Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise

Often, when discussing the pros and cons of two different approaches to weight loss, consumers are led to believe there is a “good” and a “bad” approach. They might not realize that a combination approach could also be beneficial.

Such is the case with aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise. They share similarities but there are differences too. Depending on the result you are looking for, it’s possible and preferable to favor one over the other, so let’s take a quick look at them both.

Aerobic Exercise

This is defined as a workout that you do over a period of maybe an hour or more. It could be gentle walks, swimming lengths slowly at the pool, hiking, cycling, or jogging. Any prolonged sort of exercise in which you do a lot of heavy breathing is burning fat and sugar. You will eventually develop a lean look if you combine regular aerobic exercise with a healthy diet, but not a toned profile.

Anaerobic Exercise

While not the opposite of aerobic exactly, the result is different visually. People who favor short bursts of activity where they work to the point of failure (that point where you think you can’t finish another weight-lifting repetition or another burpee) are building muscle.

Their physique is ultimately more defined and bulkier, but not fat. Participants in either category could be doing the same exercises (running, swimming, etc.) but in different ways (slowly completing a distance vs. focusing on moving as quickly as you can). Another example is High Intensity Interval Training (also known as HIIT and circuit training) which does not take as long as aerobic class yet often burns more calories.

Pros and Cons

Aerobic exercise is always good for your heart, excellent for getting a person out of his chair, and a fantastic way to socialize. Most people notice a marked improvement in their moods and overall health if they work out regularly in this way. It’s relaxing once you get started and you feel a sense of accomplishment.

Unfortunately, many people fail to burn maximum calories this way. Muscle burns fat but you aren’t really building muscle with aerobic exercise alone. Some would say this isn’t the most efficient sort of workout if it’s all you are doing and your goal is to shed fat.

Anaerobic workouts don’t last as long, so they are great if you don’t have much time. They build muscle rapidly and muscle burns fat at rest. There is a long period of time after a muscle-building session during which you continue to burn calories, so if you feed your body well during this time it can really benefit from anaerobic movements.

You do, however, need to feed muscles the correct type and amount of food. It’s important to consume enough protein, especially dense protein like whey or eggs, which the body can absorb and transport to the muscles in a hurry. If you don’t support your workouts with enough hydration, minerals, and fuel, you will notice cramping and the build-up of lactic acid can cause pain.

Moreover, anaerobic movements alone don’t develop endurance. Participants have quick, strong reactions but aren’t necessarily capable of sustained exertion.

Blending the Two

For the best results, it’s good to combine aerobic and anaerobic movements during your day or week. How much and how often depends on your schedule and goals. Perhaps you could alternate day by day or mix things up each day you work out. Decide your plan based on the time available and don’t stress about it: stress is your fatty enemy.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise
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Todd Stohrdahl

Todd Stohrdahl keeps a close eye on fitness topics and will never turn down an opportunity to play competitive sports. He's a fierce competitor and brings his "hustle and muscle" mentality to our editorial team.