Understanding Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise

Knowing the Difference to Help Reach Your Training Goals

Aerobic and Anaerobic exercises offer distinctive benefits to reaching your fitness goals, but it is important to be able to differentiate and understand. These mutually exclusive events refer to the amount of oxygen available for use and how energy is produced in the body.

Say you get on a treadmill and begin to jog at a steady pace. As your heart rate rises and breathing increases, you enter into the aerobic process. During aerobic exercise your body uses oxygen and fuel (food and water) to promote regular cell metabolic function, creating energy for your muscles to use during an active state. Your heart rate rising is a sign of your body working efficiently to get the oxygen it needs to continue producing energy and therefore you are able to continue jogging for an extended period of time. Aerobic exercise is less strenuous on the body as it leads to increased fat burning. Fat cells are actually easier for oxygen to use for energy conversion than normal fuel sources. But because you are working a lower intensity, it does take more time and you burn less calories per session.

Now let’s say you push to a full sprint. As you increase the intensity of your workout, oxygen is not as readily available, causing your body to find an alternative source to continue producing the energy it needs. This is when you have switched from aerobic, to anaerobic exercise. When glucose (the alternate source) is used instead of oxygen, it creates a byproduct called lactate which when built up around the muscles creates burning, fatigue, and lowered function only allowing you to continue for a short period of time. Anaerobic exercise does improve your exercise capacity, tolerance, and performance because of its ability to illicit a higher hormonal response that can help increase muscle mass, growth and strength. This increase allows the larger muscles to expand their work load capacity and run longer at a higher pace. However, this type of training is much harder, creates a greater chance of injury, and is not suitable for all people.

These exercise methods can be mixed to reach individual goals. If you are just starting an exercise routine, it may be advisable to start with aerobic exercise. But, that doesn’t mean you must avoid anaerobic exercise. The key for anyone that wants to compete in a more demanding sports activity is to combine aerobic exercise with anaerobic exercise that will result in a well-rounded athlete prepared to perform at a higher level. If your goal is to simply get in better shape and be a healthier person, you may not need the same level of anaerobic exercise, but following your morning run with some plyometric exercise or weight training can still be very beneficial providing it is done in moderation with the help of an exercise or training professional. Have fun and stay healthy!