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Stop Killing Your Gains: The Rule of 80%




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 – even their best cheat meals.


Focusing our scope strictly to the realm of fitness, this “highlight reel” can be a great thing. 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 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 or have given them tips and info that have made huge impact for them on their journey.

But like my man Rocky Balboa said, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.”


The benefit of social media is its drawback as well. While these highlights can be taken in the right light to motivate people, they can also be misconstrued and warp people’s perception of reality.


95% of the fitness posts you see are people’s “bests.” Their best lifts, their best times, their best physiques, their best angles under the best lighting. While this makes up 95% of what you see, it is important to remember that it is not 95% of what each of those individuals is experiencing. Each "highlight" post is just a snapshot and moment in time of their journey. They are not setting PR's everyday. They are not walking around looking shredded under perfect lighting all day everyday. It just begins to feel that way when you see post after post of everyone's successes.

These messages can become misleading for those who are looking up to these people for inspiration.


“Time to go ‘BEASTMODE.”


“100% 24/7/365 “


“Sleep is for the weak. Pound that pre-workout.”


This is the general message that is conveyed when it comes time to walk into the gym. That you must go all out, 110%. Every time. Everyday. 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 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 to find someone that can push themselves as far into the abyss as I can – but you must do it appropriately! The reason I can push myself so far is because I do it sparingly. Many people do it every day and it restricts their ability to really push themselves into that 5th gear due to constantly overstraining 4th gear day in and day out. Then they wonder why they hit a plateau, get hurt, or get sick.


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 gear (up till a week to ten days prior) of contest. Whereas post contest you will be spending more of your time in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd gear. Of course, all this depends on the sport and experience of the trainee (these are general terms.)


A novice trainee can train at what they think is 100% quite often 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. I can already hear the gym bros out there now “Eff you C-Roy, I go HAM, 5th gear all day every day.”


Trust me, if that’s the case, then I can easily say with 100% certainty that you probably have never even touched your 5th gear. And you probably call yourself a “hard gainer” or a dude that’s been stuck at a 225 bench for 3 years, smack dab in the middle of the biggest plateau of your life. So listen up, because I’m about to help you break that plateau with vengeance.


Your training MUST consist of peaks and valleys.


Insert…The Rule of 80%.


The Rule of 80% is an easy and simple rule to remember:


You should be going 80%... 80% of the time.


Really think about this 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, are you doing it as heavy as you possibly can? Every set you’re 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?

Highly doubtful.


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%. Simply because your body can’t handle it from being in 4th gear too often.


So, let’s 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. Ever heard the phrase, ‘Stimulate – don’t annihilate.’

This is gold for a natural trainee (someone who doesn't use PEDs).


A 60-70% intensity may elicit a response in novice trainees and should be used often as it allows them to train more frequently. This will help them make progress faster. However, these percentages are more reserved for recovery work, technical practice, and/or maintenance work in the more trained and experienced athlete. 80% is the sweet spot. It’s 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 speaking, 80% of the time, you will be able to train at 80% intensity. We allot 10% of the time for less-than-optimal workouts. These could be from deload weeks, 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. These are the times you dial it back.


On the flip side of the coin, we allot 10% of our time for when you feel like a superhero. When all the stars and planets align perfectly in your life. You walk into the gym in a great mood, you feel strong as hell, no aches, and pains. You’re 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 can on this particular day. Your body is feeling good and working efficiently. This could also be your competition time if you're an athlete that trains for competitions of any sort.


Some of you may not know what this "Super Hero" feeling 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!


Now you could even break this rule down even more to each individual workout. Each training session can be trained 80%, 80% of the time. You could have your warmup (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 or use 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 - utilizing a weight that leaves me a rep or two shy of failure - 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, how their body feels, and executing things with intention. You can give 100% effort to an 80% intensity by being 100% focused, conscious, present, and committed to the goal at hand.


Focus, Train Hard, Train Smart


Get to work!


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