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Aerobic vs Anaerobic Exercise – Which Gets Better Results?

What exactly is aerobic and anaerobic exercise?

Aerobic and anaerobic are elaborate terms which denote the system your body is using to produce energy during a workout.

What exactly is aerobic and anaerobic exercise? Which one is better to help reach your full potential and goals? The answer depends on your goals, lifestyle, time constraints and current fitness level.

What is Aerobic Exercise?

Aerobic exercise requires the body to deliver oxygenated blood via the heart to the working muscles. Therefore, during aerobic exercise, oxygen is your primary energy source.  Aerobic exercise is sustained by stimulating heart rate and breathing patterns that can be maintained for more than just a few minutes.  Examples of aerobic exercise include continuous walking, swimming, biking and jogging.  The main point to aerobic exercise is to train at a consistent pace with no fluctuations in order to keep the heart rate at a steady rate.  This type of training is also called Steady State exercise.

When you are just beginning a fitness program, or if you are warming up, your heart rate should be 50% to 60 % of your Max Heart Rate (MHR). After you have been physically active on a consistent basis, you should increase your intensity until your heart rate is in the 60% to 70% of MHR range. Your MHR range is determined by using the formula (220 – your age) x (%) of your target heart rate zone.

During your aerobic activity, it is important to be working out at the correct intensity, which means you can carry on a conversation clearly without having to stop to take a breath. This Talk Test is a good rule of thumb to ensure that you are in your aerobic training zone.

What is Anaerobic Exercise?

Alternately, anaerobic exercise involves quick, explosive activities that require an immediate energy supply. Examples of anaerobic exercise include weight-lifting, interval training such as running sprints, hill sprints, swimming sprints and vigorous sports like hockey and rugby.

Anaerobic workouts burn more calories in a shorter period of time, use more carbohydrates as their primary energy stores relative to fat, whereas aerobic exercises do the exact opposite. However, that being said, doing anaerobic exercise produces an excess of post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).   EPOC simply means that your metabolism is still burning at a higher rate after you finish exercise.  This higher metabolism burns more oxygen and calories post-exercise than steady-state aerobic exercise.

Another significant difference between Aerobic and Anaerobic exercise is the type of person suitable for each category.  Aerobic (Steady-State) exercise is most appropriate for those new to fitness.  Anaerobic exercise is meant for those people who have been following a consistent exercise program for a minimum of six weeks. While your initial warm up will still start off with the 50% – 60%, your training zone will be significantly higher at 80% to 90% of your MHR. The formula is the same as mentioned above, which is (220 – your age) x (%) of your target heart rate zone.

During your anaerobic activity, it is important to be working out at the correct intensity.  This means that during the exercise, it is difficult to carry on a conversation without having to pause to catch your breath.   This Talk Test provides you with a good rule of thumb to help you determine if you are training aerobically or anaerobically.  Working out anaerobically for too long during a session or if done too often, can lead to injury. Consult a certified personal trainer to develop a safe, effective program for you to decrease any risk factors.

I highly recommend you hire a certified personal trainer to develop a safe, effective program for you. Make sure your trainer also includes strength training and flexibility for a well-rounded program.

In the end, as stated before, it all comes down to what you are trying to achieve, what your fitness level is currently and if you have any health conditions. I am a firm believer that any exercise is better than sitting still. So get up off the couch and just move!

Cathie Glennon, BCRPA-SFL