Anthony Donskov

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The Pareto Principle: Strength and Conditioning Implications

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Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), an Italian polymath/economist was credited with the “Principle of Unequal Distribution.”  Management consultant Joseph Juran suggested the principle and named it after Pareto, who at the time showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.  The Principle of Unequal Distribution has been used to describe:

  • Finance: The top 1% of earners make as much as the bottom 50%
  • Science: The majority of scientific papers are produced by a very small group of scientists
  • Music: A handful of musicians are responsible for the plethora of record sales.  Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky have written almost all the music played by modern orchestras
  • Book Sales: A handful of authors sell all the books (a million and a half separately titled books sell each year in the US.  However, only 500 of these sell more than 100,000 copies (
  • Language: 90% of communication occurs using just 500 words


The Principle of Unequal Distribution, also known as Price’s Law (after Derek J. de Solla Price), and the Matthew Principle (after Matthew 25:29 in the bible) has also been used in the strength community to design programs.  At Donskov Strength and Conditioning, fellow athletes/clients may notice a few consistent trends throughout their programming that pertain directly to the Pareto Principle.  In particular, the use of a small number of foundational lifts.  Here’s the Principle in action: 

The Pareto Principle of Exercise Selection

  • 80% of your results, will come from 20% of your exercises: Large, multi-joint lifts are programming staples.  Why:
    • Tax the entire system: From a global standpoint these lifts aid in recruiting more muscle, increasing systemic force production and maximizing time
    • For weight loss clients: this equates to > work, > work equates to > calories
    • For athletes: large, multi-joint patterns are conducive to recruiting more muscle mass, > motor unit recruitment due to the fact that they can be maximally loaded while resisting gravity.  In addition, these patterns are thought to be more directly transferable to field/ice-based sports

If your program is built on a solid foundation of a small number of foundational lifts such as: squats, deadlifts, pressing and pushing, coupled with auxiliary exercises (yes, isolation exercises are ok) that compliment these pillars, chances are Vilfredo Pareto is alive and well in your gym.



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