What is Anaerobic Exercise?

Published August 2nd, 2021 by Adriana Rodrigues
Fact Checked by
Erik Rivera
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

Anaerobic exercise is a high-power, high-intensity exercise that is effective and commonly used during a fitness regimen. When combined with healthy, balanced nutrition, it has several health benefits such as losing weight, building, maintaining muscle, and enhancing your cardiovascular endurance. (1)

Anaerobic exercise should not be confused with aerobic exercise, which you can also consider adding to your workout routine for complete fitness. 

In order to help you distinguish one from another, this article will provide you with information to help you understand what anaerobic exercise is, its benefits, and how to take full advantage of it. 

What is the Difference Between Anaerobic and Aerobic Exercise?

To understand anaerobic exercise, you need to know how it is differentiated from aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise uses oxygen to produce energy to sustain activity without needing extra energy from other sources. On the other hand, anaerobic exercise does not use oxygen for energy but prompts the body to generate power from the muscles. (2)

Aerobic metabolism is slow but provides the body with a lot of energy over a more extended period of time. It gives your body power for endurance workouts and low-intensity exercises such as jogging, walking, long runs, or yoga. It does this by using fats or carbs to generate energy. 

Anaerobic metabolism, on the other hand, is fast-paced but provides a lot of energy as well. In addition, it supports exercises such as plyometric workouts, sprints, heavy weight-lifting, and high-intensity training. 

What is the Science Behind Anaerobic Exercise?

Anaerobic exercise uses glucose for energy. When the aerobic system is unavailable, the body turns to the glucose in muscles for short and quick bursts of movement. 

During vigorous exercise, oxygen is temporarily not delivered to your muscles, meaning that the anaerobic workout you are doing is fueled by glucose through glycolysis. (3)

Glycolysis produces quick energy without the use of oxygen, but it leads to lactic acid production, which is why your muscles feel tired after an intense workout. 

Regular anaerobic exercise enables your body to tolerate and eliminate lactic acid effectively so that you experience less fatigue quickly. 

What are the Types of Anaerobic Exercises?

Below is a list of anaerobic exercises that you can add to your workouts for losing fat, building muscle, and improving your endurance (4):

  • Sprints – sprinting involves running as fast as you can for a short period of time. It builds up your speed, strength, and endurance in quick bursts of energy. It is an effective and fast way of burning fat without losing muscle. 
  • Pushups – you can do this anaerobic exercise anywhere. It engages the shoulders, chest, core, and arms, and is suitable for your at-home workouts. 
  • Pull-ups – pull-ups are challenging but come with a great reward. They work on your arms, shoulders, and back, and particularly your lats and traps. 
  • Squats – this is a great anaerobic exercise to improve your lower body strength and stability. You can do bodyweight squats or add weights for extra resistance and challenge. 
  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – this is the most popular anaerobic exercise, involving quick sets of bodyweight workouts following each other. HIIT is challenging, especially at the beginning, but it is a powerful asset for endurance training and fat burning. 
  • Bench Presses – this is a great exercise for your chest. If you are looking to build muscle and increase strength, the bench press is suitable for you. It engages your arms and chest muscles. You can do it with free weights or a barbell. 
  • Jumping Rope – this anaerobic exercise can be done alone or added to HIIT. Jumping rope can enhance your endurance, coordination, core and leg strength, and help you burn more calories.
  • Burpees – a burpee is a combination of a pushup and a jump. It uses your body weight to build endurance and strength. 
  • Planks – this exercise involves the contracting of core muscles, which enhances the core strength you need in most activities and exercises. 

What are the Benefits of Anaerobic Exercise? 

Anaerobic exercise promotes your physical health and is beneficial to your body—both for today and tomorrow. The following are some of the benefits of anaerobic exercise (5):

  • Builds muscle – this is the most popular benefit of anaerobic exercise. It helps build lean muscles that help fight against fatigue and improve metabolism. 
  • Improves mood – exercising releases endorphins that help boost your mood, improve your memory, relieve stress, and reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Increase endurance – anaerobic exercises, especially most strength training exercises for the lower body, are designed to improve your endurance and stamina. 
  • Lowers blood sugar – anaerobic exercises regulate insulin levels by burning the glycogen stored in the muscles. This also helps keep your body healthy and prevent spikes in your sugar levels. 
  • Increases metabolism – anaerobic exercise high in intensity raises your resting metabolic rate, making your body burn more calories—even while sleeping. 
  • Boost energy – typically, your body’s source of energy is the glycogen stored in the muscle. Regular anaerobic exercise improves your body’s ability to store more glycogen. This means that there is energy when you need it.
  • Protects joints – anaerobic exercise improves your muscle strength, which in turn protects your joints. 
  • Improves bone density and strength – with anaerobic exercise, your bone density is increased, which prevents bone loss (osteoporosis) in the future when you are older. 
  • Promotes fat loss – exercises such as HIIT help your body burn fat faster. It also helps reduce the cellulite in your body by increasing collagen in your skin.
  • Reduce the risk of illnesses – anaerobic exercises are good in fighting fat and burning calories, enabling your body to maintain a healthy weight which is good for your overall wellbeing. This prevents diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. 

How to Get Started on Anaerobic Exercise? 

Anaerobic exercise pushes your lungs and body to use the energy stored in the muscles. This can be challenging, especially if you are just starting out. However, doing simple anaerobic exercises such as sprints, pushups, jumping ropes, planks, HIIT, and burpees can improve your strength and overall health. Try a few different exercises before settling on your favorite anaerobic exercises.

Once you have identified your favorites, start slowly, then progress to more repetitions and heavier weight to avoid injuring your body. 

Anaerobic exercise can boost your energy, help you lose weight, improve your metabolism, protect your joints, improve your endurance, and lower your blood sugar level. 

References and Sources: 

Aerobic vs anaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system

Anaerobic vs. Aerobic Exercise: What’s the Difference?

Interaction among Skeletal Muscle Metabolic Energy Systems during Intense Exercise

Anaerobic Exercise and Diabetes

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