A look at how the 80/20 rule effects your fitness (not how most people will tell you)

The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, was named after an economist who first discovered it. The principle states, simply, that 80% of the causes will come from 20% of the effects. Here's some examples:

  • Microsoft noted that fixing 20% of their code removed 80% of their errors and crashes.
  • In business, 20% of your products will make up 80% of your revenue
  • 20% of workplace hazards account for 80% of the injuries

And finally, and most importantly:

  • A 20% (or lower) change in your lifestyle can have an 80% (or higher) effect

The rule's not exactly clean cut, for example. when applied to books, it's actually the top three percent that share 80% of the sales. Think about that, the top 3% get 80% of all book sales, leaving 20% left for the remaining 90% of books.

The rule also applies in your life, and fitness, although not the way most people will tell you.

The common thought is that 20% of your time working out will contribute to 80% of your progress, and the remaining 80% of workout time will only contribute 20%. This is sometimes true in beginners, but you often tend to naturally optimise your workouts over time, and this goes away.

It's also said that if you put in 20% of the work you can get 80% of the results, and you'll need 80% more work to get the final 20% of the results (to become, let's say, an Olympic athlete). This is much closer to what i'm saying.

I would say the 80/20 rule is most useful in your workouts for staying motivated, not for optimising, or comparing yourself to Usain Bolt. It's simply a tool for motivation, and a very useful one at that. Here's how:

If you do an hour long workout in a day, then (assuming you've slept for 8 hours), it's taken up only 6.25% of your waking time, but most likely has contributed far more than that to your day in terms of endorphins, mental motivation and overall health. If you do just 3 hour long workouts a week, then that number drops to just 2.68% of your waking time every week. It's practically nothing yet the effects are huge.

In fact, even if you're doing split workouts, let's say, for an hour a day, 6 days a week, that's still only 5.36% of your waking time per week.

Secondly, consider your diet, now this is where you can actually get physical results. It's likely that you're not getting more than 20% of your calories from sugars per day. Being an adult male that would mean eating 500 calories worth of sugary foods every day. It is likely, however, that a significant proportion of your daily calories come from empty calories. Things like white bread, sweets and crisps (chips if you're American) are empty calories, and they tell your body it's full when it actually needs nutritious food.

So how to apply the 80/20 rule here?

If you replace the roughly 20% of your daily diet that might consist of empty calories with nutritious food, you're suddenly receiving the nutrients your body doesn't know it needs (because it's been tricked into thinking it's receiving nutrients) and you'll see an 80% improvement. If you don't believe me there, try it for yourself, you'll be very surprised.



The 80/20 rule isn't a solve-all and it's not going to make 80% of your workout regimen obsolete, but it's a good way to look at things if you either need to motivate yourself by seeing the huge benefits of fitness in comparison to the time and energy taken or need to find a way to optimise your diet.

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