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Photo by William Recinos on Unsplash

The grind

In today’s fast paced, always on, FOMO society, there has been a resurgence of — dare I say, love affair with — the Pareto Principle, otherwise known as the “80/20 rule”.

Hell, I’ve even seen this broken down further by my hyperproductive, type-A, entrepreneurial brethren: the 20% of the 20%!  That 4% of activity that is THE pivotal factor.

Which is all fine and well.  We DO need to be able to prioritize actions in any endeavor in order to be successful in that endeavor. Knowing the “bang for the buck” activities vs the “polishing moves” is extremely useful for creating systems, processes and, above all, focus.  This keeps us away from the trap of “majoring in minors”, as it were.

My issue, however, is that I think most treat the 80/20 rule as a shortcut rather than a prioritization tool.  In other words, we forget about the “long tail” that’s involved with mastery.  If, in fact, mastery is what we’re really hoping to achieve.

In strength and conditioning, for example, the 80/20 rule informs us of the fact that the lion’s share of our “gainz” is going to come from hammering the basic lifts.  The term “brief, brutal and basic” applies here.  That is to say, we prioritize heavy deadlifts over dumbbell curls and heavy overhead pressing to tricep extensions.  If not, we can never hope to achieve our genetic potential.

But here’s the thing that most miss: if maximizing our genetic potential is the goal, we DO have to embrace the remaining 80%.  That is, we DO have to grind away at the volume of curls and extensions; the “accessory work”.  Not in lieu of, but in addition to, the brief, brutal and basic.

And that, my friends, requires time.  Lots of it.

That, and dedicated effort.  Shocker, I know, but this mastery thing takes a truckload of time and effort!

Now, if we’re looking for adequate, passable or “dilettante” level skill or achievement, that’s fine.  Do the big bang 20%, save the time, effort and grind for things that really matter to you, and move on.

In fact, time is the first principle of the Five Ts for Fitness.  Being reasonably fit and healthy requires a hell of a lot less time than most people realize.


Maximizing potential requires more time, dedication and effort than most people can even imagine.  And certainly, more than most will (or can) tolerate.

The bottom line is this: you can’t “Tababta” your way to mastery; you’re going to have to identify and prioritize the 20%, and then grind the hell out of that “long tail” 80%.

And this is true of any endeavor you can think of.  Including aerobic fitness.  Which — much as I hate to admit — DOES require the long, slow, steady-state (LSSS) slog to maximize.

Diet, nutrition, and supplementation

We see the same thing play out in nutrition, whereby we gain 80% of our nutrients from 20% of the foods we ingest.  That is, IF we eat a healthy and varied diet.

I’ve covered this in much detail in The Importance of Nutrient Density, but even if we DO eat a clean and varied diet, we’re still lacking vital nutrients for one simple reason: soil depletion.  Followed closely by the fact that most DON’T eat a clean and varied diet.

I wish I could tell you that by eating in a healthy, Paleo / Primal way that we’re covering all of our nutritional bases, but I can’t. As good and as varied as I eat, I still have to supplement, too.

So where does that leave us?  What can we do about the remaining 20% of the nutrients we require?  Well, this is why I am so adamant about proper and pinpointed base supplementation.

You can’t get any more bang for your supplementation buck than with base vitamin, mineral and omega 3 supplementation.  But that supplementation also has to be (1) of high quality, and (2) highly absorbable.  All the reasons why I recommend ID Nutrition.

And the fact of the matter is, you have to have the basics in place before you can ever hope to gain any real benefit from the “long tail” supplementation (creatine, for instance).  Those base building blocks have to be on hand before the monument can be built. Simple as that.

Genetic potential

Let’s hop back to genetic physique potential for a moment.  One of the best examples I can think of when discussing the Mastery / Pareto dichotomy is in this realm.

Now, I know what you’re thinking (and it’s a totally legitimate concern): how can we ever discuss genetic potential when we have no idea what the ultimate endpoint is?

I hear ya.  And well, I have an answer for that.

Dr. Casey Butt — whose PhD is in artificial intelligence, of all things — has done masterful work in documenting and calculating maximum (drug-free) genetic physique potential based on skeletal dimensions and muscle insertion points.  That work can be found here.  It’s well worth the read for those wanting the deep-dive (i.e., more equations / explanations than you can shake a stick at) into this material.

For the fly-by explanation, checkout this post.

So we can gain a damn good idea of what can be given our genetic hand.  But the only way to approach these max measurements is to (1) prioritize exercises and effort correctly, and (2) endure the grind of doing hours of “assistance work”.

That simply means that 80% of our overall results are going to be had from doing the “big bang” exercises.  And if we were to look at the total time required to build this physique, we’d only have spent 20% of that time blasting these movements.  And we all know what those movements are.

I bet the following look very familiar:

  • Deadlifts
  • Rows
  • Overhead presses
  • Dips
  • Chins / pullups
  • Squats
  • ARXFit work

Old school 5 x 5 routines come to mind here.  As do the foundational workouts and methodologies detailed in my extensive post, The Theory to Practice Strength Training Template.

But these are still not enough if we’re looking to maximize the entire physique.  Or at least to approximate your genetic potential. For that, we have to invest another 4x the amount of time doing assistance work.

Wise and grizzled old S&C coaches will tell you that if you want big arms you gotta squat and deadlift your ass off.  And I couldn’t agree more!  But if you want to reach your genetic potential for arm size, you gotta spend another 4x the time doing curl and extension variations.

And this is where I have a problem with trainers and methodologies claiming that maximum potential can be reached via whatever (fill in the blank) shortcut.  It simply isn’t true.

We can prioritize work and modalities, for sure.  And we absolutely should!  But make no mistake: if you’re looking for mastery or maximization of potential, you have to put in the time and effort.

Even with my own pet methodologies (Efficient Exercise and ARXFit specifically, and HIIRT in general), I am quick to point out that Healthy and fit CAN be had in with relatively little time investment.  But if you’re looking to approximate genetic potential though, be prepared to spend a hell of a lot more time in the gym.

The Chains to Gains Update — the 80/20 in Action

If you’ve been following along with this complete life transformation process, you know that I’ve had to prioritize what habits and activities to focus on so as to keep the entire program moving forward.

Note: If you’re new here, or unfamiliar with the Chains to Gains complete life transformation, check out From Chains to Gains: a life in transition.

The 80/20 prioritizations thus far?  Cleaning up an absolutely abysmal diet, solidifying a smart exercise regimen, and establishing an entrepreneurial apprenticeship program.  Along with completely changing environments AND kicking a nasty heroin habit, that’s a lot to take on over the past month.

And to be sure, we have a LONG way yet to go.  Lots more to implement.  We’ve only scratched the surface!  But we are prioritizing those activities that will provide big bang returns and establish the foundation for continuing forward.

Look at the noticeable change, after just one short month:

October 4th, 2017


November 3rd, 2017

One month in; 15 lbs down.  And that’s with doing serious weight training.  Can you add muscle while dropping fat?  Oh hell yeah you can.  And we’ll prove it with the next DEXA.

The next two big habit changes we have to tackle are (1) kicking that damn smoking habit, and (2) correcting a wrecked sleeping schedule.

The benefit of dropping smoking is, well… obvious.  But dumping heroin was a bit more immediate 😉

And we have to get a handle on sleep soon because it’s the most underrated aspect of recovery. Every hormone that contributes to peak performance and body composition is directly affected by the amount and quality of our sleep.

One step at a time, though.  The Big Cat’s progress after one short month?  Phenomenal.

Stay tuned.  It’s a continuing story you don’t want to miss.


Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world ~



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