Rule of 5, Or Pareto’s Principle For Meatheads

(This rather awesome photo is from San Diego Serenade.)

Really though, it has all the big-handed awesomeness of a Foo Fighters video or The Science of Sleep without the oddball creep factor.

So everyone on the internet has read The 4 Hour Work Week and developed dreams of manufacturing something so that they can do something else in a foeign country somewhere else. One of the many points Mr. Ferris harps about as being critical is the 80/20 principle or Pareto’s Principle. Upon reading this, it reminded me of what I’ve said to my clients for a number of years regarding workout quality: there’s a rule of 5.

No matter how well we plan, periodize, or prep our bodies will have high and low output days. As much as I wish this could be plotted, it doesn’t seem to be something we can do yet. However, in all of the years I’ve been a trainer, I’ve noticed that, on the balance, a pattern emerges in a series of 5 workouts:

  1. 1 workout will be crap, where both mentally and physically things just bite the dirt.
  2. 3 workouts will be “punch the clock” workouts, where you make a bit of progress on a few exercises while remaining stagnant on the rest. This can also realize in the form of you mentally feeling great but physically being behind and vice versa.
  3. 1 workout will be stellar; the stars will align, zeus and olympus will bless you and you’ll have a fantastic workout. Everything goes up and you feel like you’ve got gas left in the tank when the mayhem is finished.

So you’re making huge progress in 20% of the sequence, all well and good, but more importantly is that some progress is being made 80% of the time. Bonus.

Note that this seems entirely independant of a person’s specific daily rhythm for training; from personal experience I’ve noticed no difference in the “rule” from training in the afternoon versus training in the morning.

What about you? Any odd training patterns you’ve seen emerge in your own life?

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2 thoughts on “Rule of 5, Or Pareto’s Principle For Meatheads

  1. As for your average or less-than-average lifter, I would have to support the rule of 5. However for the lifters with expertise and experience, I feel that 80/20 is not acceptable. I’ve only had 2 subpar days in 5 months. That’s way less than 20 percent.

  2. Mark,

    Sub-par might be overreaching my point…since I’m using golf analogies here: 1 eagle, 3 par, 1 bogey. While I’ve made consistent progress in most of my lifts, some days I just didn’t “feel” like I was at my best. No doubt about it: the better you are the lower the margin of error.

    And for the readers at home, this is the extra-strong dude pulling me along to my goals. Bueno indeed.

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