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Peak-End Bias: why a warm-down actually helps

If you ever wondered why your coach has you perform a warm-down after your training and not just hit the shower right away, this article will be of interest to you. There is some interesting science behind the warm-down for those of you unsatisfied with a just-bringing-your-heart-rate-down reply.

The research into pain experience during and after surgery helps us gain an insight into why a warm-down might have more effect than simply transitioning the body from one activity mode to the next.

The so-called “peak-and-end rule” suggests that the most intense (peak) and final (end) moments of an experience disproportionately influence retrospective judgements (source). What this means is that there are basically two moments of an experience we remember when asked to judge how hard it was, the most intense peak and the end. Researcher Kahneman and colleagues experimented with lengthening the procedure of a surgery to put more time between the peak intensity of the procedure and the end. The test subjects reported feeling better when the surgery ended with a lower intensity (pain) perception even though the procedure took longer.

When sport scientists applied the peak-and-end-rule to workout sessions, they found it plays some part in predicting the affective memory of an exercise experience but other variables are also likely to play a role (source). People judge a workout largely based on how they felt at its peak (its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. For more information on the Peak-End Bias, I recommend this Khan Academy video.

So why do that warm-down? Especially if you are performing a high intensity work-out session, one where you get your heart rate up high, you should aim to put time between the peak intensity and the end. If the peak intensity happens to be right near the end, we experience the training as particularly hard. If we prolong the training with a gentle warm-down, putting more time between the peak experience and the end, we will be more inclined to think of the training as less painful overall after we finish.

Perform a warm-down where you steadily lower your heart rate over approximately 5 minutes before taking a shower or sitting down. Some incidental warm-down might incorporate storing your exercise gear or a gentle jog after a running set finishes. After that, you a more than welcome -and most probably highly encouraged by the people around you- to go and take that shower!

Follow Erik on Instagram or @ErikBöhm. I love to read your comments so leave me a note if you enjoyed this read. Until next time, happy training!


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