The Butterfly Effect and How We Train

I cried on the plane. More accurately, my eyes got a little wet. Katie and I are flying to Costa Rica to celebrate our one-year anniversary. We watched an inflight movie called Project Almanac and the love story got me.

Left to right: Jonny Weston is David Raskin and Sofia Black D'Elia is Jessie Pierce in PROJECT ALMANAC, from Insurge Pictures, in association with Michael Bay.

Long story short, and Spoiler Alert!, the young creator of a time machine uses it to fall in love, then must use it undo the consequences of how he’s changed time. As the film ended Katie asked me, “If you had a time machine, what would you change?”

“Nothing,” I responded, “There isn’t anything I would change.”

You see, since I first saw The ButterFly Effect, I’ve been a little horrified of time travel. How selfish would it be to change time for your own amusement, with potentially disastrous results for the rest of humanity?! Katie agreed, and it was a romantic moment.


As the credits rolled, and I finished pondering the depth of changing your past, I couldn’t help but think about how our inability to change the best changes our fitness decisions.

How we’ve trained in the past influences our fitness decisions. It should improve our knowledge of training, and our appreciation of the human body. That doesn’t make what we’ve done right or wrong, it only means we must learn from our past experiences.

Learn from the past

Consider this: There’s no such thing as a perfect program. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all program that allows everyone to reach their specific programs. The number of variables to consider means that exercise physiology can be extremely chaotic, and rather than a hard science, I believe we best appreciate it by understanding the philosophy of Chaos Theory.

According to Edward Lorenz, Chaos is when the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.

First, we’ve accepted that no program is perfect. Second, let’s accept that lots of programs are successful. Accepting those stipulations, know that any program won’t work forever, it can certainly work for a period of time. Knowing when to use any program means we need a degree of exercise literacy to appreciate if a program’s going to work or not. It’s that literacy that came to mind as I thought about time travel and The Butterfly Effect.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 10.19.36 AM

Embarking on a fitness plan means we must have a degree of trust. Trust in ourselves, in our plan, in the efficacy of the plan. Quite often we haven’t established that trust so we program hop, or exercise regularly but without broader structure to what we’re doing.

On the other hand, we often workout with such fervor and dedication to a program that it no longer serves us, but we follow it anyway. How we know the difference is often a challenge, and I don’t seek to tell you when your program is nailing it or sucking the life out of you. Rather, I’d like us to learn from our past fitness experiences so that we can better inform the ones in our future.



I’ll use my own workouts as an example: From 2010-2014, the only thing I wanted to do was lift heavy weights. Lifting heavy weights was the shit. Everything that I did was supposed to be in support of my goal of lifting weights. Thing is, lifting heavy weights on its own wasn’t in support of my greater goal: Living a healthy, fulfilling life. After a little too much discomfort from tweaked backs, I followed Mike Boyle’s Evolution of a Strength Coach towards the “functional” end of the continuum.

I’m totally okay with it, because I’m having more fun with life now, but it’s important to note that it wasn’t about exacerbating a back injury; it was about finding something that was more fulfilling. Lifting as heavy as I could was still super fun, and it still is super fun. Now I accepted it as something I really enjoy, but as part of bigger Journey. No longer do I want to only lift heavy weights. Now I want to have fun at the same time. That program, in isolation, no longer serves me.


Over the last 4 weeks, according to my Wahoo fitness app, I’ve worked out on 18 days for a grand total of 30 workouts and 35.25 hours. Of those 30 workouts, 14 of them were bike rides, for a total of 133 miles. It seems that half of my exercise these days is riding my bike, and it’s been absolutely incredible. Do you know what wouldn’t be absolutely incredible?

If I kept training as if I was preparing for a power lifting meet, despite it not serving my personal goals and abusing my body for the time being. Will there be a time when it’s a larger focus of my life? Oh hell yes. And that time isn’t now.

The time is…. Later.

While sticking to a program is a more common challenge that we have in fitness, not knowing when to change can also be a problem. When would you consider that this could be you?

If your program has injured you, it’s no longer serving you. If your consistent results are no longer, your program is no longer serving you. If you never saw results in the first place, your program is no longer serving you. If you’re experiencing the need to rationalize any of those conditions, you likely have sunk-cost bias, and your program is no longer serving you. Got ya!

We don’t have the luxury of going back in time and changing the programs of our past. Quite frankly, I don’t think we should. If years of steady state cardio led to overuse injuries you’re now battling, that changes how you approach your current strength training. If years of lifting with bad technique lead to pain, it may now influence your exercise selection. If you’ve done 15 cleanses this year and lose then gain 20lbs each time, maybe you’ll repeat it next time it’s on TMZ, amiright?!?


We don’t have the luxury of going back in time to change our past experiences.  This is common knowledge, but often we act in a way that suggests we think otherwise.  We have to appreciate that our current position along our journey is so greatly impacted by the initial variables.  I believe that the variables that we choose to adjust along the way are also important, and that would break my Chaos comparison a bit.  (They’re more fond of the initial variables.)

Since time travel isn’t possible, and if it were the Butterfly Effect could really mess it up for us, I believe it’s wholly important to respect that the decisions we make now could have a lasting effect on our fitness future.

I met this little guy in Costa Rica. He’s waving hello!

Going forward, strive to have those eyes in the back of your head that your 3rd grade teacher always warned you about.  Remember that our ability to perform and thrive, whatever that may mean personally, is largely predicated upon our past preparation, and our ability to adapt for the future.  A little awareness and hindsight combine to provide wisdom so we can better prepare for the future.

Ya know the saying, “Hindsight is always 20/20?” We take that to be true. How would you take care of yourself if you could make your foresight 20/20 as well?

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