Want to know how to apply the 80/20 rule in fitness?
Let me put it this way…Want to know how to get stronger, faster and harder to kill in less time with more efficient training? I’ve been working on finding out how to do this for a few years now…here’s what I’ve found.
The trend in fitness, for a long time, has been LESS time yet MORE results. You know what I am talking about; 6-minute abs, P(something) 90 days, then 30 days, wait, no, 25 minutes a day!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s appealing.
It’s appealing because you, like me, have a very tight schedule and, however sad, but true, we cannot devote hours and hours to fitness and nutrition each and every single day. It just isn’t possible.
It’s a genius marketing tactic. They prey on one of our most precious assets…TIME!
These programs do one thing right (cut the commute), but for the most part they will have you sweaty and jumping around your living room, breaking lamps and yelling at a flat screen. Yep, they figured out the secret…moving burns calories…what a breakthrough!
But what if you want more than that? What if you have extremely limited time to train, but you still want to deadlift 500 lb, run a sub 20-minute 5K or do something awesome outside the living room??
Well, I can tell you, you don’t need the “next” exercise DVD. You simply need to get analytical and apply the 80/20 principle to your training.
Let me show you.
The 80/20 Rule (or Pareto Principle)
Don’t worry, this is not complicated math!
The 80/20 Principle is rather simple, from wikipedia:
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
Let’s not kid ourselves, the rule has been around since 1906, but Tim Ferris is the one who has made it regain traction in recent years. He has lives by the 80/20 rule and has written about it a lot…the dude is a genius.
So if that didn’t make sense, a few examples:
- 80% of a business’ profit comes from 20% of its products
- 80% of End of Three Fitness traffic comes from 20% of its articles
- 80% of your training results comes from 20% of your training time (effort)
And that last example is what we will be focusing on today…the 80/20 rule in fitness.
If this rule is confusing, please read more on it here, because it is not a law where 80 + 20 = 100, always. It could be that 20% of your effort equals 100% of your results, or 90%, etc. It is a law of distribution, not necessarily science.
The 80/20 rule is not a secret, it is not a shortcut to immediate results, it is nothing like that. The 80/20 rule is simply awareness, or rather, analysis. What YOU do with it is what actually matters.
So let’s make it count!
80/20 Rule in Fitness…My Better Human Training Experiment
I’ve been playing with optimal training time and efficiency for a long time. Even though I have limited time, I could never be comfortable with being ‘average’ in fitness. I am going to share my thought process, my experience and what I have found in an effort to help you maximize your training and FREE UP MORE OF YOUR TIME.
Upfront, I’ll let you know my long-term experiment has led to:
- Training only at home
- Training 4 days a week
- Training 2x a day
- Even though it is 2x a day, it is never more than 45-60 minutes (total) a day
- Significant PRs in strength and conditioning numbers while maintaining a pretty low body fat percentage.
First, you have to know, and this may be a hard pill to swallow; time in the gym is not an indicator of success. It simply isn’t. Results prove results, not time. Let me explain…
A few quick equations:
- X = TIME and Y = RESULTS
- The generic thought is…X, or, time = Y, or, certain results (true, to a point…)
- Those exercise DVDs claim…1/2(X), or, half the time = Y, or, the same results
Now, for me, I am after performance-driven results (what can I DO…run, jump, lift, etc.), but I one-up the DVDs:
- With the 80/20 rule I shoot for 1/2(X), or, half the time = 2(Y), or, twice the results
I know, pretty bold…here is the method:
- Decrease time, and increase efficiency….monitor your results
- Next, decrease time, and increase efficiency….monitor your results
- Then, keep decreasing time and increasing efficiency…until your results suffer
- Take a step back.
Once you can no longer cut out anymore time for increased efficiency you are at YOUR optimal training.
To start, it is easy. Let’s look at typical training, or ‘gym time’, for most:
- 15 minute commute
- 15 minute static stretching with moving warm-up
- 30+ minutes of strength training*
- 30 minutes cardio*
- 10 minutes abs*
- 5 minute cooldown period (sitting around till you’re ready to go home)
- 15 minute commute
*For CrossFitters and other Functional Fitness gurus, your time could be spent on skill work, strength, conditioning, mobility, etc. and will still roughly equal an hour of training.
That’s 2 hours total, to accomplish a workout, or roughly 8% of your 24 hour day.
Like I said, to start is easy. Simply eliminate anything that doesn’t get your results. So what can we cut from that schedule:
- 30 minutes of commute, not necessary if you can workout at home.
- Cut the warm-up to 5 minutes because stretching AT the gym isn’t as important as you think.
Ok, that was an easy 35 minutes. But we need more. Let’s focus on…
THE ONLY SECONDS THAT MATTER.
The only seconds in the gym that actually matter are the ones where you are on, over, under or moving a barbell or moving your body in some way, shape or form. Resting too long between sets is a huge waste of time. Waiting for another human being for equipment is WAYYY too much time wasted. Cardio really shouldn’t take more than 12-15 minutes, so if you’re at 30 minutes, your intensity is probably lacking (unless you are an endurance athlete, forget what I just said).
So, what’s next??
80/20 Rule in Fitness: Ninja Time, Focusing on the 20%
Now, it’s time to get serious. Honestly, the only time in the gym that is yielding your results is time under tension or stress, or, when you are actually moving weight or your body.
So, from the example above, of the 2 hours committed to fitness, only about 20 minutes of that ACTUALLY MATTERS, which fits closely with the 80/20 Rule. Even if you are a serious athlete, there is roughly only 20 minutes that is actually making your better.
Ideally, we would only work out for 20 minutes each day, but rest is still necessary and 100% efficiency is hard to achieve, but we can get close. A proposed schedule:
- No Commute
- 5 minute dynamic warm-up (no static stretching)
- 20 minutes laser-focused on ONE barbell lift
- 15 minutes (or less) conditioning at HIGH intensity
- 5 minute cool down
- No Commute
That’s 45 minutes, or around 3% of your 24 hour day. Ahh, that’s better.
But you can squeeze more out of this lemon!
By breaking up your 20 minute strength session and 15 minute (or less) conditioning session by 3-8 hours (whatever works for you) you can REALLY ramp up the intensity, which will bring you even greater gains than if you were to do them back to back. WIN! Your body will be more prepared for each workout and you mind will be able to keep focused intensity.
Obviously, 2x a day won’t fit in everyone’s schedule, but if you can do one early and one at lunch it could really help with your results.
80/20 Rule in Fitness: Quick Tips for Becoming the Ninja
Alright, here is the quick list of things you can do to become more efficient at training:
Everything is an interval – To become the ninja you have to treat your workout like a military operation. Time everything! Find out how much rest you can get away with till it starts to hurt your performance; this goes for strength workouts just as it does conditioning. Time rest between sets, between exercises, etc. No second is wasted. Look at the entire workout like a giant interval session. Every 2 minutes, on the minute, I will lift the barbell, etc. Be careful here! Everyone is different. You may need 5 minutes between sets, some people may only need 2 minutes. Listen to YOUR body. You have to experiment for a few weeks to become the ninja.
Intensity as a staple – When you shorten training sessions as mentioned above you run the risk of significantly hindering your progress. Why? Because you bring a lackadaisical attitude to a serious training session. Every rep, every second you are moving needs to be focused mentally and with all out intensity. Lose the cell phone, cut the chit chat, stop sitting down…FOCUS and be intense.
Do what matters – It is time to drop the curls, calf raises, and other miscellaneous exercises. Focus on barbell movements and only do 3-4 of them a week. Start with bench press (or standing press), squat and the deadlift. When you start getting to heavy loads with these lifts you will see your abdominal strength increase from the insane pressure of the squat, your biceps and traps grow from the significant deadlift loads on the body as well as your back and triceps will from pressing movements like the bench press. Focusing on those other (isolation) movements may make you feel better, but really it is just increased volume that is not making you better.
You have the time – Most people will tip toe around your feelings, feel sorry for you because of how long your workday was, or tell you “you deserve a break”. NOT ME! If you sit down on the couch and watch one 30 minute sitcom, you could have knocked out some strength training today. Funny thing is, you will not regret training when you just don’t feel like it. You will, at some point, regret setting on your butt to much and too often.
Now, go get after your own experiment! If you have any questions let me know in the comments and I will be sure to get them answered!