The 80/20 Principle and Why It’s Important for your Training Success

As a student of principles and how they impact our lives and the choices we make I want to share with you one of the most profound principles that guides my everyday thinking. This principle validates my minimalist approach to training and productivity.

The 80/20 principle was popularized by Italian Economist Vilfredo Pareto in the late 18th century and states that 80 percent of your results in any endeavor will come from 20 percent of your actions and behaviors.

This concept is vitally important when considering your strength training regime. Selecting your most efficient and effective movements (unique to each individual) will channel and enhance the bodies response and results. Not all movements are equally beneficial for all people. One person’s exercise can be very healing while that same movement can be destructive for someone else.

I have been training people for over 23 years and coincidentally figured out I was applying the 80/20 principle to all my clients. I started seeing trends with my clients in that most of them responded well to specific movements and focusing on those movements we were able to achieve higher levels of strength, fitness and fat loss.

So let’s say hypothetically a client does 6 to 8 movements per training session, if you apply the 80/20 principle you will want to spend most of your time focusing on one or two of the movements.  That doesn’t mean you won’t do other movements, it just means you will prioritize the essential ones.

You may be asking, “how do I really know which movements fall into the 20 percent?”

If you find that you are consistently getting stronger in one or two particular movements compared to other movements, you more than likely have found your 20 percent.  If you are not making great gains with a movement or it consistently injures you, that may be a sign that that movement is not in your 20 percent repertoire. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t perform it but it’s probably not going to be the movement to help you best achieve your goals.

In the world of strength training your top 20 percent lifts will allow you to:

  1. Safely load your entire body and get maximal activation of your Central Nervous System. You don’t want to aggressively load the movements that are not in your 20 percent and may cause you injury.
  2. Increase intensity in speed and/or load. This will ensure that the body constantly has to adapt to incremental changes over time which will lead to optimal hormonal health.  
  3. Capitalize on your natural anatomical individuality.

For example: Some people have longer femurs and longer arms which gives them a mechanical advantage for the barbell deadlift. A person with shorter arms and legs can still be awesome at the deadlift but might find that the Squat pattern feels better for them and allows them to use more load.  Same thing rings true for bench pressing and pulling movements. It’s hard to deny that some people are born with anatomical gifts that allow them to excel at a given movement.

Most people will naturally gravitate towards either be a hinge dominant or squat dominant person. Being one or the other doesn’t mean anything negative, it just means your body is better designed to excel at either hinging or squatting. Some rare individuals will be excellent in both. Regardless of your genetic make up, you still want to be able to hinge and squat well.

Hinge Dominant People 

  • Tend to have longer legs and shorter torsos.
  • Longer arms.
  • Will tend to gravitate towards the hinge movements because they naturally feel better with the hinge.
  • Tend to have stiffer ankles and less hip mobility (but this is not always the case).

Squat Dominant People 

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  • Shorter legs and longer torsos.
  • Shorter arms.
  • Will tend to gravitate towards squat like movements because they feel better and enjoy the movement.
  • Tend to have more mobile ankles and hips.

Do you think you are better at hinging or squatting?

Do you have a history with excelling at one particular movement?

Has one of these movements consistently injured you?

Examine your training history and it should shed some light on which movements fall into the 20 percent for you.

I recommend still training your weaker movement but don’t spend as much time on it as your stronger 20 percent movements. Spend more time perfecting what comes naturally to you (20 percent) and you will accelerate your results. That is smart training in my book.

The goal of training should be to stimulate the body, not inhibit it or kill it. Keep your volume sensible and don’t let your training today ruin your training for tomorrow. Quality and minimalist routines trump complicated training plans and overtraining. Focus on the vital few and watch your training success go through the roof.

In the coming weeks I will be expanding on how to find your 20 percent movements and how to use this in programming your training to best reach your goals.

Your questions and feedback are always welcome and I would love to hear what you think about this important training principle.

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