When you crank the thermostat the room heats quickly. On an already warm day, it takes quite a while for the temperature to reach liveable levels again. The human body works in a similar fashion. With intense exercise, the system throws fast burning fuels into the furnace to meet and maintain required energy levels. In then takes time to recover and replace the resources consumed. In other words, once you burn your britches you have to stitch a new pair, walking around exposed in the meantime. The smarter move is to nudge the thermostat, letting the tissues and processes heat up slowly to a sustainable level and then carry on healthily and vibrantly in all tasks.
Sure, there is a time and a place for a hot pan, i.e. in order to caramelize the outside of the Brussel sprouts or to toast tofu in order to create texture. But in both cases, the idea isn’t to cause burning or lose the inherent structure and nutrients at the core of the food. Instead, these few morsels are added to the bulk of the meal, that has been prepared over time, thereby adding a touch of seasoning without overwhelming the dish.
Using a low simmer allows spices and natural flavours a chance to release and merge together. The impatient cook rushes the process with a low boil.
A dedicated, patient and thoughtful chef develops skills over time, moving from basic dishes for a few people to creating masterpieces on a large scale. Start small, put a few ingredients in the crockpot, and learn over time. Human physiology is improved in a comparable method. We all inherently know that it’s a poor idea to leap off the couch to run a marathon or Ironman. But that’s exactly what many people effectively try to do. They turn up the heat too often, too quickly, or for too long, all of which are akin to scorching the bottom of the pan, or adding a too much hot sauce, producing a singular burning astringency for which the body pays a price; athletically this relates to injury, physical or mental burnout, or sickness.
What’s the physiological equivalent to a low simmer? If you can hear your breath you probably need to lower the effort. When augmenting with intensity, the amount to add depends on the athlete’s fitness level and goals. The body must be fit and strong enough to handle even a small degree of harder work. Intensity type and percentage of total training volume varies with the output needs of the intended sport. Keep in mind, however, that even in 6-minute rowing races, 80% of the energy created is from low-intensity systems!! The Norwegian Olympic medallist cross-country skiers do 90% of their training volume at low cardiovascular levels (bioenergetically= sub-threshold, below the aerobic threshold). That’s virtually all training at a near silent breathing workload.
So, put on your athletic attire, go out there like the best in the sport and slow-cook your body and mind into a masterpiece. Add salt and pepper late in the process and with extreme care so that you don’t ruin the dish with a tiny mistake.
For more on intensity zones & distribution visit the post on Smart Training.