The Compounding Effects of 1 Percent Improvements

Zero to Hero in 2 years

I spend a lot of my time reading and studying ways to improve myself as a coach and as an athlete. Recently I came across the work of Dave Brailsford. Dave was hired to work as the new performance director for the British cycling team in 2002. He was hired because the British cycling team had been performing terribly for nearly 100 years. They had secured a meager one Olympic gold medal in all of that time, and had never won a single Tour de France – undoubtedly considered the pinnacle of cycling success. They were so bad that the best cycling manufactures didn’t actually sell their bikes to the team, for fear that it would affect business due to how poorly the team consistently performed.

Yet, within 3 years, the British cycling team were an unstoppable force. They went on to win 70% of the total cycling gold medals at the Olympics – and carried on to win 4 out of 5 Tour de France’s.

Now if you’re anything like me, after reading the above, you’re immediately very curious as to how such “subpar” athletes could go on to become one of the greatest forces of any sporting team in the entire world.

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains

How did this British team achieve such a ridiculous feat in such a small amount of time? It was due to Dave’s philosophy of continuously trying to find any amount of improvement in every little thing you do. He called this “The Aggregation of Marginal Gains’. Dave actually used this in method in business beforehand – and saw the possible carry over it could have into sporting world. The British team started with really obvious small improvements, such as fine tuning their bikes, seats, nutrition, equipment etc. This is all quite standard practice for coaches and athletes… But the team didn’t stop there… They went on to hire a surgeon to teach them how to wash their hands properly, and decided to avoid hand shaking during the Olympics in an attempt to minimise risk of sickness. They tested different massage gels, pillows, mattresses, and would travel with all these items to ensure the athletes always slept perfectly. They even painted the floor of their bike transportation truck white, so they could see any dust forming that could cause ANY resistance for the bikes. Dave mentioned that once the entire team starting doing this, they collectively would constantly be trying to find anything they could – almost as if it were a game. The more they found and applied, the more excited the team got and the more 1 percent improvements were made! Within 2 years, the British team took off to become the undisputed best cycling team in history.

How this applies to Strength Athletes and General Population

The method above was applied to help average athletes become the best in the world, but I can’t help feeling the methodology could be applied to each and every person looking to “improve”.

I’m not suggesting you go out and learn to wash your hands from a surgeon to assist with your weight loss goal, or painting your gym floors white to avoid getting dust in your eyes. I’d start by focusing on the biggest and most important factors and writing them all down on a piece of paper. Take, for example, the upcoming bench press only competition I’m looking to do in 12 weeks.

Some of the most important factors I would immediately pinpoint are: quality of training; programming; nutrition; recovery; sleep; and stress management. From there I’d start writing out any obvious changes I know might help. Maybe I’m only sleeping 6 hours? Lets make it 6.5 to start. Maybe I often skip accessories and don’t tell my coach? Lets start by just being honest and giving him the full story. Maybe I’m making poor food choices all week long? Let’s start by following a basic meal plan between Mon-Fri. I think you get the idea. The whole point of this isn’t to necessarily go become ‘the most perfect, most optimal athlete’ in all existence. It’s to make tiny changes, day in day out in such a small way that they are easy to stick to and won’t feel like you’ve just flipped your entire existence. The change can be something as small as adding a vegetable to your diet, or going for a walk once a week.

If you have a basic fat loss or fitness goal, and find yourself having an alcoholic beverage 3x a week, maybe you can make it 2x. If you find you are having a huge cheat meal of 2 pizzas every Friday night, maybe tone it down to something like sushi. You get the idea.

What if you are an Elite Athlete?

Well, the math shows if you can improve by just 1 percent every single day, you will be 37.78x better than you were within 1 year. Let that sink in a little. Say you are trying to become an elite athlete and you sleep 9 hours a night, you diet perfectly around the clock, and never miss a training session. The next step would be to break down all those things and look for improvement within them. One of my favourite quotes from David Goggins is, “Be uncommon, amongst uncommon men” (yes this goes for women too). If you’re sleeping 9 hours, get a sleep test done. Maybe you can benefit from a C-pap machine, or maybe you perform better sleeping different hours. If you’re doing all your training sessions, maybe you could spend an extra 15 mins afterwards addressing problem spots and injuries you’ve had in the past. Maybe you can train in similar conditions to that of your competition to prepare even further. If you are dieting perfectly, get a blood test done and see if their are any vitamins or minerals you are lacking. Once again, I think you get the point I’m trying to make. You can always dive deeper, and improve ever so slightly looking for that edge.


Overall, I think you probably have a good grasp on what the compounding effects of 1 percent improvements can achieve in the long term. It is your job now, to find an area within your life and apply this method. I highly recommend starting with small, almost unnoticeable changes, and just tightening the gaps ever so slowly over the years to come. Just remember… 37.78x better in just 12 months.

Best of luck!


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