work for everyone?

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss, especially in regard to the use of psychological approaches. Multiple factors go into making a behaviour change modification, such as willingness or motivation to change and external environments. But the evidence indicated that combining a traditional behavioural weight loss with CBT may lead to increased success compared with dieting alone.

See related: The Best Yoga Apps

How does the OurPath app work?

The OurPath programme is all delivered through an app and its key focus is to help people make sustainable lifestyle changes by creating a holistic approach to behaviour change. Through daily learning articles, the app addresses multiple aspects that can influence your lifestyle, including nutrition, exercise, mental wellbeing, sleep and stress.

You will be paired with a qualified nutritionist or dietitian who will help to coach you towards your goals, and you will also be placed in a digital peer support group with up to ten other members to share the journey with. You chat to both your group members and your health coach via the app. There is also a strong emphasis on individual goal-setting and self-monitoring – tracking weight, physical activity and food intake – all of which are done through the app.

What makes OurPath stand out compared to other weight loss apps?

We are evidence-based and proud to be the first online behavioural change programme to be commissioned by the NHS [OurPath is one provider of the Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme]. We draw on the latest scientific research in nutrition and behavioural psychology to make change as easy and sustainable as possible.

Compared with other weight-loss apps, there is a strong focus on education, empowerment and self-belief. We believe in providing people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to set their own goals and create lasting healthy habits. While most other weight-loss plans will only focus on one aspect of lifestyle change, we take a holistic approach and address your thought patterns, behaviours, sleep and stress levels, as well as diet and exercise. Weight loss and lifestyle change can often be challenging, which is why we provide access to a qualified nutrition professional and a peer support group.

Finally, we know our programme works. With an 85% completion rate, people using the programme achieved an average 8.2% weight loss at six months, which is equivalent to a 50% reduction in their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

OurPath offers 12-week weight-loss programmes starting at £30 a month

How To Use A Running Watch To Improve Your Training
Nick Harris-Fry
Monday, May 13, 2019 - 11:25

When people first start running regularly, a common mistake they make is to do every run at the same pace. And then, as they get more and more into the sport, another common mistake is not to allow the body to recover properly between training sessions.

Running at different paces is key to improving. Tempo runs and interval sessions help you build your speed and your ability to maintain that speed, while easy efforts improve your aerobic fitness while also allowing your body to recover from hard runs. Speaking of recovery, it’s absolutely essential to becoming a better, faster runner, because constantly knocking out hard runs puts you on the fast track to injury rather than improved performance.

Fortunately, both errors are easily fixed and a running watch can help. We spoke to Polar ambassador and running coach Nick Anderson on how you can best use a running watch to improve your training. His first suggestion is to use the heart rate monitor found on most devices to work out your different training paces.

See related: A 2019 Buyer's Guide To Fitness Trackers

“You should establish some rough training zones to start with,” says Anderson. “There are a number ways to do that and one is to match your heart rate to your perceived rate of exertion.” The simplest way to gauge how hard you’re exerting yourself is by how easily you can hold a conversation. “Easy running should be fully conversational,” says Anderson. “Your perceived rate of threshold running might be getting out a three- or-four-word answer – controlled discomfort is another way to describe that – and then really hard running, which is really hard!

“If you start to record your heart rate and what the rough perceived rate of exertion was when you did those particular runs, you get a portfolio of data that will eventually morph into zones that can be followed on your runs. There should be a clear difference in your running pace during different training sessions.”

When it comes to recovery, many running watches will give clear instructions as to how long you should take to rest after a training session, usually in hours. As well as this, Anderson suggests using the watch to track your sleep and also check on your resting heart rate in the morning, which will give a good idea of the state of your body to train that day, and can even be an indicator of whether you’re getting sick.

“Wearing the device overnight and getting your sleep data will show if you really are going into deeper phases of sleep, with less movement, so you’re getting better continuity of sleep,” says Anderson. “And measure your resting heart rate in the morning. That never lies – the lower it is the fitter you’re getting or the healthier you are. If it’s a little higher then either you’re tired or maybe there’s something else going on in your system and you need a few easy days.”

See related: The Best Running Watches Of 2019

New Campaign Will Provide Mental Health First Aid Training To Sports Coaches
Nick Harris-Fry
Monday, May 13, 2019 - 10:21

While the primary role of a coach is to improve sporting performance, they usually do far more than that for the athletes they work with, especially when they’re working with young people. It’s important for coaches to be trusted role models who support youngsters in all kinds of ways to help them develop both physically and emotionally.

Recognising this, the Sport for Development Coalition is co-ordinating a new campaign called #21by21, which aims to provide 21,000 community sports coaches and volunteers with mental health awareness training by 2021, so they are better able to support the young athletes they work with.

The campaign launches today, 13th May, with the support of more than 200 organisations and 40 national and regional sports agencies, including UK Coaching, the Premier League, the Rugby Football Union and the mental health charity Mind.

The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, which supports young athletes in disadvantaged communities, is also supporting the campaign.

“I know from personal experience that sport has the power to support young people to develop emotionally as well as physically,” says Holmes. “It builds self-esteem, confidence and often lifelong friendships. Making sure that everyone delivering sport for young people can spot signs of mental ill health and provide appropriate help when it’s needed adds to its benefit.”

See related: How To Recognise When Someone Is Struggling With Their Mental Health

A new report, “Sport For Better Mental Health”, published by youth charity StreetGames in partnership with Brunel University London, highlights the roles that coaches can play in supporting young people.

The report found that 43% of the 14- to 24-year-olds it surveyed said they would turn to their coach for emotional support and advice, and 20% would confide in a coach about something that was worrying them.

Those living in households with an annual income of £20,000 or less were even more likely to confide in their coach than those from more affluent backgrounds, which is particularly important because disadvantaged teenagers are three times more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those from more privileged families.

However, many of those surveyed said it was far harder to discuss mental health problems than physical ones, and the older the person the harder they found it to open up. Part of the training provided to coaches through the #21by21 campaign will help coaches encourage their athletes to talk about any mental health problems they might be suffering with.

See related: How 30 Minutes Of Downtime A Day Can Improve Your Wellbeing

“Coaches across the country tell us that they regularly see signs of mental ill health in their sports projects – young people experiencing depression, anxiety, alienation, and sadly sometimes self-harm and suicide,” says Jane Ashworth, chief executive of StreetGames. “They say that they want to help but feel ill-equipped, not knowing what to say or how to direct youngsters to appropriate specialist support.

“Our aim is to make Mental Health First Aid training for youth sport coaches and volunteers across the UK as commonplace as physical first aid.”

Coaches looking to get involved in the campaign can head to the #21by21 website to find a mental health first aid training provider near them. Employers can help the campaign while also getting mental health training for their staff through the Buy One Give One initiative. By paying for training for their staff, employers also fund mental health training for coaches working with disadvantaged young people.

For more on this initiative, visit the Street Games website or call 0161 707 0782.

Make These Hoisin Tofu Burritos To Celebrate National Vegetarian Week
Jonathan Shannon
Monday, May 13, 2019 - 12:20

Say what you like about veganism, it’s impressive how it’s managed to shoehorn itself into the zeitgeist. Consider this exchange recently overheard in the Coach office.

Person one: “I’m practically eating a vegan diet now, I just put cheese on everything.”

Person two: “You know there’s a name for that?”

Person one: “…”

That name is vegetarianism, which seems to have been squeezed out of the conversation – both that one above and the general public one – but with National Vegetarian Week running from 13th to 19th May it’s making a bid for your attention, mostly by waving some tasty treats under your nose, like this burrito recipe shared by Waitrose.

See related: The UK's Best Healthy Meal Delivery Services

It’s not your standard vegetarian burrito either, with a Tex-Mex spice mix and black beans or jackfruit taking meat’s place. It puts a Chinese twist on proceedings by pairing tofu with hoisin sauce, and adds crunchy red cabbage, red chilli and spring onions to the filling too, adding a touch of sharpness with rice vinegar. In keeping with tradition, we'd be tempted to load this bad boy up with cheese, but keeping it fromage-free enters it into the world of vegan, too. Best of all, the whole caboodle takes as little as 15 minutes to cook and assemble, or a little longer if you boil the rice rather than reheating a pre-cooked pouch in the microwave.  

Hoisin Tofu Burrito Recipe

Ingredients (serves two)

  • 75g red cabbage, thinly shredded

  • 1 bunch of salad onions, trimmed then shredded

  • 1 large fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

2tbsp Chinese rice vinegar

  • 1tsp vegetable oil

  • 100g marinated tofu pieces

2 seeded tortilla wraps

  • 100g whole grain rice

  • 1tbsp hoisin sauce

  • 12g fresh coriander, leaves torn 


  1. Pile the cabbage, salad onions and chilli into a large bowl, sprinkle with the vinegar and set side.

  2. Heat the oil in a small frying pan, then cook the tofu for four to five minutes, stirring often, until golden and heated through. Meanwhile, warm the tortillas and the rice in the microwave according to pack instructions.

  3. Spread the hoisin over each tortilla, then top with the rice, cabbage salad, tofu and coriander. Wrap carefully – the burritos will be generously filled – then cut in half and eat straight away.

Recipe and image courtesy of Waitrose & Partners. Browse more vegetarian recipes

See related: The Healthiest Breakfast Cereals

Try This Adam Peaty-Approved Gym Workout To Improve In The Pool
Jonathan Shannon
Saturday, May 11, 2019 - 06:18

Photographs: Tom Watkins/Science in Sport

Serial world record breaker and gold medal collector Adam Peaty has been dominating the breaststroke category in the pool since 2014, taking golds at the world, Commonwealth and European championships and breaking both the 50m and 100m world records multiple times. After a monster performance in the pool at the Rio games in 2016, Peaty’s been pretty relentless and is eyeing up the defence of his Olympic title at Tokyo, Paris, and even LA in 2028.

We spoke to Peaty at an event to promote Science In Sport’s PROTEIN20 bar (he’s an ambassador for the sports nutrition company) to get a sense of how he trains in the gym and pass on any tips that may help amateurs hoping to improve their swimming. While you only need to glance at Peaty to see he’s pretty stacked, he told Coach that he hits the gym to help his swimming, not to get big. “I’m trying to avoid hypertrophy as much as I can,” says Peaty, who typically sticks to five reps for three to four sets for the big compound lifts – “creeping into the strength and power phase,” he says.

That approach also dictates the weight he works with and the tempo he works at. “My squat one-rep max is 160kg,” says Peaty, “but I’m never going to kick that much power in the water, so it’s more beneficial to do 100kg or 120kg for more reps. And you’ll get more doing it fast. So a lower weight but faster.”

Peaty told Coach how his training now also takes into account injury prevention. “If I’m doing bench presses, I’ll do lots of really low-weight cable flyes just to make sure that the muscles are moving right after the session,” says Peaty. “After squats, I get a resistance band on between the knees. It’s really easy to lift heavy weights like a caveman, but making sure we’re looking after all the little muscles is important for us.”

In addition to time in the water, Peaty will spend at least ten hours a week in the gym, and to answer the obvious questions, yes, he’s knackered all the time, and yes, he burns through the protein. “Being with SiS is very beneficial because I can know provide myself with as much or as little protein as I need.

“The PROTEIN20 is a good option for me: less sugar, fewer carbs and high protein so I’m maintaining my lean muscle mass. BCAAs complement my performance in the pool and Hydro tabs [electrolytes to help Peaty say hydrated]. Those are the main three, sometimes with a Whey 20 depending on what kind of day it is. I don’t like to follow any plans, I’ve always taken by feel.”

To help you replicate Peaty’s training ethos in the gym, he talked us through a very stripped-down version of his routine.

Back squat

Sets 3 Reps 5

“Squats work my quads and glutes,” says Peaty, “two very important muscles for breaststroke – that’s where most of my power comes from. I like to keep my feet parallel and pointing forwards in line with my hips, and knees in line with my shoulders. Push your knees outwards and take a deep breath as you go down and breathe out on the way up.”

Dumbbell bench press

Sets 3 Reps 5

“This improves the strength across my chest which is needed to catch the water efficiently and effectively,” says Peaty. “Make sure your elbows don’t go past 90° or you open yourself up to tendon injuries. I come down quite slowly and then elasticate it all the way back up.”


Sets 3 Reps 5-10

“Again, this improves my upper-body strength, but this time connecting the muscles on the front of my torso with my back muscles, which also plays an important part in catching the water.

“Always try to get your chin across the bar. If you’re not doing that and you’re not going all the way down you’re shortening your movement. And you can also hold at the top for an isometric pause.”

Extended crunch

Sets 3 Reps 20

“Having a strong core is extremely important,” says Peaty, “especially in breaststroke where you need a strong base.

“Make sure you go back to your full length, because otherwise you’ll just be shortening those muscles. As a swimmer you need to be lengthening as much as possible, so that’s why we do all our movements at full range instead of half range. Get all the way back down as far as you can – don’t touch the floor – and then come back up as fast as you can.”

Medicine ball slam

Sets 3 Reps 20

“This works most of the muscle groups,” says Peaty. “I enjoy this as it’s fast and pretty much replicates what I do on a pull-out [the underwater phase at the start and after each turn]. Get on your tiptoes to extend fully, or even do a little jump, and use two medicine balls [one in each hand] if you can.”

Science In Sport ambassador Adam Peaty is supporting the launch of PROTEIN20, a low-sugar, high-protein bar.

Buy from Science In Sport | £2.50

8 Cardio Workout Challenges To Keep Coming Back To
Jake Stones
Thursday, May 9, 2019 - 17:34

Few things are more motivating when it comes to fitness than improving at something and setting a new personal best. Funnily enough, one thing that is more motivating is seeing your fitness fall off, which encourages you to get back to your best. If either of these apply to you, workout challenges are a fine way to add some interest to your training.

The idea for these eight routines is to complete all the circuits as quickly as possible. Make sure to make a note of your time – the fun part is trying to improve your score.

Obviously you should warm up before any activity, but because of the intensity of a cardio challenge, it’s paramount here. If you haven’t got your own specific routine, use this straightforward warm-up.

1. Skip-squat-run

Rounds 3

Exercise  Reps
Skipping 50
Prisoner squat 30
Run (if you’re in a gym, use a self-powered treadmill if one’s available) 400m

2. Skip-press-pull-dip

Rounds 5

Exercise  Reps
Skipping 50
Press-up 5
Pull-up 5
Bench dip 15

3. Step-press-cycle-squat

Rounds 5

Exercise  Reps
Step-up with dumbbells 10 each side
Press-up 10
Bicycle crunch 15 each side
Dumbbell squat 20

4. Run-punch-cycle-punch

Rounds 3

Exercise  Reps
Run (if you’re in a gym, use a self-powered treadmill if one’s available) 400m
Dumbbell uppercut 25 each side, alternating sides with each rep
Cycle 1km
Dumbbell jab 25 each side, alternating sides with each rep

5. Cycle-punch

Rounds 3

Exercise  Reps
Cycle 1km
Dumbbell jab 10 each side, alternating sides with each rep

6. Hop-climb-thrust-run

Rounds 3

Exercise  Reps
Bunny hop over bench 15 each side
Mountain climber 15 each side
Squat thrust 20
Run (if you’re in a gym, use a self-powered treadmill if one’s available) 1km

7. Run-punch-cycle-thrust

Rounds 2

Exercise  Reps
Run (if you’re in a gym, use a self-powered treadmill if one’s available) 1km
Dumbbell uppercut 15 each side, alternating sides with each rep
Cycle 2km
Squat thrust 30

8. Skip-run-cycle

Rounds 1

Exercise  Reps
Skipping 100
Run (if you’re in a gym, use a self-powered treadmill if one’s available) 1km
Cycle 2km

The Best Smith Machines For Your Home Gym
Jake Stones
Wednesday, May 8, 2019 - 20:46

Lifting heavy barbells doesn’t have to be done in a gym, but there’s one advantage to basing your training there – there are plenty of potential spotters. At home, not so much unless your partner or housemate is a fellow lifter. While you could lift solo, if you’re training to shift more weight you may find yourself going too heavy and struggling to wrestle the bar back into a safe position. If that sounds like something that might happen to you, it may be worth investing in a Smith machine, which has a mechanism that allows you to bail out if you need to. It’s not as reliable as a spotter, but it’s better than nothing.

A Smith machine works by holding a barbell in two vertical rails lined with latch points on which the bar hooks. This means that at any moment and at any height in your lift, you can let the Smith machine take the weight with a slight rotation of the bar, a useful feature for the solo lifter or someone coming back from an injury. Some also have additional stopping brackets as an extra failsafe.

There are downsides, though. Smith machines do not come cheap and they take up a lot of space – you’ll need a garage or basement to accommodate one, rather than a spare corner in your bedroom.

If you’ve got a nice big space and the budget for one you can consider models with some extra features. Most Smith machines come with racks for weight plates, while others include fixed or movable benches to increase the number of moves you can perform. If you go down this route we recommend a fixed bench to make the positioning consistent, which should help when it comes to your form, but a movable bench will open up a wider array of exercise possibilities.

Some Smith machines go down the multi-gym route by adding a whole host of extra attachments from leg curls on your bench, to weighted cables and a pull-down bar on the rig.

Next-level Smith machines are called Jones machines or 3D Smith machines. These contraptions allow the barbell to move horizontally as well as vertically, which opens up a wider range of exercises.

The Best Smith Machines

Best Budget Smith Machine: Marcy SM1000 Deluxe Home Gym Smith Machine

Just because this Smith machine is a small fraction of the price of the others on this list doesn’t mean it won’t do the job – it just doesn’t have the fancy extras. The weight rating of 135kg will certainly cover what most people can bench press, and there are four weights racks for storing your plates. The bench can be removed to increase the number of exercises you can perform with the machine, and it includes leg pads so you can add leg curls and leg extensions to your training.

Buy on Amazon | £503.99

Best For Lifting Heavy: Eleiko Atletica Smith Machine

When you’re choosing a Smith machine, it can be easy to forget to look at the barbell it comes with. It’s worth checking out Eleiko’s if only to admire the 15kg barbell, which is made with the same top-quality knurling we’ve praised when selecting an Eleiko model as one of our best barbells. And its build quality means the bar can handle up to 200kg – more than enough for even an experienced lifter. It also doesn’t hurt that the whole machine is a bit of a looker.

Buy from Eleiko | £3,479

Best Jones Machine: Bodycraft Commercial Jones Machine

If you want to get the most out of the space you’re giving over to a hulking piece of gym equipment, take a look at this Jones machine. It has stop brackets as well as 3D movement, giving you a full range of motion for a whole host of exercises. The weight rating is 200kg and the absence of a bench opens the entire device up to whichever lift you choose – whether that be an overhead press or deadlift. It does lack a weight plate rack, which is a bit of a let-down considering how much it will cost you.

Buy on Amazon | £2,499

Hoka One One Evo Carbon Rocket Running Shoe
Nick Harris-Fry
Wednesday, May 8, 2019 - 17:20

Given the success Nike has enjoyed with the Zoom Vaporfly 4% it’s no surprise to see other brands launching shoes with carbon-fibre plates. In fact, the only real surprise is how long it’s taken and why more brands haven’t done so – but perhaps the Hoka Carbon Rocket is an indication, because despite having a carbon plate it’s nothing like the Vaporfly.

Nike’s record-setting shoe pairs the plate with the company’s soft and bouncy ZoomX foam, which makes it both forgiving and fast – ideal for long-distance racing. In contrast the Carbon Rocket is probably the stiffest and firmest shoe I’ve ever run in, and that combined with the 1mm drop from heel-to-toe made it a shoe I could only use very sparingly. I’m not well conditioned for that style of shoe – I’m used to 10mm drop shoes and prefer a softer ride.

After an easy 8km in it for my first run, I put it to the test properly with a progression 10K where the last four kilometres were around my 10K race pace. In the midst of a busy marathon training schedule I felt that the stiff and snappy ride of the Carbon Rocket helped me stay on pace in a tough workout where I wouldn’t have been surprised to drop off the pace, but I definitely felt my legs were more beaten up than normal at the end of the run and my calves were tight too. That’s probably down to the shoe’s low drop – I can get by in 4mm shoes, but I’ve never done a lot of running in something so close to a zero-drop shoe, so my body isn’t really used to it.

After taking a few days off from the Carbon Rocket I did my longest run in it – a 90-minute progression run. About 45 minutes in I started to feel pain in my forefoot and although it never became unbearable, that pain stuck with me for the rest of the run. I thought the Carbon Rocket might ease up a little after 80km or so but I’ve seen no sign of that, and every run I’ve done in it over 45 minutes has resulted in forefoot pain. It’s just too stiff for me to use regularly.

Along with the carbon plate the Carbon Rocket has Hoka’s dual-density ProFly midsole, which is softer at the back to cushion your landing and then firmer at the front to provide some pop to your toe-off. I’ve loved this midsole in other Hoka shoes like the Mach and Torrent, but you can’t feel the dual density at all in the Carbon Rocket – it’s just firm all over.

Although it’s certainly a fast shoe, I’d still lean towards softer speed shoes like the Vaporfly, Reebok Floatride Run Fast and Adidas Boston 7 for my fast running, and I also prefer the responsive ride of the Hoka Mach to the Carbon Rocket.

However, it bears repeating that the Carbon Rocket is pretty close to the polar opposite of the shoes I tend to use, and those who do like a low-drop shoe might find it more to their tastes. I’d say it’s still too firm to use more than a couple of times a week, but it’s a speedy option for 5K and 10K races, and maybe half marathons too, though you’ll need some extra time for your legs to recover afterwards.

The bottom of the shoe might divide opinion, but the top is an indisputable success. The upper is lightweight, breathable and holds the foot in place without being overbearing even as you crank up the speed. And the bright yellow colourway is excellent too. I found that the Carbon Rocket was true to size and in line with other Hoka shoes I’ve worn.

If you’re looking at the Carbon Rocket as a cheaper, more durable alternative to the Vaporfly, you’ll be disappointed. It’s a completely different shoe, even if they both contain a carbon-fibre plate. As a lightweight, low-drop racer, the Carbon Rocket and its fast and firm ride will surely delight some runners, but it’s definitely one that won’t work for everyone.

Buy from Sports Shoes (unisex) | £129.99

The Spartan Obstacle Course Race Is Coming To Twickenham Stadium
Jonathan Shannon
Wednesday, May 8, 2019 - 16:58

Obstacle course races may have hit peak popularity a couple of years ago, but there are still plenty of chances to heave yourself up, over and through things if you want to. And just in case you feel like you’ve been there and done that, you’ll find that some events are a bit different now – shorter, less muddy and without quite as many electric shocks, if no less obstacle-y! After Tough Mudder launched its series of urban 5Ks last year, another big name in the OCR scene, Spartan, is bringing its Stadion series to the UK.

The Stadion events – which take the OCR concept and cram it into a stadium – are touring venues across the US and in select European capital cities, including London. Twickenham in southwest London to be precise, home of England rugby, on 23rd November. Don’t expect to finish by diving across the try-line though (a bit of shame, that) because this is a mud-free course, probably for the groundskeepers’ sakes more than yours. The event does take advantage of the setting, however, with the route winding its way through the stadium’s innards, and up and down the stairs.

It adds up to an easy way for urbanites to give OCRs a go, and CrossFitters of all levels will also take to it like ducks to water since the obstacles include rope climbs, box jumps, slamming balls and plenty of carries.

The day kicks off with an elite race, where competitors will be looking to get round in about 40 minutes for a shot at the prize money. You’ll have plenty more time in the open morning or afternoon session, and if you fancy making a day of it you can sign on as a group and get a discount – 10% off the ticket price if there’s three of you, 15% if you’re a quartet or 20% if you roll five or more deep.

Buy tickets | From £60

The Sports Nutrition Mistakes Amateur Footballers Make
Jonathan Shannon
Tuesday, May 7, 2019 - 16:46

If you watch any top-level football, you may have noticed players sucking down what looks like Frubes before starting a game or coming on as a sub. Anyone who regularly takes part in endurance events will recognise these as energy gels rather than flavoured yogurts, and perhaps wonder why something that’s been so common in running and cycling is only now coming to prominence in football.

It seems someone at sports nutrition company Science In Sport had the same thought (jinx!) as the brand recently released a range which includes gels for amateur footballers. SiS has form in the game though: it’s been supplying supplements to Manchester United since 2008 and is the official nutrition partner of the club, along with 15 other teams in England and Scotland.

As part of the launch, we got the chance to sit down with Mark Ellison, consultant nutritionist at United, and quizzed him on how elite players fuel their performance and what amateur players can do to nail their nutrition.

What mistakes do you see players of any level make when it comes to nutrition?

Athletes often think you can out-train your diet. The big thing that you see with young athletes in particular is a lack of good fruit and vegetable intake. We always encourage them to increase that to get decent amount of vitamins and antioxidants in their diet to maintain health.

The second one is that a lack of forward planning catches people out. We always make sure that our players have a plan in place. It might not always be a detailed plan measured out gram by gram, but it’s clear when to focus on energy intake to make sure there’s the fuel to play, and when to focus on protein intake to drive muscle recovery.

I think one of the big gaps I often see is the pre-training meal and, because in football we typically train early, protein intake at breakfast, especially when we’re going to train hard and do muscle damage. A couple of slices of toast and a glass of orange juice or coffee is not sufficient for breakfast on a training day. So often, those players that don’t want eggs and things like that will use SiS’s Rego, or we’ll put some of the SiS whey protein into porridge or add it to smoothies at breakfast, just to top up the protein.

And generally, people drink when they’re thirsty, but don’t proactively drink when they’ve got a session coming up. So often it’s reminding players to drink water and make sure they’re hydrated going into training sessions.

What are the basics every player of every level should get right?

As well as dealing with those mistakes, having regular protein feeds throughout the day. We target four protein feeds throughout the day of around 40g each – and there’s a good argument for much of the population having a solid protein intake, especially as people get older, to protect muscle mass and make sure they stay strong.

The other big one is sufficient carbohydrate intake to make sure you’ve got enough energy for the work you’ll be doing. Especially for recreational players who have kids or really busy work lives, it’s easy to miss meals then go to training in the evening without enough energy, so using things like gels for a top-up before you go to train is perfect. We always say try and get a meal three or four hours before you train, then you can top up on your way to training with a gel or sports drink. We use the Go gels, or Go Hydro and Go Electrolyte products with a bit of carbs.

We focus on slow-release carbs away from training, whether it’s porridge oats or granary bread, and fast release as we get closer to training for quick energy.

Do Manchester United players get extra advice because of the level they’re at?

There are more cutting-edge, individualised bits of advice we give. Beta-alanine supplementation is a novel strategy that you wouldn’t see applied in the general public’s diet. We get that in the Surge product and often supplement some of the players with that, especially those high-intensity midfield, box-to-box players that are generating lactic acid. That can be a source of fatigue and underperformance if the acid component of lactic acid isn’t cleared.

Beta-alanine as a supplement combines with another amino acid in the diet called histidine to make carnosine in the muscle cell, which works as a buffer to soak up that acid component and delay fatigue.

We also focus on hydration and electrolyte intake, more so than non-active people. We make sure they get electrolytes in their diet to drive hydration.

Another difference is timing. Everybody has protein in the diet, for example, but these guys are taking it in more of a targeted, timed way to enhance recovery.

As well as beta-alanine, the new SiS range features nitrates and caffeine. Why?

The research looking at nitrates has been around two things. First, for endurance athletes, some studies found a reduction in oxygen costs with cyclists, so it was allowing them to work for longer before they fatigued. Possibly from some vasodilatory effects, which increases blood flow and helps you get the oxygen to the muscles.

There’s an endurance element to football, but it’s probably not always a limiting factor for us. Football is more about high power output – being able to sprint, then sprint again. There's some suggestions that nitrates might be affecting how the muscle contracts. We’re still learning about the exact mechanism, but it can be a real benefit.

For caffeine, there’s that endurance element when taking caffeine in larger doses, like 3mg per kilo of bodyweight, as it’s going to help reduce carbohydrate dependence early in the game so we've got more energy towards the end.

And everyone who drinks coffee will experience those benefits of feeling more alert. There’s research on visual acuity suggesting you can see things sharper and react quicker. When you want to start a game fast, get a lift at halftime, or you've had a knock and you need a pick-up during the game, products like the Surge gels are great for giving a decent 200mg caffeine dose. The guys feel alert and ready to compete.

Visit for more nutrition advice and to buy the new football range

How To Do The Prisoner Squat
Jake Stones
Tuesday, May 7, 2019 - 16:08

Contrary to expectations, the prisoner squat isn’t a particularly punishing move, it’s just called that because it’s a squat variation in which you keep your hands on your head throughout. As if you only had a very small space to train and someone had taken away your access to gym kit. Keeping your hands on lockdown means you can’t enlist your arms to help maintain balance on the way down or generate momentum for the way back up.

Restricting yourself in this way will increase the demands on your legs, making this type of squat more taxing for your glutes, hamstrings and quads. As well as sentencing your legs to some hard time, the prisoner squat also makes your core an accessory to the exercise and it will help improve your balance.

How To Do The Prisoner Squat

Start with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing out slightly. Keep your chest up and place both hands on the back of your head, with your elbows pointing out to the sides. Lower slowly by moving your hips down and back, keeping your back straight and looking forwards, until your thighs are parallel to the ground, then drive back up, pushing through your heels. Aim to take three seconds to lower, pause at the bottom of the move, then take one or two seconds to return to standing. Aim for three sets of 12 reps.

Garmin Has Updated Its Most Popular Running Watch
Nick Harris-Fry
Tuesday, May 7, 2019 - 15:49

The Garmin Forerunner 235 has been one of the most popular running watches since it launched back in mid-2015, with its extensive feature set and reliability making it one of the top options to buy – which it remains today, especially since it’s now almost always on sale.

That means Garmin had to produce something special for its replacement, and on paper it looks like it’s done just that. The new Forerunner 245 has taken features from premium watches like the Forerunner 645 to offer all the features a committed runner could want for under £300.

The new watch comes in two forms – the 245 and the 245 Music, with the latter having space for 500 songs and the ability to sync playlists from premium Spotify and Deezer accounts. The standard 245 costs £249.99 and the music version £299.99.

Both watches now have breadcrumb navigation to help you retrace your steps when running in an unfamiliar area and can link with a footpod to show in-depth info on your run like ground contact time, which helps more experienced runners analyse their running form. The 245 also has the training load features seen on Garmin watches released in the past couple of years, so you’ll be told whether your training is productive or whether you’re overdoing it, and how each workout is affecting your aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

The Forerunner 245 also links up with the new Garmin Coach section in the partner app, so you can load entire training plans for races like a 5K or half marathon on the watch, which will guide you through each workout. These plans also adapt to how you’re actually running, and you’ll even get a predicted race time based on your training.

On top of all of this, the battery life has been vastly improved on the 245. The watch now lasts 24 hours in GPS, more than double the 11 hours of the 235, though the battery life does drop to six hours when you’re listening to music while using the GPS.

There’s no multisport mode on the 245 and it’s missing some smart features like Garmin Pay. It also doesn’t have a barometric altimeter or the on-board maps you can find in more expensive Garmin watches. However, the vast majority of runners will be more than satisfied by what’s included. It’s hard to justify upgrading to the Forerunner 645, for example, unless you reckon Garmin Pay, a barometric altimeter and a silver bezel are worth an extra £100.

The mid-range running watch market is more competitive than ever, with newcomer Coros joining Garmin, Suunto and Polar in offering feature-rich options for less than £300. There are also several great smartwatches available at that price. Our first impression of the Forerunner 245 is that it offers enough to stand out even in this crowded field, but we’ll see if that’s the case when we get our hands on a review unit sometime in the next month or two.

Buy from Garmin (available soon) | £249.99-£299.99

Five Minutes Of Fire Legs Workout Challenge
Jake Stones
Friday, May 3, 2019 - 17:11

Next time you’ve finished a session in the gym or ended a run and feel like you’ve got a little left to give, give this lower-body finisher a whirl. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a finisher, we just think you may want to have a bit of a sit down afterwards. The routine – created by Beth Thayne, assistant coach at Ministry of Sound Fitness – is only five minutes, but we bet that you’ll decide that’s more than long enough before you’ve even reached halfway.

“It’s five minutes of fire focused on your glutes, quads and core,” says Thayne. “You start by doing squat jumps for 50 seconds and a beast hold for ten. Then after each round you alter both by ten seconds – it’ll always add up to one minute of work. Eventually, you’ll be doing ten seconds of squat jumps and 50 seconds of the beast hold.

“The aim is to do the squat jumps continuously and then go straight into the beast hold. This means no rest, which keeps your pulse high and works on your endurance.

“It burns like hell and the quads take the biggest hit, with the glutes also getting heavily involved. The whole workout relies on the core throughout. It’s five minutes of solid work.”

The Exercises

Jump squat

Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed out slightly. Squat down so that your knees are at a 90° angle, then push through your heels and jump straight up. Land on both feet and go straight into the next rep.

“Keep the landing soft and make the process of jumping, landing and jumping again one continuous movement,” says Thayne.

Beast hold

Get on your hands and knees, with your arms extended, hands underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips. Tuck your toes and lift your knees just off the ground. Hold this position.

“For an added challenge, you can try the three- or two-point beast hold. Lift one foot off the ground, or one foot and the opposite hand.”

The Workout

Round Jump squat Beast hold
1 50sec 10sec
2 40sec 20sec
3 30sec 30sec
4 20sec 40sec
5 10sec 50sec

The New Garmin Forerunner 945 Running Watch Has Absolutely Everything
Nick Harris-Fry
Friday, May 3, 2019 - 16:43

The premise of the Garmin Forerunner 935 was a simple one: Garmin put all the features of its marquee Garmin Fenix 5 into a plastic watch that was lighter and cheaper. We assumed the same would be true of its successor – the Garmin Forerunner 945 – in that it would take all the features of the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus and put them in a plastic frame.

In fact, Garmin has gone one better by importing the feature set from the Garmin MARQ Athlete into the 945. That means it offers even more than the Fenix 5 Plus, while being cheaper and having a better battery life. Given that the MARQ Athlete costs £1,399.99, we’re going to say that the feature-laden Forerunner 945 is terrific value even at £519.99.

The list of new features on the 945 that weren’t on the 935 is extensive. You get space for 1,000 songs plus the ability to sync music from your Spotify or Deezer premium accounts. There are also colour maps and the ability to create routes on the device. Garmin Pay is included, and the training analytics have been stepped up a notch.

As well as assessing your overall training load and whether it is productive, the 945 will break down your training over the past seven days by how much time you spent primarily working on your aerobic or anaerobic fitness. It will then suggest whether you have the right balance and which areas you should focus on if not.

The watch will also tell you how well you are acclimatising to heat and altitude when training in a new place. These acclimatisation features (along with the more in-depth training load analysis) are only currently available on the Garmin MARQ Athlete, so the 945 is getting them ahead of the pricier Garmin Fenix 5 Plus – with no word on if they are even going to come to the latter.

Battery life has also improved significantly on the 945, which offers 36 hours of GPS compared with 24 hours on the 935, and ten hours in GPS mode with music.

The 945 will be released sometime before the end of June for £519.99. It will also be sold as part of a bundle that includes Garmin’s swimming and triathlon-focused heart rate monitors – the HRM-Swim and HRM-Tri chest straps – for £649.99. You’ll need to use one of these straps to record your heart rate while swimming, because the 945’s optical monitor turns off in the water, but we mainly mention the bundle because the version of the 945 in it is better-looking. It comes with a rather natty blue strap, rather than the black one on the standard 945, and also has blue accents on the watch itself.

Buy from Garmin (available soon) | £519.99

Sign Up Now For Free Lunchtime Fitness Classes In London
Jonathan Shannon
Friday, May 3, 2019 - 12:23

It’ll come as no surprise that the Coach staff like to exercise at lunch – but we’d go so far as saying that a lunch break is possibly the best time to get moving during the working week. For one, after four hours of sitting still staring at a screen our bodies are crying out to move, shake things out and loosen up.

That’s just one reason why we’re keen to tell you about Red Bull’s AWOL (that stands for Active While On Lunch) campaign; another is that the energy drink brand is hosting free 45-minute workouts in the studio space at its offices in Covent Garden. A different boutique studio or trainer will take over the space each day from Monday to Friday throughout May, with sessions running from 12.15pm to 1pm. Considering fitness classes in the capital cost in the region of £20, the “free” part should motivate anyone working nearby to break a sweat while their colleagues get crumbs in their keyboard.

We tried the strength and mobility workout from one of the gyms featured, Onyx, earlier this week, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The hip-opening movements were especially welcome since we spend more time sitting down than is healthy. The session consisted of learning and practising movement patterns you won’t tend to find in classes at gym chains and it was all the better for it – especially as it was challenging but fun. Translation: everyone was a bit crap but that just made it a great leveller. Onyx runs a class at Red Bull every Thursday until 30th May. Book your free place on

If you’re after another way to combat the slumping and stooping a desk job can contribute to, check out Bandforce – Dynamic Pilates on Mondays. PT Jemal Rose focuses on full-body movements on Tuesdays, while Milo & The Bull serves up a fat-burning strength and conditioning session on Wednesdays. Un1t rounds out the week with a cardio session in which you work with a partner, so you may wish to send an invite to your work spouse and get them to block out the time in their diary.

If you don’t work near Covent Garden, or you work a strict “one hour only and don’t get back to your desk in your sweaty workout gear” type of job, Red Bull has plenty of other ways to help you do something at lunch other than stare at your phone. Namely, a series of 15-minute workouts that are better for fitting everything into an hour – that’s changing out of your work clothes, getting to a park, working out, returning to the office, showering (or wiping your pits at least) and grabbing a quick bite to eat. Visit the Active While On Lunch website to watch.

The Garmin Forerunner 45 Is An Entry-Level Running Watch That Will Help You Train
Nick Harris-Fry
Thursday, May 2, 2019 - 22:14

The Garmin Forerunner 35 debuted in 2016 and has been our favourite budget running watch since we first got our hands on it, so we were excited as anyone to see what Garmin did with its successor, the Garmin Forerunner 45.

At first we were a little disappointed, purely because the price has jumped to £169.99 – £40 more than the Forerunner 35. Admittedly, until recently that was what the 35 cost before a “let’s shift some stock before the new one comes out” price cut, but even before then you could usually find it for £120 or so. That means until the discounts start, it’s a stretch to call the 45 a budget option – but it’s unquestionably a more advanced device with some great features that make it a brilliant beginner running watch.

That’s mainly because of the new Garmin Coach feature in the Garmin app. This allows you to load training plans for events like 5Ks and half marathons on to the watch, and then follow guided training sessions. Stick to the plans and you should be in good shape to complete your first few races, or set some new PBs. You can also create your own workouts to follow on the watch.

Other major updates include a new circular watch face, an improvement on the boxy look of the 35, and a colour screen. There’s also a fifth button on the 45, to make it easier to navigate the menus. The watch comes in two sizes too: the 45S has a smaller design to fit slimmer wrists, although the screen is the same size.

The 45 also has more sports modes than its predecessor, including a general cardio and yoga modes, though it’s still not as comprehensive on this front as Garmin’s pricier trackers.The new watch also adds Garmin’s Body Battery feature, which is designed to show your energy reserves at a glance, based on your recent activity.

These new features build on the excellent base provided by the Forerunner 35, so you still get 24/7 heart-rate tracking, built-in GPS, an estimation of your VO2 max and everyday activity tracking.

It’s a terrific running watch, but the price is a big question mark. You can pick up some excellent sporty smartwatches for around £200, such as the Fitbit Versa or Ionic, and usually find older Garmin models like the 735XT, which is a fully-fledged multisport watch, for around £230. The 45 even matches the feature set of the Forerunner 235, which has long been one of Garmin’s most popular running watches, but with the forthcoming introduction of the 245 you can expect to find that for £150.

Buy from Garmin (available before the end of June) | £169.99