women drinking water on a treadmill after a workout

Anaerobic vs. Aerobic Exercise: What’s Best for You

What type of exercise is best for me? This is the fundamental question of fitness, but the answer can be difficult to find. When you step inside the gym, should you start throwing weights on a barbell, perform a lung-shredding HIIT workout, or hit the treadmill for an hour of jogging? Ask a dozen different fitness “experts,” and you’re likely to get a dozen different answers. The heart of this question is really about aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise.

To understand what type of exercises you should program into your workouts, you need to know the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise first. By learning about the benefits of each type of exercise, you can build workouts that will help you achieve your fitness goals.

What Is the Difference Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise?

Your body is designed to create energy in two different ways. One way, aerobically, is with oxygen. The other way, anaerobically, is without oxygen. Aerobic workouts generally include anything at a low intensity or moderate intensity. Any exercise performed at a high intensity is an anaerobic workout. A great way to tell the difference between aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise is that if you can at least speak in short phrases while you’re exercising, then you’re performing an aerobic exercise.

Understanding Aerobic Fitness

Aerobic exercise is any exercise that you can perform for an extended period of time while maintaining your breath. This is because you can take in enough oxygen while you work so that your heart can continue to supply that oxygen to your muscles. Aerobic exercise depends heavily on slow-twitch muscles that can go the distance. This type of exercise burns glucose for energy.

What Are Aerobic Exercise Examples?

Any type of movement you can perform at low or moderate-intensity is aerobic, including:

  •  Walking
  • Jogging
  • Running (but not sprinting)
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Elliptical trainer

(Learn more about steady-state cardio exercises you can do at the gym or home.)

Additionally, any exercise or movement that you can perform for at least a few minutes at a time without stopping is actually aerobic exercise, such as:

  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Gardening
  • Tai Chi

What is the difference between aerobic and anaerobic? The best way to tell if you are performing an aerobic workout is to pay attention to your breath. If you can breathe steadily, even if you’re breathing hard, you are performing an aerobic exercise. You can also monitor your heart rate. Aerobic exercise typically means a heart rate under 70% of your max heart rate.

What Are the Benefits of Aerobic Exercise?

Aerobic exercise offers up plenty of useful benefits. As the Cleveland Clinic explains, aerobic exercise can keep your heart strong, lowering your blood pressure and lessening your risk of heart disease. Performing regular aerobic workouts throughout the week also burns calories and boosts your mood by lowering feelings of stress and anxiety. Getting in a good cardio workout can even help you sleep better.

Finally, aerobic workouts build endurance, improving your athletic performance and giving you the energy to get through long days.

Understanding Anaerobic Fitness

If aerobic fitness is all about steady-state cardio and slow-twitch muscles, then anaerobic fitness is the opposite. If you’ve ever wondered, “What does anaerobic mean?” The answer is: without oxygen. Anaerobic workouts are fast and hard. They also tend to rely much more heavily on fast-twitch muscles instead of slow-twitch muscles. Instead of using glucose, your body burns an energy source called ATP (adenosine triphosphate) during anaerobic exercise. Without oxygen, however, you can’t go very far, so another hallmark of anaerobic exercises is that they typically last between 90 to 120 seconds. Many anaerobic workouts contain multiple rounds of high-intensity movement sprints followed by rest periods to allow you to recover.

You can check to see if you are performing an anaerobic workout the same way you do for an aerobic workout. Focus on your breath. If you are gasping for air after 30 seconds of an exercise, chances are you’re in an anaerobic state. You can also check your heart rate. Anything at or above 80% of your maximum heart rate is typically in the anaerobic zone.

What Are Anaerobic Exercise Examples?

The distinguishing factor of an anaerobic workout is intensity. For this reason, you can actually turn nearly any aerobic exercise into an anaerobic exercise simply by cranking up the intensity. For example, by sprinting instead of running, you’ll put yourself into an anaerobic state. You can also perform sprints on a bike, rowing machine, or in the pool.

Additionally, high-intensity interval training (or HIIT) is a great example of a workout format that takes a wide range of exercise movements and turns them into an anaerobic workout. HIIT workouts usually feature a handful of exercises that are each performed as a sprint for a short period of time followed by a period of rest.

Finally, weight training is also an anaerobic exercise. Any time you use the weight machines at your gym or lift with free weights, like dumbbells or barbells, you are performing an anaerobic workout, since these exercises are short but intense bursts of effort.

What Are the Benefits of Anaerobic Exercise?

As with aerobic exercise, anaerobic exercise also provides some valuable benefits. Fast-paced workouts, like HIIT, can burn lots of calories in a short amount of time, according to Healthline. This is an excellent option for exercisers on a tight schedule. High-intensity workouts also put you into a state of oxygen debt known as post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. Your body will need to expend more energy after your workout to restore your body to its normal oxygen levels, which means you’ll keep burning calories even after you get home from the gym.

Strength-training, another form of anaerobic exercise, improves bone density, builds muscle, and makes you stronger, according to the Mayo Clinic. Your clothes will fit better, and your new muscles will burn more calories, pound-for-pound, than fat.

Is Anaerobic or Aerobic Exercise Better for Me?

You only have so many hours in the day. Should you focus your energy on aerobic exercise or anaerobic exercise? The answer is that you should incorporate both aerobic and anaerobic exercise into your weekly workout routine. Why? Because then you can enjoy the benefits of both forms of exercise.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that healthy adults perform a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (aka aerobic exercise) or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise (anaerobic exercise) per week. On top of that, the HHS also suggests strength-training at least two days per week.

By performing aerobic and anaerobic exercises, you’ll continually challenge your body in unique ways and improve both your long-term and short-term endurance.

A typical week of aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise examples may look like this:

Monday – 30-minute HIIT class at the gym (anaerobic)

Tuesday – 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer (aerobic) + 30 minutes of strength training (anaerobic)

Wednesday – 20 to 30-minute Yoga class at home (aerobic)

Thursday – 30-minute Dance class at the gym (aerobic) + 30 minutes of strength training (anaerobic)

Friday – 15 minutes of sprints on stationary bike (anaerobic) + 20 minutes slow swim in the pool (aerobic)

Saturday – One hour jog or walk around the park (aerobic)

Sunday – Rest day/mobility training (aerobic)

There are a nearly infinite amount of adaptations to aerobic and anaerobic training, so get creative and choose exercises that you enjoy.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise for Weight Loss

Which type of workout will help you sizzle away the most calories if your goal is to lose weight? First, the biggest contributor to weight loss (and weight gain) is your diet. This means, if you really want to lose weight, start with ensuring that you are eating a nourishing diet.

When it comes to exercise, both aerobic and anaerobic exercise will burn calories. However, a minute of anaerobic exercise will burn more calories than a minute of aerobic exercise. Those who want to burn the most calories in the least amount of time should incorporate more anaerobic training into their workouts. However, Anaerobic workouts can be taxing. You can still burn calories with a session of steady-state cardio, which is also a great option for an active rest day or for athletes who want to increase their cardio stamina. You’ll need to exercise longer to match what you can burn in an anaerobic session. At the end of the day, the exercise that will help you lose the most weight is the exercise you can continue doing over the long term. (Check out the best cardio workouts for weight loss.)

Where to Find Aerobic and Anaerobic Training

Making sure your week includes aerobic and anaerobic exercise doesn’t need to be complicated. By investing in a gym membership, you’ll gain access to cardio machines, resistance machines, and free weights galore. Additionally, most gyms, including EōS Fitness, offer a wide range of fitness classes that include aerobic and anaerobic workouts. If you want an aerobic workout, check out mobility or dance-based classes. For anaerobic workouts, try plyometrics, HIIT, and strength-training classes. Don’t wait to revamp your fitness routine. You can also choose classes that include aerobic and anaerobic components, like strength and cardio classes. Find an EōS Fitness near you today.

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