The Rule of 80%

With the emergence of CrossFit as a major player, the recent spike in PowerLifting’s popularity, and the explosion of social media, the landscape of the fitness industry has changed quite a bit in the last decade. Almost unrecognizable from the previous two. Social media has been able to put more eyeballs on fitness then it has ever had in the past. More people can see their peers getting out and working hard to achieve their goals. They can see stories of people in the same situation doing the impossible and inspiring those around the world to improve their situation. However, there are a few draw backs to all these eyeballs out in social media land. One in particular that I want to focus on.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that social media as it pertains to most things (especially fitness) is a highlight reel of people’s lives. They are posting the best of the best. Their best achievements, their best experiences, and even their best food for f*cks sake. They are going to be posting their PR lifts in the gym. They are going to post their crazy awesome vacations living large in the Caribbean. If they are always eating good clean food, they are going to post that delicious looking pizza. On the flip side, if they are always eating like shit and they are trying to turn their life around, they are going to post that bad ass salmon and sweet potato meal that they made from scratch. 99 times out of 100, its everyone’s best. Everyone who posts on social media posts for one reason and one reason only…ATTENTION. I don’t care what you say, that is it. You post something because you want people to see it. Period.

Focusing our scope strictly to the realm of fitness, this “highlight reel” can be a great thing as I said earlier. You see people expressing feats of strength you never thought possible. You see people overcoming many obstacles to achieving their goals. You see athletes doing things you didn’t even know the human body was physically capable of doing. These things can inspire you to do something with your life, your body, and/or your health. I have been able to help many people through the channels of Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. Many people reach out to me telling me that my videos and posts inspire them to work harder and make changes.

Now the drawback of social media is the fact that it is indeed a highlight reel. 95% of the fitness posts you see are people’s “bests.” Their best lifts, their best times, their best physiques. These messages can become misconstrued for those who are looking up to these people for inspiration.

“Time to go ‘BEASTMODE.”

“The workout doesn’t start until you puke. “

“If you ain’t hurt, you ain’t working hard enough.”

The general message that is conveyed is when it comes time to walk into the gym, you must go all out, 110%. Messages like these are all over social media, clothing campaigns, etc. This creates the assumption that one must drive themselves into the ground for every workout.

I saw this mistake become very prevalent with the emergence of CrossFit and within the CrossFit community. In fact, it was this mindset that really turned me off to CrossFit and the whole CrossFit culture. Everyday people would come in talking about the 30-minute metcon they did that just absolutely drove them into the dirt, and immediately after, want to know what type of metcon they were going to do today to top it…STUPID!!!

I respect the willingness to work. But if you are trying to optimize your body’s ability to perform, you must be smarter than that. You can ask anyone that has ever trained with me; you will find it hard pressed to find someone that can push themselves as far into the abyss as I can, but you must do it sparingly. The reason I can push myself so far is because I do it sparingly. People do it everyday and it restricts their ability to really push themselves into that 5th gear, because they are constantly overstraining 4th gear every single f*cking day. Then they wonder why they hit a plateau.

You must have days in 3rd gear, 2nd gear, EVERY GEAR! However, the frequency of each is going to be different at various times of the year. For example, if you are a competitive athlete, your training pre-contest is going to look a whole lot different than post contest. Pre-contest, you will be trying to “peak” your training, a lot of time spent in 3rd, 4th, and occasionally, 5th (up till a week prior) of contest. Whereas post contest you will be spending more of your time in 2nd and 3rd gear. Of course, all this depending on the sport and experience of the trainee (these are general terms.)

A novice trainee can train at what they think is 100%, simply because they themselves and their bodies have not learned different gears of intensity. Their perceived 100% intensity is nowhere close to 100% because their nervous system has not adapted enough to allow them to tell the difference. The bottom line is this, one cannot sustain a 5th gear, 100% effort every day. Your training must consist of peaks and valleys. Insert…The Rule of 80%.

Let me preface this by saying that this rule is not original to myself. This is something I have heard both Charles Poliquin and Paul Carter both touch on. Both of whom I highly respect and recommend anything written by them. This idea is something that really resonated with me and I am merely expanding on it and explaining it through my eyes for all of you.

The Rule of 80% is a real easy, simple rule to remember:

You should be going 80%… 80% of the time”

Ill let all the CrossFitters and ‘hardcore’ bros let that sink in for a second and get all the screaming outta their system………………

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Okay so let me explain this, before you crucify me and start calling C-Roy a p*ssy! It is important to note that this 80% is NOT referring to your percentage of 1RM. It is referring to your perceived level of exertion. MOST of you probably do this instinctively already. On the other hand some of you might be calling bull shit,

“Bull shit C-Roy, my ass goes 100% every single day!”

Really think about that for a second. Do you even know what your true 100% is??? Do you take every single set of your workouts to absolute failure??? Every single lift you do, you’re doing it as heavy as you possibly can? Every set your taking the absolute shortest rest you can possibly take? You’re running in an all-out sprint regardless of the distance? Essentially, you couldn’t go any harder if someone was holding a gun to your head? I highly doubt it. Our bodies have a natural governor to them. It is a skill to learn how and when to pull that governor back. Because if it gets pulled back too often, you naturally enhance its ability and restrict yourself from ever being able to really go 100% and being able to ever truly hit your 5th gear. Simply because your body can’t handle it from being in 4th gear too much too often. It doesn’t have the fuel or resources to sustain a 5th gear effort.

So lets break this down. What does 80%, 80% of the time look like? And why 80%? What is the significance of 80%?

Firstly, 80% is high enough to elicit an adaptation, but not so high that your body can’t recover from it in an appropriate timeframe. A 60-70% intensity may elicit response in novice trainees, but these percentages are more reserved for recovery work and/or technical practice in the more trained athlete. 80% is high enough for them to move the needle, but not so hard that it negatively effects the rest of the training week.

Now we look at 80% of the time.

Generally, 80% of the time, you will be able to train at 80%. We allot 10% of the time for less than optimal workouts. These could be from deloads, being sick, vacations, time off, or just simply for days you walk into the gym feeling like shit. Maybe you got a crappy night of sleep, you have a high amount of stress, you’re fighting with your spouse, you missed a meal and you’re underfed, you’re dehydrated, whatever it may be. When we have these days (and we all have them) it is best to just chalk it up and understand you’re not going to set the world on fire. However, that is not your excuse to do nothing. There is ALWAYS something that can be done. Maybe its just going for a walk, stretching, doing some deep tissue work, or just working higher volume body weight work to reinforce mechanics and connective tissue.

On the flip side of the coin, we allot 10% of our time for when you feel like a super hero. When all the stars and planets align perfectly in your life. You walk into the gym in a great mood, maybe you got laid the night before, you feel strong as hell, no aches and pains, clear minded, hydrated, well fed, you name it, you got it covered. These are the days when you might go for a PR or push yourself into that 5th gear because you have the ability to do so that day. Your body is feeling good and working efficiently. Some of you may not know what this feels like. And it could be because you’re not training at 80%, 80% of the time! Following ‘The Rule of 80%’ allows us to have these days when all other life stresses are accounted for. Sometimes people will find they have these days after they have been on vacation or had family in town or something that has kept them from being able to hit the gym as much as they’ve wanted. That’s because it allowed their body to get out of a high 4th gear and recoup a bit! But know this, if you are having this day and decide to tap into that 5th gear, know that you will have to pay for it. Recovery will have to be paid in order to take yourself into that top 10%. There is no rule that says you HAVE to go into your 5th gear if you’re feeling good. After all, if you’re feeling like a super hero, it means that whatever you’re doing is WORKING. You don’t have to stray from that if there is no need to.

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Yes. 2 Joe Dirt references in 1 Blog. What can I say, he was a wise man…


Now you could even break this rule down even more to each individual workout. Each training session can be trained at 80%, 80% of the time. You could have your warm up (low 10%), your main work sets (80%), and then for your high 10% you could either complete a brutal finisher OR take the last set of each of your main work sets to failure. You could also add in some other type of set extending techniques. For example, if my main work exercises for the day are 3 sets of 6 reps of Bench Press, 3 sets of 10 reps of Bent Rows, and 3 sets of 10 reps of DB Military Press, I would complete the first two sets of each for the prescribed number of reps, and then on the third and final set of each, I would take the set to complete failure or perform a rest pause set,  perform a drop set, etc. Going 100% all out on only 3 sets of a 60-75-minute training session does not constitute the entire session as 100%.

‘The Rule of 80%’ is a rule that will ensure your training is getting you stronger, better, and healthier every time you walk out of the gym. BUT BE CAREFUL…even though your intensities will be 80%, 80% of the time, do not confuse that with your effort and focus. Your effort and focus should be 100%, 100% of the time. Something as simple and boring as foam rolling or warming up can be a waste of time if the person is not focused and paying attention to what they are doing and how their body feels. You can give 100% effort to an 80% intensity by being 100% focused, conscious, present and committed to the goal at hand.

Lastly, DO NOT be one of those lazy ass-hats that wants to apply ‘The Rule of 80%’ to other aspects of their lives (diet, career, etc.) and say its okay because C-Roy said so. This rule applies strictly for training in experienced athletes solely because we have to physically recover from the work put fourth in the gym. Your effort, intensity, focus, will power, and determination should be 1000% on your diet, career, relationships and all other aspects of your life. Now things happen in life and these things can be hard to juggle, but that is a whole other blog post in of itself for a later time. Until then, there’s only one thing left to do…

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