As athletes, we’re always looking for ways to get any extra edge. It’s easy to obsess over finding that one, big, shiny key factor that will change everything, like the aero bike or that dimpled time-trial suit, but what if you could identify multiple simpler (and more affordable) off-the-bike areas that you could improve on? One of these little changes might not create a significant advantage for you, but if you can improve five or six, then the gains will start to add up!
Team Sky’s Dave Brailsford refers to this strategy as “marginal gains,” or the idea that small tweaks can add up to winning times. The well-heeled team famously travels to key races with their own mattresses and pillows, which team staff will set up in hotels each night for the riders to give them consistent sleep. While this level of detail is outside most of our budgets, we can think about the small details over which we DO have control. Here are some “marginal” gains you might be missing:
Get a Bike Fit
Years ago, when you purchased a bike, the seller would place you on your new machine, eye-ball your seat height and reach to the bars and give you a, “looks good” or “you could use a longer stem.” Today, most bike shops offer a computerized professional fitting. Methods may vary from shop to shop, but pretty much any modern-day bike fit will help enhance your performance on the bike by using technology to dial-in your exact your position. A proper fit will allow you to produce maximum power while improving efficiency, aerodynamics, and comfort. Maximizing all of these can add up to substantial marginal gains. You can read more about the benefits of a proper fitting here.
Wash (and Maintain) Your Bike
A clean bike is a happy bike! This is simple enough. Cleaning your bike on a regular basis allows you to become more acquainted with your machine. You might discover that your tires aren’t in as good shape as you thought they were or that rear wheel isn’t spinning as well as it could. A clean chain will run more smoothly and efficiently saving you a few watts! That should be incentive enough in itself! Time spent cleaning your bike is an investment in your performance and makes you look better on the road.
Commit to a Good Diet
As athletes, we all try to eat well all the time. Or rather, we should try all the time! One marginal gain that can be easily applied is making sure you are eating the right foods at the right times as you get closer to your goal day. Dial in your eating habits, monitor your food intake, make good choices. Performing these tasks will not only get you physically on track, it will also get your brain in the game and provide extra focus for race day.
Do Your Course and Weather Recon
We have a multitude of GPS data sights at our fingertips. Research your race course or event before-hand. Know what to expect from the venue before you arrive. You might learn that there is a difficult hill to tackle. Are you able to climb the hill with your current gearing? What is the weather going to be like? Could it rain? Will you need warmer riding gear? Do not get caught being unprepared. Knowing that you are prepared no matter the conditions will allow you to focus on the race.
Train with Specificity
After researching the race course, design your training around that event. The length of the race and details of the road should all be taken into consideration. You might find that the course you are trying conquer has a challenging hill or a long open stretch. Come race day, make sure you are able to handle all challenges, whether that’s a tricky descent or a long open section where your 5-minute power output should be maximized. If at all possible, find a hill near you that is similar to the one in the race. Train on the hill, be ready for your target day! Put together a specific training plan, or work with a coach to help you train for the event, so that on race day you are ready for the test. Your competitors might not have done their homework giving you that marginal gain!
No matter your challenge, a race, an event or even a personal goal, in order to help you get a better result, pay attention to the small details. Be prepared. The more attention to detail, the easier the big objective is to achieve. All these little marginal gains might just put you on the podium!