According to the Pareto Principle, we expect to see roughly 80% of our results in any domain from about 20% of the work - and conversely, the remaining 20% of our results come from the remaining 80% of our work.
The numbers aren’t exact, and can vary - it might be 75/25, for example, or 85/15. But the general principle holds true across a wide variety of disciplines, and it’s certainly a bit shocking to hear at first. But for that very reason, it’s also intriguing.
The difference between that efficient 20% and that inefficient 80% of our effort is what drives our success or failure in whatever we’re doing. After all, if you’re putting all of your effort in that 80% that generates the smallest results, you’re wasting your time.
This is often the case in fitness, where new exercisers put the cart before the horse and spend all their time worrying about the stuff that has the least impact on their success - “what magical trick can I use?” “what’s the perfect program?” “what supplements should I take?” etc. - before they ever get down the basic first step of adherence to an exercise program. Experts, on the other hand, are the ones who manage to properly identify that efficient 20% where their effort should be, and then put it there.
The Pareto principle can also be considered an explanation for the principle of diminishing returns, under which we have to work harder and harder for smaller and smaller improvements over time. Beginners develop muscle and strength relatively quickly, but this slows down the longer and longer that you’ve been training.
By properly identifying and finding a good coach, it’s often possible to bypass the long process of trial and error, identify that efficient 20% early in your training career, and see massive results much earlier.
Which leads us to the simple question: what is the 80/20 of fitness? What are the simplest possible rules that you can follow to get regular, solid results? Here’s a quick, no BS list.
Learn these 5 lifts: The deadlift, squat, bench press, lat pulldown, overhead press. Together, these cover and can train virtually all major muscle groups effectively.
Train these lifts together in the same workout, 2-3 times per week.
Start off with 3 sets of 10 for each lift and aim to add at least one rep per lift each week. When you can do at least 50 reps across all 3 sets (or at least 16 per set) add weight and start back at 10.
2-3 times per week, do some form of cardio.
Start off with 30 minutes of cardio at a consistent speed/resistance/incline. Each week, add 5 minutes. When you can do 45 minutes, add speed/resistance/incline and reset to 30.
Focus on eating all of your meals at home. Aim to eat minimally processed, home cooked food. Increase your protein consumption and your veggie consumption and minimize your carb consumption.
Aim to decrease your portion sizes slightly. Intuitive eating strategies: when eating, aim to consume equal amounts of protein, a veggie, and a carb source. Restrict your portion size of each to roughly the size of your fist. If you’re looking to lose weight, serve yourself with about the portion sizes you would normally take, and then return ¼ to ⅓ of it. If you’re having issues with hunger, add a small whey protein shake as needed.
Frankly, this is enough to solve 80% of people’s problems when it comes to health and fitness. Lift, run, and eat your protein and veggies.
It’s not sexy, but it works - and it’ll get you there.
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