The Pareto Principle In Fitness


SimplicityIn today’s post I am going to discuss the Pareto Principle and its application to health and fitness. I am a huge believer in the power of applying the Pareto Principle in all aspects of life and I have found particular benefit from utilising it in the world of strength, fitness and health.

The Pareto Principle, for those not familiar with it, states that 80% of the results that are produced in any domain, come as a consequence of only 20% of the inputs. That is to say that the greatest returns in any endeavour are produced by only a few key activities. Applied to a job for example this rule states that 80% of the results you produce at work come from just 20% of what you do, which means a couple of things in practice:

Most of us waste a lot of time doing a lot of stuff that is unnecessary and produces very little result
There is a huge opportunity for us if we can discover the few activities that produce the biggest results, and do them more…..or only do those tasks and forget about the rest.

I am a massive fan of simplicity. I believe that one of my strengths is the ability to break concepts down and simplify them, so that I can waste as little time as possible and focus only on what matters.

In the world of health and fitness I have found the ability to simplify things particularly useful. I have also found that the Pareto Principle is especially applicable, not just in the world of physical fitness, but in nutrition too. I’ve been training for around 14 years now and in that time I have always treated myself as a human guinea-pig. I have tried most of the fitness programmes out there, I have tried most of the nutrition theories and I have spent a lot of time discovering exactly what works and what doesn’t. I have seen similar results in others. What I have discovered is that there are a few key things which you have to do on a consistent basis in order to see excellent results with a minimum of effort.

The key point is ‘the minimum of effort’. Many people spent AGES working out, running, cycling, rowing, attending spin classes etc, and often many of these people see very disappointing results in terms of energy levels, strength levels and body composition. Similarly with diet – people are trying everything from starving themselves to eating raw food to eating only salad and protein shakes. To be clear; I am not talking about the elite level athlete here. At the elite level it is the ability to do more than your competitors and to push yourself further that counts; all the extra stuff matters because you need to find that extra 0.1% from somewhere. However for the regular individual, for whom the goal is simply to be in shape, feel good, look good and be healthy, all the extra stuff is completely unnecessary.

It’s about finding that 20% of your activities that produce the greatest results, and consistently sticking to those activities. So, what are these key activities or strategies? I outline a few below:

Lift heavy weights:
As mentioned before lifting heavy weights sends all of the right signals to your body. It tells your body that growth and muscle development is required to adapt to the stress being applied. Encouraging the body to build and/or maintain muscle mass should be the first target of any programme

Lift Irregularly and for short periods:
There is no need whatsoever to lift every day or to spend 2 hours lifting in the gym. 2-3 times a week is more than adequate if the session is ‘heavy’ enough, and 45-60 minutes per session is easily long enough. You can even do a high density session in less time, although these are not as effective for strength building.

Optimise protein Intake:
Body composition is about 80%about nutrition and the first aspect to master is protein intake. I recommend at least 1.5 grams of protein for every kg of bodyweight. This means 120grams of protein for an 80kg individual. To some this may seem like a high number but believe me it isn’t. If you are training hard you need it for muscle rebuilding. More protein also keeps you fuller longer and reduces your intake of fats and carbs, which are more easily stored as bodyfat (that is vastly simplified but the point stands)

Don’t overdo the cardio
Cardio activities (running, cycling, rowing etc) are excellent for cardio-respiratory health and if you enjoy them by all means do them. However in terms of body composition results cardio can be kept to a minimum. 1 or 2 sessions a week is more than enough to burn a few additional calories and keep the respiratory system healthy. Try to make your cardio fun, interesting, short and intense.

Learn to manage calorie intake
It is well worth spending some time at the start to work out what your maintenance calorie intake is (the number of calories per day or per week at which you maintain your weight). This means spending a couple of weeks measuring your regular intake. Once you know your maintenance level you can begin to play around with reducing or increasing depending on your physique goals. I am at the stage now where I know (without even thinking) what the caloric load and macro-nutrient breakdown of most foods is. This means I can easily manage my diet on a daily basis to keep in shape fairly easily depending on my activity level

Focus on a few key foods
Variety may be the spice of life, but when it comes to producing results it is far more effective to learn what works and do it over and over and over again. In the world of health and nutrition there are certain foods which should be staples of the diet and are basically rotated all the time:

All meats, fish, green veg, fruits, coconut oil, olive oil, eggs etc are the most nutritious and effective foods to feed your body without excess calories.

It needn’t be boring. It doesn’t have to be boiled chicken every day. Find the foods which bring results and experiment with different ways to cook and prepare them.

So there you have it. Those are the 20%: A few key tactics which can be implemented fairly easily into your routine. It doesn’t take hours on the treadmill, it doesn’t take 7 sessions per week, it doesn’t take starving yourself, and it is not complicated. Focus on what works, reject everything else – you have more important things to do with your time!


Leave a comment