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The 80:20 Rule – The Secret of Better Training


When I started racing cross-country in Switzerland, I thought that chasing a faster rider would help me catch the pack quickly. My nemeses was a guy called Marcus. My training replicated my racing, it was all top end just like I was chasing an imaginary Marcus. Of course, I couldn’t catch him and as the season went on I began to really dislike poor Marcus, but I quickly realized that I had to train differently, I had to employ a system.


I had heard about the 80:20 rule, the Pareto Principle which states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.


This principle was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who published a paper showing that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by only 20% of the population. Interestingly, Pareto started to develop his theories when he observed that about 20% of the peapods in his garden produced 80% of the peas he harvested!


In fact, the Pareto Principle appears again and again in nature and also in all walks of life from business to crime. For example, 80% of the world’s wealth is controlled by 20% of the population and 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of the criminals. Many natural phenomena have been shown empirically to exhibit the 80/20 rule.


Moving to structured training

I began to think about structured training and one of the things that interested me was the 80:20 rule.


An up and coming rider, by the name of Arnaud Rapillard, was working at the Swiss Olympic testing facility in Sion. After one of my tests he suggested I should spend 80% of my training volume in the aerobic exercise zones and 20% in the anaerobic exercise zones. The Pareto Principle even appears in training systems! Perhaps my training was no exception.


Don’t ignore the basics

We should not ignore some aspects of the training spectrum and concentrate solely on the areas we believe make the biggest gains.


Training is not that simple. It’s a complex relationship that needs to engage all your bodies systems in the correct proportions. Some have suggested that it is possible to short-cut training and concentrate just on the anaerobic 20% that makes the biggest impact. However, without the