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Differences Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercises

Updated on June 27, 2011

Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercises

Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise

You have probably heard the terms "aerobic" and "anaerobic" before, but do you actually understand what the differences are between these two forms of exercise? It's likely you can name some exercises which fall into each category such as walking for aerobic exercise and strength training for anaerobic exercise, but do you know why these things fall into those respective categories.

Let's take a closer look at the differences between these two forms of exercise and explore what is best for your body.

Oxygen Supply

The technical difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercises is the amount of oxygen required by the muscles for support and where that oxygen is coming from. With aerobic exercise your muscles need a continued supply of oxygen, which comes from the lungs. Throughout the workout your muscle activity depletes its store of oxygen so it must be replaced through the lungs, which is why you typically breathe heavy while out for a jog or walk.

With anaerobic exercises the lungs don't have time to supply oxygen and the exercises are performed without that replenishing supply. Since the lungs are not working hard to replenish oxygen to your muscles, you typically don't get as out of breath with these exercises.

Length of Exercise Session

Aerobic exercises generally last a longer period of time than anaerobic exercises. Consider the difference between a power walker who goes out for 30-90 minute walks and a weightlifter that does short 45 second sets separated by recovery time.

Anaerobic exercises cannot be sustained long term because the oxygen in the muscles is not being replenished and a recovery period is needed to continue performance.

Expected Results

Your expectations of what aerobic and anaerobic exercise will do for your body should be put into perspective. Aerobic activity will help burn fat, stimulate weight loss, and will increase your cardiovascular health. This means you may be more able to hike up hills, chase your children around the backyard, and do other physically demanding things in your daily life without huffing and puffing for breath. This is because your lungs are working more efficiently and are skilled at supplying the oxygen needed for this type of activity.

Anaerobic exercise will build up your lean muscle mass and make your muscle structure stronger. You can be trim and well toned with muscle without being fit in terms of cardiovascular health! Muscle will make you stronger so you can lift heavier loads in your daily life and it can help you appear trimmer than you would without the muscle.

Bottom line: anaerobic exercise will make you stronger while aerobic exercise will increase your cardiovascular health.

Best of Both Worlds

The best thing you can do is combine some aspect of aerobic and anaerobic exercise into your daily life, but your focus may be heavier on one or the other depending on your health and fitness goals. If you just want to lose weight, then consider getting in as much aerobic exercise as possible to continually increase your calorie deficit while doing anaerobic exercises at least 2-3 days a week so you are developing more lean muscle mass and increasing metabolism.

If your goal is to get ripped and lean, then you may want to place more emphasis on anaerobic exercise, but don't neglect aerobic exercise as it will keep the fat deposits from hiding the muscle you want to display.


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