What are marginal gains?
Marginal gains are all about small incremental improvements in different aspects of training that add up to a significant improvement when they are all added together. This is a well-known concept but possibly misunderstood in terms of how it actually leads to improvements.
Marginal gains are often spoken about as if doing a certain activity will gain you X% here and there as if these things are independent factors, rather than looking at how they interlink to actually lead to these ‘gains’ in performance.
Let’s take the common example of sleep and say for instance that the claim (just for this example) is that an extra 2 hours of sleep per night will give you a 1% increase in performance. But what does this actually mean? It certainly doesn’t mean that sleeping a bit more will independently lead to an improvement in performance; it’s a bit more complex than that.
Rather, what it could mean is that sleeping extra will allow your body to recover a bit faster than previously. This will then mean that you’re fresher for your upcoming workouts and can push it a little bit harder. After the harder-than-usual workout, you’ll be more tired than usual, but might be able to recover sufficiently due to your extra hours of sleep, and this will allow you to achieve a greater adaptation than before.
The point here is that any marginal gain is highly linked with a bunch of other factors, and this also shows you how multiple marginal gains can have a compounding effect. With our sleep example, perhaps an athlete is also focusing more on their nutrition and this could further enhance their recovery process as described.
All of the above leads back to the fact that your training consistency and recovery are the most important factors when it comes to performance; and what most marginal gains really do is give you the POTENTIAL to further improve these processes in different ways.