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Coaching Strength & Conditioning

How to fit your strength training in

If you struggle to be consistent with your Strength workouts each week, and if they are the first casualty of needing to drop something, then a technique called “habit stacking” could be the solution you need. 

So what is habit stacking all about?

You already know that Strength training is important in helping to prevent injuries, maintain muscle tissue, improve bone health, and increase strength for better athletic performance. The problem for many of us is finding the time to actually do it. How do we fit in Strength training sessions when we can at times barely fit in all of our running and cycling sessions? The might be “habit stacking”.

A termed coined by S.J. Scott, author of Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less, habit stacking is quite simply the concept of adding new habits on top of existing ones. Amazingly simple, but surprisingly effective, especially when it comes to Strength training.

Think Micro Workout

A simple example of habit stacking for you. In order to include calf raises into your regular routine (the benefits of which include better stability and balance, reduced risk of ankle and knee injury, and better agility when running… so pretty important to include into your programme), you might “stack” them with brushing your teeth every day. So every morning do 15 single-leg calf raises three times on each leg while brushing your teeth. This ensures you get the micro workout done. Stacking is just this simple.

By stacking a new habit on top of an existing one, you are, quite simply, more likely to do it. In approximately six weeks, this new “stacked” habit will become routine. The key is making habit stacking as simple as possible. Think of easy wins:

  • Doing 3 x 15 squats when you’re making the morning coffee.
  • Doing 3 x 10 countertop push-ups when your porridge is in the microwave.
  • Planking whilst your Garmin finds satellite lock (OK this could be an impossible length of time to Plank for!! 

While these micro workouts may seem trivial, they are actually incredibly beneficial in the long run. Real fitness adaptation occurs when there is consistency over a long period of time, which means that doing daily micro workouts will generally lead to better results than the inconsistent gym visits.

Why does “stacking” work

The reason habit stacking works so well is that your current habits are already built into your brain. You have patterns and behaviors that have been strengthened over the years through consistent repetition. So, by linking your new habits to a behavioral pathway that’s already built into your brain, you are much more likely to stick with the new behaviour.

To get started with this technique, learn to talk to yourself about HOW you are linking the new activity to your existing habbit. For example:

  • Before I go for my daily run, I will do a few quick glute strengthening exercises OR After I put on my cycling kit, I will do a few quick glute strengthening exercises.
  • After I get back from my daily run, I will do 5 minutes of core work OR Before I take off my running shoes, I will do 5 minutes of core work.

Once you have mastered this basic structure, you can begin to create larger stacks by chaining small habits together. This allows you to take advantage of the natural momentum that comes from one behaviour leading to the next, ensuring consistency and therefore a more effective execution of Strength training.

Habit stacking; it’s a simple technique. It won’t cost you anything and it could help you achieve much greater benefit from your overall programme. What’s not too like?!

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Ed Stivala

Coach & Founder

Founder BitFitter, an innovative easy to use Training App. 
L3 Personal Trainer, British Cycling Coach, England Athletic Event Group Coach & Swim England L2 Instructor
When not Coaching, he competes in Duathlon and plays golf very badly!