The 80-20 Rule of Strength and Conditioning Programs

13 Jul The 80-20 Rule of Strength and Conditioning Programs

The 80-20 Rule is one I learned from Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Boyle. The thought process behind this rule is 80% of the components within a strength and conditioning program are interchangeable between athletes of differing sports. I would agree with this statement 100% as I have work at the top level of two professional sports and coached athletes from a variety of different sports. I can even take this 80-20 rule one step further and project it onto the general population of individuals whom are looking to improve their general fitness levels, quality of life, or participation in a recreational activity.


Outside of the endurance athlete (marathon runner, triathlete, cycling), and I could make an argument for these athletes as well but that is for another day, every athlete participating in sport has the goal of getting faster, stronger, quicker, more efficient, and limit injury during competition. The blue print to accomplish these goals are very similar regardless if you play golf, tennis, American football, or baseball.

Human Movement

Realize the kinetic chain of the athlete is the same regardless of sport, sex, or age. Each body has the same number of bones, muscles, and synapsis. That being said, human movement is human movement no matter the activity or intensity of it. Efficient human movement begins with the kinetic chain having the appropriate levels of joint mobility and segmental stabilization. This concept is referred to as the Mobility/Stability Pattern of Human Movement. This principle was first noted by physical therapist Gray Cook and Boyle. The principle states efficient human movement within the kinetic chain of the human body occurs in an alternating pattern of mobile joints and stable segments. If this pattern of mobile joints and stable segments is altered, dysfunction will occur, and compensations will invariably result. And compensatory patterns decrease efficiency, increase stress upon the neuromuscular system, limit power production, and overall athleticism.

The Mobility/Stability Pattern of Human Movement:

Ankle – Mobile

Knee – Stable

Hip – Mobile

Lumbar Spine – Stable

Thoracic Spine – Mobility

Glenohumeral – Stable

Recognizing the fundamentals of efficient movement is predicated on Joint-by-Joint Training every athlete (and individual for that fact) should address this component of performance training first and foremost. If we attempt to improve power, swing speeds, throwing velocities, clubhead speed, or any other exciting component of performance training without first developing this foundation through a Joint-by-Joint Training Approach our overall success will be less than optimal.

An athlete must be able to move efficiently prior to executing more stressful and intense activities associated during competition. How does the strength and conditioning professional proceed in the development of this foundation?

It is simply a process of implementing the appropriate exercises and training modalities in the correct order to develop  the mobility/stability requirements for human movement. Order is important as I refer to Gray Cook and his mantra of “Mobility before Stability”. It is imperative to develop the appropriate levels of mobility prior to developing strength within the muscular system. As strength coaches we often make this mistake in the implementation of strength training exercises when an athlete does NOT have the appropriate levels of mobility to execute the movement pattern efficiently. The barbell back squat is a great example of a good exercise for strength development if and only if the athlete has the appropriate levels of mobility in the ankles, hips, and t-spine to execute.

First and foremost the process of developing the athlete begins with mobility training. Mobility training is a combination of myofascial release, static stretching, and joint mobility exercises. This combination of modalities addresses soft tissue quality, extensibility, and dynamic  joint range of motion.

Once these components have been addressed, the strength and conditioning coach can move onto the second component of efficient movement which is the development of segmental stability. According to Dr. Greg Rose stability can be defined as the ability of any system to remain unchanged or aligned in the presence of outside forces. The development of stability within the neuromuscular system is contingent upon muscular strength and endurance. Strength is defined as the ability of your body to exert the required levels of force to perform the functional movement at hand (Micheal Clark, Integrated Training for the  New Millenium, 369).

If we refer back to the Mobility/Stability Pattern of Human Movement we acknowledge certain body segments require stability to execute human movement in an efficient manner. For example, the lumbar spine (a structural component of the core) requires stability to perform efficient human movement. If the lumbar spine is weak or inhibited due to a lack of stabilization strength within the core musculature, the ability to execute athletic actions will be limited. These limitations will lead to a varying number of dysfunctions during competition and increases in potential injury.

Developing the stabilization capacities within the kinetic chain is accomplished via a number of training modalities addressing specific segments of the body. Isometric, eccentric, and concentric muscular actions are the back bone of these resistance training modalities. The resistance utilized to increase the strength capacities of the neuromuscular system can be in the form of body weight, external resistance, or increase in exercise complexity.


Once the strength and conditioning coach has addressed basic human movement efficiency with the development of mobility and stability, attention can be turned to power. Power is simply the ability of the kinetic chain to generate speed in the shortest amount of time possible. This is a point where variation can exist in terms of sport. For example, the golfer athlete is looking to generate the greatest amount of speed in a transverse plane movement pattern, whereas an American football player requires speed to accelerate, change direction, and create triple extension. These goals will require some variation in the modalities and exercises utilized to develop power. That being said, we can probably put “power development” in the 20% portion of the 80-20 rule.

Functional Strength

The final component of strength and conditioning programs outside of conditioning and SAQ training is functional strength. I use the term functional strength for a reason and use Boyle’s definition of function to describe why as strength coaches we want to develop functional  strength. According to Boyle functional strength is strength with a purpose. Developing stronger muscles for the purpose of just getting stronger does not fully address what an athlete or general population individual ultimately requires for daily life or competition.

The strength developed during training needs to be “usable” strength for the athlete and this is achieved via the utilization of exercise developing the  body “feet-to-fingertips” with multi-joint exercises incorporating balance and proprioception. The reason behind these requirements are simply this is how an athlete uses the  body during competition. Athletes “move” during competition and functional strength training develops movements not muscles. Muscles are obviously incorporated in the movement but bigger biceps are not going to allow a golfer to generate more clubhead speed or for an American football player to change direction more quickly. These movements require the whole body to perform and thus as strength coaches training the entire body with purposeful exercises is crucial.

If we look at the above information we can see how approximately 80% of the programing for an athlete in any sport is basically the same. The mobility, stability, and strength training sections of a program will ultimately be the same. Variations will begin to occur in the power, SAQ, and conditioning sections of a program. In terms of total training time or volume power development, SAQ, and conditioning will comprise approximately 20% of a program. I would suggest as fitness professionals and strength coaches not to get caught up is finite specialization and feeling the need to make every program intimately specific for each athlete is every sport.



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About Performance Coach Sean Cochran: Sean Cochran, one of the most recognized performance coaches in sports today. A career spanning positions with 2 major league baseball organizations, over 10 years on the PGA Tour and work with top professionals including three-time Masters, PGA, and British Open Champion Phil Mickelson, future hall of fame Trevor Hoffman, and Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy provides Sean a proven track record of success.  He has been involved in the production of numerous performance videos and authored books including; Performance Golf Fitness, Complete Conditioning for Martial Arts, and Fit to Hit. He has been a presenter of educational seminars for numerous organizations including the world renown Titleist Performance Institute.