Kamis, 04 Agustus 2011

The peak/end rule

I was reading "The Moral Landscape" by Sam Harris last night when I came across an interesting finding. To give you some background, the book (which is well worth reading whether you agree with his premises or not) argues that morality should not be the exclusive domain of religion but that science actually has things to say about it. The book revolves around the concept of well being.

In a study it was found that patients undergoing a colonoscopy (in the days before anesthetics were used), the patients suffered less and were therefore more likely to come back for a routine checkup if the colonoscopy tube was left inserted a few minutes longer than was strictly necessary, artificially prolonging the procedure at a low level of discomfort. The conclusion of this study (and other similar studies) is that our perceived suffering depends much more on the peak suffering and the suffering experienced at the end, than on the duration.

I thought that there might be a way to translate this to training and racing. In the case of a race, it is clear that our memory of those races which we have either won or completed in a personal best time was that we hardly suffered, compared to those races which were a disappointment and we remember as being a living hell. It's hard to say which is the cause and which is the effect: perhaps we won those races because we were in the "zone" and so focused on performing that we didn't notice the pain and were therefore somehow able to push harder. Still, I think it is more interesting to apply the principle to training. A direct analogy with the colonoscopy would imply that we should run for a few minutes at low intensity after completing a series of high intensity workouts, for example. Of course, we should do this anyway, to "cool down" or - more specifically - stimulate the aerobic metabolism to oxidize the lactic acid circulating in our bloodstream.

It's an interesting idea and it may be possible to get further insights on how to better tolerate workouts or, to be more precise, to have a more agreeable memory of them so that we are more motivated to repeat them.

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