Karen Parnell

Habit Stacking for Athletes

May 18, 2021

I came across this term a few months ago and it has proven to be amazingly simple and effective for me.

It’s a simple concept of adding something that you want to become a habit to a habit you already have.

One that has worked for me was to add calf raises (which I found were easy not to do daily) to something I do every day which is brushing my teeth. So, every morning when I brush my teeth a complete my calf raises, 15 single leg calf raises left and right three times through. This ensures I get it done plus it makes sure I brush thoroughly! This calf raise protocol strengthens your calf and ankles plus helps stabilise your knee which helps prevent injury when running.

By stacking something you would like to be a habit with an existing habit you are more likely to do it and over about 6 weeks this stacked habit will become just a new habit.

Other examples of habit stacking could be:

-          3 x 15 Body weight squats when making you morning coffee.

-          Oatmeal’s in the microwave: Do 3 x 10 countertop push-ups

-          Your favourite news show is on: Try a sun salutation.

-          Planking whilst your Garmin finds satellite lock!

This methodology is great if you have been given rehab or prehab exercises or drills.

The habit stacking formula is:

After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].


What new habits do you want to do? How will you stack it with an existing habit?


The reason habit stacking works so well is that your current habits are already built into your brain. You have patterns and behaviours that have been strengthened over years. By linking your new habits to a cycle that is already built into your brain, you make it more likely that you will stick to the new behaviour.

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 into the next.


Karen Parnell is British Triathlon Federation (BTF) Level 3 High Performing Coach and Tutor an ASA Open Water Swimming Coach. She is also a qualified NASM Personal Trainer, Nivel 3 Técnicos Federados FATRI España and IRONMAN® Certified Coach as well as being a Stryd running with power coach. Karen is based near Malaga in Southern Spain where she runs ChiliTri coaching and camps.