Strength Work – Follow the 80/20 Rule

In my last post, I covered the topic of mobility by posting a link to the most respected Strength Coach in the business.  Now we’re on to the most familiar part to working out: strength work.

There are literally thousands of different lifts to train most of the 640 muscle in your body.  Probability suggests that most men will only workout 3 of those 640:  your pecs, your biceps, and your abs (rectus abdominis).  If you’re a female, there’s a good chance you’ll just hit the cardio machines.  If this is what you did your last workout, there’s a reason why you’re not happy with the way your body looks.

If you have been doing the same workout for the last 6 months (or more) and still haven’t seen results, this is a pretty good sign that you need to change something.  Insane?  Maybe.  Einstein’s definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the trick to only lifting weights for as little as 30 minutes (per session) is to follow the 80/20 rule (Pareto’s Principle).

80/20 what?

I’m glad you asked.  80% of your results come from 20% of the things you’re doing.  Don’t believe me?  Look it up.  Most of the world’s greatest businessmen, strength coaches, writers etc, follow this rule.  So when you lift weights, you need to be doing the 20% of the exercises that give you 80% of your results.

What falls into the 20% category?

You need to lift in compound movements.  This will make sure that you’re using as many muscles as possible each rep, each set, each workout.

Essentially, there are 7 different movements:

  • Knee Dominant (squats, lunges)*
  • Hip Dominant (single leg deadlift, supine hip extension leg curl (SHELC))
  • Horizontal Push (pushups, dumbbell bench press)
  • Horizontal Pull (inverted rows, dumbbell rows)
  • Vertical Push (dumbbell military press, push press)
  • Vertical Pull (chin-ups, pull-ups)**
  • Core (plank variations, Pallof press)

Beside each movement, I’ve included 2 example exercises.  In reality, there are more than 2 exercises for each movement, but I’m not going to give you a huge list.  Instead I’ll give you a link: (   *I’m going to digress here and say that you should not do lunges until you’re comfortable with doing split squats.  **Also, if you’re strong enough to do 3 chin-ups or pull-ups, then you need to start doing more of these and less Lat-Pulldowns.

Structure, Structure, Structure

A super simple way to put together your workout would be as follows:

Pair a Knee Dominant with either a Horizontal Pull or a Vertical Pull (3 sets).


Pair a Hip Dominant with either a Horizontal Push or a Vertical Push (3 sets).


Pair two movements from the Core category (3 sets).


What do you mean by “pair”?

I mean a “Superset”.  For example, if you’re lifting for 8 reps, and you paired a split squat with chin-ups, you would do the following:

8 Squats, then:

8 Chin-ups, then:

8 Squats, then:

8 Chin-ups, then:


Rest as needed in between.  Just don’t rest longer than 90 seconds.  You’re not in the gym to lollygag.

What about my curls for the girls, Dude?

If you feel like you have to do them.  Do them, but save them for the end of your strength work.  That goes for any isolation work.  I’m not prescribing it, because it doesn’t fit into the 20% category, but if it’s beach season and you like the idea of doing some isolation work, save it for the end…just don’t get too carried away.

Thanks, but, no thanks…I’ll just isolate a bunch of muscles and get my movement from sports.

I politely disagree with you.  Remember: I’m the professional here.  The movements in the 20% category help strengthen natural human movement.  This is partially why these movements are so effective for men and women who want to lose weight, or gain muscle, or get stronger etc.  Humans are humans.  If you neglect to train with exercises in the 20% category and partake in sports, there’s a greater probability of injury.

Follow 80/20 and You’ll Be Happy

Save yourself all that time in the gym by going in with a plan.  Plan your strength work with what I am prescribing above (“Structure, Structure, Structure”), and you’ll be laughing (after you shower).

PS – I’m serious about showering.

PPS – Wash your gym clothes too.