Working Class Fitness: The Business of Working Out (The 80/20 Rule)

November 12, 2012
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Working Class Fitness LogoOne of the things I like most about writing for is that I get to interact with you guys on a personal level.  Whether it’s through the comments left at the end of articles, messages I get on Facebook, or emails sent directly to me.  I like not only hearing what you guys think (good or bad) of the content we’re putting up here at, but to get your questions and learn what issues and challenges you go through in your own training.

After my last article Don’t Beat Yourself Up, I got an email from Steve.

Steve is a 27-year-old fighter with 10 MMA fights under his belt, as well as Muay Thai, boxing, and grappling tournaments.  Steve has dealt a lot with injuries, and wanted to pick my brain about a few different workout protocols.

After a few emails back and forth between us, I found myself delving into one of the main principles I use in virtually every single workout I write now, no matter who it’s for.

There’s a commonly known “rule” in the business world called the “Pareto Principle.”  You may have heard it called the “80/20 rule.”

Basically, it states that 80 percent of a business’s sales come from 20 percent of its clients.  This is the easy money to earn; the money that doesn’t require as much selling, customer service, or what have you.  It’s the last 20 percent of your sales that will come from the remaining 80 percent of your clients.  This means this amount will not only take more work on the business’s part, but the individual sales themselves will be less.

The idea here is that a business should focus on the 20 percent of the customers that bring in 80 percent of the sales.  These customers are generally the least amount of hassle, don’t require you to hold their hand, customer service and refunds are minimal, and they actually spend more money.

So you’re basically making more money for a lot less work.

Well, you can apply that same principle to any area of your life.  I apply it quite heavily to training because it’s true there, as well.

80 percent of the results you get from your training will honestly come from roughly 20 percent of the training you do.  Meaning that the big, basic movements and actions you take will get you most of your results.

You know, stuff like compound lifts (squats, presses, rows, deadlifts, chins, dips); hard runs and sprints; and basic flexibility work.

If you work hard on these basics, you will get the most “bang” for your training “buck,” in that you’ll have to spend less time in the gym or at the track, and you’ll see the most difference in performance and body composition.

It’s the last 20 percent of your results that will require the most work.  When you want to peak, that’s when you have to put in more time, effort, specialized training (depending on your goal), etc.

The problem we face is that the basic stuff (that gets you the most results) isn’t glamorous… or cool… or many times even fun.  It’s usually hard ass work.  And nobody wants to do hard ass work.

So they go focus on the “cool” stuff… the stuff that should be reserved for when you’ve hit 80 percent of your results and now you’re trying to squeeze every last bit out of your training.

Think about this though, it doesn’t matter if you’re a fighter who has limited time for the gym because of all your fight training and skills work, or a regular guy who needs to do an efficient workout because real life gets in the way (but you still want to be in bad-ass shape).  Chances are that your time to train is going to be limited.

So why not take the 80/20 rule and maximize the hell out of it?

Now, I’m sure what you’re expecting next is for me to recommend that you stick to the basics and just do efficient workouts.  And you’d be right; that’s exactly what I’d say.

But why not always make it better?

You could achieve that proverbial 80-percent level, and then tack on all the other funky training, and try to squeeze out that last 20 percent of the results.  This would be conventional thinking.

What if, instead, you just tried to consistently raise the bar?

Personally, I want to be capable of that 80 percent day-in, day-out, no matter what is going on in my life.  If I’m perfectly rested and diet is on point, or if I’ve been going through a bunch of personal/professional headaches, haven’t slept in a week, and my diet has sucked.  I want to always be able to throw down at that 80-percent level.

However, that DOESN’T mean I want my training to be static, and I never want to improve.

I want to always be at 80 percent, but I want that “amount” (for lack of a better term) that I’m training at 80 percent of to always be increasing.

So say you’re doing squat workouts with 350 pounds, and this is your 80-percent level.  Well, what if in a few months, you were doing the same kind of workouts, with same level of intensity, you felt the same way during your workouts, you were recovering at the same rate, and so on… i.e. everything else seemed as normal… only now you were doing squat workouts with 400 pounds.

See what I mean?

You’re still performing at the 80-percent level, but it’s a “bigger” 80 percent.

The cool thing is that in those few months, even though you only concentrated at being at 80 percent, you’ll still be way ahead of the guys who tried to peak out at 100 percent.

If consistent improvement, and strength, speed, cardio, a lean physique, etc. that you can maintain on a long-term, everyday basis is what you’re after, the 80 percent is what you should focus on.

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Before you go to the gym again, you owe it to yourself to find out what kind of MMA workout pro fighters, boxers, recreational MMAists, or just the “regular guy” who wants to be in shape like his favorite fighter *should* be doing.  (HINT – it’s not the crap you see in the magazines.)  To discover the truth, hit up Wiggy at or on Facebook at

(Physical exercise can sometimes lead to injury. and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or fitness advice. Please consult a physician before starting any exercise program, and never substitute the information on this site for any professional medical advice or treatment you may receive or the assistance of a fitness professional.)

  • tc

    true dat

  • Senshi

    I love your articles. There was a while where we didn’t have them. I’m glad they’re back 🙂

    • Matt Wiggins

      Thanks – glad you like ’em!

  • Yannick Messaoud

    The 80 /20 percent is simple why complicate it like this, 80% is nutrition and 20% is training. To get results i am ready to push this to 85-90% nutrition and the rest is training after all if people eat like **** and train they will still be fat and look like ****.

    • Matt Wiggins

      But if they eat well and don’t train worth a damn, they’ll be lean, yet skinny and weak.

      It’s not about what percent is nutrition vs what percent is training – it’s about all your efforts as a whole, as results don’t come from just nutrition and training. You’d also have to toss in rest and recovery, supplementation (if necessary), focus, goal-setting, etc.

      We’re not talking about accomplishing one goal here (per se) – this is more about a lifestyle that keeps you continually moving forward and continually getting better.

      And for a lifestyle to do that, it has to be something that can be not only *attained*, but *sustained*.

  • canguy

    pretty much identical philosophy with wrestling. I’m a wrestling coach and once you get the basics down, the other stuff you learn is for those 1/1000 opportunities that arise that you should know what to do when it happens but if you just work your leg attacks and leg defense, you’re set. It really depends how much time you have. I used to coach strictly wrestling so time was infinite but now I’m training fighters and I have to cut out all the fluff.