The 80-20 Rule

The 80-20 Rule, an economic principle, which loosely states 80% of an outcome results from 20% of the cause. Or, 80% of what you get comes from 20% of what you do. While this rule has its base in economics, it can also be applied to your health and fitness.



When people ask me how much I work out, they are always surprised when I tell them only 1-3 hours/week. With my demanding schedule I have limited time and energy to work out, so I need to make every set count.

Understanding that 80% of my results come from 20% of the exercises I do, I can drastically reduce the time and energy it takes to complete a workout. Doing this often allows me to complete a workout in 20-30 minutes. While this may not be “ideal,” it allows for good results in a very short period of time.

To illustrate this point, my complete workout routine may look something like this:

1. Squat 4x5

2a. Overhead Press 3x8
2b. Reverse Lunge 3x6

3a. Pull Up 3x8
3b. Hip Bridge 3x10

4. TRX Pike 3x12

Completing this routine would yield 100% results, but also take 60-90 minutes to complete. Now, if we take the “top 20%” of this workout, we would be left with something similar to this:

1. Squat 3x5

2a. Overhead Press 3x8
2b. Pull Up 3x8

This routine would not be as beneficial as the first, but would yield about 80% of the results of the previous workout, while being able to be completed in under 30 minutes.



Just as the 80-20 Rule can work in your favor, it can also work against you. Many people that struggle to lose weight can attribute it to about 20% of the meals they eat. Even when eating healthy throughout the week, only 2-3 meals on the weekend can completely erase any progress made earlier in the week.

To show how harmful even one cheat meal can be, the following is a short list of some popular foods and beverages people consume on the weekend:

  • 1 slice of pepperoni pizza (Pizza Hut) – 300 calories
  • Margarita – 300 calories
  • McDonald’s Big Mac – 563 calories
  • Chicken burrito (Chipotle) – 1050 calories
  • Rum and Coke – 250 calories

As you can see, a few drinks and a couple slices of pizza can very easily undo any weight loss that might have occurred during the week. By eliminating only a couple bad meals a week, it is possible to create a huge change in a short period of time.


Wrap Up

Outside of health and fitness, the 80-20 Rule reigns true for virtually every aspect of your life. While it is called the 80-20 Rule, it is important not to get caught up on the exact ratio. Instead, just realize that a majority of your results come from a small percentage of your actions. If you can identify these actions, it is possible to greatly increase your positive results, while limiting the negative ones.