The format which works so well - are we sure the readership isn't female?

The format which works so well - are we sure the readership isn't female?

Last week when I interviewed the editor and production editor of Men’s Health (MH), both men were optimistic about the future of their magazine. And so they should be. In February this year they reported a 4.1 per cent increase in the latest ABC figures, and earlier this week they were nominated for four PPA awards including editor of the year – an award Rees won in 2007 – and consumer title of the year. MH is clearly succeeding where other men’s mags are failing, abysmally.

So what is the secret to such success?

“Service journalism,” says editor, Mogan Rees, “What that means is the information we put on the page is useful and actionable.” Substance over style is Rees’ mantra and it shows: MH has a very distinct look from which it rarely deviates. The word utilitarian is too strong since there is great use of graphics and stylised photos.

But the classic cover design of a buff, shirtless model shot in black in white, and set off by red and blue coverlines, is recognisable from month to month. While it may seem to cover the same ground each issue, Rees insists the content is new, “We have to get it [the cover] right, more than most. The image does not change much so selling the content becomes absolutely paramount. The coverlines may sound the same but the content and science behind them changes every month.”

Rees has had more than his fair share of experience in the style sector too. Before MH he worked on Loaded, GQ, and Jack – all of which he enjoyed. But he knew the time was right for change when he found himself spending more and more time negotiating with celebs to pose on the front cover.

It would seem Rees’ waning enthusiasm for men’s lifestyle magazines coincided with a nationwide sentiment much the same. In the last few months, Arena has folded, Maxim UK has gone online only and Loaded, FHM, Zoo and Nuts have all suffered from declining circulation. “The idea of a men’s lifestyle magazine is still relatively new. Before that there were specialist titles. What we are seeing now is a return to that form. If a magazine has a clearly defined remit it will do well in the current climate,” says Rees.

Production editor, Tom Stone, has a slightly different rationale as to why MH is doing well, “Health and fitness is a subject that appeals more to the older age bracket, which ties in with the magazine buying public. People buying magazines are getting older.” Stone recognises that the younger generation access information online whereas before they would have looked to magazines. But he also thinks it is possible to pull readers in from your website, if you make it good enough.

Here again, MH is excelling. This stems from the fact that their subject area is easily clubbable. The MH forums are choc-a-bloc with threads of conversations between members. These range from chats about the best place to get the season’s en vogue protein shake to discussions on, believe it or not, the key philosopher’s works for a novice to start with. With 697, 000 unique users each month the online community at MH is not to be sniffed at.

But that is not to say the MH team are resting on their laurels.

“I want to make MH complete” says Rees, “what we have done in the last six years [since he started] is expand the remit of the magazine. It used to only deal with sex and abs. These days it deals with psychology, work/life balance, career progression, parenting, you name it.”

And where does Stone see MH in the next five years?

“It will be the number one men’s monthly magazine. It will be the market leader. I expect it will have a lot more imitators – other magazines trying to do the same thing. The lad’s mags are over. It is the time for the useful magazine.”

Testosterone fuelled, cocky, high expectations? Maybe, but with Rees and Stone at the helm there seems no reason why these should not be realised.

Break a sweat - tired of doing the same old moves? Interval training is for you!

Break a sweat - tired of doing the same old moves? Interval training is for you!

For those of you who have asked for more detail on the interval training I’ve been doing here you go. As I’ve said before, it’s courtesy of Wesley at Men’s Health, and so far I’m loving it:

Interval Workout

5 minute easy warm up

5 minutes short intervals – break down into 15 secs high intensity, followed by 45 secs low intensity. This should be done on a machine you rarely use, I’ve been doing it on the rower since I hate the damn thing.

5 minutes rest – this seems like a long time but you have to make sure your heart rate returns to its natural resting level.

20-40 minutes regular cardio – do this on a machine you use a lot, and keep up a moderately high intensity throughout. I’ve been using the bike for this one.

5-10 minutes long intervals – break down into 30 secs high intensity followed by 30 secs low intensity and gradually work up to doing 1 minute high intensity 1 minute low intensity. Do this on whatever machine you like. I’ve been using the treadmill.

3 minute easy cool down

I’ve been adding some super sets of weight training on the end for some toning benefits. I’ll talk more about that soon. Let me know if you try the workout and what you think of it.

The bane of every bridesmaid's life

The bane of every bridesmaid's life

Today I am brimming with feel good endorphins, which can only mean one thing: Operation Bridesmaid (hereafter OB) has commenced.

OB is something I have been planning for a while. I am to be my sister’s bridesmaid in July and, as is typical of a lot of women, I am determined to look my best in the nipped-in-at-the-waist dress we settled on for myself and the other two bridesmaids.

Bought back in January, the dresses looked great (even if I do say so myself). But still, on getting back to Cardiff at the end of the Christmas break, I vowed to hit the gym to give myself plenty of time to get fit and toned for the big day (would you listen to me, I sound as if it’s my wedding).

But as is often the case, other things began to take precedence. I study the PG dip in magazine journalism and first there were exams, then there were two weeks of coursework deadlines, and before I knew it I was at the end of, an admittedly hardcore, term.

Spring had sprung and I was still sat on my backside

Spring had sprung and I was still sat on my backside

The spring daffodils were out and OB had been left languishing in the recesses of my mind, the area reserved for thoughts about deep-cleaning the bathroom and throwing out all the socks in my drawer which aren’t part of a pair. In short, the “I’ll get round to it soon” section, I’m sure you all have an equivalent.

Again, my plans were destined to be put on hold. I had three weeks away from Cardiff doing work experience and since I find it hard to maintain a exercise routine I am already commited to when away from home, the chances of me starting a new one were about as high as the Bank of England’s interest rates.

I was in despair, “I am never going to tone up and get rid of this study belly,” thought I. But every cloud has a silver lining: two weeks of my work experience were in the Men’s Health offices in London. A fortnight surrounded by buff men who eat, sleep and drink (literally, they are massively into their protein shakes) exercise. Surely that would leave me feeling even worse about my lack of fitness and nutritionally challenged diet?

Well, it did, but in a good way. As I scoured the forums on the website looking for article ideas, and subbed copy telling readers, “How to get a six-pack in six weeks,” the fitness furor began to permeate. A part of me which had lain dormant for too long shook itself awake. That’s right, my inner fitness fanatic.

I began to get ridiculously frustrated by the fact I could not workout and looked for small changes I could make while in London (the day I powered up the 193 steps at Covent Garden tube station will stick in my mind for a while, or rather the state of me when I reached the top of them will).

I spoke to the fitness editor, Wesley Doyle, about my plight, explaining that I had once been a lean, mean, fighting machine from hours spent punching and kicking (I was in combat classes and kickboxing, not a secret member of Fight Club).

He very kindly told me not to worry, informed me that muscles have good memories, and said he would email me a programme to get back in shape and shed those excess inches in no time. I had to refrain from kissing him then and there.

I’ve been back in Cardiff for two days now and I have done the routine twice. It is based on using interval training which means I am not suffering too much from my depleted stamina and the short, sharp bursts replicate the kind of exercise I am used to with boxing classes.

I have been adding some weight training to the end and went out yesterday to buy lots of high protein foods which Wesley says is crucial to success. The major difference between this work out and what I used to do before is that it is best done in the morning, on an empty stomach after consuming two cups of green tea (to give a caffeine kick).

This is my one concern. I am fine at the weekend when I can get up leisurely and mentally prepare myself for the onslaught but how will I fare during the week getting up at the crack of dawn to head to the gym before uni? I’m told the first few times are the worst and then my body will start to adjust, let’s hope so.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Oh that wonderful maze

Oh that wonderful maze

This morning my faith in humanity was restored. I’m not sure why I say restored, it never really went away, but when I told people two weeks ago I was going to London for the first time ever, I was cautioned and warned about how unfriendly the people were. This obviously followed the initial step back in amazement that at the age of 24 I had never been to the capital before. As I said at the time though, I’ve never needed to go.

Anyway, fast forward a fortnight and I am lugging my suitcase up the steps at Piccadilly Circus. I have already lost the novelty enthusiasm I had for the tube at the beginning of my stay and I am wondering why my suitcase always feels heavier on the way home, even though I categorically have not bought anything new (trust me, I don’t have the funds).

Note: not the actual Piccadilly Circus steps, used for dramatic effect

Note: not the actual Piccadilly Circus steps, used for dramatic effect

Two steps up and I see someone to the side of me pause, take their music out their ears and ask, “Would you like some help with that?” Do I look suitably peeved off and say for the sake of feminism (the volunteer is a middle-aged man) “Not at all, I have two arms and two legs and can carry my own suitcase just fine!”? Do I heck. I smile sweetly and say “Thank you very much that would be lovely.”

With my assent the gentleman hoists the case up (with one arm) and strides to the top of the steps while I look on in awe. Job done, he replaces the earphones and smiles goodbye as I thank him again for his assistance.

Now, the cynics among you may say, “Well you’re young and pretty,” (why thank you) “and that’s the only reason he helped you.” And in fact, that is exactly what my colleague did say when I waltzed into the office, full of the joys of spring and a lot less out of breath than I otherwise would have been.

Well, not exactly: “There must have been an ulterior motive,” says Ryan from Men’s Health when I recount my tale, “Humans are disgusting.” He has obviously lived in London for a lot longer than me. But I refuse my optimism to be dampened and endeavour to keep smiling for as long as possible.

Probably just as well I’m going back to Cardiff tonight then.