European Trainer, January to March 2016 - issue 52

Page 41


The marginal gains philosophy seeks to make a series of very small improvements in performance by focussing on positive change to various aspects of training and racing. The view held is that these small improvements amount to a much larger and more significant improvement in race performance, targeted to get the athlete across the line in first place. One sport where it has become the norm is cycling, where the implementation of marginal gains has ranged from using manufacturing technology to improve bikes, to ensuring that the cyclists always sleep well prior to competitions by shipping their mattresses and pillows to each hotel. WORDS: DR CatheRine Dunnett BSC, PhD, R.nutR


PhOtOS: ShutteRStOCK, neiL RanDOn, GiLeS anDeRSOn

IR David Brailsford of the major force in cycling, Team Sky, suggests that it is actually very difficult to control whether you win a race or not, but that you have a far greater chance of winning if your athlete is competing at their absolute best. One could perhaps suggest that marginal gains are simply an extension of ‘leaving no stone unturned’; however, it goes far beyond that technically and also requires a self-critical mindset. This is not just about changing the way you do one or two things or introducing a new piece of equipment; it involves critically evaluating the whole process of training a racehorse from start to finish. Marginal gains are a fascinating concept and I was excited at the prospect of

discussing it in the context of horseracing. Whilst my expertise is largely within the field of equine science and nutrition, I can hopefully provoke some thought and discussion about applying marginal gains to

Brailsford suggests that one of the differences between those who succeed and those who don’t is the ability to be self-questioning or critical

the hugely complex subject of horseracing. Interestingly, Brailsford suggests that one of the differences between those who succeed and those who don’t is the ability to be self-questioning or critical; in other words, where there are failures, asking, “What could I have done differently to improve the outcome?” rather than looking for others to shoulder those deficiencies. In identifying where marginal gains could be effective, all the potential areas of weakness in the whole process of bringing a horse to the racecourse would need to be evaluated to find elements that could be improved by just a small amount. A 1% difference in race performance may not be noticeable in isolation and can be lost in all the other variables that affect performance on race day, but when a series of 1% improvements

The Great Britain team lead the way during the men’s Road Race at the London Olympics




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