80/20 exercise for Athletes

The 80/20 rule has made it’s way into the vocabulary of many lately. Named Pareto’s Law, it states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. This applies to many things in life, but it’s application to the strength and conditioning industry meshes quite nicely.

There are only a couple types of athletes that need to express maximum level strength. Strongmen, Olympic lifters and powerlifters are the obvious examples. For these types of lifters, it is necessary to spend long hours in the gym, because what is lifted in the gym is a direct correlate of how they compete in their sport. Therefore, the only way to get better in the sport is to lift more weight. Easy enough.

For everyone else, one of (if not the) most important thing to remember is that the only way an athlete is judged is in their sport. Most of these other sports have nothing to do with how much weight is lifted in the gym. If the ball is hit harder off the bat, the program is working. If a runner gets faster, it’s working. If the athlete can maintain more energy into the 3rd period or 4th quarter, they got better. Getting from 315 in the deadlift to 345 in t he deadlift may NOT help, and in fact the energy spent in doing so may detract from the other things that could help!

This seems like a simple point, but is so important. The concept of “strong enough” NEEDS to be evaluated at consistent intervals. If the amount of work it takes to take that deadlift from 315 to 345 is going to take up a majority of the S&C time allotment, it may not be worth it. Athletes need to spend time getting better in their sport. Not only does spending more time in the gym equate to less time to practice their sport, too much time in the gym is chipping into their total energy capacity. ESPECIALLY when an athlete is in season for their sport (a topic for a future post!). Shoring up other weaknesses in that time would be a better choice. The saying “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” holds true – time spent fixing those weak links could have a large positive benefit to the athlete.

Dan John, another one of my favourite people in our industry, has a good quote where he says athletes need to spend only 10% of their training time on S&C. This concept is sound, though of course in the offseason it’s likely more than 10% allowable, and in-season it may be even less than 10%. The underlying message is undoubtedly clear – spend as little effort (20%) to get as much results (80%) as you can.

Get a coach, analyze your goals for your sport, recognize your strengths and weaknesses and start figuring out the 20% of exercise that is going to get you 80% of the results.

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