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Habit Coaching in Fitness: Why it Matters (And How to Start)

What is Habit Coaching?

Habit coaching focuses on helping people build and maintain healthier daily behaviors to improve their lives and achieve specific outcomes, such as weight loss. A habit coach uses various strategies and considers each client’s unique situation to devise an effective plan that helps them build better habits and break bad ones.

What are Habits?

Habits are the small decisions and actions we make daily. According to some data, they account for nearly half of our behaviors and thoughts.

Unlike conscious and deliberate actions, habits often occur on autopilot and are said to develop as a way for the brain to save energy. Rather than consciously thinking about every little thing we must do daily, the brain learns to repeat specific actions. 

As a result, small things like combing our hair, brushing our teeth, and getting dressed in the morning occur on autopilot.

What Makes Habits So Powerful?

Your life today is largely the result of your habits. Another way to look at it is that your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits (credit to James Clear for this). Your physique is the lagging measure of your workout habits; your health is the lagging measure of your eating habits; your knowledge and expertise are the lagging measures of your learning habits.

Of course, this is an oversimplification, but there is a lot of truth to it. Our habits significantly impact our lives.

What we repeatedly do (or don’t do) determines our outcomes in all areas of life. It affects who we are, where we end up, what we think and believe, and how we carry ourselves. 

Every positive change in life, be it getting in better shape, coaching clients more effectively, developing expertise in a new area, or stopping procrastinating, results from building the right habits. 

Sick of being out of shape? Build healthy eating and workout habits. Looking to expand your expertise? Establish new learning habits. Tired of procrastinating? Break the habit of always having your phone in your hand.

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What Habits You Should Help Your Clients Create

1. Take the Stairs

Taking the stairs might seem inconsequential, but it can be a pivotal behavior change that helps change how your clients approach their daily lives. The action teaches people to pick physical activity even when a more comfortable alternative is present––for example, an elevator.

That mindset shift can get people to think about other ways to stay active during the day: parking the car farther, riding a bike instead of driving a car, and going for walks.

2. Sip on Water

Most people don’t put any conscious thought into their hydration and don’t realize how big of an impact their daily fluid intake can have. 

Staying hydrated is one of the most practical ways to feel better, perform well at the gym, improve digestion, and keep headaches at bay

One option is to encourage clients to have a large bottle of water around at all times and use a phone reminder to take a sip every 30-40 minutes. This works particularly well for office workers.

3. Start Each Workout In the Same Way

While many consider working out the most challenging part, getting started typically trips people up. 

However, by teaching your clients to start each workout in the same manner, regardless of circumstances, you ingrain a habit, turning the most challenging part of workouts into the simplest one. Initiating the workout happens on autopilot, and clients no longer struggle to muster the motivation and get going.

The solution here is straightforward:

Helps your clients create a pre-workout ritual––a sequence of activities they perform in the same order each time they get to the gym. It could be as simple as placing their water bottle down and starting their warm-up with a specific activity.

4. Eat More Slowly

Eating more slowly is a healthy habit that doesn’t require any special preparation or expertise. It involves becoming more mindful during each meal and taking the time to chew each bite. Doing so is simple and intuitive to most people, but it still requires discipline.

The benefits of eating more slowly are numerous. For one, chewing food more thoroughly makes it easier to digest, reducing the burden on your digestive system and lowering the risk of stomach aches.

Second, eating more slowly can reduce the risk of overeating because it generally takes some time for satiety to set in. By eating slowly, you’re more likely to start feeling full before you’ve overeaten. That way, you can control your calorie intake more effectively and not feel stuffed following each meal.

5. Pack Gym Bag in the Morning

Packing the gym bag in the morning might seem like a daily habit that doesn’t matter, but there is a solid benefit. The idea is for the client to prepare their gym bag, put it in the car, and go to the gym straight after work instead of first going home to rest and eat.

Doing so reduces the friction of getting to the gym, making your client more likely to be consistent. Instead of going home first and being tempted to take the path of least resistance, your clients can leverage the momentum they’ve already generated during the day to continue being productive.

6. Log Workouts

Logging workouts is one of the most awesome habits trainees can build to instantly boost their productivity, keep themselves accountable, and see better results.


Workout logging is effective because it allows clients to track their progress and make sure they are on the right track. They can keep training in a specific way if it yields good results or make changes if they plateau.

Trainees who don’t track their training are essentially blind because they don’t know if they are progressing well. Even if they see some improvements, those are difficult to track and compare. 

Fortunately, building this new habit is easier than ever, as trainees no longer have to use basic note-taking apps or write their workouts in a log. With an app like Hevy, your clients can input all the important data––exercises, sets, reps, RPEs, supersets, and custom notes. The app calculates volume load automatically, giving clients an easy way to tell if they are doing more work over time.

The best part? Pairing the app with Hevy Coach allows you to create training programs, assign them to clients, and track everyone’s performance and adherence.

The Benefits of Keystone Habits

Most of us look at our behaviors in isolation, but few people consider how one habit can influence others, which is where keystone habits come in.

A keystone habit, first popularized by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit, is a behavior (good or bad) that makes us more likely to do other things. For example:

  • Exercise ⇒ more likely to eat healthier
  • Meditate ⇒ more likely to seek out other self-improvement practices
  • Journal ⇒ more likely to think about our behaviors, thoughts, and things we should be grateful for
  • Limit screen time ⇒ more time and energy for physical activity, reading, and sleep

However, keystone habits aren’t necessarily positive behaviors. A bad or negative habit can also influence other decisions we make:

  • Procrastination ⇒ it can lead to stress and guilt, affecting our productivity and well-being
  • Unhealthy eating ⇒ it can affect our mood and energy levels, making us less likely to engage in exercise
  • Always saying ‘Yes’ ⇒ it can cause us to miss opportunities, overwork ourselves, and burn out

An old habit we don’t even think about can affect us in many ways, influencing our thoughts and decisions. 

Another way to look at keystone habits is as our default mode. We’ve built habits that cause us to act in specific ways, especially when an external cue is present, and our choices have a ripple effect across everything we do in life.

So, when building new habits or helping clients improve theirs, consider how one behavior can influence other actions. The great thing about fitness is that it can be one of the best keystone habits for those seeking to lead awesome lives.

Fitness boosts our energy levels, makes us more likely to eat healthy, forces us to evaluate our old habits, and increases our self-confidence. As a result, it gets easier to break bad habits and build good ones. 

Even if you struggle to help clients form habits, keeping them accountable can promote consistency with exercise, leading to a cascade of positive changes. 

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4 Best Practices for Coaches to Help Clients Build Better Habits

1. Start Small

One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to build good habits and break bad ones is committing to too much right from the start. Doing so seems like the best course of action. After all, anything less may seem like a half-measure destined to fail.

But we are creatures of habit, and we don’t do well with huge and sudden changes. People could follow restrictive diets and high-frequency training plans, but these behaviors typically last only as long as there is motivation and enthusiasm due to novelty.

As soon as these wear off, people start questioning their choices and wondering if all that work is worth it.

A far better approach is to help clients make small, positive changes. New habits should be so small that they don’t require motivation to follow through.

2. Leverage Cues

Sometimes also called reminders or ‘triggers,’ cues kick off habitual behaviors. These can vary greatly, depending on location, time of day, who we are with, and our emotional state.

For example, the cue of coming home in the morning can spark a different behavior than doing the same thing in the evening. Let’s say you come home after a morning run. The cue could trigger the habit of making a fruit smoothie. In contrast, coming home in the evening (say, after work) could cause you to grab a beer from the fridge and sit down to watch TV.

Habit coaches often start by identifying existing cues to better understand their client’s habits, replace cues for negative patterns, and potentially establish triggers for good behaviors.

Another option is to reframe cues for negative behaviors to lead to positive habits. For instance, instead of getting a beer and sitting down to watch TV, the person can use the trigger of coming home to put some comfortable clothes on and work out in the living room or drive to the gym.

3. Focus on Consistency

People often obsess over the theoretical ‘best’ way to do something instead of focusing on what truly matters: consistency

The truth is that there rarely is a single perfect way to achieve a specific outcome, especially when it comes to working out. People can use various training programs and approaches to achieve the same or similar goals like muscle and strength gain or fat loss.

Being consistent is far more critical for two reasons:

  1. Even if you were to find the ‘best’ way to do something, you would get nowhere without consistency. The occasional ‘perfect’ workout is nowhere near as effective as sub-optimal but consistent sessions.
  2. Even if you’re imperfect, consistency gives you important insight and helps you optimize your process. Your first workout might not be ideal, but your 1,000th could be far closer to optimal.

So, when creating a habit coaching program (or simply trying to help your clients live better), emphasize the importance of consistency.

4. Stack Habits

Popularized by James Clear, habit stacking is a strategy for building new habits by leveraging existing ones. Instead of introducing entirely new cues and behaviors, you pair a new habit with an old one.

atomic habit book

James proposes the following formula:

“After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”

Doing so ensures that any new habit is connected to an established behavior. For instance:

  • “After eating dinner, I will go for a 15-minute walk.”
  • “After my morning run, I will make myself a protein shake.”
  • “After lifting weights, I will stretch my muscles for 5 minutes.”

As your client grows more used to habit stacking, you can encourage them to create a whole chain of positive behaviors. For example:

Finish workout ⇒ Stretch for 5 minutes ⇒ Drink a protein shake

Final Words

Habits are the invisible force that impacts our lives and determines our outcomes. Good habits improve our health, well-being, financial status, relationships, and many other areas of life. Bad habits lead to dissatisfaction, poor choices, and health issues.

As a coach, my job is never just to create a training plan, hand it over to a client, and leave them to figure it out. I must guide clients along the way and help them understand how even small daily behaviors can affect their fitness outcomes.

In a way, being a fitness coach or personal trainer is similar to habit coaching because positive changes can lead to superior results, better client retention, more positive reviews, and a thriving business.

With that in mind, check out Hevy Coach before you go. Our all-in-one platform allows you to create training plans, assign them to clients, and keep track of their progress. Hevy Coach is designed to foster accountability for clients, boosting their chances of building good habits that stick.

FAQs

1. Should I help clients with their habits?

While habit coaching may not be in your official job description, making an effort in that department is crucial for helping clients live healthier lives and see better results.

2. What habits should I help my fitness clients build?

Each client will have different needs. One might struggle with overeating and need habits to limit calorie intake; another might struggle with undereating and benefit from behaviors that increase food intake. 

It’s essential to take things a step at a time and learn to recognize what habits could help the client in their unique situation.

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