Apply the 80/20 Principle to Your Training

“Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.”

—Peter Drucker

I first came across the 80/20 principle from Tim Ferriss’ “The Four Hour Workweek”.  If you haven’t heard of Tim I strongly suggest you check out his blog.

What is the 80/20 Principle?

The 80/20 principle is known as Pareto’s law. Pareto was a 20th century Italian economist. Pareto realized that in almost every area of life 80% of the benefits will come from 20% of ones time.

He found that 80% of the land (In Italy) was owned by 20% of the people. He started seeing this throughout life. Since then this has been reproduced in many different areas. 80% of the peas come from 20% of the pods.

Many business experts find that 20% of the employees produce 80% of the profits. 80% of their sales come from 20% of their customers.

Writers spend 20% of their time actually creating usable content. The other 80% is spent avoiding writing, looking out the window, checking social media.

You get the idea.

The main takeaway from this principle is that 80%+ of the happiness and successes in your life comes from 20% of the inputs. 

“Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.”—John Carmack

80/20 Your Training

Training is no different to any of the above. When I get asked about exercise and nutrition people are always stressing about the 80% that doesn’t really matter.

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“How many set or reps should I lift?”

“What tempo should I lift the bar with?”

“How long should I rest?”

“What should I eat before I train?”

“What exercise is best for my abs?”

“What supplements should I take?”

All of these questions don’t really matter or make any difference unless you have first taken care of the essential 20%.

The 20% that will make the biggest difference.

This guy knows the 20%

When I was in college I would buy organic eggs and chicken and spend money on good quality protein powders. I would do squats and deadlifts but I still wasn’t getting the results I thought I deserved seeing as I was doing everything right.

I was doing some things correct but I was seriously neglecting other parts of my training and lifestyle.

I would eat healthily but then I would go out once or twice a week party, eat crap and barely sleep. This would offset any of the beneficial changes I made to my nutrition that week. Overtime this would affect my progress in the gym.

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In the gym I didn’t spend the necessary time learning the movements properly or working on my mobility.

I was never doing full depth squats. When I wasn’t training I wasn’t doing anything to improve my movement. An hour in the gym after spending the whole day sitting is not going to make a massive change.

I would also miss a week here and there and would not train consistently. This resulted in me constantly picking up annoying injuries which set me back even further.

Sound familiar?

Looking back, I would of spend my first 8-12 weeks focusing solely on movement and mobility. After spending my youth playing hurling and football my body was seriously imbalanced.

Then I would have introduced weighted movements and performed them with good form. Out of the gym I would make an effort to move and stretch more through out the day.

It was college so I don’t think I would have changed the parties!

6 ways to 80/20 your training

  1.  Am I performing the following movements?
  • A squat – barbell squat
  • A hinge – deadlift, kettlebell swing
  • A press –  bench press/military press, pushup.
  • A Pull   –  The pull up/ row


  1. Am I performing the above movements with proper form?


  1. Am I consistently training for a prolonged period of time.
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  1. Am I lifting sufficient weight to stimulate growth?


  1. Am I progressively increasing the weight over time?


  1. Eating mostly unprocessed nutrient dense food?


If you are doing the above you have a much great chance of getting stronger, staying injury, building muscle and losing fat.

If you still aren’t then I think you know what to do?

Your other questions you have about training don’t matter until you have addressed the above 6.

Maybe some high level physique athletes or body builders might need to know the exact angle they should be doing preacher curls at to maximize growth but for us ordinary folk it doesn’t matter.

Exercise and weight-loss is really not as complicated as we are led to believe.

Unfortunately the above sentence won’t sell many magazines or cause a viral blog post.

Magazines and blogs are forced to come up with “new” exercises and diets that will change your body but really it’s all been done before.

So take a look at the six points and see where you need to change your current routine.

If you are doing all of the above but still feel your not getting the results you deserve then please reach out.

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