I've come across several versions and explanations of the Pareto Principle, but I like how strength coach Alwyn Cosgrove explained it best on his blog recently:
Over the years, many others observed this rule in action in very different areas - yet the 80-20 rule appeared to hold true.
The 80/20 Rule means that in anything a few (20 percent) are vital and many(80 percent) are trivial. You can apply the 80/20 Rule to almost anything, from the science of management to the physical world.
Relationships: Twenty percent of the people you know (friends, colleagues, family) provide you with 80 percent of nurturing support and satisfaction.
Productivity: Twenty percent of your activities will account for 80 percent of your success.
Business: Twenty percent of customers will account for 80 percent of profit (and 20% of your customers will also cause 80% of your problems!
Gardening: Eighty percent of garden peas are produced by 20 percent of the peapods.How can we use the Pareto Principle?
The Pareto principle is great to increase focus. Don't try to do more. Just do more of the right things.
For example, out of all of your negative behaviors, twenty percent of them will contribute to 80 percent of all of your hardship and misery. So working on just these 20 percent can greatly contribute to our personal growth.
Time management is another area where the rule can be very effective. If you have a lot of work to do, break it down to specific activities and figure out what twenty percent of the tasks listed contributes to eighty percent of the results you seek. Second, give your maximum concentration to those 20 percent tasks.
Also recognize that the numbers don’t have to be “20%” and “80%” exactly. The key point is that most things in life (effort, reward, output) are not distributed evenly - some contribute more than others. In fact most things are not 1:1, where each unit of “input” (effort, time) contributes exactly the same amount of output. But what about fitness training? How can we use the Pareto Principle?
Understand that training methods and exercise selection fall under the same rules - 20% of your activities are responsible for 80% of your results.In other words - if you did ten sets of deadlifts - it's likely that you would get 80% of that benefit with only two sets - the law of diminishing returns.
Big, compound exercises recruit more muscle, allow you to use more load and burn more calories than isolation exercises - build your program around them. Identify the effective 20%. For example - Rep for rep - a deadlift or a squat out-performs most other exercises - make sure they are in your program first.
A 30 minute full-body workout performed three times per week - that includes squats, deadlifts, presses and rows will easily be 80% as effective as any other routine that you can think of.
If you keep rest periods short during resistance training- the body doesn't really know that you're not doing cardio. 60s rest periods with full body workouts can reduce the need for direct cardio work.
If you do want to add cardio -minute for minute - interval training burns more calories, increases masimum oxygen uptake and increases EPOC more than steady state work- build your cardio program around interval work.
Lastly however, don’t think the Pareto Principle means only do 20% of the work needed and be happy with 80% of the result.
It may be true that 80% of a bridge is built in the first 20% of the time, but you still need the rest of the bridge in order for it to work--The Pareto Principle is an observation of effectiveness, not a law.
When you are seeking top quality, you need all 100%. When you are trying to optimize your bang for the buck however, focusing on the critical 20% is an excellent tool. See what activities generate the most results and give them your appropriate attention. With a little effort, and the application of the 80-20 rule, we can save a lot of our emotional and physical energy and concentrate on stuff that really matters."