In the best way possible, the iron finds a way to consume your life.
If you’re someone just getting into bodybuilding, or tinkering around in the weight room, it’s definitely an exciting time. For most young men getting into lifting, and an increasingly large amount of young women, there’s almost no other feeling that can rival with that of of seeing your body change and improve from slingin’ some iron.
After a few great sessions, and a few weeks into lifting you’ll probably want to start knowing everything you can about training, nutrition, and how to really maximize your gains.
You’ll look into what the key exercises are, the best rep ranges that will give you an edge, and a training split of the gods that will enhance your strength, chisel you up, and enhance your recovery.
While this new found thirst for knowledge on “all things gains” is a good thing, it can also be a double edged sword.
We live in a time where information is readily available. If you want to find something within seconds you have answers at the tip of your fingertips. Because of all this information it’s easy to get caught up in the details and things that don’t really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.
You might start to focus on issues like “what exercise will pack on more size in a workout” and “the ultimate supplement to enhance muscle while incinerating fat.” Before you know it, you’re more focused on making trips to the local supplement shop, jumping from fad diet to fad diet, and switching up training routines faster than you switch out the clothes in your gym locker.
I get it, it’s a remarkable time to be alive and to be into building a better body, but the fact is all those things like supplements, “perfect training splits,” and nutrition “secrets” are just minor players in the overall game plan, and the last thing we want to do is get stuck on majoring in the minor.
The Pareto Principle and The 80/20 Rule: AKA How to Get Your Best Results From the Least Effort
I’m sure the last thing you came to this site for was a lesson in economics, but part of building a better body involves building up your brain. The Pareto Principle refers to an observation that in just about every physical occurrence, 80% of the results are produced from 20% of the input. This also means that about 20% of what you do in a situation is vital while the other 80% is trivial. A quick example is one you may notice in the workplace where typically 20% of the workers will produce about 80% of the results. The distribution may not always be an exact 80/20, but the distribution will be somewhat in that range. The key point is that in any instance that requires effort or input, the return/output is not distributed equally.
What Matters Most (The 20% EFFECTIVE Input)
So enough of the economics lecture, how does the Pareto Principle of 80/20 apply to maximizing gains? Let’s take a look at the fundamentals and what matters most when we want to increase muscle, strength, and size. These fundamentals are the 20% that if you focus on, you will see the greatest benefits in gains.
Progressive overload in the gym
In order to get bigger and stronger, you have to continuously progress in your workouts. This is something everyone should know by now, but it’s always good to hear it again and re-enforce the point. It will serve you best to pick a handful of compound movements such as a bench press, overhead press, deadlift, bent over row, and barbell squat and continuously add weight to the bar over time. This doesn’t necessarily mean adding 10 pounds to your lifts every time you set foot in the gym, but striving to increase the amount of volume you’re lifting whether it comes from adding weight, repetitions, sets, or exercises will be your best bet and ensure your overloading in a progressive manner.
If you want to grow, you’re going to have to eat. Again, something I hope everyone out there knows by now. If you’re a rookie to the weights and you’re looking to add some quality size you don’t have to get bogged down in the details here. The most important thing to focus on is making sure you’re eating enough food to ensure you’re recovering and you’re fueling your next training sessions. How do you that exactly? Focus on getting adequate amounts of protein, in the ballpark of 1-1.5 grams per pound of body weight. Once that’s taken care of, round out the rest of your daily menu with whole some carbohydrates and healthy fats. Keep in mind this doesn’t have to be all organic, top of the line food stuffs here. Heck, for most of you, you’ll benefit from a few burgers from your favorite fast food joints to help get some much needed calories. If you want to grow, foods going to be your best ally.
Adequate sleep and recovery
This might be the most underrated and important part of the 20% that matters. Getting enough rest and sleep will be imperative to making those gains. This doesn’t mean take a rest day from the gym every other day or only train body parts once a week. In fact for most of us, we’re better off training more frequently and hitting body parts more often. But we have to be smart about it like utilizing proper volume and regulating the intensity in our workouts and not going “balls to the wall” every time you get your hands on some weights. More importantly, sleep is going to do your body wonders. Getting a complete, restful 7-9 hours every night will give your body the proper rest it needs to recover and continue to grow. When we lift weights it’s not just our muscles that are getting worked, but our complete central nervous system. Getting enough sleep ensures the central nervous can recover and be ready to take on the upcoming day, both in and outside of the gym.
What Matters Least (The 80% TRIVIAL Input)
So now that we know what’s actually important and effective to maximizing the gains, what are the trivial things that make up the remaining 80%?
Things such as...
Whether you prefer working heavier with sets of 3-7 reps or lighter with 8-20, you will get stronger and add muscle. Getting bogged down on what “works better” and over complicating your training by worrying whether you’re working in the correct ranges is just wasted energy. Whatever reps and sets schemes you choose, do your best to progress in it.
Exercise selection and equipment
Barbell bench press or dumbbell bench presses? Straight bar cable triceps extension or rope pull down extension? “Should I be doing more free weights vs machines or vice versa?” While exercise selection can be important, it’s not something you have to overthink. What will dictate overall progress is how well you can overload the movement progressively, stress the muscles in tension with the movements, and use adequate intensity and volume.
Before you continue to rush to your locker after your final rep to slam that 40 grams of protein and 30 grams of dextrose shake so you’re within the anabolic window, just chill. I’m not going to say meal timing is totally useless, but it’s certainly something not worth stressing over. By forcing yourself to eat at certain time and have a certain number of meals for the fear of going catabolic and losing gains, you’re just creating more stress and worry. God forbid you miss one of those meals and you become a walking anxiety attack because you think you have to hit those meals to stay anabolic. Just relax, go about your day, and get your meals in when you can.
Your genetics, and the “if it worked for him, but didn’t work for me” mentality
While it’s true you can’t change the genetics you’ve been dealt and they play a large part in determining how you look, it doesn’t mean you still can’t improve your physique and make progress. There’s nothing you can do to change your genetic disposition, so why waste any time or energy worrying about it? Tied to this is the notion that if something worked for someone you know then why didn’t you get the same results as him? We all respond differently to certain stimuli and training variables, so don’t’ get caught up in worrying about how your gym buddy made substantial progress and your progress was less optimal. Everyone is different and some things are out of our control, so move on.
Once you’ve nailed down the fundamentals of lifting weights, sorted out your nutrition, and optimized your rest and recovery, will then, and ONLY then, might you see a benefit from supplements. Far too often young lifters, and even experienced guys, put way too much stock into supplements and attribute a lot of their hard earned gains to supplements. The truth here is that the high end branded supplements and marketed and advertised as the next best thing to supplements, when in reality you would probably make up to 99.999% of the same gains without them. The most effective over the counter supplement you could take is probably creatine, and while proven to be effective, it’s nothing miraculous and contributes very little to a well developed physique that’s built on years of training and nutrition fundamentals.
Here’s what an 80/20 distribution of gains looks like graphically
As you can see from the graph, the small things that make up the 20% output. And in case you haven’t inferred all ready, for us average guy, the small stuff just doesn’t matter. And whatever it does matter (which is almost nothing), it’s not worth getting worked up or stressing over in the slightest.
Back in the day when muscle magazines ruled the fitness space, they built empires on branding workouts and supplements in each issue that was “guaranteed to get you jacked.” Today the magazines have fallen to more modern and might I say, “glamorous” ways of marketing such as websites and social media, but the underlying theme remains the same: all of these media sites make their pitch on topics that are in the 80% realm.
Why is that? Because they all know that the only sure fire way to make progress in the gym is in the 20% mentioned here. It goes without saying that the big compound movements work. That consistency and longevity will make you grow and get stronger. The cluster F*** that is the remaining 80% is a hot-spot for fad training methods, overhyped supplements, and unproven methods that claim to get more jacked than anything ever before.
It’s easy to get caught up in trendy workouts and diets that promise you overnight results. We live in a world of instant gratification. But the iron game has never been built on instant results. The best players in this game know how to focus on the big picture, put their heads down, and keep on grinding away rep after rep, day after day, year after year. If you want to see some real changes, follow the smart guys in the game; do your homework and focus on the 20% that matters. Quit dwelling on the trivial details that cost more time, money, and energy that make little to no difference whatsoever. We’re all on the quest to build better bodies out here, but often we forget to sit back and think about the process, because as much as this journey is about the brawn, it’s going to require just as much brain to get the most out of it.
About The Author
With a background in mechanical engineering, John Craven’s problem solving skills and ability accomplish tasks has carried over to helping individuals achieve their best physiques possible through his articles and coaching. His passion is to contribute science-based information about nutrition and training to anyone looking to take control of their body composition and health while improving the overall quality of their lives. You can contact him –