Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise: What is Best for You?

There’s much discussion about what type of exercise is more suitable for your health: aerobic or anaerobic.

Aerobic exercise, like walking, bike riding, or running, expects your body to move, breathe faster, and increase your blood flow. It’s a level of activity that you can continue for an extended time.

Can you pass the “talk test?” If you can somewhat easily make a discussion during an exercise, you’re at an aerobic level.

Anaerobic exercise, like sprinting or weightlifting, is a quick, intense activity that has you working to the max, and it can’t be maintained for long.

Which is better for weight loss? Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise has advantages, and you should include each into your routine.

Keep on reading to know more.

What is Aerobic Exercise?

Aerobic exercise (also known as cardio) is a physical exercise of low to high intensity. It is based on the aerobic energy-generating method.

“Aerobic” is described as “relating to, including, or requiring free oxygen.” Hence, it has something to do with using oxygen to meet energy requirements during exercise sufficiently. This process is called aerobic metabolism

Aerobic exercise is repeating a series of light-to-moderate intensity exercises for extended periods. It is designed to be low-intensity enough that all carbohydrates are aerobically turned into energy. This is possible through a process called mitochondrial ATP composition.

Examples of cardiovascular or aerobic exercise are average to long-distance running, jogging, swimming, cycling, and walking.

Health and Performance Benefits

Among the verified health benefits of performing regular aerobic exercise are:

  • Reinforcing the muscles affected in respiration to promote the flow of air in and out of the lungs
  • Strengthening and increasing the heart muscle. Doing so helps develop its pumping efficiency and decrease the resting heart rate, known as aerobic conditioning
  • Enhancing circulation efficiency and lessening blood pressure
  • Increasing the total number of red blood cells in the body, aiding the transport of oxygen.
  • Relieves stress, reduces the incidence of depression, and improves cognitive capacity.
  • Diminishing the risk for diabetes.
  • Reducing the chance of death due to cardiovascular problems

High-impact aerobic exercises (such as jogging or using a skipping rope) can:

  • Stimulate bone mass
  • Reduce the chance of osteoporosis for both men and women

In enhancement to the health benefits of aerobic exercise, there are many performance benefits:

  • Improving the storage of energy molecules such as fats and carbohydrates within the muscles. This enables elevated endurance.
  • Neovascularization of the muscle sarcomeres to improve blood flow through the muscles.
  • Improving speed at which aerobic metabolism is initiated within muscles. Doing so allows a more significant portion of energy for intense exercise to be generated aerobically.
  • Improving the strength of muscles to use fats during exercise, maintaining intramuscular glycogen.
  • Improving the speed at which muscles grow from high-intensity exercise.

Neurobiological effects

Types of Aerobic Exercises


Some drawbacks of aerobic exercise involve:

  • Overuse injuries because of constant, high-impact exercise such as long-running.
  • It is not an effective way of building muscle.
  • Not an effective means of fat loss unless used consistently.

The health and performance benefits, or “training effect,” require a minimum duration and frequency. Experts recommend at least twenty minutes done at least three times per week.

Aerobic exercise can help almost anyone. But get your doctor’s permission if you’ve been inactive for a long time or live with a chronic condition.

If you’re fresh to aerobic exercise, it’s essential to start slowly and work up gradually to lessen your risk of an injury. For example, begin by walking 5 minutes at a time and add 5 minutes each time until you’re up to a 30-minute brisk walk.

What is Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic exercise is a type of activity that cuts down glucose in the body without utilizing oxygen. This means that anaerobic exercise is more difficult but shorter than aerobic exercise.

The biochemistry of anaerobic exercise incorporates a method called glycolysis. It is a process wherein the glucose is turned to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary energy source for cellular results.

Lactic acid is generated at an extended rate throughout the anaerobic exercise, causing it to build up quickly. The build-up of lactate over the lactate threshold (also termed anaerobic threshold) is the primary cause of muscle fatigue.

Anaerobic exercise can support endurance, muscle strength, and power.

Health and Performance Benefits

If anaerobic exercise seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But the benefits that come with the excellent fitness regime are sufficient to make you want to power through your next workout.

Increases bone strength and density

Anaerobic activity, like resistance training, can enhance the strength and mass of your bones. This can also lower your risk of osteoporosis.

Promotes weight maintenance

Aside from helping your body efficiently manage lactic acid, anaerobic exercise can help with weight management.

According to one study, HIIT training can result in a reasonable reduction in stomach body fat than regular cardio.

Increases power

A 2008 study administered on division 1A baseball players found that players who made eight 20- to 30-second wind sprints three days a week saw their power enhanced by an average of 15 percent throughout the season.

Boosts metabolism

Anaerobic exercise helps increase metabolism as it builds and keeps lean muscle. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn through your next sweat session. High-intensity training is also thought to improve your post-workout calorie burn.

Increases lactic threshold

By continually training above your anaerobic threshold, the body can enhance its ability to handle lactic acid. This helps improve your lactic threshold or the point at which you experience fatigue. That indicates you’ll be able to work out harder for longer.

Fights depression

Need a pick-me-up? Researches show that anaerobic exercise, like strength exercise, can boost your mood and even fight depression.

Reduces the risk of disease

Increases in strength and bone density achieved by high-intensity anaerobic training, like bodyweight squats and pushups, can lessen your risk for diabetes and heart disease.

Protects joints

By increasing your muscle strength and mass, your joints will be better preserved. This means you’ll have greater protection against injury.

Boosts energy

Regular anaerobic exercise improves your body’s capacity to store glycogen. This is your body’s energy source.

What happens is that you get more energy for your next round of intense physical activity. This can develop your athletic ability.

Types of Anaerobic Exercises 


The issue with anaerobic exercise is that it does not correct your blood pressure levels, cardiovascular resistance, or caloric and triglyceride levels. This explains why you should develop solid fitness through aerobic exercises first before engaging in anaerobic workouts. 

An essential role of aerobic and anaerobic exercises is flexibility. Flexibility exercises expand and lengthen your muscles. The purpose of flexibility exercises is to develop the range of motion and keep muscles limber, which lessens injury. 

These exercises are commonly done before and after aerobic and anaerobic training to “warm-up” the muscles. Examples of flexibility exercises are forward and side lunges or any style of stretching a muscle group.

It is advised that athletes stretch each of the significant body muscles before and after any physical activity for maximum benefit. 

It is proven that physical fitness allows you to have a healthy lifestyle. It also helps build and maintain healthy bone density, muscle strength, and joint mobility. Moreover, exercise can improve physiological well-being, reduce surgical risks, and boost the immune system.

Anaerobic exercise can be tough on your body. On a one-to-ten scale for noted exertion, high-intensity anaerobic exercise is anything over a seven. It’s not typically advised for fitness beginners.

Get your doctor’s permission before adding anaerobic workouts to your routine. Work with a certified fitness professional who can help you plan an anaerobic program based on your medical history and goals.

For workouts like HIIT and weight training, a fitness professional can also show the proper exercise techniques. Performing the exercises with proper technique is vital for blocking an injury.

The Science Behind Aerobic vs. Anaerobic

The contrast between aerobic and anaerobic exercise comes down to oxygen levels.

In aerobic or “with oxygen” exercise, your muscles have adequate oxygen to provide the energy needed to perform. Anaerobic exercise means oxygen requirement is more significant than oxygen supply, and you can’t keep up with the energy your body is requiring.

This leads to lactate production and, eventually, the suspension of the exercise.

How Often Should You Do Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercises?

The American Heart Association suggests healthy adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise five days a week. Another option is to have at least 25 minutes of strenuous aerobic activity three days a week.

You can also combine strength training two times a week to round out your routine.

Anaerobic exercises can be demanding on the body. With a doctor’s support and a certified fitness professional’s help, anaerobic exercises can be added to your weekly exercise cycle.

Do anaerobic exercise like HIIT workouts no more than two or three days each week, always providing for at least one full day of recovery in-between.

Why is Anaerobic Exercise Better for Fat Loss?

Aerobic exercise, or steady-state cardio, is done at a steady, low to average pace. This type of activity, which employs slow-twitch muscle fibers, is ideal for cardiovascular conditioning and developing muscular endurance.

While it’s generally thought that this low-intensity cardio is excellent for fat loss, think again.

While it does use a more significant percentage of fat for energy, the whole amount of energy burned at this level is lower than during anaerobic exercise. This indicates that extensive periods of aerobic exercise are needed to obtain significant fat loss for most people. This often ends in a plateau.

Anaerobic exercise is done in the form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This is where you rotate high-intensity periods with recovery intervals. This is beneficial for various reasons:

Save time

Initially, you can get in an intense workout in a fraction of the time. If time is a limitation for you, a HIIT session is a great choice. You’ll consume your muscles and burn more calories than you would in the equivalent amount of time doing steady-state cardio.

Burn more calories

Second, you’ll burn more calories in that amount of time. The more complicated your workout is, the more calories you’ll burn.

HIIT will cause your caloric expenditure to be higher than if you just walked or casually saddle your bike for the same period.

Increase in metabolism

Another benefit of HIIT is that you’ll build muscle and improve your metabolism.

HIIT needs your fast-twitch muscle fibers to engage in exercises. Some examples are sprinting, plyometrics, and weightlifting, which develop muscular size and strength.

This means you’ll be building muscle mass, which will speed up your metabolism as muscle burns more calories than fat.

The afterburn effect

Fourth, you’ll encounter the afterburn effect. The afterburn effect’s scientific term is excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC is the amount of oxygen needed to return the body to its resting state.

HIIT sessions stimulate a greater EPOC because you consume more oxygen during that time. Doing so produces a more massive deficit to replace post-workout. This implies you’ll continue to burn calories even after your HIIT session is over.

The HIIT workout

If you feel fit enough to tackle your hand at some intense anaerobic exercise, try these sample HIIT workouts for best calorie burn.


Sprint all out for 30 seconds, then rest for 1 minute. Do it again for 20 to 30 minutes.

Circuit training

Execute each exercise in the circuit for 30 seconds with a 10-second break after each if needed. Do this circuit continuously for 10 minutes:

  • burpees
  • jump squats
  • bicycle crunch
  • mountain climbers
  • jump lunges
  • pushups
  • jumping jacks 

Cons of HIIT

Although HIIT as anaerobic exercise is helpful for fat loss, there are some cons.

The biggest drawback is that it’s not for everyone. You’ll require a basic level of fitness before you can engage in HIIT safely and efficiently. If you’re new to exercising, it can be too harsh for your body, specifically your heart.

If you’re capable of performing HIIT, exercises like plyometrics, sprinting, and weightlifting can increase injury chances. That’s because these explosive movements are fast and require a lot of force.

And lastly, HIIT can be uncomfortable during the session, due to the high intensity, or afterward because of soreness.

Aerobic and anaerobic exercises can be helpful for your health.

Depending on your goals and fitness level, you might want to begin with aerobic exercises two to three times a week. As you develop endurance and strength, you can add in anaerobic activities such as HIIT and plyometrics. These exercises can help you grow muscle, burn fat, and improve your exercise stamina.

While both aerobic and anaerobic exercise has their place in a well-rounded fitness routine, anaerobic activity can be more efficient for fat loss.

If you’re combining HIIT and strength training, keep in mind that total weight loss is not an actual progress indicator. With an exercise like this, your body will experience recomposition, meaning dropping fat and adding muscle.

To trace your progress, measure fat loss instead, as muscle is denser and takes up less space for a given weight.

Before engaging in any exercise routine, check first with your doctor. You can also work with a certified fitness professional at your gym or community center who can suggest the best routine for you.