Aerobic vs. Anaerobic. What’s the difference? Which should you do?


The age old battle of aerobic versus anaerobic exercise will go on forever. You’ll always have the group that lives and dies by aerobic exercise alone, just as you’ll will have the group that stands strong by the anaerobic only argument. So which is right for you?

The answer, in the end, will always be: Both.

Why? Because fitness should never be defined as one over the other. In order to build a healthier, more fit body. One that is strong and can endure, a person needs to take a look at their fitness regimen as a whole and instead of in parts.

So on to the bigger picture which brought us to this conclusion…

What is aerobic exercise?
Aerobic exercise is defined as any activity that will temporarily increase your heart rate and respiration. Aerobic exercise also helps build endurance.

What is anaerobic exercise?
Anaerobic exercise is muscle movement that does not require oxygen and only burns carbohydrates to produce energy.

It’s best to think of the breakdown between the two types in accordance to which energy pathway they use. Because, in the end, that’s where the difference actually falls.

An aerobic exercise, such as running or biking at a low to moderate intensity for a long duration will get its energy mostly from the oxygen dependent pathways in your body.

On the other hand, an anaerobic exercise, like weight lifting, is shorter in duration, and higher in intensity. The energy used during an anaerobic exercise is going to come from the non-oxygen dependent pathways in the body.

The body responds to exercise by providing the necessary energy that the activity is demanding it use. Meaning simply: It doesn’t matter what you do for exercise, your body doesn’t distinguish if you’re doing an aerobic or anaerobic exercise or not. Which is where the viewing exercising/fitness as a whole came from.

Doesn’t aerobic burn more than anaerobic exercise? Or vice-versa?

Calorie burn comes from intensity rather than duration. Stated simply, the more intense a workout, the more the body will burn calories faster.

Running that 5-kilometer road race, or biking that 12-mile trek is going to be done at a low or moderate intensity over a long duration. Both of these will strengthen your lungs and your heart, building your endurance. As for calorie burn? You’ll be shocked to learn that you really are not burning that much. You have to up the ante on your intensity to see a change in what you burn calorie wise.

Food for thought: One hour of running a steady, moderate pace, will burn an average of 500 calories. Weight-lifting or doing HIIT for half that time, can burn up to the same amount during the exercise and more post-exercise.

Whereas a weight lifter may have a shorter workout, the intensity of the workout is much different. It’s higher. The end result is: The body is going to continue burning calories for hours after that workout is done as the body works to re-energize and repair itself. It’s the same breakdown for the HIIT sessions (sprints). Unlike aerobic, anaerobic exercise also gives the metabolism a boost.

Why it’s important to incorporate both into your fitness routine:

At risk of sounding repetitive, aerobic exercise will increase your endurance and cardiac health. Anaerobic exercise will not only help you burn fat but also help you gain lean muscle mass. Muscle also takes more calories to fuel than fat, which is why you want some lean muscle mass on your body.

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