The benefits of marginal gains

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The overall concept of marginal gains is nothing new, the idea that lots of small improvements add up to one big improvement has been around for a while...

In a business context, the Japanese term ‘Kaizen’ means to adopt an approach of continuous improvement, where every area, be it accounting or HR, can be tweaked and improved upon to deliver a better, more efficient business operation.

In a sporting arena, Sir Dave Brailsford revolutionised Team GB’s cycling team and transformed them into gold medal winners at the Olympics by adopting such a mentality. Not only did he improve the aerodynamics of the bikes, he also looked at whether the athletes were sleeping in the right position, what pillows they were sleeping on and even how they washed their hands, to ensure their hygiene was improved and their chances of illness reduced.

So how do we translate this mentality into the gym? More specifically, how can the idea of making smaller increases in the weights that you lift help you to see continuous improvement? We look at three key areas below.

Lifting heavier and reaching your goals

Put very simply, a smaller increase is a more achievable increase. For example, should you currently squat 50kg and you’ve set yourself the target of completing a 100kg squat, you would break this down into smaller, more achievable goals, perhaps to add 5kg to the bar each week. The benefits of lifting heavier gradually, and being able to hit your goals each week, don’t only have positive physical effects, there are psychological gains to be made too...

Keeping motivation high

By regularly ticking off your smaller targets and taking steps towards your end goal, you’re able to see yourself making small, continuous improvements. This keeps your motivation and commitment to your workout plan high, as you can see your hard work paying off. This then means you’re more likely to stick to your workout plan, so you keep ticking off those mini-goals... and the cycle continues.

Reducing the chance of injury

With your motivation high and your end goal coming into sight the last thing you need is an injury. This is where your approach of small, continuous improvements helps you out again. By only increasing your weights by a manageable amount, you’re able to maintain good form and technique during the exercise while still placing your muscles under enough load to see the benefits. The temptation to lift heavier weights quickly is always there; but struggling with a weight that’s too heavy often leads to you using momentum or changing your posture (e.g. leaning back doing bicep curls) to complete the movement. This can place excessive strain on your body, such as your lower back if you lean back while curling, which often leads to injury and time out the gym.

Taking the marginal gains mentality and applying it to your workouts in the weights room can have a real positive effect. From keeping you motivated and injury free, through to helping you lift heavier and reach your goals, it enables you to see continuous improvements in your workouts and ensures that you keep making progress session after session and week after week.

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