If the term aerobic exercise makes you immediately think of a jazzercise video from the ‘80s, you aren’t alone.
But anaerobic exercise — a higher intensity, higher power version of exercise — doesn’t prompt such a clear-cut visual.
Although the term may not be something you’re familiar with, anaerobic exercise is a very common, not to mention effective, workout. In fact, you’ve probably put yourself through an anaerobic workout at some point in your life!
To make sure you’re up to speed when it comes to the calorie-torching, endurance-building workout, we’ve broken down everything you need to know about anaerobic exercise.
Anaerobic Exercise: What Is It?
Anaerobic exercise is any activity that breaks down glucose for energy without using oxygen. Generally, these activities are of short duration with high intensity. The idea is that a lot of energy is released within a small period of time, and your oxygen demand surpasses the oxygen supply.
Exercises like sprinting, weightlifting, and jumping — all movements that require short bursts of intense energy — are examples of anaerobic exercises.
Aerobic vs. Anaerobic: The Difference
Aerobic exercise produces energy using a continuous supply of oxygen to sustain the current level of activity without needing additional energy from another source. But anaerobic exercise turns things up a notch, prompting your body to demand more energy than your aerobic system can produce. To produce more energy, your body uses its anaerobic system, which relies on energy sources stored in your muscles.
Slower-paced exercises like jogging or endurance cycling are examples of aerobic exercise. Fast-paced workouts like sprinting, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), jumping rope, and interval training take the more intense approach of anaerobic exercise. One easy way to remember the difference between the two — besides the fact that one causes you to literally gulp for air — the term “aerobic” means “with oxygen,” while “anaerobic” means “without oxygen.”
The Science Behind Anaerobics
Oxygen is required for the body to be able to use fat for fuel. Aerobic exercise, since it uses oxygen to produce energy, can use both fat and glucose for fuel. Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, can only utilize glucose for fuel. Glucose is available in the muscles for quick and short bursts of movement, and can be used when the aerobic system is maxed out for a short period of time.
When you begin to exercise vigorously, there is a temporary shortage of oxygen getting delivered to your working muscles. That means anaerobic exercise must be fueled using glucose through a process called glycolysis.
Glycolysis occurs in muscle cells during high intensity training without oxygen, producing energy quickly. This process also produces lactic acid, which is the reason behind why your muscles get so tired after the energy burst.
There’s good news, though! By engaging in anaerobic exercise regularly, your body will be able to tolerate and eliminate lactic acid more effectively. That means you’ll get tired less quickly, after more effort.
Anaerobic exercise sounds like a lot of work, because it is. But the benefits that come with the intense fitness regime are enough to make you want to power through your next workout.
- Increased bone strength and density. Studies show that anaerobic activity — like resistance training — can increase the strength and density of your bones. Double bonus: You’ll also decrease your risk of osteoporosis.
- Weight maintenance. In addition to helping your body handle lactic acid more effectively, anaerobic exercise can help maintain a healthy weight. One study examining the effects of high intensity training found that while the effect of regular aerobic exercise on body fat is negligible, HIIT training can result in modest reductions in subcutaneous and abdominal body fat.
- Boosts power. It can increase your power: A 2008 study conducted on Division 1A baseball players found that players who did eight 20- to 30-second wind sprints three days a week saw their power increase by an average of 15 percent throughout the season.
- Boosts metabolism. Your metabolism will skyrocket. Okay, maybe not skyrocket — but anaerobic exercise helps boost metabolism as it builds and maintains lean muscle. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn during your next sweat session. High intensity exercise is also thought to increase your post-workout calorie burn.
- Increased lactic threshold. By continually training above your anaerobic threshold, the body can increase its ability to handle lactic acid, which increases your lactic threshold — or the point at which you experience fatigue. That means you’ll be able to work out harder, for longer.
- Fights depression. Need a pick-me-up? Studies show that anaerobic exercise, like strength training, can boost your mood and even fight off depression.
- Reduces risk of disease. Gains in strength and bone density attained by high intensity anaerobic training like bodyweight squats and pushups can reduce your risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to a 2007 study.
- Joint protection. By building your muscle strength and muscle mass, your joints will be better protected, meaning you’ll have greater protection against injury.
- Boosts energy. Improved energy and sports performance. Consistent anaerobic exercise increases your body’s ability to store glycogen (what your body uses as energy), giving you more energy for your next bout of intense physical activity, and thus improving your athletic ability.
Why Don’t More People Practice Anaerobic Training?
People may avoid anaerobic training because it is hard. Yet by practicing simple anaerobic exercises, like high-intensity interval training, sprints, and heavy weight training, you too can reap the benefits of this powerful workout.