Think, But Don't Over-Analyze
When you are enthusiastic about bodybuilding, or any sport or hobby for that matter, you want to know everything you can about it. You want to know what's the best exercise, what rep range will give you an edge, how to best structure your split so that you eek out every gain that you can. This thirst for knowledge is a healthy one - and is a sign that you are thinking, that you care.
But it can also hold you back. With the wealth of information available, especially in the internet age, it's all too easy to get caught up in the minutia, to start wondering if this or that exercise will pack on the size better, whether XX supplement will be the difference between success and failure. The next thing you know, you're spending too much on supplements, switching up your routine every other week to use that new magic routine you read about, or getting discouraged over results that don't seem up to par with the promises of the muscle mags.
The 80/20 Rule
Dr. Joseph Juran, working on quality and management principles in the 1930's and 1940's observed a universal principle that he called the "vital few and trivial many", in which 20 percent of something is responsible for 80 percent of the results. This became known as the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule. This rule means that in anything 20% is vital and 80% is trivial. For example, Juran observed that 20% of the people owned 80% of the wealth. Or that 20% of defects caused 80% of the problems. You can apply this rule to almost anything.
The value of the 80/20 rule is that it reminds you to focus on the 20% that matters. You should identify and focus on these things. So in bodybuilding, what are they? I would say that the 20% that matters includes:
Which basically means: Train. Eat. Rest. Repeat. Week in and week out. Focusing on the basics will give you 80% of your results.
- Researching & following a good, fundamental, bodybuilding program. (Not a perfect one, it doesn't exist).
- Putting in hard work in the gym, consistently, over a long period of time.
- Following the rule of progression, and ensure that over time you are lifting more weight, more reps, or more sets.
- Having good nutrition. Eating enough good stuff, and not too much bad stuff over the course of a day.
- Getting adequate recovery.
- Adjusting your plan periodically, based on your results and your experiences.
So if that's the important 20%, what's the 80% that's trivial? Well in my opinion it's details like these:
- Should I do 3 sets of 8 reps or 5 sets of 10 reps?
- What's better, 1.25g protein per pound or 1.37g/lb, or 1.5 g/lb.?
- I'm doing BB curls, should I be doing DB curls or EZ bar curls instead?
- What's the best angle for incline barbell presses?
- If I don't get 30g of protein within half an hour after training, is my session wasted?
- How much should I be lifting for my height / weight?
- Are DB flyes better than using the Pec Dec?
Etc. Etc. Etc. Honestly, that stuff doesn't make a difference. Or rather, if it does it makes a relatively small difference (20%); or only makes a difference for a relatively small few who are at the limits of their physical development. For most of us average Joes, it just doesn't matter! Sure, if you have a wrist issue, EZ curls may bump into that 20% of things that matter, but in general it doesn't make that much of a difference.
The muscle mags would like to convince you different, since they want you to continuously tune in to find out if you're doing everything right. If you're "in the know" about the latest "hollywood workout". Whether you're missing a miracle supplement that just got invented in a secret Swiss lab.
That way lies madness, my friends.
So how do we know this is true? Well, first of all look at the wide variety of workout programs, splits, exercise selection, training frequency, and equipment recommendations from various top bodybuilders over the years. Do they all agree? No. Do they recommend all the same things? Don't think so. Do they all train the same way? Nope. But it's not the 20% they disagree on, it's the 80%. Which stands to reason, since the 80% only makes a small difference, and most of that is individual anyway. What's right for one person is not always right for another.
But they all agree on the value of the big, compound movements. They all preach eating enough, eating right, getting enough protein, and having intensity in the gym. They all agree that results take hard work and consistency and a balanced workout routine. They agree on the 20%.
As further evidence that sometimes the small things don't matter: how often have you seen some dipstick in the gym using terrible form doing nothing but crappy curls and yet having jacked arms? It happens. Sure, he might get injured periodically. Sure, he might have no calves. But when it comes to those arms, he's doing at least 20% of things right.
Final Thoughts (Cliffs)
So what do you take away from all that? It's simple: do your homework and spend your time and effort on the 20% of the details that matter - that's Thinking. Don't waste your time sweating the 80% of the trivial details that make little or no difference - that's over-analyzing.
I don't pretend to have all the answers, and you should figure out what those "20%" things are for yourself by reading and thinking. But once you do, focus on that and don't let the "80%" of minutia derail you from what really matters.
Thread: The 80/20 Rule for Lifting