“Marginal gains” is the term made famous by the success of Team GB’s Olympic cycling team in winning multiple gold medals and by Team Sky winning the Tour de France.
They look for marginal gains by examining how they could gain 1% improvements through simple to achieve methods and have these 1% gains accumulate to make larger changes. They used a number of strategies for this including:
- Providing each athlete with their own pillow and having a personal sleep strategy
- Painting the floor of the mechanic area white to pick up on any dust particles which may get into the bikes
- Analysing performance times to personalise training regimes as different people peak in the morning or afternoon. (This was linked to the sleep strategy to ensure peak performance)
- Looking at the aerodynamics of the bikes
- Improving infection control measures to reduce colds/infections
- Improving diet
I personally much prefer Kevin Bridges’ marginal gains approach of losing weight: “switch from eating McCoys crisps to Quavers or have fried rather than deep-fried food”
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How does this apply to non-olympians?
The basic concept of marginal gains is to look for imperfections in your training/work/sport and improve them. Essentially a micro-managing of all aspects of your life. I can certainly think of a few things that I need to improve on without getting a microscope out (please feel free not to email me any suggestions!)
Where this can be useful from a physiotherapy perspective is in longer-term rehab. We regularly deal with conditions which require regular exercises over a prolonged period of time to allow a full recovery. For example, this could be after a cruciate ligament injury to return to football; following joint replacement surgery to be able to walk around the shops or with shoulder rotator cuff injuries just to be able to put your jacket on.
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Practical use of marginal gains can be just creating the time each day to work on your rehab by cutting something else out. It also applies to making sure you are physically ready to work on your exercises by finding out whether first thing in the morning or after work is a better option for you.
Diet and Sleep are key to recovery from injury and also to improving performance. We work alongside Ambition Nutrition who can advise on this more effectively than we can.
Marginal Gains for performance
At JMC Physiocures we can also offer advice on marginal gains for sports performance. This can be in the form of massage to reduce DOMS, advice on an injury prevention programme or a specific strengthening issue to help with technique. We also provide Pilates classes and work with personal trainers like Michael McCartney to help focus training on your goals.
Overall the idea of marginal gains is as simple and complicated as identifying the things you could do better and then making them better. If you are anything like me then I am sure you have a to-do-list or if you are like William then you will have 3472 post-it notes so all we have to do is pick one thing off the list at a time and make it better!