Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise

Have you ever wondered why a person with excellent muscular strength, such as a bodybuilder, is prone to poor performance in endurance activities such as running, bicycling and swimming? The reason is because exercise can be broken down into two different categories, aerobic and anaerobic. The two types differ by duration, intensity and how energy is generated in the muscle.

Aerobic exercise refers to any moderately intense activity over a relatively long period of time, where your heart has an increased demand for oxygen, such as running, cycling or swimming. It improves the heart, lungs and cardiovascular system. The byproduct of aerobic training is carbon dioxide, which is expelled easily through breathing.

Anaerobic exercise refers to any short, high intensity activity, such as weight lifting, sprinting and sports like soccer. It improves muscular strength, flexibility, mobility and coordination. The byproduct of anaerobic training is lactic acid, the source of muscle fatigue.

A well-balanced exercise program includes aerobic and anaerobic workouts. 

Aerobic Fitness

Synonyms: ‘Respiratory’ ‘Cardiovascular’ ‘Endurance’

Aerobic means “with oxygen” and it’s defined as any physical activity of moderate intensity for a prolonged period of time that demands an increased need for oxygen. Aerobic exercise is synonymous with “cardio,” or any activity that overloads the heart and lungs and causes them to work harder. For example, running a long distance at a medium pace. If the activity is intermittent or not continuous, it’s not aerobic (repetitions or sets followed by periods of rest).

The heart, lungs and blood vessels work to pump oxygen throughout the body. The rate at which the body can utilize and remove oxygen circulating in the blood, determines the aerobic capacity of the cardiovascular system. In other words, an individual’s endurance level is determined by how well the body can transport oxygen to the muscles. The waste products of aerobic activities are carbon dioxide and water.

Cardiovascular Benefits

  • Strengthens and enlarges the heart muscle.

  • Lowers the resting heart rate, which means blood is transporting oxygen to the muscles and organs more efficiently.

  • Improves circulation and reduces blood pressure.

  • Strengthens the lungs and facilitates the flow of oxygen.

  • Increases the total number of red blood cells.

  • Helps to prevent blood clots by increasing the size of the arteries.

  • Reduces the risk for diabetes.

  • Increases metabolism.

Performance Benefits
    • Enhances cardiovascular endurance and stamina.

    • Increases threshold for lactic acid.

    • Improves recovery time.

    • Reduces fat.

    • Increases metabolic rate.

    • Reduces stress and boost mental performance.

    Examples of Aerobic Exercise

    • Climbing

    • Cycling

    • Cross-country Skiing

    • Dancing

    • Jumping Rope

    • Rowing

    • Running

    • Skating

    • Stair Climbing

    • Swimming

    • Walking

    Anaerobic Fitness

    Synonyms: ‘Weight Lifting’ ‘Calisthenics’ ‘Muscle Stamina and Endurance’

    Anaerobic means, “without oxygen,” and is referred to any physical activity that produces energy without the help of oxygen. Anaerobic exercises are characterized by short, intense bursts of activity, such as sprinting or weight lifting. These exercises demand energy requirements that exceed what is supplied by breathing, so the body is forced to work without oxygen, making it a far less efficient process.

    “Fast twitch” muscle fibers are used to create anaerobic energy. These muscle fibers excel in quick, powerful bursts, but they have a much faster rate of fatigue. Anaerobic exercises generally last from a few seconds up to about 2 minutes and they help to build strength, speed, and power. The byproduct of aerobic exercise is lactic acid, the result of a burning sensation in the muscles that ultimately causes fatigue and exhaustion.

    Performance Benefits

    • Increases muscle mass.

    • Builds speed, strength and power.

    • Improves physical appearance by toning and firming the body.

    • Muscle burns more calories. 

    • Lowers blood sugar.

    Cardiovascular Benefits

    • Strengthens bones and hardens joints.

    • Increases metabolism.

    • Improves posture.

    • Improves blood circulation.

    Examples of Anaerobic Exercise
    • Weightlifting (lifting dumbbells/barbells)

    • Calisthenics (push-up, pull-up, sit-up)

    • Isometrics (plank, superman, wall squat, static exercises)

    • Interval Training (short bursts of intense activity)

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