Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pareto's Productivity: The 80/20 Principle Applied to Fitness

I wonder if Vilfredo Pareto, a 19th century economist, ever imagined how far his “law” would go. Originally written as a predictor of income distribution – 20% of the population own 80% of the wealth -  this principle is applied to many other facets of life, most popularly as a time management principle. In time management terms, we see it as 20% of the work we do constitutes 80% of our results. We can also apply this to other areas of life, including health and fitness.  How can we use this 80/20 principle to streamline our workouts and make them more efficient and productive?

In regard to fitness and health, we want to answer the following question:
Which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of our desired outcomes and happiness? 


Which 20% of our workout is resulting in 80% of our increased strength, fat loss, and increased endurance?

The truth is, simply walking at a moderate pace for 30-45 minutes is not going to get you the results you want to see. Is it good for general health? Of course! Is it better than sitting on the couch watching TV? You bet! But it's not going to help you shed those last 10 pounds nor help you carve that sexy midsection.  The solution: INTERVALS. 

Take 20% of your normal cardio routine (walking, jogging, elliptical, cycling) and turn them into intense intervals.  For example, in a 45 minute workout, just 9 minutes of increased intensity intervals will pump up your metabolism and heart rate and get you a greater calorie burn. Throw in five 2-minute bursts of increased speed or incline into your workout and you'll feel - and soon see - the difference. So for example, walk 4mph for 4 minutes, then lightly jog at 6mph for 2 minutes; repeat this 5 times. Throw in a 5 minute warm up and a 5 minute cool down and you have a great interval workout that Pareto would approve of. 20% of your workout is going to give you so many benefits!

In terms of resistance training, the 20% that you should be focusing on are the compound exercises that move multiple muscles at the same time. Bicep curls are great, but if you're looking to lose 20+ pounds, they're not going to accomplish much. Spend less time at the gym by focusing on quality, full-body exercises such as medicine ball chops, squat jumps, push-ups, and planks, instead of isolation exercises like bicep curls, hamstring curls, and tricep extensions. I am in no way saying those exercises don't have a purpose, but a workout made up of entirely single-muscle resistance moves is not an effective use of time and will not lead to big results.  A 15-minute circuit training workout comprised of 5-6 full body, functional moves with minimal rest in between can yield more results than the age-old 3 sets of 12 reps at each exercise machine that solely focuses on one body part.

Another example of this 80/20 rule is that when it comes to weight loss and fitness training, it's often the things we don't even think about - that 20% - that affect our success.  When a person begins a new weight loss routine, how often do they think about their sleeping habits as a part of their success plan? Probably not often. However, studies show that sleeping 7-9 hours/night is crucial to weight loss, since poor sleep leads to hormonal imbalances, which can then trigger hunger. Those little things such as getting a good night's sleep, eating breakfast, and simply moving more throughout the day instead of sitting can have a profound impact on our weight loss success.

Working hard is pivotal to accomplishing any fitness goal, but it's also important to work smart! What 20% of your weight loss or fitness training plan do you need to focus on?

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