What Happens To Your Brain When You Get Peloton High-Fives

They’re doing more than you may even realize.

Here's what happens to your brain when you get Peloton high-fives.
Getty Images/ ©fitopardo

If you’re a devotee of Peloton, you know all about what a high-five on the platform is — and the euphoria that soon follows after a fellow workout buddy gives you one. And, in this digital age — especially with so many people working out from home — even a virtual show of encouragement can go a long way. So what exactly happens to your brain when you get a Peloton high-five?

A high-five is one of the star features of Peloton, and all it takes is a tap on the screen over someone’s username, and the person on the receiving end (who’s taking the workout at the same time) will get that alert. “These high-fives are so versatile and can be so many things —a ‘hello,’ a ‘keep up the great work,’ a ‘you’re not alone!’ or simply ‘I see you,’” says Peloton instructor Jess Sims. And these motivating alerts affect you and your sweat sesh in a number of ways — read on for the reasons why Peloton high-fives are so beneficial (and why you love them so much).

1. They Release Feel-Good Chemicals In Your Brain

Once you receive an alert of a Peloton high-five, it sets off a chain reaction in your brain. “When you get that positive reinforcement, dopamine is released, which can keep you coming back for more,” says Dr. Alex Anastasiou, MD, a board certified-psychiatrist, who likens getting these digital high-fives to receiving an award or trophy.

Working out also releases endorphins, says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, MD, New York-based neuropsychologist. “Endorphins are chemicals that relieve stress and pain and make a person feel happier and more euphoric,” she explains, adding that these are released when a person smiles or laughs. “Endorphins and serotonin are released when a person receives morale boosts from friends while exercising,” she adds. “A Peloton high-five, for example, can cause a person to smile and feel happier and more supported during a workout.” It’s hard not to smile when you see that notification, after all.

2. They Can Motivate You To Workout More Regularly

Exercise in general releases feel-good chemicals in your brain, but this can also lead you to want to workout more. “Exercise increases endorphins and neurotransmitters in the brain, which helps ward off depression and anxiety,” says Anastasiou. And dopamine plays a big role in working out: Studies show that the dopamine triggers that you get from exercise can actually help increase voluntary physical activity — so you’ll want to come back for more.

3. They Can Improve Your Exercise Performance

During moments when you feel the mid-workout slump, Hafeez says a Peloton high-five can trick your brain into making your body work harder than before. In fact, this effect on your brain can even improve your physical performance.

“Having external recognition of your efforts and achievements is a positive reinforcement, and it's going to reinforce that behavior in a positive way so that you want to keep doing it,” says Dr. Cordelia W. Carter, MD, orthopedic sports surgeon. “You want more rewards, and so maybe you stay on the bike longer.”

4. They Make Your Workouts More Social

Seeing that notification of a high-five is just like having a friend cheering you on, even if you’re working out in your home gym. “It reminds [you] that even though you’re not in the same room as other people, you’re still being watched and noticed by Peloton members,” says Hafeez, who adds that watching others complete the same exercise as you can serve as extra motivation. And, according to research, group exercise can actually help create social bonds that improve overall workout performance.

Even being conscious of the leaderboard itself during a Peloton workout is enough stimulation to keep climbing, says Sims. By working out in a group, you can increase your exercise accountability — and by simply getting a Peloton high-five, especially when you’re struggling, can make you feel less alone and more motivated, she says.

5. They Can Help You Push Through Hard Intervals

When you’re trying to push through fatigue, a Peloton high-five can literally help you go the extra mile. “Some of my favorite stories are of when [Peloton] members say they were in a moment where either their mind was wandering or they weren’t pushing themselves as much as they could have been, and then, boom, they got a high five,” says Sims. “You might be thinking you’re at your limit, but a high-five might push you even closer to a more intense interval or even a [personal record],” Sims says.

Also, high-fives are a two-way street: sometimes it’s even impactful to give them out. “High-fives are amazing to receive, but they’re also awesome to give out,” says Sims. “It makes me feel good knowing that I just made someone feel seen and celebrated.”

Studies referenced:

Basso, J. C., & Suzuki, W. A. (2017). The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review. Brain plasticity (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 2(2), 127–152. https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040

Davis, A., et al. (2015), Social Bonds and Exercise: Evidence for a Reciprocal Relationship, Plos One, University of Oxford, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0136705

Flack, K., et al. (2019), Increasing the Reinforcing Value of Exercise in Overweight Adults, Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2019.00265

Heijnen, S., Hommel, B., Kibele, A., & Colzato, L. S. (2016). Neuromodulation of Aerobic Exercise-A Review. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 1890. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01890

Hoffman, B. M., Babyak, M. A., Craighead, W. E., Sherwood, A., Doraiswamy, P. M., Coons, M. J., & Blumenthal, J. A. (2011). Exercise and pharmacotherapy in patients with major depression: one-year follow-up of the SMILE study. Psychosomatic medicine, 73(2), 127–133. https://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0b013e31820433a5

Steinberg, E. (2014). Positive Reinforcement Mediated by Midbrain Dopamine Neurons Requires D1 and D2 Receptor Activation in the Nucleus Accumbens. PLoS One. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3986242/


Dr. Alex Anastasiou, MD, a board certified-psychiatrist.

Dr. Cordelia W. Carter, MD, orthopedic sports surgeon and Director of the Women’s Health Center at NYU Langone Health

Dr. Sanam Hafeez, MD, NYC-based neuropsychologist, faculty member at Columbia University

Jess Sims, Peloton instructor