Marginal Gains by Conor Hillick

Originally from Derry Conor moved to Dublin 5 years ago to study Economics & Finance at UCD. He captained UCD Swim Team during his time at the college. He has been part of the Pentathlon Ireland High Performance squad for the past 2 and half years, representing Ireland internationally in Modern Pentathlon. He achieved his first coaching qualification in Swimming at the age of 16 and has been involved at various coaching levels from beginners, to Junior National level swimmers as well as Youth International Pentathletes. He started Crossfit just over a year ago at Crossfit Derry. As a full time athlete it was not possible to commit to training Crossfit as he was already training over 20 hours a week. From that first session he had caught the “Crossfit bug” and from then he knew that after he retired from Pentathlon he’d look to take up Crossfit.

Conor took the time to talk to Us about ‘Marginal Gains’ –

Just like every other year January 1st would have brought about a lot “New Year’s Resolutions” and goals. Statistically 8% of people achieve their resolution. I’m not here to rebuke anyone for breaking their New Year’s Resolution, or tell you how to set your goals as different ways suit different people, but I am going to tell you about marginal gains and the man behind the concept.

Dave Brailsford is one of the most successful coaches in sport and is currently the General Manager of British Road and Track Cycling. When Brailsford became manager of Team Sky Road cycling team in 2010 no British rider had ever won the Tour De France. Fast forward to 2012 and they get their first win with Bradley Wiggins and follow that up with another win in 2013 from Chris Froome. Even more impressive is the dominance of British Track Cycling as they won 7 out of 10 Track Cycling Golds at both the 2012 and 2014.

The secret to their success? The Aggregation of Maringa Gains.Brailsford explains “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together,

How do you improve in cycling? You improve your fitness and conditioning so that you get stronger and faster. Improve your nutrition. That wasn’t enough for Brailsford and his team; they broke down every tiny aspect of an athlete’s performance and made 1% improvements. All of these 1% improvements add up to a massive improvement. Dave Brailsford and his team went and found the best pillow to give them the best sleep for when they were travelling, the position that they could sleep in, the best way to wash their hands to reduce the risk of illness, all of the little things that when put together they make a big difference.

When we make resolutions or goals we quite often set one big vague goal that can be very hard to keep to. Have a think about your goals and what you can do to improve them. For me it is to continue to increase my strength and weight whilst maintaining fitness and skill. I’m not perfect and I slip up at times but making a lot of one percent difference has helped.

How can you make some 1% improvements for that aggregation of marginal gains? I’ve listed some examples, make your own and have fun carrying them out!

Hygiene – Do you wash your hands correctly every time? This can help reduce your chances of illness. Less time being sick means more time working out, exercising and enjoying life!

Sleep – Do you get sleep well or get enough sleep? Maybe set that alarm on your phone before getting to bed and put that phone down 15-30mins before going to sleep.

Mobility – Ask your coach or get on to YouTube and check out some mobility videos to work on weaknesses. Get to the classes or the gym 15mins early and work on some of these. When watching TV at home maybe do some mobility work or sit in a squat for a while.

Nutrition – If you have any weaknesses (mine are biscuits/cookies) try and cut them out. Prepare some healthy treats on a Sunday for during the week to have at snack times or when your work colleagues bring out the biscuits/cakes.

I could be here all day with the list. My 1% gains for training will be for everything from strength, gymnastics, conditioning, mobility and so on. Remember the improvements do not have to be just for training but any goal you have in life, even if it is to spend more time with family, friends or other halves.Find your 1% improvements and you will make a 100% improvement for life.


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