Marginal Gains for Amateur Athletes.

The concept of marginal gains has been very popular in recent years with many professional teams citing the concept as their magic bullet. Marginal gains is the theory where the accumulation of small or insignificant 0.5% improvements add up to provide larger significant differences. The reality is races are won or lost with the difference being as small as 1 or 2% time or points gap. While it is a genuine concept, it is not new or novel. Many athletes would simply consider it as taking a professional approach. If you know opportunities for improvement and neglect them, then it’s a very poor way to go about things.

Talent is important to most professionals but at the top of the game they must also be professional. They leave no stone unturned as margins are so small that 1 or 2% would be critical. For amateurs, fretting over small details often undermines the reason they take part. It is hard to enjoy your race if you are stressed about all the little things. It is completely reasonable to prioritize things and find a balance. Every athlete should establish what level of diligence and stress etc. is worth it to them and what the potential loss or gain might be.

In many cases we experience athletes who are in awe of the results of some of their experienced peers. Not only are they displaying a physical dominance but they may be significantly ahead of what should be a comparable field. This is common in a local race where one athlete may be extremely far ahead when he is comparable in terms of fitness etc. This is where we can start to see marginal gain accumulation in the real world.

As your experience grows you will notice things become more habit than planned routine, with the result you can add more in your routine. For example once you establish and rehearse your warmup and it becomes second nature, you may become so efficient with time that you can now include course recon or last minute equipment changes etc. without coming under pressure. As you become experienced you can stack up the things that you may not have been able to cope with as a beginner.

No matter what level you are at you can employ some strategy around the marginal gain concept. Here are some vital pieces that every athlete can use to start seeking out little improvements which over time can give them minutes over the course of a race.

1 Consistency

Consistency allows you to form habits. Habits require less attention and allow you to do things naturally and stress free. This saves time for other things. Consistency also allows you to have a baseline from which you can compare the changes you might make in future. If your routine is chaotic and changeable it will be very hard to establish what works and what does not.

2. Evaluation

Whether you win or lose, you must learn. Every race or training session is likely to show you hints of where you might improve or become more efficient. You must pay attention to spot the small things that make a difference. You should consistently evaluate your performance, as it will unlock doors through which you can progress forward. Being self-aware is extremely important.

3. Confidence

Some things will work and others will not. If you’re consistent and evaluating what you are doing, then have confidence in what works for you and the process of testing new things. Do not feel pressure to copy others or take every bit of advice you hear. What works for one person will not work for everyone. Have confidence that you will have your own process but also be comfortable testing things that may not work. If you follow the previous tips, mistakes won’t be made more than once.

4. Prioritize

Sometimes you may have to test or practice something when there is initially high likelihood for error. Some races need to be used to troubleshoot and weed out problems. Some races should take priority and others should be used for training, testing and to ingrain habit. If every race is a win or die  situation then you will be putting a handbrake on potential progress.

5. Have no fear

Many athletes are reluctant to do things that work for them for fear of what others might think. If you need to do a course recon, have confidence, but if you avoid completing it for fear of looking too serious about a small race then you are allowing others dictate your performance. If you win then it won’t look silly anymore. Strange traditions etc. are common; if they work then accept them and do not let others dictate what is acceptable. Many races are won and lost before they even take place, giving up your marginal gains because of what people might think defeats the purpose. Quite often the winners are just the ones who commit to what’s personal and have no fear of what others might think.

Marginal gains are easier to find than people might think. They exist across the range of ability and experience. Big performances are often dictated more by attitude and approach than fitness. Where we start is rarely where we end up; marginal gains is simply the growth mindset put to work. When you gradually build up things that make small differences you will eventually realize how much you can progress. Neglecting these things are often the reason for stagnation but stressing or doing things too 

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