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Using The 80/20 Rule For Fat Loss

The 80/20 rule, known simply as Pareto’s Principle, is a concept that states that 80% of your outcomes will come as a result of 20% of your efforts. This is supported in many fields, including economics, where about 80% of the world’s GDP is owned by the richest 20% of people (give or take).

But when it comes to fitness, the 80/20 rule is often reversed, especially when it comes to diet. Nearly 100% of your dietary success will come from 80% of your efforts. The other 20% is the “junk” food that doesn’t really have a place in your diet.

The same is true with training.

Picture four different athletes: a strength & power athlete, a bodybuilder, a sprinter (i.e. short to mid-distance and jumpers), and an aerobic or endurance athlete. Each one has very different demands when it comes to performance, aesthetics, energy systems development, and skill. Therefore, each athlete’s training ends up looking vastly different.

But what’s most important to remember is that by and large, these athletes spend somewhere around 80% of their time working on the main qualities needed for athletic success.

So why is this important?

When it comes to fat loss, there is much debate about which training style reflects the best results when it comes to torching bodyfat, toning up, and revealing the ab veins and sculpted shoulders that will finally make members of the opposite sex flock to you.

But as always, success leaves clues. To quote the Phantom Gourmet (where I get roughly 99.7% of my new restaurant ideas), when it comes to leanness, the bodybuilder and the sprinter are almost always at the top of the food chain.

So what’s the commonality between these two? And how are they different from their strength, power, and aerobic athlete associates?

First off, we know that (anecdotally) diets can vary widely among different athletes – it’s not all brown rice, broccoli, and chicken. Athlete’s have very demanding training schedules and caloric needs can easily come before food quality. Second, we know that most athletic events favor those with better relative strength, making it beneficial to carry less bodyfat. Additionally, athletes in powerlifting, Olympic lifting, and wrestling all compete in weight classes.

So let’s say, for all intents and purposes, that each type of athlete in this little informal analysis is eating the exact same foods.

Let’s also assume that each of these athletes has a relatively consistent sleep schedule and low to medium stress levels. While many professional athletes are well-paid and relatively stress-free, many amateur competitors hold full-time jobs in addition to their training. So there may be a wide range of lifestyles among the athletes, but let’s just call it a wash to keep this easy.

So, then, what separates the bodybuilders and sprinters from their strength, power, and endurance athlete cousins when it comes to body composition? Mostly likely, it’s their energy system usage. That is, bodybuilders and sprinters spend most of their time utilizing the glycolytic energy system. They’re fueled by carbohydrates and their sets/sprints last somewhere between 30 and 60 seconds. Above all, they utilize a high intensity on every or almost every set, often taking sets to failure and pushing themselves to the limit.

Powerlifters and Olympic lifters are doing the vast majority of their sets in a lower rep range, most often 3-5 reps with plenty of singles and doubles mixed in. Aerobic athletes, on the other hand, use a much lower intensity spread out over a much longer “set.” Their events typically last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half or more.

So what implications does this have for traditional fat loss training? Put very simply, you would be well-served to spend your 80% performing bodybuilding-style resistance training workouts and short to mid-distance sprints.


Training priorities based on sport type (not scaled for  time or volume load).

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