The Pareto Principle and Fitness Compliance – The Difference Between Working Out, Focused Training, and a Lifestyle Integration Fitness: where do you fall on the spectrum?

The Pareto Principle (aka paretos law) states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto came up with the 80 20 rule when discovering that most wealth is accrued by a minority of people (20%). I think paretos principle can be applied to health and fitness as well because at least 80% of fitness trainees aren’t reaping excellent results. I think less than 20% are, and probably closer to less than 5% in my experience with fitness trainees.

Let’s take a look at Paretos Principle as applied to fitness compliance. I see people as landing in 4 different categories of fitness compliance ranging from inconsistently working out to a lifestyle fitness approach.

1. Inconsistently Working Out – People in this category exercise when they feel like it. There is no schedule and no routine, only occasional workouts that produce fatigue. A good example of this person would be those that go to the gym only when a friend invites them, someone who trains for a few weeks after their new year resolution and then stops, or someone who hires a personal trainer for one or two sessions and then quits.

Richard Simmons is immune from the 80 20 rule because it only applies to humans!

2. Consistently Working Out – People in this category exercise regularly, they may even have a schedule of 3-6 times per week that they always exercise, but it is still just general activity. There is very little structure within the program itself, and there is no goal in mind. This means that there is no scale that determines when this person meets their training goals. A good example of this person is someone who has been at the gym for several months or years and still has not changed much.

If you’re at level 1, and trying to improve, then your first step should be to get consistently working out. If you aren’t on some sort of schedule, then you need to be, and most importantly – it must work for your life. You may have a very hectic schedule, and every day may be different, making it impossible to say “I will exercise every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6am.” Those times may be booked up on any given day or week. But that doesn’t mean you cannot commit to exercising at least three times per week for X amount of time.

Getting consistent is the most important step for a beginner trying to make the transition from level 1 to level 2. If you don’t nail this down now, you’ll never make it to or through focused training in level 3.

3. Focused Training (goal-specific training) – This is a major step up from those who simply workout. If you train with focus, it means you have a specific goal in mind like “I want to be 175 lbs by July 4th, and be less than 10% bodyfat.” Focused training implies a plan that incorporates a specific training program, nutrition strategies that will help you achieve your goals, and other lifestyle factors that come into play (like quality sleep, adequate hydration, lack of abusive habits like smoking/drinking, etc.). Focused training is what many people need to adopt in their lifestyles to learn about themselves and make rapid progress towards their goals, but it isn’t the end all, be all. A good example of someone who is involved with focused training is the guy at the gym who is bigger or stronger than everyone else because he works hard, or the athlete who trains in the off season and the sports season. The focused training crowd is usually referred to as “freaks” or “fitness freaks.”

After you have ensured that you will be consistent in regards to “showing up” for training, and making your meals (no matter how healthy or unhealthy), then it’s time to adopt a more focused fitness plan. You will need some specific goals and a plan of action to reach them. This is the most difficult stage because you will need to be educating yourself about how to live healthier, and trying to apply it at the same time. Habits don’t change easily, especially those that we’ve had for life. Even though this will be the hardest stage, you’ll experience the most benefits throughout it.

I think most people would benefit from spending some time in the level 3 category, to really absorb what it takes to achieve specific fitness and health goals. This is where you get your education and common sense about what it means to be active and healthy. But this is still a compartmentalized and isolated view of health and fitness.

do you think this guy has lifestyle fitness figured out?

4. Lifestyle Integration Fitness – Unlike the others, this level is a little harder to characterize and much harder to achieve.  However, the qualities of this type of person are obvious. Someone that has adopted the lifestyle integration fitness mentality LOVES physical activity, and LOVES eating healthy, nutritious, and tasty foods.

This person doesn’t eat much fast food, or processed foods – they eat a well balanced diet that comes from natural foods that they enjoy preparing themselves. Food is considered a blessing, and new recipes are the norm! They may even have a garden of their own, and only buy from local organic farmers.

This person usually has a very physically active lifestyle in the form of a vocation (landscaping or military career) or hobby (hiking, tennis, dancing, or club swinging). This person does NOT workout, or even think much about physical activity – they are simply active all the time. This person may be referred to as a “fitness freak,” but less so than the former level. The lifestyle integration fitness person has a balanced approach to life and doesn’t come across as an extreme person at all.

Although these people are rare, they are exceedingly envied. This is the type of person who can seemingly eat whatever they want and still maintain that perfect physique year round (because they only splurge at social events, and eat very well 90% of the time). This person also picks up new physical skills quickly, and may have been considered a natural athlete all their life.

Final Words

Transitioning to the lifestyle approach is quite a challenge, but very rewarding. The details no longer matter as much. One who is involved with this level of fitness does not need to focus on calories, macronutrient ratios, meal plans, or periodized training programs. Health and fitness are simply a by-product of their lifestyle, and all the details fall into place like magic and without much attention to specifics. Fitness is no longer exercise and hard work, it’s fun and playing.  Eating is no longer x amount of calories and nutrients, it’s just good food. Stress is no longer burdensome and tiring, it’s a challenge and an opportunity.

Where do you fall on the spectrum of fitness compliance?

To your health and success,

Fitness Professional

P.S. If you want to shorten the learning curve when it comes to fitness compliance, and start moving towards the lifestyle integration level one day at a time, then I highly recommend you begin what I call a daily physical practice. I started this habit with a joint mobility program called Intu-Flow about 3 years ago, and still follow it today:

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5 Responses

  1. Al S

    What an amazing article. The level 4 person (Lifestyle Integration Fitness) is what i want in my life. I want to love eating natural foods and being physically active all the time. Those people do not workout, the play . I want that feeling and mindset so bad. My question is: I know it will take practice to get there but do i need to start at a certain level and then progress to level 4 or should i start at level 4 first thing? Again thank you for the article and what an impact it will have on my life!!!

  2. John

    Hi Al,

    Thanks for your comment! I’m glad you found so much benefit from this article. I knew I was writing it for someone specific!

    I don’t see the four levels as being something to seek after, they are more like descriptors of what is happening in your life. But with that said, each one builds on the former level.

    You should start at whatever level you are currently ranked at. I think it would be a mistake to jump ahead.

    If you aren’t already, get consistently exercising and preparing meals as a starter. Then, move on to level 3 where you focus on some specific goals, and educate yourself about health, foods, fitness, etc. This is the WORK phase, and will be the most difficult.

    The lifestyle integration fitness level will not suddenly “happen.” It will grow within your life as you focus on specific fitness and health goals. A healthy transition from level 3 to 4 should go unnoticed – being so mild, that you don’t even realize they are happening. Eventually, food logs, meal plans, and training programs will become unnecessary because you will be eating and exercising appropriately. You won’t have to think about calories, macronutrient ratios, or sets/reps because you have the knowledge and intuition you need to maintain and exceed your success.

    Best regards,


  3. Al S

    Everybody knows that the best way to get lean and stay lean is to just eat clean (veggies, fruit, and meat). I must admit though, my biggest problem is that i do not like the taste of fruits and veggies. If i enjoyed the taste of them, then that is all i would eat. Give me the honest truth: do i need to get over my bad taste for fruit and veggies and just suck it up and eat them? Is the taste of the food you eat relevant. Greg Plitt (Fitness model) says that he could care less what his food taste like which in turn means that he eats super clean (He is super ripped as result). So do i need to just get over my distate for fruit and veggies and eat them anyway?

  4. John


    If you were my client, you’d either have to get over your bad taste for fruits and veggies or find another fitness coach. I wouldn’t train anyone that isn’t willing to try new foods, or in new ways since that’s a HUGE part of being successful with fitness or body composition goals. Of course, it is possible to achieve many fitness goals without eating fruits of vegetables, but it won’t be anywhere near as effective, or as healthy.

    Although, I don’t agree with Plitt’s idea behind not caring about what food tastes like. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like forcing myself to eat anything that I don’t enjoy. Every meal must be nutritious AND tasty. I’m not a robot, and I think food is a huge part of culture, and I wouldn’t want to miss any of that experience just because I’m force-feeding myself nutrients that are supposed to be “good for me.”


    I recommend thta you try to “sneak” the healthy veggies and fruits into some recipes to lessen their taste, but I think you’ll find that these foods provide a nice addition to many meals if you know what you’re doing.

    You could…

    1) Try throwing some onions and peppers into an egg omelette.
    2) Add some sliced apple or mixed berries to your morning oatmeal.
    3) Barbecue steak tips with mixed veggies on a shishkebob.
    4) eat a salad with your steak
    5) use spices or special seasoning

    My number one recommendation is to buy a good cookbook that incorporates fruit and veggies into the meals. This would be the easiest way to do it.

    All the best,


  5. Lee

    Hi John,

    I find the 80 20 rule applies very well in the weight training room. A tip for your readers? Focus your energy on the mass building primary movements. Why? Because they are the most productive part of a workout and deliver 80% of the results for 20% of the effort.

    This is important, because what usually happens is the opposite: the focus goes onto the least effective parts of a routine, i.e., those isolation exercises or secondary movements that deliver minimum gains – a big mistake and waste of your valuable energy and effort.

    Thanks for the great article.

    Warm Regards,


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