The 80/10/10 Rule

Not every session is going to be perfect, nor should it be. Here’s why.

When I started training, I was a very emotional lifter – getting psyched up for my heavy weights and extremely mad whenever I had a sub-par workout or failed to acheieve a new best every time I went to the gym. While constantly striving for improvement is a good trait to have, it can also be to your detriment. By the time I had been lifting for a couple of years, I realized that not every session is the best session and sometimes you just need to go with the flow to a degree.

One concept that really helped me embrace this new mentality and overcome my overemotional state in the gym was something called the “80/10/10 rule”. I first read about this on Paul Carter’s blog while catching up on some reading.

The reality of things is that bad sessions happen. If you’ve got most of your training program variables in place, then hopefully not often, but they still remain a reality. What you need to embrace is the fact that as your training age increases, a lot of your sessions will simply become “putting the work in/bread and butter” type sessions. This represents the 80%.

The first 10 stands for the 10% of sessions that will be sub-par, whether it was because you’ve been under a lot of stress at work, your diet hasn’t been on point over the last few days, or even small things such as quality of sleep and recovery capacity (how much stress you can recover from, workout to workout, and still adapt).

The final 10 is everyone’s favorite 10% – these are the days that you are feeling on top of the world. What might have been a very challenging set of 5 for you last week feels like you could hit 8 reps with ease today. Many of the same factors apply here as they do with the under-performance sessions, just in the reverse fashion since they are working to your advantage.

In conclusion, as a general rule the majority of your days in the gym should feel “normal” – nothing to write home about but still feeling alright. The remainder of them should be a mix of feeling on top of the world and feeling a bit less strong than usual. Just remember, the mental aspect of training is just as important as the physical aspect, so being able to take thing in stride and not over-reacting is key in keeping consistent – this applies advanced lifters, beginners, and everyone in between.

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