The Pareto Principle of Fitness (The 5% Fit)

1% fit 5% fitness transformation oddsOver the years I’ve had to come to grips with a disturbing fact of being the in “change” business. For years I resisted it, twisted it as I did not want to hear it.

The shocking truth begins with the Pareto Principle.

You know the Pareto Principle—also known as “the 80-20 rule.” It states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

I’ve found the Pareto Principle to be startlingly accurate in many, if not most, cases. For instance, in the nutrition business, 20% of your retail stores will consistently account for 80% of your total sales.

The Pareto Principle would have us assume that 80% of the weight loss and transformation success would come from about 20% of the people. More simply stated, 20 people in 100 would really make the changes when they set out to engage a diet, fitness or weight loss program.

I used to think that 20 in 100 was pessimistic but years of experience has taught me different. Given that generally accepted number on dieters is that less than 10% stick with it and the extensive statistics in the book, “Change or Die” which suggest that given the choice, between death and change, 97% choose death; it seems pretty clear that 20% is naively optimistic.

The Perato of Fitness

Here’s my take on how the Pareto of Fitness works: A good 80% of people will think about it and forget it the next minute. They may buy book, have a wish, mention a need but then be done with it.

Another 10% will do something. They may read part of a book. Join a gym, buy new shoes, something. But they’ll then quickly let that opening pass by and forget what they were even doing.

The last 10% will dive in strong and seek to make some big changes. Only a mere 5% will make a permanent and lasting change (aka Transformation).

Only a mere 5% will make a permanent and lasting change (aka Transformation).

That means that the stark and painful truth is that for everyone 100 people who read my books—or any fitness, wellness, health or other change books—only 5 (or fewer) people will take it to heart and body. And make no mistake that 5 is wildly optimistic.

Like I shared, this used to be a major issue for me. I felt I was wasting my time, or losing people. But I’ve come to see more clearly that it’s not the 95 that I’m losing but the 5 that I’m in relationship with—the 5 who I’m connecting with and helping. And you that’s damned good work if you can get it.

The 95(%) will get their ticket to the 5% at some point, or they won’t. Maybe something they learn here will help them breakthrough. But if we focus on those who are both at some level resistant to change and refuse to put both feet in, everyone loses. I’ll burn the energy I could be sharing with the movers on those who have no intention of moving up.

Are You the 5%?

Tell the truth. When you got that I’m really talking to the 5 people who are going to stuck with me, who are going to make a change for life, you knew that was you. Right?

Of course, you’re the 5% — everyone is. But that’s the tricky thing about the 95%–everyone of them think they’re the 5%. No one comes in to a new program, class or fitness program knowing they’re not going to take it on—really. Our minds don’t work this way. We’re all the 5%. We’re all the winners.

But of course, the numbers aren’t playing mind games. They simply state that chances are better than good, regardless of what your mind is telling you, that you’re part of the 95% not the 5%. That you’re not going to make it though, over or around this. That you’re going to quit before you start.

“Screw you!,” You say?

Actually, it may help to get mad. If hearing that you’re not cut for it, or you’re not going to make it lights a fire, great. Enjoy.

But you’re still likely the 95%! Just sayin…

How Can You Increase Your Odds of Being in the 5%?

It’s true that there simply is no guarantee—no way to ensure you’re the 5%. But there are some activators, some things you can do which have been proven successful in nourishing change, getting people unstuck and greatly improving the success rate.

Here are 5 relatively simple things you can do which have been proven successful in supporting effective, lasting change.

1. Challenge yourself: Aim for the Win, Not the Loss

Find a way to challenge yourself. Certainly the Transformation challenges have been successful but I’m encouraging something even more concrete in the challenge. For instance, say you’ve challenge yourself to ride a century or run a marathon. The physical performance goal takes the focus on the battle with weight and makes weight “loss” a side effect, a gain of performance. Keeping this framing in mind, in the measurable positive, the “image challenges” can still be effective but don’t make it about “losing” to win. But gaining some very clear and tangible goals.

2. Positive Focus, Not negative Fear

I know this one looks similar to the first, but while related, they are quite distinct. Rather than gaining performance, fitness or strength vs. losing weight, this tip is about focusing on the positive outcome vs. the negative consequences.

It’s part of the many lessons from the Dr. Ornish study where he was able to reverse heart disease through diet. Instead of trying to motivate them with the “fear of dying,” (as most Dr’s had been) Ornish reframed the issue. Inspiring a new vision of the “joy of living.” -Convincing them they can feel better, not just live longer, enjoying the things that make daily life pleasurable, (joy) was a more powerful motivator than fear, he found.

3. Win by Helping Others Win

I write about the power of “Sharing the Strength” in Strength for LIFE. It’s one of the hallmarks of the most successful, most transformed Body for LIFE’ers… It’s a hallmark of transformation in many domains of change, including that of recovery and AA, where one learns to stay on the path, strengthening the self by becoming a sponsor and sharing their wisdom and experience. It’s the ultimate way to get yourself, your fears, and even desires out of the way.

4. Connect, Community, Accountability

Simple as it sounds. Get connected, get support, be involved. Once again, this is one that’s as timeless as the human race and been well proven in domains of addiction recovery where stakes and challenges are peak. Connection need not be a big group through, It can be 5 people or even another one you commit to training with. I know for me, I learned to love cycling because I had about 4-5 guys I’d commit to ride with. And that social support and accountability kept me coming.

5. Simple Daily Rituals = Quantum change

This is a mind-bender but one of the most important principles to understand—or shall I say, accept, if you plan to get the change you want to get. You see, we want change but change is usually something big—which is why we want it. We are nearly always in some state of pursuing quantum change—big, big change in big, big ways.

And because the change we want is quantum we assume the path to change must be quantum—huge and dramatic too. But the truth is quantum change is the result of small things repeated daily, day in and day out. Examples of small steps that have big leverage include adding a daily nutrition shake, keeping a food journal (for some time), taking a walk (or more) daily… gratitude practice in the morning,.

Seemingly small things like these make a huge impact. A morning Full Strength nutrition shake can start your day of like a superhero, setting your body, mind and mood right—and supercharging your willpower before you enter your day and full speed.

If You’re Not the 5% it’s Okay

Fact is everyone can’t be the 5% or there’s be no 95%. The fact that there is a 95% simply supports the that we all find our way in our own time. We can’t be forced only guided. Still, if you’ve any intent of making the 5% who attain and retain radical transformation, in any areas, these 5 simple tips and techniques can make a profound difference in your experience….

Here’s to change that takes hold and lasts.




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  1. Billy Wayne Blackwell August 15, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

    Hi Shawn,

    First of all, thank you for your incredible program. My wife and I are read the first eleven chapters of Strength for Life and we are on week three. We are excited and encourage by the results we’ve seen so far and encouraged by this success to continue.

    So thank you. I can’t wait to see what we’ll look like at the end of week twelve.

    One quick question: I heard you mention marathon running as a goal in this post. I put off my goal to complete my first marathon after reading your recommendations on HIIT in Strength for Life. I miss running, but I wanted to stay focused on this program. Can I incorporate running back into my life without erasing muscle and compromising the Strength for Life program?

  2. Johnny Rode August 15, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    As you said, we all want to be in the 5%. And yes, I do too. But taking that I have progressed through almost 12 weeks of the Spring Forward Challenge, and keep getting more and more focused using strategies from your Strength for Life book and old MM as well. I do consider myself in the 5% with a absolute certainty. I have dropped more than 14 lb of fat, it can clearly be seen and I know it by having all my pants drop down on me, and my belts not fitting well anymore. Best of all though, is the energy, that was felt pretty much immediately, but has been consistently getting better. So yeah, I am in the 5% 🙂 …. however I used to be in the 95%, and pretty much all my friends are in the 95%.

  3. Michael Gremillion August 15, 2012 at 9:22 am #

    Great info Shawn. I will pass this on to those I am trying to help. In fact I have printed it and will keep it with my daily readings so that I can keep referring back to it from time to time.


  4. Jay August 14, 2012 at 5:41 am #

    Shawn I am 39 yrs. old and totally blind and I just started listening to all your books and doing your shake but due to my kidnies I can only do a half a shake a day. I am showing results a littlee bit at a time and I will not give up till I get the look I want and better health I need.. So I feel I will be the 1% or even the 5% you talk about.. Thanks for all the info

  5. Mitchel August 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    Great article Shawn! It really is a lifestyle and after years of great nutrition, consistent training and great focus I still feel amazing! My question though is how to you try and convince others to join in on the 5% without coming across as too pushy? I’ve been after this guy at work for a while now who “wants” to make changes but anytime I write up an eating and workout plan he makes excuses like “I don’t have time right now…maybe in the fall” or “I was gonna workout yesterday but…..”

    BTW….the workout plan was a 4 day split of supersetted strength training which would only take 30 minutes a day to complete. It boggles my mind sometimes how people think that people that are into fitness somehow have more time in the day than them!

  6. Michael Albrough August 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    Interesting timing. I was sending follow up communication to a client/friend last night and spoke to this very subject. While I didn’t call it the Pareto Principle or quantify the percentages, I did quite clearly communicate that the failure rate among those undertaking a new fitness regimen/healthy lifestyle is astronomical. This is a much needed reminder that our choices must continually be in alignment with our goals/intentions.

  7. Tom August 13, 2012 at 9:52 am #

    I’d like to think I’m in the top 1% for my age. I have less than 10% body-fat, can run a 19 minute 5K, do at least 80 GOOD push-ups in a minute, do 30 GOOD chin-ups and have made Team USA dragon boat team since ’97.

    And it is done by following the principles described above along with knowing and eating what good nutrition is because you can’t out train a bad diet!

    • Tom August 13, 2012 at 9:52 am #

      Oh, and I’m 53.

    • shawn_phillips August 13, 2012 at 10:27 am #


      Awesome! That’s rocking… love it. Dragon boat! Cool.

      It’s a lifestyle man…it’s choosing, when you get to the point of choice. Granted, the path begins with “boot camp” like approach but it must only arrive / evolve to a lifestyle.

      That’s a great data set!

      To Your Full Strength,

  8. Gordon Bell August 13, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    It seems to me that the older the age group of people committed to fitness and health is under 1% when you look at my age group which is 73. 5% seems way high given what I see around me.

    I just happened to befriend a great role model who is about 9 years older than I and even more fit. It honestly was being in his company from time to time that caused me to believe; if he can do it why can’t I.

    • shawn_phillips August 13, 2012 at 10:29 am #


      Awesome… yes, 1% is right in many sub-groups. And even that may be high.

      For me, 3% is more the number but I chose 5% to be optimistic. Plus, I’m talking about the people who will act from an already selected group who belong to my community. So people who are already are or desiring of activity. And yes, of them it’s the 5%….

      Congrats on making the right choices and having the vision.

      Rock on,

  9. Jeremy August 13, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    Hi Shawn,
    First off great piece… the 80-20 rule especially applies to those of who are in sales in that 80% of our income tends to come from 20% of our clients.

    When it comes to the physical area of my life I fit in the category of those who have bought your book and still have not achieved the goal I set out in the timeframe I set in the beginning.

    Did I fail by not hitting the gym all those times or strictly adherely to my diet… Hell no! When I look back to the path I was on before I started your books and others and compare to what I have become today I love the change, and that in my mind puts me in the 5%!

    • shawn_phillips August 13, 2012 at 10:30 am #

      Amen! Right you are… progress, movement, action is the point and the gateway to the 5%.

      Congrats on making the leap and taking action!

      To Your Full Strength,

  10. shawn_phillips August 13, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Thanks for the share!


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