I was talking with a client the other day and mentioned the 80/20 rule. I was surprised when she said she had never heard of it before and it got me thinking… it’d be a great idea for to write about!

The 80/20 rule is also called the Pareto Principle, named after an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto.

Pareto noticed that 80% of the land was owned by only 20% of the people.  He also noted that 80% of the peas in his garden came from only 20% of the actual peapods. The business world talks about the 80/20 rule quite a bit as well.  It’s talked about in finances, stocks, and sales – 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers.

The 80/20 rule has gone on to be proven in almost any field of expertise.  Manufacturing, technology, and even weight loss.

If you are doing 10 things to lose weight or to be a better parent or trying to [insert any goal here] then chances are 2 of those 10 things are directly responsible for 80% of your results.

So you may be wondering what good ‘ol Pareto has to do with you?

Well, as you can probably guess, Pareto’s law applies here as well:


Instead of 10 things to get fit, dial in on 2 and prioritize them.

This makes things really simple, and helps us stay focused when life throws us curve balls – and life will throw us curve balls.

So if we take weight loss, the workout we do and the food we eat are the 2 most important things to focus on. I talked about this in our 7 priorities for fat loss article, if you want to go a bit more in-depth.

Yes, stretching, sleeping enough, and staying hydrated are all very important to weight loss as well, but the 2 biggest indicators of your success are going to be what you eat and how you move.

And, over time, we will want to incorporate these other things too, but for someone starting out who isn’t sure where to spend their energy…

Or for someone who has been consistent for a while but had something change and is now struggling for a consistent routine……

We focus almost exclusively on exercise and nutrition until they nail it. For lots of people, this might be the entire plan. They don’t even need anything else because their happiness/fitness balance is achieved without an entire overhaul.

More complicated is rarely better. Usually, it’s flashy and cool, but ultimately it’s just a more complicated way to get to the same point.

The cool thing is that Pareto’s Principle has a repeating effect to it. That means if you are already nailing some of the basics, and we want to take things up a notch there might be another 10 things we can do. Pareto’s law repeats, and as you can probably guess, of these 10 things only 2 will really make a big impact.

They are what will make the scale go down, inches come off, and that feeling of “yes!” of appreciating the work you put in.

For example, eating more consistently throughout the day is usually good and drinking less caffeine is usually good, but what really matters… the big levers that when moved make the most difference… are going to be eating less processed foods and eating less sugar so overall calories are reduced and you don’t feel hungry.

The 80/20 rule is quite fascinating.  It has a way of showing us what to focus on for the best results.

The challenge I have found with it is that most people don’t know where the 80% comes from.

When you are buying groceries and 6 different magazines in the checkout have 6 “new, revolutionary, ground-breaking diets that aren’t actually diets”, how do you know what to do? Where do you start? How do you know if it’s working? How do you know if it’s even the right thing for you?

Obviously, this is what we help clients with on a daily basis at LSFW, but I am also a big believer in empowering people to become autonomous.

I want you to be able to do it yourself. Otherwise, you will never maintain your results, and that’s not a win.

So I want to give a few primers on where some good starting points are for people with different goals and lives.

For general weight/fat loss, the top priorities are:

  1. Nutrition – lower your intake and increase your protein. There are a million methods to do this (commonly called diets) but the simplest is to replace some starches with vegetables.
  2. Exercise – the sweet spot for most people is 3x/week of strength training, 1-2 days of cardio depending on lifestyle, and being active for 30+ minutes everyday (think walks). But if you can only get 2 strengths + 1 walk-in, that’s a great starting point.

For those who are happy with their body weight and don’t have much to lose but want to tone up, this can be tricky but the top 2 priorities are:

  1. Increase training to 4x/week (for most people) with a balance of strength, interval training, and general cardio. Here you want to do what you aren’t doing much of. If you do a lot of cardio, you need strength. If you do lots of strength, you need some cardio.
  2. Increase protein – this is a tricky one, but I’ve seen a lot of people looking to tone up who have already been doing well, and are eating less and exercising more, but their protein isn’t enough to support maintaining their muscles. Although they are losing weight, they are also losing muscle and therefore tone. Start by eating 1 extra serving at one meal a day and see how you feel.

For those who have some aches and pains and just want to feel better:

  1. Depending on the severity, either see a good physio/chiro/osteo and potentially some imaging done for a diagnosis. If it’s minor, such as achy knees, or a bad back, get a movement assessment from someone good (like us!). We start all clients with a movement assessment because that lets us build around their limitations and adjust for imbalances.
  2. Hire a coach to show you good technique, and programming, and build a routine. Yes, it costs more, but if your knee is already achy, your lower back hurts some days, or your shoulder has a twinge, you can’t afford to not learn things right.

You may be thinking, “this is too simple to work” and that’s Pareto’s point.

Doing less, and doing it more consistently, is more often than not the solution – don’t let the fremlins in your head take over and convince you to buy that fancy schmansy new approach.

Of course, if you ever have any questions about where to start, we are always happy to point you in the right direction. Get in touch and we can set up a no-obligation phone call to see if we’re right for you.

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