There is a lot of talk about equipment-based ‘marginal gains’ in respect to increasing performance, especially cycling performance. While marginal gains do increase performance, you need to examine the first word, ‘marginal.’ By definition, marginal means: very slight or small. Marginal gains often mentioned include wind tunnel testing, expensive equipment upgrades, cooling vests, etc… The theory of marginal gains in respect to sports performance is that a bunch of small (marginal) gains, when aggregated together can result in meaningful performance gains.
While this is likely true, here’s the catch – most are equipment-based and the athletes referenced in these scenarios are typically elite/professionals that have exhausted all other performance gains and are looking for that last 1-2% out of their body, mind and, or equipment. Therefore, targeting marginal gains make sense.
Here’s a scenario: A deconditioned individual wants to be able to run a mile in under 9 minutes. It is likely that by focusing on weight loss and a solid conditioning program, they will be able to get from a 12 min/mile to under 9 min/mile relatively easily. However, to get a 3:55 min/mile runner to a 3:50 takes every marginal gain imaginable.
Most amateur and age-groupers can likely find relatively large performance gains in the following non-equipment based areas:
- Training program adjustments
- Getting more sleep
- Biomechanical/position-based improvements (i.e., bike fit, gait/stroke analysis)
- Implementing mental training
- Changes in nutrition
- Strength/flexibility training
- Changes in power/weight ratio
As a lifelong cyclist (and thereby lifelong gearhead!), I love the latest dimpled carbon fiber rims as much as the next cyclist – and I have no doubt that they help to some small degree. However, if you’re looking for the largest performance gains (with the least impact on your wallet!), look to the big ticket items noted above and tackle the equipment-based marginal gains once you’ve gotten down to an 8-hour Ironman!
P.S. In our next Enduranerd post, in respect to this post, we’ll be discussing which cycling upgrades provide the most bang for your buck – so stay tuned!