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What do we mean by Marginal Gains?
We use this term when referring to very small improvements (1% or less) in many related disciplines, that when compounded, lead to a much greater improvement in performance.
It is considered one of the best ways to draw out improved performance in very high-level athletes who are already close to their genetic limits.
The Performance Director for TEAM SKY
It can be credited back to Dave Braithwaite, who in 2010 was hired as the performance director for TEAM SKY (GB’s professional cycling team) and later coach for the GB Olympic team.
Prior to his appointment, no Brit had ever won the tour de France. If you follow sport to any level today, you can see how laughable a notion that now seems.
Braithwaite credits GB’s success both on the ‘tour’ and in the Olympics to his marginal gains programme. In his own words, he referred to it as the “aggregation of marginal gains.” He explained it as “the 1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” His belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1%, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement.
Areas focused on in Braithwaite’s Marginal Gains Programme
To give you some context into the small margins he was looking to improve he started with things that may now appear obvious:
- Their nutrient intake
- How much recovery they were allowing their bodies to have
- The volume in their training programme
- The weight and ergonomics of their bike itself
- The aerodynamics of their riding position
Once these were fixed, he did not stop there. He then went on to explore their clothing and cleat weight, what pillow and mattress worked for each athlete to get a goodnight’s sleep, what massage worked best, and even how best to wash your hands to reduce the risk of getting a cold.
He searched for tiny improvements in everything the athletes did from morning to night. This lead to GB dominating cycling over 2012/13 both in terms of the tour and the Olympics.
How can this specifically help me hit a gym PB?
Marginal gains are very personalised to you and so it will be different to each person. However, there are some general areas that we would look at, in particular for the experienced gym goer who feels they are now plateauing on the big lifts:
- Active Recovery – are you factoring these in?
- Sleep Tracking – are you getting 8 hours sleep?
- If not, consider the reasons; mattress, pillow, light pollution, noise, too much iPhone/iPad before bed
- Gym Training – how consistent are you? Do you train when you feel the freshest?
- Ice bath – whilst unpleasant they have been proven to improve performance, how badly do you want results?
- Alcohol consumption – have you really minimised this?
- Carbohydrates – the right types at the right time?
- Flu/illness – how well do you rest when ill?
- Lifting chalk – could this help you?
- Music – do you have any songs that “pump you up”? save it for the big lifts for maximal motivation
- Supplements – could a pre-workout aid you?
How can marginal gains help the beginner?
Marginal gains need to be looked at in a slightly different context for the beginner. Rather than thinking about all the minutiae that can be improved by 1%, you can look at marginal gains in terms of an improved lifestyle consistency.
By this I mean, the sum of all the moments where you chose to do things better or worse. For example:
- Going to the gym vs. Going to the pub
- Eating a healthy dinner vs. Eating junk food
- Sleeping for 8 hours vs. Playing video games/watching films into the night
The power lies in these small wins every day. They may not seem like much taken in isolation, but taken over the long-term, the system becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Mastering your habits allows you to achieve things that maybe you thought were beyond the realms of possibility for yourself.
Consistency towards you goal whilst aggregating these marginal gains, I guarantee you, will result in a much fitter, stronger and higher achieving version of YOU.
Marginal gains often don’t seem like a very glamourous way to achieve progress. That much is true! They are neither dramatic nor inspiring, BUT consistently compounding these little changes will boost your performance massively. This is how I regularly take every day folks to the next level. Not by magic, but hard work and attention to detail within their specific areas of weakness. This is how to achieve your goal.
I hope these tips help. If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share on social media.
For that more personalised approach, we do provide bespoke programmes and personal training here in London. We pride ourselves on a highly individualised service allowing you to reach your fitness goals quicker. One method we use as necessary, is to look at these marginal gains. Here at WAKE FIT, we are dedicated to make you the best you can be.
Hope this helps!