Forget Marginal Gains and Focus on the Fundamentals

In an age when athletes often focus on the specifics, we address the importance of focusing on the fundamentals: training, recovery, and functioning gear—the things that will bring you the greatest return for your investment of time, sweat, and energy.

Pathways Logo Cycling Base Training Pathway - Fast Talk Laboratories
A group of cyclists rides through forest
Photo: Martin Magnemyr on Unsplash

We receive a lot of questions about very specific topics—fasted training, supplements, recovery products, breathing techniques, and so forth. (By the way, we love these questions, so please keep them coming.)

In this episode, however, we step back and discuss what we feel is most important, and frankly what is going to give you the biggest return for your investment of time, sweat, and energy.

If those specific things are the 5 percent, today we make the argument for focusing on the 95 percent.

We are in an age of marginal gains, a time when many athletes have firmly latched onto the idea that seemingly insignificant changes will incrementally add up to substantial gains.

The trend started within the ranks of the pro peloton. The thing is, pro riders are so developed physiologically to win that they have to find these little things to make the difference. In fact, they’ve likely spent 10 years developing the 95 percent and have it dialed.

More importantly, the secret truth is that pros don’t focus on the 5 percent as much as you’d think, and we give several examples of this, from Kristin Armstrong (who you’ll hear from in episode 154 on time trialing), Brent Bookwalter, and others.

So what should you focus on? What comprises that 95 percent? It’s simple:

  • Training
  • Recovery
  • Functioning gear

We’ll go into great detail in the episode about what we mean, specifically, about these topics, and the fundamental principles underlying them.

Finally, we close with a cautionary tale: The 5 percent can take up 90 percent of your time and distract you from what’s truly valuable. Because they’re trendy, there is nearly an unlimited number of things that fall into that “5 percent bucket” to explore. They are all debated and based on partial science—forcing you to spend energy asking what works and what doesn’t.

All of this adds up to a whole lot of mental energy and fatigue. Thus, instead of helping you improve, too much focus on the 5 percent can actual hinder your progress and/or performance.

So, forget marginal gains and focus on the fundamentals.


  • Bayne, F., Racinais, S., Mileva, K., Hunter, S., & Gaoua, N. (2020). Less Is More—Cyclists-Triathlete’s 30 min Cycling Time-Trial Performance Is Impaired With Multiple Feedback Compared to a Single Feedback. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 608426. Retrieved from

Episode Transcript

This content is for Listener, Library, and Coaching Essentials members only.
Listener Membership is FREE. Please join now.
Log In Join Now

Related Pathways