Marginal gains


I am a pretty big fan of the Tour De France yet I’ve never pedalled a stroke on a road bike. I love watching the lead up documentaries of how the teams vigorously prepare for the toughest 21 days on a bicycle. I came across a five part documentary series on Team Sky, the team which in its stable of riders includes Sir Bradley Wiggins, 2012 TdF Champion, Chris Froome, 2013 TdF Champion, and Aussie Richie Porte. The documentary (filmed in 2012) is essentially narrated by their Performance Director, the now Sir David Brailsford. His task: to get a British cyclist to win the Tour De France.


His approach to accomplishing this task was what fascinated me due to its simplicity. He refers to it as the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’. If he, the staff, and the cyclists, could improve each aspect of their performance by a mere 1%, the sum of all these small changes will have a massive long term impact. The image referenced below is a great representation of the concept. Team Sky began with cycling specific aspects such as race nutrition, weight of bike, position on the bike and aerodynamics, but then went even further with the type of pillow to sleep on to washing their hands more often to avoid infection.

It really is a great concept to present to your team or athletes at the start of a new season. The athlete is generally only on the training track for two hours each day, 3-5 days each week. Each day, that leaves another 22 hours of the day where they can address certain responsibilities to find these marginal gains.

Some factors where you could find that 1%:

  • Going to bed 30mins earlier a few (3) nights a week (end of month -> extra 6hrs of sleep)
  • Arrive at practice 15mins earlier to foam roll and prepare for session
  • Choosing appropriate pre and post nutrition
  • Do an extra stretching session while watching TV at night
  • Visualising your task or goal when you have 10mins of free time
  • Doing some self-massage for any tight/tired muscles

Although most people are in a sub-elite environment and not Team Sky, these factors are not talent specific. They can be done by anyone; it’s just creating the time to do them. At the time, like detailed in the graphic, 15 minutes of foam rolling before training on a Tuesday and Thursday night seems meaningless and without context, but heading into the finals at the end of 20 game season (one game/wk), the athlete has all of a sudden found themselves with an extra 10 hours of free therapy, and perhaps prevented them from missing trainings or games, and kept them healthy for the finals series.

Assess your own or your team’s situation; where can you find your marginal gains?


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