Thursday, December 9, 2010

The 80-20 Rule and How it Affects Your Training, Part 1

The 80-20 Rule (or "The Pareto Principle") states that, for many events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.  It’s named for Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who in 1906 observed that 80 percent of the wealth in Italy (and every country he subsequently studied) was owned by 20 percent of the population.  Many others observed similar ratios in their own areas of expertise after Pareto published his findings. 
Tim Ferriss (author of The 4-Hour Workweek) popularized the idea for the most recent generation of entrepreneurs when he observed that 80 percent of his income came from 20 percent of his clients. So he chopped off 80 percent of his clients, effectively reducing his workload by 80 percent, and focused on the clients who accounted for 80 percent of his income. At first he took a 20 percent pay cut, but his productivity and income soared on a per-hour basis. 

So how does the 80-20 rule affect your training??
Essentially, 20 percent of the exercises you perform will be responsible for 80 percent of your results.  Think about this.  For me, this was an enormous realization.  As a high schooler reading bodybuilding magazines, I was given the impression I had to perform every exercise I could possibly think of in a week in order to achieve results.

Alwyn Cosgrove states it very well this way: "Let’s say you have a total-body workout with 10 exercises. If we hacked out eight of the 10 exercises, and just kept squats and chin-ups, would you expect to get just 20 percent of the results? Chances are it would be the opposite — you might get 80 percent of the results by focusing on just 20 percent of the exercises. So most of your results come from just two exercises, and relatively few results come from the other eight. 
                      pullup.jpg     OR   SquatonBOSU.jpg   ?

It’s easy to see why. Compound exercises (interjection: think squats, deadlifts, pullups, pushups, etc.) recruit more muscle, allow you to use bigger loads, and burn more calories than isolation exercises. That’s why you want to build your program around them, and why your workouts should start with exercises like deadlifts or squats, the ones that produce the best results on a rep-by-rep basis."

This is part of the reason why many gym-goers fail to witness tangible changes in their bodies over the course of five years.  They go in, week after week, performing the same circuit of tricep kickbacks, bicep curls, seated abduction/adduction machine work, crunches, etc. and wonder why they aren't much stronger or don't possess a lot more lean body mass than five years prior.   (side note: just to clear this up, because I know this myth is devastaingly pervasive in our current culture - You CANNOT spot reduce.  Ex. performing endless tricep kickbacks, or machine abductions, will not "tone" your triceps or your glutes.  You cannot "sit-up your way to a six-pack."  It's beyond the scope of this post to explain, but it will be touched on later).  They aren't spending time on the 20% of exercises that are going to give them most of the results they're looking for.  Either that, or they perform so many of the less-effective exercises that they've essentially performed so much volume (sets x reps x weight lifted) in training that they have exceeded their bodies' capability to recover (construct lean body mass, reduce body fat, lower cortisol levels, etc.).

         juliet3.jpg    VS.kickback.jpg
   Which one do you think will construct more of the lean body mass she's looking for?

This makes me think about my own training in high school.  I wanted a bigger bench press (which high school boy doesnt?!) so I performed every bench variation known to man.  I mean EVERY ONE I could think of.  Incline bench, flat bench, decline bench , dumbbell bench variations, isometric holds, training to failure, etc.  You name it, I did it!  And (I'm embarrassed to admit) I would often perform all of these in ONE training session!  Guess how much my bench increased over the course of 9 months?  15 pounds.  Yep.  15 pounds.  And I was in the novice period of weight training, where my gains should have arrived the fastest!  (Novice liftiers will improve at a much higher rate than advanced lifters, as their nervous systems are very inefficient to begin with and thus have a lot of room to improve).

Now, compare my experience with Ron, an SAPT client (he was on the blog under our "Client Testimonial" post a few weeks back).  He arrived here, barely able to do 10 pushups.  In merely 7 months of training 2x/week he went from hardly being able to do 10 pushups to benching 225 pounds.  And he accomplished this when he was 50 years old!!!  How did he do this?  Endless bench variations, and copious amounts of tricep isolation work to help his lockout?  Absolutely not!  SAPT had him focus on the few exercises that were going to guarantee progress, as long as Ron worked with intensity and was consistent in showing up for his workouts twice a week.

That's it for today, but just take some time to consider what you're doing when you begin your training session, and analyze why you are choosing a particular exercise.  You may be surprised at your results if you go against "the norm" with regards to training!

To Be Continued!.....


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