You brush your teeth after you shower, right? Same here—it just makes sense to do them together as part of your morning routine.
That’s a super simple example of habit stacking, a technique for building new routines and behaviors (like fitness) on top of established, routine ones. Popularized in James Clear’s Atomic Habits, habit stacking is a form of implementation intention where you add to what’s already working. If you live above a gym and make hitting the treadmill part of your Saturday ‘leaving-the-house’ routine, that’s a habit stack, for example.
Athletes love habit stacking, and more and more trainers are coaching their clients in it to help them fit wellness into the day-to-day. At ABC Trainerize, we build tools that help trainers track clients’ progress and behaviors, which give a technical foundation to your work supporting habit stacking. So let’s dive in and explore how habit stacking can help your clients meet their goals—and how to coach them through the process.
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What is habit stacking?
Habit stacking is an evidence-based approach to building new habits that leverages habits you already have as the foundation for adopting new ones. With habit stacking, the goal is to focus on existing habits and then pair them with new habits to make it easier to take them on.
Some habit stacking examples that a personal trainer (like you!) might use to help clients include:
- Adding quick and simple fitness exercises onto the beginning or end of daily routines
- Aligning meal habits and nutrition practices with specific workouts or plans
- Kickstarting a morning with new early practices to support health
- Pairing listening to music or watching shows with fitness practices to make the most of time
- Adding meditations onto nighttime routines
- Drinking a glass of water at pre-scheduled time
Any habit your clients want to adopt can be stacked on top of other habits, of course. There’s no rules—it’s all about peoples’ goals.
How does habit stacking work?
Firstly, habit stacking works by cementing routines through repetition. It focuses on leveraging anchor habits—habits that are already a core part of your life—to help you stick to new ones. Fitness trainers can help support their clients by empowering them to align new positive health habits with their existing routines.
As a trainer, you can work through stacking habits with your clients by identifying those anchor habits and then helping them pair new habits to better support productivity. Some clients may know what habits they want to add, or you can help them choose appropriate habits by discussing their long-term health and fitness goals.
How to use habit stacking techniques as a fitness coach
Additionally, as a habit coach or fitness coach, you can support your clients in habit stacking by opening a dialogue and making a game plan. Here’s the framework in four steps:
1. Educate your clients on habit stacking
The first part of this discussion with your clients will always be focused on education. In order to benefit from habit stacking, your clients first need to learn what habit stacking is and how it works. These discussions should be positive and encouraging—remember, anyone can benefit from stacking habits!
2. Identify and map their existing habits
Next, successful habit stacking is all about choosing the right anchor habits. These are the daily habits that will drive habit-building over time. They will play a key role in your client’s daily routine. Additionally, the stronger and more concrete these habits are, the more likely they are to support the new habits you pair them with. Choosing the right anchor habits helps you build stronger new habits over time.
So… talk to them! Ask your clients about their average day and what habits are already included in their schedule. For example, these habits can include just about anything—a morning walk, coffee with friends, their lunch break, when they brush their teeth, or even listening to a podcast. First, find out what your client does every day. Next, write down these anchor habits for future use.
3. Find and introduce their new habits
Additionally, now that you and your client have identified their anchor habits, it is time to look to the future. What habits are they trying to build, and what are the benefits of these new habits? Open up a dialogue with your client to find habits that they want to build to support their overall health.
Lastly, once you’ve lasered in on their target habits, it’s time to align their new habits with their existing habits. Try to pair habits that pair well together and make sense in their daily routine, and include your client in the discussion. It’s their life, so they’re the ones with the greatest say-so.
4. Track their results
Finally, building lasting behavior patterns is the goal of habit stacking, and tracking results can help you and your client recognize what is and isn’t working. Therefore, evaluate how the new habits are taking, and look for any pain points that may be popping up. Additionally, tracking habits and performance can be simplified with a fitness management tool like ABC Trainerize, which houses your client’s entire training history.
How habit stacking leads to long-term fitness success
Additionally, although some people benefit from changing their entire routine to build new habits, research shows that most people benefit more from small changes over time. For example, as small habits continue to build and compound for your clients, they’ll see big changes as the weeks turn into months. (Love that.)
Lastly, in order for habit stacking to be successful, tracking your progress is essential. For example, be sure to follow along with your clients and gauge their progress using a dedicated tool, so that you’re a partner in their long-term success. Additionally, a little encouragement and slowly adding tiny habits can go a long way towards better health. They’ll remember that reinforcement and continuity you provide, and keep coming back.
So, what’s next?
You’ve got a solid foundation in habit stacking, and you’re ready to start formalizing how you offer it to your clients. That’s where we come in, of course. At ABC Trainerize, our suite of gym management tools comes with everything you’ll need to manage a full client roster, and track their progress in habit stacking. We’ll help you track everyone’s progress without the headaches, and increase your client retention in the process.