Differences between aerobic and anaerobic workouts

Personal/Fitness Training Blog

When considering which exercise would be most beneficial, we often tend to think about aerobic exercises merely because we tend to find those types of workouts more often in a commercial gym. At first you need to understand the difference between ‘aerobic’ and ‘anaerobic’ exercises.

Anaerobic vs Aerobic exercise

To define these terms in the simplest way, it comes down to oxygen usage.  As any personal trainer will tell you, when we talk about aerobic exercises it means oxygen is carried to the muscles supplying them with the energy to endure the work. Conversely, oxygen is not present with anaerobic work.

Let’s now look into the differences between aerobic and anaerobic workouts in more detail.

Aerobic workouts

These are exercises/workouts that require energy. The energy store that is being used in our bodies is glycogen and fat as the main fuel source.  The excretion of this energy is at a low-to-moderate level which implies that it will be sustained over long periods of time.

Except for the fact that aerobic work will improve overall health and quality of life, this will also extend your life. Other benefits include:

  • Burning fat,
  • Strengthening the heart and lungs,
  • Reducing the risk of diabetes, and
  •  Improving overall mood due because of hormones called endorphins.

Types of aerobic exercises include activities like brisk walking, running at a comfortable pace, swimming, biking, skipping, dancing, calisthenics and most aerobic classes presented at commercial gyms.

This is a picture of a man swimming, which is an aerobic exercise

Anaerobic workouts

When you workout anaerobically, glycogen will be used as fuel source. Only when the glycogen stores have been depleted will you experience the feeling of hitting that “wall” – also called lactic acid (which causes fatigue and discomfort in the muscles). This implies that “oxygen” is not present with anaerobic exercise.

The benefits of anaerobic work are to help:

  •  Build an muscle mass – calories are burned more efficiently in humans who have more muscle.
  • With weight management, and
  • With building endurance and fitness levels and strengthening bones.

Types of anaerobic work include short burst activities at a very high intensity or at maximal level of exertion. For example:

  • Sprinting (all-out effort that is sustained for a short period of time),
  • Weight lifting (free weights, weight machines, resistance tubing, or body weight),
  • Jumping,
  • Plyometrics,
  • Hill climbing, and
  • Isometrics.

This image depicts a woman lifting weights, which is an anaerobic exercise

Why balance aerobic and anaerobic workouts?

After considering all the benefits that go hand in hand with both workouts, personal trainers advise to include more time on aerobic than anaerobic workouts.  According to the American Council on Exercise they recommend that you schedule aerobic exercises three to five days a week for at least 30 minutes; however, for weight-loss you will need to exercise five to six days a week for at least 45 minutes or longer.

It will be important then to set aside resting days. You can get away with spending less time in the gym doing anaerobic work. Keep in mind you will be working at a greater intensity. Try to incorporate one set of exercises for each major muscle groups (do not favour only a certain group) at least 2-3 times a week. Workout within your comfort zone and progress the amount of weight and repetitions as you get stronger.

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