The 80/20 Rule


My dad always use to talk to me about the 80/20 rule in regards to various business, finance or marketing strategies which occurred in his industry. He would use this as a reference to explain the reason why one business or brand outperformed their competitors in product sales and revenue. However, he never actually told me the basis for the principle (he actually did this week though!).

The 80/20 Rule is known as the Pareto Principle; named after Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto. He used the rule to explain how 80% of the land or wealth in Italy was owned by 20% of the country’s population. The principle evolved into an economic and business sense explaining how 20% of the INPUT (whatever that may be), results in 80% of the OUTPUT; and referring back to the image above… you should be focussing on THIS 20% and not the white noise in the background, the 80%.

So in a sports performance setting and reflecting on my own experiences and circumstances, the principle applies.  For my athletes (200/400m focus), the training components which are included at various times throughout the season include:

  • Bodyweight circuits
  • Core circuits
  • Weights
  • Accel/Block work
  • Max Velocity work
  • Sleds
  • Long runs
  • Hill runs
  • Tempo runs
  • Anaerobic capacity work
  • Anaerobic power work
  • Technical modelling
  • Recovery/Therapy

When the training density is high during the GPP, we will include many of the components above but how much of a percentage effect do they have on the net result? How can you classify how one component contributes more than another? I use a process of elimination and historical data from those before me. Using the 400m as the example, if I eliminate sleds and block work how much of an effect will this have on their 400m time? It might not be too much (although I think it’s necessary). But, if I eliminate anaerobic capacity/power work and weights, how much will this affect their 400m time…. I would say, significantly!

So, I would have to say the 20% input which I believe elicits the majority of our end of season results (whether this is 80% I can’t say) would be Anaerobic Capacity work. Now, this is probably no surprise to those familiar with training long sprinters. The ability to tolerate increasing levels of lactate through a range of interval workouts is the backbone to running the quarter mile. The stimulus needs to be enough where moderate lactate levels are building in the working muscles, but not completely saturating them like an anaerobic power workout (although these workouts are also invaluable to the end result). The training components which elicit the 80% may change as the training density changes, along with the particular phase of the season.

So getting back to Pareto, for any sport or event, what is the 20% you need to focus on to maximise your majority return. The answer of course…. It depends on the demands of the sport or event (with considerations for athlete strengths/weaknesses, and BANG FOR BUCK). You clearly cannot ignore all other training components at the expense of one, as they all contribute in their own way. And, I guess this is what makes a great coach, learning where to place the focus at particular time points during the season. An astute athlete will know workouts necessary to achieve optimal performance for their event and communicate these to their coach. As Vern Gambetta always says, Do what you NEED to do, not what is NICE to do!

There is no point worrying about whether to buy Glutamine or ZMA if your body composition suggests you should address your diet and get into shape. Clearly, getting into shape is going to elicit greater results than any supplement can provide; yet some athletes think this way.

Whoever thought an Italian economist could aid sports performance?

Where are you going to place your focus??




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