You Can Still Run One Of The UK’s Best Half Marathons This October

If you were designing the perfect half marathon, what would you include? You’d probably skip the hills, for a start. You’d also throw in some sights to marvel at so you don’t notice your aching legs for a bit. The weather would firmly sit in the not-too-hot-not-too-cold Goldilocks zone. You might even throw in a chance of spotting some rare and impressive wildlife.

The Royal Parks Half Marathon offers all of those things (there are pelicans in St. James’ Park, and they count as rare and impressive in our book). Naturally, a half marathon in central London with so much going for it is bound to be popular, so places are allocated by ballot. This year’s ballot has already taken place, but you can make the start line on 14th October if you run for charity. In many ways, it’s like a karmic ballot, where you do your bit for a good cause and the universe – well, the charity – rewards your efforts with a place in the race.

Friday 24th August is the deadline for registering to run for a charity. You’ll find a lot of participating organisations on the Royal Parks Half’s charities list page, broken into bands by the number of places each one is offering. From there you’ll have to contact each charity separately to find out if it still has places available and what the fundraising expectations are.

Ah yes, fundraising. If you’ve never fundraised before, the idea of rustling up several hundred pounds from friends, family and colleagues can seem a bit daunting, especially as the Royal Parks Half is less than ten weeks away. Is it even possible to raise that sort of money in that time?

Yes, says Will Scambler, a senior fundraising executive at Cancer Research UK (CRUK), which asks for £400 in return for a place on its team. It takes commitment and planning on your part, but CRUK (and other charities) provide support and materials – like collection tins, posters, banners and balloons – to help you hit the target.

“The people that raise the most are the ones that are in touch with the charity,” says Scambler. “We’ve had the most pessimistic people saying ‘all of my friends have already donated and I can’t possibly raise any more’, but the moment that you get them to think in a different way, suddenly you can raise a lot more money.”

To raise £400 in ten weeks, Scambler recommends doing small, offline events once a week for the duration of the ten weeks. “Bake sales are really easy. Just bake loads of cake and go into the office. Someone like me – I’ll eat them,” says Scambler. Other suggestions are to host a barbecue, hold a Come Dine With Me experience, or run a pub quiz.

If that sounds like a lot of work considering you’ve also got a half marathon to train for, well… it is, but know that if you’re willing to put in the effort, it will ultimately be a highly rewarding experience. Here’s what Rachel McKeown, who ran for CRUK in 2017, said.

“I ran for CRUK in support of my best friend and her family who have been hugely affected by cancer. I managed to raise over £700 by sharing my Just Giving page as soon as I signed up. I frequently re-posted it alongside updates on my running progress, and my friends and family were really supportive and generous. Persistence and determination helped me raise the money. I really enjoyed the challenge of both the running and the fundraising target. My advice to others thinking about signing up is this: be inspired by the challenge and you will surprise yourself like I did!”

Feeling inspired? Email sportsteam@cancer.org.uk to find about running for Cancer Research UK or browse the Royal Parks Half’s charity list.

Coach is a media partner of the Royal Parks Half Marathon

The Best New Road Running Shoes For 2018

When embarking on a running kick, the one piece of kit it’s really worth putting some time into selecting is a top-notch pair of running shoes.

You can of course run in any old shoes, but that could well put you on the fast track to injuries, sluggish times and a generally unpleasant experience. In contrast, the right pair of shoes will help you find the motivation to get out there and pound the pavements.

What makes for the perfect pair depends on an individual’s aims, speed, running style and even fashion sensibilities. Don’t disregard the last factor – you want to feel good in these shoes if you’re going to be covering hundreds of miles in them.

Below you’ll find our favourite running shoes. Everything’s based on our experience of running in them but different runners will get different things from every shoe, so make sure to factor in your own experience when picking your new kicks. But hopefully somewhere on the list is a pair that’s set to carry you to PBs across every distance.

Best All-Rounder Running Shoes

Our pick: Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo

A good all-rounder needs to be cushioned enough to be comfortable on easy runs, but responsive enough when you step up the pace during tempo efforts and races, and the Pegasus Turbo ticks all those boxes with a flourish. The ride is on the softer side for an all-rounder, especially compared to the standard Pegasus 35, but the cushioning is so bouncy and lightweight that it doesn’t stop you pushing the pace whenever you need to. The only major downside is the cost – the Pegasus Turbo is an eye-watering £159.95. It’s an excellent shoe, but there are other great all-rounders out there that don’t hit your wallet so hard.

Buy from Nike | £159.95

Also consider

Saucony Ride ISO If you like the idea of the softer ride of the Pegasus Turbo but aren’t so keen on its high price, then the Saucony Ride ISO may suit you down to the ground. It’s plushly cushioned but you can still hold a quick pace for long periods. £120, buy on saucony.com

New Balance Zante 4 For a firmer all-rounder look no further than the New Balance Zante 4. It’s doesn’t provide such a comfortable ride on easy runs, but when you pick up the pace it’s very responsive. £100, buy on newbalance.co.uk

Adidas SolarBoost This trainer/racer combines the bouncy feel of Adidas’ Boost foam, but offers more support than its stablemates the Boston or Adios shoes. £139.95, buy on adidas.co.uk

Best Road Racing Running Shoes

Our pick: Adidas Adizero Boston 7

The Boston has slightly more cushioning than a full-on racing flat but for amateurs, that will only help carry you through races at speed without your legs tiring, and also makes the Boston a comfortable shoe to wear for training runs too. You can go all the way up to marathon distance comfortably in the Boston, though some might prefer an even more cushioned shoe for the full 42.2km.

Buy from Sports Shoes | £107.95

Also consider

Adidas Adizero Adios 3 Even lighter and snappier than the Boston, the Adios is a great choice for featherweight runners looking for all-out speed. However, it lacks a little in cushioning for longer races and you’d probably only want to bring it out for track and tempo sessions when training. £69, buy on runnersneed.com

New Balance 1400v6 Another lightweight shoe that will help you shine on race day. The 1400v6 has slightly more grip on the outsole than many racers, making it a great choice for runs where you move between tarmac and light trails – did someone say “parkrun PB”? £85, buy on newbalance.co.uk

Best Marathon Running Shoes

Our pick: Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%

It’s very expensive and difficult to get hold of, but the Vaporfly 4% has earned rave reviews since it launched in 2017. There is even research backing up its claim that it will make you run 4% faster. We haven’t managed to get hold of a pair ourselves yet, but the universal acclaim from elsewhere means the Vaporfly 4% earns the marathon running crown. However, you may need to find an alternative plan, because the 4% is rarely in stock anywhere.

Buy from Nike | £199.95

Also consider

Nike Zoom Fly The Vaporfly’s little sibling might not have the carbon plate and ZoomX foam that makes the 4% what it is, but it’s still an excellent marathon racer with a stack of stiff foam that helps propel you forward over long distances. £109, buy on runnersneed.com

Adidas Adizero Boston 7 Our pick for the best road racer is a strong contender for lighter, speedier runners who will be more comfortable taking on the full marathon in it. £107.95, buy on sportssshoes.com

Saucony Kinvara 9 This is a lightweight, low-offset shoe that runs a lot faster than its slightly bulky frame might suggest. The Kinvara 9 is a shoe that can handle the rigours of most training sessions as well as impressing over 42.2km come race day. £115, buy on saucony.com

Best Highly Cushioned Running Shoes

Our pick: Hoka One One Clifton 5

If you’re on the hunt for a supremely cushioned shoe, Hoka One One are always likely to spring to mind. The massive chunk of cushioning on the Clifton 5 makes for a very soft ride over any distance, but the shoe is still lightweight enough to handle some speedier running if required, even if it’s undoubtedly at its best on easier days.

Buy from Runners Need | £115

Also consider

Brooks Glycerin 16 A plump stack of cushioning and a plushly padded upper mean that the Glycerin 16 offers an extremely soft ride. It’s a great shoe to slip on when you’re looking for the utmost comfort on your run. £135, buy on runnersneed.com

Saucony Triumph ISO 4 You can log endless miles in comfort in the Triumph ISO 4, but it’s also one of the more responsive highly-cushioned options around thanks to the energy-returning Everun midsole. £140, buy on saucony.com

Most Stylish Running Shoes

Our pick: Adidas Ultraboost Parley

There’s no need to be ashamed of wanting running shoes that you can also wear when you’re not running. Frankly, given the cost of running shoes these days you’ll want to get as much wear out of them as possible. The Ultraboost is the ideal all-rounder, with plenty of Boost cushioning for your runs and a stylish knit upper. We’ve picked out the Parley version because it’s made from recycled plastic and environmentalism is so hot right now. Also, it looks terrific.

Buy from Adidas | £149.95

Also consider

Nike Epic React The durable React foam in the sole means that the Epic React should last you 1,000km without falling apart, and the unfussy design means you can divide that distance up between running and strolling around town. The lightweight React is an excellent running shoe that can handle all kinds of training and is a decent bet for longer races too. £129.95, buy on nike.com

Our pick: Asics Gel Kayano 25

As the name suggests, this is the 25th iteration of the Kayano line, which should give some idea of how popular it is with runners who are looking for extra support to avoid over-pronation when running. The medial support system will stop your foot rolling too far, while the Flytefoam in the sole will help you bounce through long distance runs at speed.

Buy from Asics | £155

Also consider

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 18 Another long-term favourite with stability-shoe-seeking runners, the Adrenaline GTS 18 has a diagonal roll bar in the midsole to stop the foot over-pronating upon landing. £120, buy on brooksrunning.com

Saucony Liberty ISO This is a great pick for those who only over-pronate a little and feel uncomfortable in a full-on stability shoe like the Kayano or Adrenaline GTS. The Liberty ISO is relatively lightweight for a stability shoe and a good pick for longer road races. £150, buy on saucony.com

Mix Up Your Next Run With This Cardio Session From Another_Space

No two runs need ever be the same, so if you’re tired of plodding around the same old route at the same old pace, let us inspire you to try something new. It could be heading out of your local area to tackle some stunning trails, mixing up your paces with a Fartlek session, or breaking up your run with some bodyweight exercises by following this workout from Mila Lazar, head of HIIT at boutique gym Another_Space.

The routine involves three running sections broken up by two short HIIT bodyweight workouts and provides a flavour of what is on offer at Another_Space’s new Another_Run sessions. These cost £10 and start at 6:45pm every Monday at Another_Space Bank, so if you thoroughly enjoy the workout below and live in London, give the group sessions a whirl too.

Warm-up

Run through the below exercises and add in some dynamic stretches of the legs, chest and back before you start the workout.

Jumping jack

Time 1 min

From standing, jump and raise your arms above your head, landing with your feet spread wider than shoulder-width apart. Bounce straight back to the starting position.

Butt kick

Time 1 min

Jog on the spot, flicking your heels up towards your bum.

High knees

Time 1 min

Carry on jogging on the spot, but this time raise your knees up towards your chest.

Hand walkout

Reps 8-10

From a standing position, bend down, place your hands on the floor and walk them out in front of you until you reach the top press-up position, then walk them back and stand up.

Hip opener lunge

Reps 4-5 each side

From a top press-up position bring your right foot towards your right hand and lower the left knee down to the ground while pushing your torso up and away from the floor. Then take the right foot back and repeat the movement on your left side.

Jump squat

Time 1 min

From standing, lower your body by bending your knees and pushing your hips back until your thighs are parallel to the ground, then push back up explosively through your heels and leap into the air.

Downward-facing dog toe-taps

Reps 5 each side

From a top press-up position, lift your hips up and back until your arms and legs form a triangle with the ground. Tap your left foot with your right hand then move back into the press-up position. Repeat the movement alternating the hand and foot used each time.

Run 1

Time 20 mins

The first running section is the longest. Go at a comfortable pace, and try and finish somewhere that’s suitable for your first mini bodyweight workout.

Workout 1

Do two rounds of the following.

Skater jump into walkout press-up

Time 45 sec Rest 15 sec

From standing, leap to the side and land on one foot, bringing the other foot behind your standing leg. Then repeat the skater jump on the other leg before dropping into a hand walkout. When your hands are beneath your shoulders drop into a press-up before walking them back and standing up.

Mountain climber into burpee

Time 45 sec Rest 15 sec

Get into a top press-up position and bring one knee quickly towards your chest then back to the start, alternating sides until you hit eight reps in total. Then jump both feet up towards your hands and leap into into the air. Once you land, go straight into another round of mountain climbers.

Run 2

Time 10 mins

Workout 2

Again, complete two rounds of the following before you carry on with your run.

Chest-to-floor tuck jump burpee

Time 45 sec Rest 15 sec

From standing, drop your hands to next to your feet then jump your legs back so you’re in a top press-up position. Do a press-up, then jump your feet back up to your hands, stand up and perform a tuck jump, raising your knees to your chest while in the air.

Diamond press-up into star jump

Time 45 sec Rest 15 sec

Get into a press-up position with your hands placed together under your chest so that your index fingers and thumbs form a diamond. Do two press-ups, then stand up and perform a star jump.

Run 3

Time 10 min

Your final run. Ideally you’ll have judged the route perfectly so you finish back at your starting point.

How To Live Longer: Focus On Your Fitness Age

Photography: Dylan Coultier

Like most fit guys, you’re probably addicted to numbers. Chances are you know your max bench and squat, and you might have a pretty good fix on your body mass index, too. If you’re hardcore, you might even know your basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy your body churns through when you’re at rest). And if you’re a runner, no doubt you can list your PBs in everything from the 5K to a Spartan Race.

But before you get too confident in the story these numbers tell about your long-term health, Professor Ulrik Wisløff, a physiologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, has an important question for you: what’s your fitness age?

If you don’t know, says Wisløff – a 50-year-old former semi-pro footballer who is also one of the world’s top exercise scientists – that’s deeply unfortunate. Because even more than your real age, your fitness age is the key to knowing your true physical prowess or exposing the holes in your training programme.

What’s more, paying special attention to your fitness age, which you can maintain with a targeted HIIT training regimen, just might save your life years down the road.

What is fitness age?

The concept of a fitness age, which Wisløff introduced in a 2014 study, is rooted in your body’s level of cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) – its ability to disperse and consume oxygen. In fact, CRF (not to be confused with cardiovascular fitness, which refers to the heart and blood but not the body’s breathing apparatus) is such an important factor to your longevity and long-term health that a statement from the American Heart Association described it as a “potentially stronger predictor of mortality than established risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes”. Unfortunately, as Wisløff admits, CRF is difficult to measure – and even more difficult to make sense of once you have it.

The surest way of gauging CRF is to calculate your VO2 max, the maximum amount of oxygen you can process during activity. (The average person has a VO2 max of 30 to 60, with some elite athletes, such as pro cyclists, reaching the 90s.) Since the Nobel Prize-winning physiologist AV Hill introduced the concept in 1923, the only reliable way to measure VO2 max has been with an exercise test, which requires subjects to push their bodies to exhaustion on a treadmill or a stationary bike while breathing into an ergospirometry system.

Even if you endured the process, the larger question remained: what does it even mean? If you’re, say, a 34-year-old guy with VO2 max of 52, how does that inform your health and your training? “When we started this [research] many years ago,” Wisløff says, “we always told people that they had a VO2 max of 30 or 40 or 50, and then they’d always look at us and ask, ‘OK, well, what is that?’”

So Wisløff set out to find a way to do two things: 1) easily and accurately calculate VO2 max and 2) translate the findings into something the average athlete can understand and use to their advantage. Enter fitness age.

The fit formula

In 2006 Wisløff and his colleagues began conducting a study of cardiorespiratory fitness and other health indicators in 4,637 Norwegian men and women. They devised a formula that assigns you a fitness age, essentially defined as the average VO2 max of healthy people at any given age.

That 34-year-old with a VO2 max of 52? According to Wisløff’s calculations, he’s in fine shape. Generally speaking, the average healthy guy in his 30s has a VO2 max of 49, so the 34-year-old’s fitness age is close to his real age. But he could be doing better, and with the right training, he could easily bring his fitness age down to something on par with a healthy man in his 20s (they have an average VO2 max of 54).

If that same 34-year-old found out that he had a VO2 max of 39, he’d have the same fitness age of a typical 60-year-old. He’d be out of shape, with a dangerously elevated risk of developing cardiovascular disease and, according to some studies, cancer and Alzheimer’s.

As old as you feel

We know what you’re thinking. “I work out. I run. I lift. Surely my fitness age is super-young!” Not necessarily.

When Wisløff began to measure the fitness ages of his test subjects, he encountered many people who looked fit and worked out but had practically geriatric fitness ages. One group of bodybuilders were lean and muscular, but “their fitness in terms of peak VO2 was scary low,” Wisløff says.

When he tested amateur endurance athletes – many of whom trained for up to ten hours per week – he also found unexpectedly high fitness ages. That’s because, as Wisløff has consistently found, great CRF is achieved through high-intensity exercise, not long, slow jogs.

Wisløff’s peers believe his greatest accomplishment might not be in creating an algorithm to find people’s fitness age – ie a simple way to estimate VO2 max – but in devising an easy, efficient way to dramatically improve it. Dr Carl “Chip” Lavie, a leading cardiologist and the author of The Obesity Paradox, says he reveres Wisløff for expanding “our knowledge of the importance of higher-intensity exercise and its impact on improving fitness and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease”. When Wisløff pioneered fitness age, he didn’t just create a diagnostic tool; he laid the groundwork for developing what might just be the world’s most useful exercise cure.

Do you want to live longer?

To calculate your fitness age, visit worldfitnesslevel.org and fill out Wisløff’s detailed online questionnaire (skip to “How to calculate your fitness age” for our expert analysis). Once you’ve got your fitness age, you can supplement your training programme with a scientifically proven fitness-age-reducing intervention.

Even if you don’t calculate your exact fitness age, you can still follow these six tips to boost your body’s cardiorespiratory fitness, bulletproofing your health while leaving plenty of time to do all the activities you love: five-a-side football, distance running, or improving those max bench and squat numbers. Whatever your goals are, here are the six ways to keep your body young.

Stay young tip #1: Supercharge your heart

When Wisløff began to design a training program that could boost VO2 max and reduce fitness age, he considered one fundamental question: what limits the body’s ability to consume oxygen?

Wisløff knew skeletal muscles weren’t the principal problem – they can handle more blood than they can possibly get. He also knew that the lungs, while crucial, couldn’t be dramatically altered with training. But the heart is highly trainable, and increasing the amount of blood it can pump in a given amount of time directly increases the body’s ability to take in and distribute oxygen. In other words, a more efficient, more powerful heart leads directly to a higher VO2 max.

But how exactly do you train your heart to be more efficient and powerful? Two factors govern pumping capacity: maximal heart rate and stroke volume. Your maximal heart rate is inborn. (The best formula is calculate yours is 211 minus your age multiplied by 0.64.) No matter how hard you train, that number will tick down throughout your life.

But you can do a lot to increase the stroke volume of your heart. “The heart is like any other muscle,” Wisløff says. “It must be loaded to get trained. And the only healthy way to challenge the heart’s pumping capacity is to fill it with maximal amounts of blood for long periods of time.”

The heart achieves maximum stroke volume when it’s pumping at 85-95% of its maximum beats per minute. (For most people, the 85-90% range is sufficient.) So if you want to boost your VO2 max, Wisløff says, work out within that range of cardiorespiratory intensity for as long as you possibly can. If you do it right, you’ll end up with an “athlete’s heart” – one that’s bigger, contracts more forcefully and relaxes quicker. As Wisløff puts it: “You’ll have a better motor.”

Stay young tip #2: Four minutes is your interval sweet spot

So how exactly do you get your heart rate to the 85% threshold, and how long can you (and should you) keep it there? It usually takes more than a minute of vigorous exercise before you reach maximum stroke volume. That’s easy enough to do – try running, cycling or rowing really hard for 60 seconds – but the trickier part is keeping your heart rate and stroke volume at that rate. The key to sustaining that kind of workload, Wisløff says, is to use interval training.

“It is obvious that one cannot exercise for very long periods at 85-95% of maximal heart rate,” he says. “But intervals get you up to that needed intensity” and give you enough rest in between “to get rid of lactic acid that builds up during the interval.”

But not all interval training is equal. Sprint intervals of one minute or less can get your heart rate past the 85% threshold, but they don’t give your heart enough sustained work at its maximum stroke volume. Tabata training – 20-second high-intensity intervals followed by ten seconds of rest – can work, but your heart rate drops as soon as you stop moving. (And the more fit you are, the faster your heart rate plummets.)

If your goal is to improve VO2 max, it’s better to keep your heart pumping consistently at 85% of its maximum rate than to be yoyoing from 75-100% of max rate throughout your active workout time.

So how long is the ideal stroke volume-maximising interval? In theory, as long as possible. If you can push out 30-minute intervals at 90% of your max heart rate, go ahead and do it. Also, congratulations, your VO2 max is almost certainly spectacular. Wisløff and his colleagues found that four minutes is a length most can manage. It lets your heart pump at its maximum stroke capacity for long enough to be effective, and it’s sustainable for untrained individuals – it’s even beneficial to elite athletes looking to boost their already excellent CRF.

Wisløff’s recommended programme is simple: a ten-minute warm-up, followed by four four-minute intervals of large muscle mass exercise (running, cycling, rowing, swimming, cross-country skiing) broken up by three minutes of active rest (a very low-intensity version of whatever you’re doing). The results can be dramatic. After the seven-week programme, Wisløff has seen spikes in VO2 max and benefits that go beyond CRF into weight loss and lean muscle gain. In Norway the response has been ecstatic.

“The biggest newspaper here [Verdens Gang] presented this programme online,” Wisløff says. “That story is the most visited story in that newspaper’s history. There are training groups and training centres around Norway that are using this. It’s used a lot.”

Stay young tip #3: Don’t train for a marathon

Ask a random sampling of men and women to name the kind of athlete with the best cardiorespiratory fitness, and you’ll almost certainly get answers like marathon runners, triathletes and Tour de France cyclists. While this may be true at the elite level, it’s often not the case for weekend-warrior endurance athletes, and the reason is simple. Running, cycling and swimming for long distances won’t push your heart to its maximal stroke volume, so they won’t do a lot to improve VO2 max.

“I know a lot of endurance athletes on a really high level,” Wisløff says. “Even in those people we have been able to improve fitness a lot by exchanging two to three hours of running for periodisation of 4×4 intervals or even 3×3 intervals.”

Wisløff himself is a runner – he takes regular 45-minute runs through the forest near his home in Trondheim. When he does, he makes sure that he is giving his heart extended periods of time above the 85% threshold by including long, steep uphills. “I would like to say that low-intensity long distance is the best, because I like to do that,” he says. “But it’s surely not the best.”

Stay young tip #4: Forget beetroot juice and hypoxic masks

You’ve seen heart-healthy labels on foods, and you’ve heard that “eating clean” is good for your health. So can you eat your way to a lower fitness age?

In a word: no. “Indirectly, it’s important to have a good diet, because if your diet is better, you adapt better to exercise,” Wisløff says. “There have been some reports that if you drink beetroot juice or [other] stuff with a lot of nitric oxide in it, that may help your cardiorespiratory fitness – and that may be true with untrained people. But as you get fitter, that supplement doesn’t seem to work a lot.”

What about training at elevation or working out on the treadmill with a hypoxic mask? After all, the top endurance athletes run in the mountains – wouldn’t just living at altitude boost your VO2 max and reduce your fitness age?

No again. The science on the effect of hypoxic masks is thin. “Even though there are some believers out there, I know that world-class endurance athletes in, for instance, cross-country skiing do not use them,” Wisløff says. While some elite endurance athletes travel to high altitudes to train, the effect on performance is tiny. If you’re the third-best half-miler in the world and you want to become the best half-miler in the world, then by all means move to La Paz, Bolivia (the world’s highest capital city at more than 3,500m above sea level). But if you’re something other than an Olympian, you’re going to make the same gains if you do all your interval training in Norfolk.

Stay young tip #5: Make time for cross-training

You might expect Wisløff to advise those looking to reduce their fitness age to do only lung-busting sessions of 4×4 interval training. But he knows personally that such a course would be counterproductive. “I can’t just do 4×4,” he says. “I think it’s totally boring to do just that.”

In his fitness age-reducing fitness programme, Wisløff reserves days for fun runs and 60-minute activities like five-a-side football, while still performing 4×4 interval training a couple of times a week. (One session is always a lab-wide workout in which he leads his 60-person staff in exercises.) The rest of the time, he works out like an outdoorsy and not especially fitness-obsessed man. He plays a weekly game of football. He kayaks. Like many of his fellow Norwegians, when the conditions are right, he goes cross-country skiing.

Wisløff views the 4×4 training as a key fitness intervention, something everyone should and can integrate into the fitness routine that they’re already doing. “When I stopped playing soccer, and I got kids, I became more inactive. But when I started to become active again, I would do interval training two times one week, then three times the next, and that’s a really good way to improve fitness quickly,” Wisløff says.

Stay young tip #6: Choose your devices wisely

One thing that the previous five tips should have made clear is that many popular device-based approaches to improving fitness just don’t pass muster when you’re trying to reduce fitness age. Walk 10,000 steps per day? Why? Your heart rate is never going to get anywhere close to a range where you can lower your fitness age. Exercise for 150 minutes per week? Sure, that sounds good. But what’s your real output going to be? Heart rate is a better measure, but Wisløff realized that on its own, it didn’t mean a whole lot.

“I’ve been struggling and trying to find how we can translate changes in heart rate into a meaningful index that actually tells me if I’m doing enough exercise per week to be protected against lifestyle-related diseases,” Wisløff says.

What he came up with was a new metric called Personalized Activity Intelligence (PAI), which is basically Wisløff’s fitness age calculator in the form of a weekly exercise plan app. Your PAI goal is to maintain a weekly score of more than 100. That’s the point at which Wisløff’s studies show that a man’s risk of cardiovascular disease is reduced by 17%. After that point, you’ll get fitter, but your risk of cardiovascular disease won’t significantly decrease.

A couple of activity sessions each week that raise your heart rate so you breathe heavily for about 40 minutes in total will give you 100 PAI. You can get it also by exercising at moderate intensity for a few hours. The higher the intensity, the more PAI you earn. It absolutely can be achieved by low- to moderate-intensity activity as well.

Most importantly, daily workouts are not required. “The data is so clear. You don’t need to exercise every day – you just need to have 100 PAI per week,” Wisløff says. So super-intense workouts like 4×4 interval training can easily be spaced out with rest days or days of low-intensity workouts, and you’ll still be bulletproofing your body and health. By that point, you might even be able to compete with Wisløff, pictured below. His fitness age is below 20.

How to Calculate Your Fitness Age

You can find this out by completing the questionnaire devised by physiologist Ulrik Wisløff at worldfitnesslevel.org. Here Wisløff walks Men’s Fitness’s Michael Rodio (a casual lifter and former CrossFitter) through each question.

Step 1: What’s your sex, age, height and weight?

Wisløff says: “Height and weight are just for calculating BMI, which goes into the algorithm. But sex matters a lot – women’s values tend to be about 20% lower.”

Rodio’s take: I’m 26, 5ft 9in, 175lb – the site gives you the option of entering your stats in feet, inches and pounds or centimetres and kilos.

Step 2: What’s your maximum heart rate?

Wisløff says: “This is a common means of denoting intensity for endurance training.”

Rodio’s take: I had no idea, but the site computes it for me. It’s 196bpm, apparently.

Step 3: Exercise: how often, how long and how intense?

Wisløff says: “All these factors matter in a balanced way, but exercise intensity is the most indicative of fitness age.”

Rodio’s take: I pick “little hard breathing and sweating” because there’s no option for “vigorous swearing or crying”.

Step 4: What’s your waistline? What’s your resting pulse?

Wisløff says: “A low resting heartbeat is the sign of a fit heart – world-class endurance athletes use it to see if they’re ready for their next exercise session – but we do know that it’s not enough to predict fitness on its own. Hydration can sway it, for example, so make sure you’re hydrated when you take your measurement.”

Rodio’s take: My belt suggests a 31in (79cm) waistline. My Fitbit says 55bpm.

The takeaway I’m 26, with an expected VO2 max of 53, but I have the fitness age of someone under 20 years old, with an actual VO2 max of 60. “That’s not bad for a 26-year-old,” Wisløff says. “It’s about the same as mine.” Of course he’s 50…

Lower Your Fitness Age In Seven Weeks With Ulrik Wisløff’s HIIT Programme

You’re a 35-year-old desk jockey with the heart of a 60-something couch potato? You’re not alone – but there’s hope. Wisløff has created a seven-week programme that primes your heart for a better fitness age (and burns plenty of fat) in just minutes. It’s all built around Wisløff’s lab-tested 4×4 interval training workout: four minutes of high-intensity exercise, followed by three minutes of active recovery, repeated four times.

The core concept is to blast your heart to 85-95% of its maximum rate – not quite all-out, but intense enough that you’ll be able to say only a few four-letter words by the end. Then you downshift to a three-minute active-recovery phase at 70% capacity – still moving, but moderately enough to catch your breath and flush lactic acid from your muscles. After the fourth round, you should feel like you could have done another round.

The best part? You can do any kind of exercise you want – swimming, cycling, rowing and running are popular, but anything will work as long as you’re pushing your heart to the limit. With just two of these 4×4 workouts a week for seven weeks, Wisløff’s lab has made progress with everyone from untrained shlubs to elite athletes.

A version of this article first appeared in the US edition of Men’s Fitness 

What Is A Healthy Weight?

There is something close to an obsession around weight nowadays. Some of it is driven by disconcerting news headlines that say close to two thirds of adults are overweight. Some of it is no doubt the result of the constant stream of images of beautiful bodies we see every day in all types of media.

Yet it’s not necessarily a bad thing either. If two thirds of us are overweight, it can’t hurt for the majority to shed a few pounds. But like all obsessions, it can go too far. And since Coach is all about being fitter, healthier and happier, we thought we’d focus instead on pointing out what a healthy weight actually is, so that once you’re there you can concentrate on an enjoying a healthy lifestyle rather than sweating the number on the scales.

What Is A Healthy Weight?

There are three main ways to determine whether or not you are a healthy weight, but none of them are perfect. That said, if you have a decent handle on all three, you’ll be able to make a sensible call.

1. BMI

Body mass index (BMI) has long been established as the go-to option for public health bodies. BMI provides a simple score based on your height, weight, age and gender, which then classifies you in one of five brackets – underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese or very obese.

There are some problems with using BMI as the only indicator of whether you are a healthy weight, but it is undoubtedly a useful measurement, so is a good starting point when looking to see if your own weight is in the healthy range. Head to the Healthy Weight Calculator on the NHS website and put in your details to get your own BMI score.

A BMI of anywhere between 18.5 and 25 is considered in the healthy range. Below 18.5 is underweight, 25 to 30 is overweight, 30 to 40 is obese and above 40 is very or morbidly obese.

The main issue with BMI is that it doesn’t consider what the weight is made up of – i.e. fat or muscle – so you can be classed as overweight when actually you’re a muscle-bound Adonis. If that is the case, however, you’ll probably be able to hazard a guess at whether you’re in decent shape regardless of what your BMI says.

2. Body fat percentage

To counter this issue with BMI you can also measure your body fat percentage, which will make it clear if the weight you’re carrying is due to bulging biceps or a beer belly. Body fat percentage can be measured with callipers or smart scales at home or, for a far more precise (and expensive) measurement, you can get a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) measurement.

If using smart scales in particular, be aware that the measurements can vary wildly over the course of even just a few minutes, so it’s best to always use these scales at a specific time of day to identify trends in your body fat over time rather than worrying over a one-off figure.

What’s considered a healthy body fat percentage varies by age and gender, and you’ll often also find different brackets for what’s considered normal in different places. The NHS doesn’t have guidelines for body fat percentage, partly because it is difficult for people to accurately measure themselves, especially when compared to BMI.

The below table comes from the American Council on Exercise. It doesn’t take into account age (if you are older it’s normal to have a higher body fat percentage), but can be used as a general guide to see what is classed as a healthy body fat percentage.

Men Women
Essential 2-5% 10-13%
Very lean 6-13% 14-20%
Lean 14-17% 21-25%
Normal 18-22% 26-31%
Overweight 23-29% 32-39%
Obese 30% or more 40% or more

3. Waist-to-height ratio

There is another easy way to measure whether you are a healthy weight that will also give a good indication of whether you are carrying too much fat. This is your waist-to-height ratio (WHtR). If this is over 0.5 you are at an increased risk of health problems.

To measure your WHtR grab a piece of string and use it to measure your height. Then fold the string in half and wrap it around your waist halfway between your hip bone and your lowest rib (don’t breathe in). If the halved string isn’t long enough to go around your waist, your ratio is over 0.5 and needs some attention.

The Best Vegan Cookbooks

Vegan cuisine has taken off in a big way over the past couple of years, partly because of how restaurants like Stem + Glory in Cambridge have helped change perceptions of plant-based food.

“Historically, plant-based foods and vegetarianism in this country has all been a bit bland and boring. So we’re working hard with flavour and the food is healthy but it’s not healthy for the sake of it. Not like a boring bowl of raw veg, for example,” says Stem + Glory founder Louise Palmer-Masterton. “It’s vegan and it’s delicious.”

Stem + Glory was voted the best restaurant in Cambridge by the public in this year’s British Restaurant Awards, and Palmer-Masterton is set to open her third crowdfunded operation in three years in London this November.

While Palmer-Masterton doesn’t run the Stem + Glory kitchen herself, she’s been a vegan for going on 35 years now and has an admirable collection of recipe books that she’s tried and tested. So whether you’re a committed vegan or a meat-free Monday dabbler, who better to ask for some recommendations for the home chef?

“When you asked me this question I went to my bookshelf and looked through my vegan cookbooks. I’ve got quite a lot so I tried to pick the ones that have the most meaning,” says Palmer-Masterton. She came back to us with three essentials she returns to again and again, and a further two that she thinks also deserve a nod. Straight in at number one is a book that’s ideal for beginners and for whipping up quick midweek meals.

1. Easy Vegan, published by Ryland Peters & Small

“Everything I have made from this book has really turned out well,” says Palmer-Masterton. “It’s interesting because there’s this boom in celebrity-endorsed books at the moment and yet this one is written by a publishing house and I’ve found it to be the best. It’s a well-researched book, the recipes are tried and tested, the pictures are great and above all it does what it says on the tin – everything takes 20-30 minutes. There are some really nice salads and cold dishes in this book. There’s a falafel recipe in this book which I’d cook over and over again.”

More of Palmer-Masterton’s favourites from Easy Vegan:

  • Brown rice, hazelnut and herb salad with kaffir lime dressing
  • Green bean and chickpea salad with sesame dressing
  • Italian bean dip
  • Sweet potato and coconut soup with Thai pesto

Buy on Amazon | Paperback £4.48 (RRP £10)

2. Vegan Street Food, by Jackie Kearney

“This book is like a trip around Asia – there’s a section on each country,” says Palmer-Masterton. “There are some absolutely spectacular recipes and this is another one where everything I’ve cooked has turned out outstandingly well.

“The recipes are a bit more complicated though and there are definitely issues with quantities. If you’re a novice cook this maybe isn’t the best place to start, but it’s a book for someone who’s gone through the initial stages of cooking vegan cuisine and wants to push themselves a bit, or impress their friends.”

Palmer-Masterton’s favourites from Vegan Street Food:

  • Pol sambol – Sri Lankan coconut chutney
  • Sambar – Tamil dal
  • Sticky coconut rice with mango
  • Badass bondas – spicy potato and spring onion balls

Buy on Amazon | Hardback £11.89 (RRP £17)

3. Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

“This is an outstanding book. The woman who wrote this is one of the key players from the early vegan scene,” says Palmer-Masterton. “She really knows what she’s doing with vegan baking – every single cake that I have cooked from this has turned out 100% perfect. It’s all about raising agents, and a lot of recipes will use a combination of bicarbonate of soda and vinegar, for instance.

“The other thing is, while it’s called Vegan CupcakesTake Over The World, you can use the basic cupcake recipe for a cake instead and it works out really well. If you are going to get just one vegan baking book, period, then get this one.”

Palmer-Masterton’s favourites from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World:

  • Lemon macadamia cupcakes
  • Apricot glazed almond cupcakes
  • Gingerbread cupcakes

Buy on Amazon | Paperback £10

4. Veganomicon, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

“This was one of the original vegan cooking bibles,” says Palmer-Masterton. “It’s not really one of my favourites in that I don’t use it a lot, but it has a place in my kitchen. It doesn’t have any pictures, but there are absolutely tons of recipes in it and it’s good for just flicking through for ideas.

“The dressings are great. I like a lot of raw food, but raw food is all about the dressing so having a good selection of dressing and dips are really critical to my style of cooking. This book does that really well.”

Buy on Amazon | Paperback £15.99

5. Beautifully Real Food, by Sam Murphy

“This one made the list because of the raw vegan desserts,” says Palmer-Masterton. “When I got this book, I made a few things from it and I was kind of like, yeah… the recipes are okay. It wasn’t until I flicked to the vegan desserts in the back of the book that I realised that this is where this woman is at. She’s got the most delicious vegan raw dessert I have ever tasted! It’s a fruit and nut base, then a mint layer and a chocolate layer.

“Generally, the recipes are quite challenging. Like Vegan Street Food it’s for the more seasoned cook. But the the beauty of raw desserts is that they’re quite simple as they tend to have fewer ingredients and they’re usually just blended. There are added layers of administration, so to speak: you have to soak the cashews, you have to make the base separately and you do need a really powerful blender or it ends up a bit grainy.”

Buy on Amazon | Hardcover £10.70 (RRP £19)

Try This HIIT Workout From New Boutique Gym Sweat It

As bang-for-your-buck workouts go, this 25-minute blast from Melissa Weldon, head trainer at new boutique gym Sweat It, is one of the best we’ve seen. You get a solid warm-up, a round of compound exercises that test the strength of your whole body and a ten-minute stint on the treadmill that will be sure to leave you gasping for air. And all that in less than 30 minutes, leaving you half of your one-hour lunch break to recover!

This is just a taster of the classes on offer at Sweat It, which last 40, 50 or 60 minutes and are divided evenly between strength exercises and treadmill intervals. After you get through the below, however, we reckon you’ll agree that the word “taster” doesn’t really do justice to the work involved, so don’t take it lightly.

Warm-up

“Before we kick everything off we get the body prepared for work,” says Weldon. “Use this four-minute routine to mobilise and get your heart rate up. Do each of these exercises for 30 seconds.”

Straight-leg walkout

From a standing position, reach down and walk your hands along the floor until you’re in a press-up position. Then walk your hands back and stand up. Keep your legs straight throughout.

Walkout to press-up

Perform the walkout as above, but once in the press-up position drop your chest to the floor before pushing back up powerfully, then walk your hands back again.

Downward dog to cobra

Start on all fours. Move your hips up and back until your legs and arms are straight, and your body forms a triangle with the floor. Then lower your hips and bring your chest forward through your arms and then up, keeping your arms straight.

Bent-leg walkout

Perform the straight-leg walkout but this time – you guessed it – bend your knees.

Deep squat to overhead reach

From a standing position lower your body until your knees are bent at an angle of 90° or less, then push back up and extend your arms above your head.

Toddler squat

An even deeper squat is required here. Drop your bum down as close to the ground as you can, then push back up.

Burpee

From a standing position drop down, place your hands on the ground next to your feet and kick your feet out behind you so you’re in a top press-up position. Then jump your feet back up to your hands, stand up and jump into the air, throwing your hands above your head.

Chest-to-floor burpee

Same again, but this time when in the press-up position lower your chest to the floor and push back up before standing up and jumping.

Strength Workout

“This ten-minute dumbbell pyramid has compound movements to fire up your whole body,” says Weldon. “Select a set of dumbbells that are really going to challenge you – 7.5kg, 10kg or 12.5kg for men, and 6kg, 7.5kg or 10kg for women.”

Start with two reps of each exercise and once you have completed two reps of everything, you then do four reps, then six, all the way up to ten and back down again. The aim is to complete the pyramid in ten minutes.

Renegade row to press-up burpee

With a dumbbell in each hand, get into a top press-up position. Row the right dumbbell up until your upper arm is a little higher than your torso. Then lower it and row the left dumbbell up. Next, drop into a press-up and when you push back up, jump your feet towards your hands, stand up and jump into the air. That’s one rep.

Clean and press

Stand with a dumbbell by each foot. Squat down and grab the dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other). Stand up and as the dumbbells reach your knee explode upwards curling the weights up to catch them just in front of your shoulders, with your elbows pointing forwards. Then press the weight overhead until your arms are fully extended. Reverse the movement to lower the weights back to the ground.

Reverse lunge

Holding the dumbbells by your sides take a big step back and lower your body until both knees are bent at a 90° angle, then push back up to a standing position.

Front squat

Hold the dumbbells by your shoulders with your elbows pointing forwards. Drop into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground, then drive through your heels to stand back up.

Treadmill Intervals Workout

You’re on the treadmill for the next half of the workout, building up over ten minutes through incline or speed increases.

“All the speeds are in km/h and are guidelines designed for beginner, intermediate or advanced levels,” says Weldon. ”You can adjust them up or down depending on your individual ability.”

Minute Beginner speed Intermediate speed Advanced speed Incline
1 8km/h 10km/h 12km/h 1
2 8km/h 10km/h 12km/h 3
3 8km/h 10km/h 12km/h 5
4 8km/h 10km/h 12km/h 7
5 8km/h 10km/h 12km/h 9
6 30sec 8km/h, 30sec 14km/h 30sec 10km/h, 30sec 16km/h 30sec 12km/h, 30sec 18km/h 0
7 30sec 8km/h, 30sec 14km/h 30sec 10km/h, 30sec 16km/h 30sec 12km/h, 30sec 18km/h 0.5
8 30sec 8km/h, 30sec 14km/h 30sec 10km/h, 30sec 16km/h 30sec 12km/h, 30sec 18km/h 1
9 30sec 8km/h, 30sec 14km/h 30sec 10km/h, 30sec 16km/h 30sec 12km/h, 30sec 18km/h 1.5
10 30sec 8km/h, 30sec 14km/h 30sec 10km/h, 30sec 16km/h 30sec 12km/h, 30sec 18km/h 2

Try This Rowing Pyramid Workout On Your Next Gym Visit

In a pyramid workout, something – the reps, the speed, the intensity, the whatever – increases step by step until it peaks, then decreases step by step. That makes it a very different kettle of fish from most workouts, where you hit your maximum effort but then stop or hit a long recovery stretch. In a pyramid session you’re faced with an only slightly easier block of work.

That’s just something to think about when you sit down on the rowing machine to tackle this workout from GB rower and Olympic gold medal winner Will Satch. When you get to the top of the pyramid, be prepared to keep working.

How To Do This Workout

“The workout is based on effort and it’s as hard for beginners as it is for the pros,” says Satch, “It should be done at max effort for as long as you can hold it.”

The workout is broken down into 250m intervals. You work hard for 250m, then coast the next 250m. Each time you hit a 250m work interval, increase your stroke rate by two strokes per minute until you hit the top of the pyramid. At that point you come down the other side of the pyramid, decreasing your stroke rate by two strokes each work block.

How tough the pyramid is will depend on how fast your stroke rate is for the first interval and how many intervals you opt to do in total. There is a suggested start point and total distance below, which you can alter depending on your fitness.

“You will be using different anaerobic systems the further into the workout you go,” says Satch. “The more advanced you get, the higher the number of strokes per minute you can start out at.”

Rowing Pyramid Workout

Warm-up

Row for 500-1,000m. Start by moving your arms only, then swinging your back, then moving out to full slide.

Workout

Set the screen to count down from 5,000m (or less, depending on your fitness level).

Row at 22 strokes per minute and pull as hard as you can for 250m, then paddle with minimal effort for 250m.

Do the same for the next 250m at an increased stroke rate, two higher than the last section of effort, so 24 per minutes, then paddle with minimal effort for 250m.

Continue to do this until you reach 30 strokes per minute, then after your 250m of rest paddling, do another effort at 30 strokes per minute.

Following this you should then drop the rate by two strokes per minute on every effort section until you are back down at 22 and you have reached your 5,000m goal.

Warm-down

Light paddle for 500-1,000m

Will Satch is an ambassador for sports agency U Do Sport

Win Your Next Barbecue With This Vegan Burger Recipe

Given the scorching summer the UK has been treated to this year there has been no shortage of opportunities to experiment with what goes on your barbecue, so if you’re still resolutely sticking to blackened sausages and beef burgers then, frankly, shame on you.

This juicy vegan burger recipe created by Christian Stevenson, aka DJ BBQ, in partnership with Amazon’s Smile It’s Summer campaign, is a great way to expand your barbecue horizons. And trust us when we say that it won’t only be vegans who are impressed when you knock up a batch of these tasty burgers.

Ingredients (four servings)

Vegan patty

  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 corn on the cob (or 200g canned sweetcorn)
  • 400g can of butter beans, drained and dried on kitchen towel
  • 2 grated beetroot
  • 1tsp oregano flakes
  • 1tsp celery salt
  • 1tsp black pepper
  • 2-3tbsp plain flour
  • Juice of ½ lemon

Spice mix

  • ½tbsp paprika
  • ½tbsp cayenne pepper
  • ½tbsp sea salt
  • ½tbsp black pepper
  • ½tbsp garlic granules
  • ½tbsp onion granules

To serve

  • 4 burger buns
  • 1 iceberg lettuce
  • 1 ripe tomato, sliced
  • Ketchup
  • Vegan mayonnaise

Method

  1. Cook your onions and garlic in the coals – no need to wrap them in anything. Take them out when blackened, removing the charred skin once cool. Place the corn on the cobs (still in their husks) in the coals and cook for 15 minutes, turning regularly. Then take the corn off the heat and let it cool in a metal tray.
  2. Place all the ingredients for the spice mix into a bowl and mix.
  3. Once cooled, remove the husks from the cobs and slice the sweetcorn kernels off the cobs with a knife. Remove the charcoaled skin from the onions and garlic and roughly chop with the corn.
  4. Crush the beans in a large bowl with a fork until mushy. Then add the corn, garlic and onion, as well as the oregano, grated beetroot, celery salt, pepper, 2-4tsp of the flour and lemon juice. Mix it all together. It will seem quite wet, but that’s what you need is to ensure that your burger patty comes out juicy.
  5. Place a frying pan on the barbecue over direct heat, and get it nice and hot..
  6. Empty the burger mix on a floured board and divide into four balls. Coat well with the flour and spice mix, and shape the balls into four patties.
  7. Add vegetable oil to the pan, then carefully place each patty into the pan and fry, flipping a couple of times until you have a nice even golden crust on both sides. You’re aiming for a burger with an crunchy coating and a soft centre.
  8. When the burgers are ready, slice open and toast your buns. Serve with any combination you like of lettuce, tomato, ketchup and vegan mayonnaise.

Fire Food: The Ultimate BBQ Cookbook by DJ BBQ is available now. £10 (RRP £15), buy on Amazon

How To Buy The Best Mattress For You And Our Top Picks

Sleep, as you may have noticed, makes a huge difference to how you feel, but it’s increasingly being recognised as vital for good health in every part of your life – from your physical health (both your athletic performance and weight) to your mental health. And while we’ve made sure to provide you with plenty of tips to help you sleep better, or point you in the direction of sleep trackers and sleep apps to track the quantity and quality of your sleep, none of these will have as much effect on your shut-eye as the right mattress. So we thought we’d better weigh in with some expert advice and product recommendations for you to consider.

That expert is Simon Williams from the National Bed Federation, who has 34 years’ experience in the industry on both the manufacturing and retail side. Like all proper experts he knows that there’s no substitute for trying the mattress yourself, but it can help to narrow down your options into a shortlist first.

Williams recommends looking at your lifestyle to help zero in on the right options. This includes things like whether you want a mattress that just needs to be rotated head-to-toe occasionally instead of flipping. Or if you value natural materials, or indeed if you’re allergic to them and need to avoid them. If you are allergic, look for brands which work with charity or advocacy groups that add credence to the claims made.

And if you’re tempted by a cheap model, look at the length of the full guarantee for an indication of whether you’re getting value for money. “Generally speaking, better-quality suppliers will tend to offer more than just a one-year guarantee on a product – that’s usually a sign of confidence,” says Williams. “Five years is pretty good as a full guarantee and there are some top, top brands that will offer ten years.”

Once you’ve got two or three mattresses in your sights, make sure to spend at least ten minutes lying on them. Try this simple test to see if a mattress offers appropriate support for you.

“To find a mattress that supports your body correctly, lie on your back then slide your hand underneath the small of your back,” says Williams. “If you find that you can do it very easily that would suggest that the mattress is too firm because you’re not sinking into it. If you find it incredibly difficult to slide your hand in then the mattress is definitely too soft for you. But if you can slide it in with a reasonable degree of ease then as a general rule that kind of tension on the mattress in the hip and lumbar area is about right for you.”

Side sleepers should also spend a few minutes testing the mattress with their pillow from home, “because the pillow makes a massive difference to how much your shoulder goes into the mattress,” explains Williams. “Lie on your favoured side for just a couple of minutes. You will soon find out whether or not it’s too firm for you because you’ll start to feel it in those pressure points in your shoulder.”

Now you know what to look for, see if any of our top picks take your fancy.

Best pocket-sprung mattress: Sealy Nostromo

Pocket-sprung mattresses are supportive and durable but also feel soft and bouncy thanks to the springs sewn into individual fabric pockets. This Nostromo mattress by Sealy features no fewer than 1,400 of them under a plush pillow top. The latex layer ensures it’s breathable so it won’t get damp if you get clammy, and it’s designed to cater to sleepers of all styles and body types, making for a solid all-rounder. £536 (double), buy now from mattressonline

Best bed-in-a-box mattress: Leesa

Compact, convenient and affordable, the bed-in-a-box concept has changed the way people shop for mattresses, especially because all the major players offer risk-free trials. Mattresses by Leesa, one of the best of this new wave, are made from three layers of foam of varying density. The base provides strength and durability, the middle focuses on pressure relief and a final top layer concentrates on maximising airflow. That last one is crucial because foam mattresses tend to be on the warm side, but the cooling top layer doesn’t get damp if you perspire. And it’s not just you who will benefit from a better night’s sleep – for every ten mattress sold, Leesa will donate one to charity. £599 (UK double), buy now from Leesa

Best budget mattress: Ikea Morgedal

For no-frills naps, this Ikea Morgedal mattress is just the ticket. Its 7cm foam core base is topped with a 7cm layer of high-resilience foam and the whole thing moulds around your body so it’s supportive. The cover is removable so it’s easy to keep it fresh and clean, and it comes with a reassuring 25-year warranty. One thing to bear in mind is that it can get pretty warm, so if you’re prone to sweating at night, it might not be right for you. £165 (standard double), buy now from Ikea

Best hybrid mattress: Simba Hybrid Mattress

For a best-of-both-worlds bounce, the Simba Hybrid brings together traditional pocket springs and foam layers. Made from five different materials, it features a 2cm layer of pocket springs as well as four additional layers of dense support foam and memory foam. It can feel a little warm but it offers a fantastic combination of comfort and support, and as with most bed-in-the-box options, you can sleep on it for 100 nights before deciding if it’s the mattress of your dreams. And if it’s not, returning it isn’t a nightmare. £599 (double), buy now from Simba Sleep

Best mattress for back sleepers: Dunlopillo Royal Sovereign

Sleeping on your back (or in the savasana pose if you want your zeds to sound more zen) is beneficial because it avoids putting pressure on your neck and spine. If you’re a back sleeper, you’ll want to invest in a mattress that provides comfy and supportive cushioning, and this Dunlopillo Royal Sovereign model is a great pick. It’s slightly softer than your average mattress and features an all-latex core which holds its shape if you move around. It’s built to go the distance – well beyond the typical seven-year rule – but bear in mind that it weighs a mighty 40kg and doesn’t have handles so you may need a lie-down after rotating it. £1,265 (double), buy now from mattressonline

Best mattress for side sleepers: Casper

One of the best-known bed-in-a-box brands, Casper has financial backing from some starry sleepers including Leonardo DiCaprio and Kylie Jenner Tobey Maguire. Beyond its A-list associations, it’s an extremely comfortable mattress and provides great spine support for snoozers of all sizes. Made from four foam layers, including a sturdy base layer and a cooling top layer made from open-cell foam, it doesn’t get damp on warm, humid nights and it doesn’t sag either so it’s built to last. £550 (double), buy now from Casper via Amazon