How does rest factor in to the 80/20 ratio

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    This is mostly a swim related question. In either the tri or run plans you’re basically working your legs 5-6 days a week. Typical swim frequency in the lower level tri plans gives you 4 days of upper body rest a week.

    Coming from a short distance swim background, it feels as though 20% hard work with 4 days off a week just doesn’t give enough high effort work. Perhaps it’s just age catching up to me, but not too many years back I was able to turn a sub 30 HIM swim with workouts more 35/65 than 80/20. These days, my swim just feels sluggish. Does having additional rest days actually add to the 80 part of the 80/20 philosophy?


    Hi Bstarr,
    I’m not sure exactly what your question is – maybe you can elaborate for me?

    As a start – Rest days are not part of the 80/20 intensity balance – this is more to do with the programming of your workouts across a 7 day period. In regards to upper body/lower body training in a triathlon program – while you can rest your legs somewhat when swimming if needed by using a swim aid, running and cycling still utilise upper body – not to the same extent as swimming does – but there is still upper body work happening when you are doing the 2 other sports. If you feel your swim has slowed down – this may mean that you need some additional time in the water, or to incorporate a strength training program into your plan to work on your core and upper body strength outside of the water.

    I hope I answered your queries but if I’m off the mark just let me know.


    Thanks Leyla,

    I understand what you’re saying working legs during swim and upper body during run/cycling. That being said, I would put those efforts well within the Z1-Z2 range during those times. I’m not getting a Z3-Z4 upper body workout while running or cycling. Similarly with the legs during a swim. I’ll term this ‘off discipline’ training. However, Z3-4 cycling would align with a Z3-4 run effort from a leg standpoint. So, if you look at running and cycling together they both combine with regards to working the legs in a 80/20 relationship.

    I took a look at two random weeks of my Tri maintenance plan.

    I spent 2500m/11000m Z3-4 23% swim
    I spent 114min/805min Z3-4 14% bike/run

    So now let’s look off discipline and see how upper body vs. lower body gets worked. The plan has 1 complete day off a week. If you look off discipline, you could consider my swim would add 240 minutes Z1-2 to 805 minutes of leg work. However, the bike/run would add 805 minutes of Z1-2 upper body work to my 240 minutes of swim time. You can see that the off discipline days skew the 80/20 upper body work significantly.

    Hopefully this explains my thoughts a little better.

    Yes, I will spend more time in the water preparing for my next event which, of course, will help.

    I also am doing strength and core work to help battle Father Time.


    Hi Bstarr,
    So when looking at effort in terms of the 80/20 rule you would not break this “effort” into upper body lower body zones as the zones are related to the cost of the exercise you are doing. Ie a zone 2 swim is in the 80% bucket just like a zone 2 run is in the 80% bucket. Specificity will relate to the actual sport you are doing and the demands of that sport – movement patterns, strength endurance, technique etc.

    So I would recommend taking a wider view of your training – and consider your intensity balance (effort) over a 7 day period across all 3 sports – and that should be around 80/20 split – this is a general not a precise prescription. THen as a triathlete you are dividing this work up across your 3 sports for the purposes of specificity. Here finds one of the limitations of an off the shelf plan – it doesn’t take into account that you may be a Level 3 swimmer, but a Level 1 cyclist and runner. In this case you can increase the volume of swimming to match your fitness and skills – but the 80/20 balance over the week should remain. You may do a 60/40 split in your swimming itself – but this should be considered across the overall intensity balance of your weeks worth of training across all sports. Why? Because the science shows and the best athletes in the world prove that this simple principle is the key to reaching peak fitness.

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