Life as a student athlete can often feel like a balancing act; juggling training schedules, lectures, workloads, deadlines, cooking, laundry, sleep, catching up with family and friends. It is a lifestyle sustained by many students across the country, but it is one which is challenging to maintain, and a wobble can see a day, week or month off training, something all athletes aim to avoid.
The importance of good lifestyle habits are often emphasised to athletes, but can be easily dismissed. However, given sufficient attention, they can have a significant impact, whilst it is the athletes who pay attention to the details, the building blocks of training, who will inevitably see the most progress.
The concept of ‘marginal gains’ has been spoken about a lot in the media since Sir Dave Brailsford (British Cycling’s performance director) explained how he set about breaking down everything which contributes to bike riding, and tried to improve each element by 1%. If the success of British Cycling is anything to go by, consideration of marginal gains can certainly count for a lot.
Training is a fundamental gain, universally recognised and prioritised, but paying attention to the smaller elements and considering how they contribute to training effectiveness is something often overlooked by the student athlete acclimatising to life at University. On the face of it, something as elementary as regular hand washing seems a relatively insignificant factor to a student aspiring to be selected for the top racing crew. Yet good hand hygiene will help to minimise the risk of catching a bug which could interrupt training, whilst keeping a good sleep pattern will reduce risk of injury and improve recovery.
Inspired by an interview with Sir Dave Brailsford, on Radio 5 live (which sadly isn’t available on i-player anymore otherwise I would post the link) I ran a workshop with the University of Birmingham rowers, encouraging a squad approach to identifying ‘marginal gain’ opportunities to maximise their training effectiveness.
The concepts were simple; carrying antibacterial gel, regular hand-washing, hydration and nutrition, sleep patterns, squad camaraderie, but when illustrated the workshop output (see link to diagram below) created a picture of how important, and relevant ‘marginal gains’ can be to the student rower.
This article and illustration specifically refer to the student athlete, but the concept is applicable to all rowers. Coaches, captains, coxes, squad leaders could run a similar workshop with their club athletes, identifying club and squad specific marginal gain opportunities. Life is busy; school, university, jobs, family life, training, and racing – the list goes on. However, taking the time to consider marginal gains could help positively impact athlete wellbeing and overall training effectiveness.
With thanks to the University of Birmingham Boat Club performance training group for their contribution to the workshop