The Difference Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercises

August 6th, 2018 Becki Andrus

You’ve probably heard quite a bit about aerobic and anaerobic exercises, but do you really know what the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercises is? Do you know which you should be doing? The answer isn’t hard to find. If you know what your exercise goals are, then you should easily be able to figure out which exercise you should be doing.

The Difference Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercises

A huge part of orthopedic health is exercise. Working out can keep you out of orthopedic clinics for the better part of your lifetime, which is a great goal to have. However, doing the right kind of exercise is imperative to meeting that goal. If your exercise routine isn’t helping you do what you’ve set out to do, then it needs to change.

If your doctor isn’t yelling at you for not exercising at all, then they just might yell at you for doing the wrong exercises entirely. There are many different types of exercises, and ways to break them down. One of the most important distinctions, though, is aerobic versus anaerobic exercise. If you don’t know the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise, then it’s time to learn.

Aerobic Exercises

Aerobic exercise is probably better known as cardio. This type of exercise feeds your muscles lots of oxygen, leaving you breathing heavily, and sweating heavily, too. You’re probably very familiar with the effect that aerobic exercise has. If you’ve ever taken a long walk on a treadmill or burned hundreds of calories on an elliptical, you’ve been through an aerobic exercise.

However, not all aerobic exercise is cardio. In fact, you might be privy to the rise in aerobic lifting that’s come about in recent years. Part of the reason that Crossfit is so effective is that it combines the strength training that comes as a result of anaerobic exercise with the fat of aerobic exercises.

Aerobic exercises are very effective because oxygen consumption fuels fat burning. When we are moving quickly, our bodily systems should catch up. The more oxygen we feed our muscles, the more fuel they burn. Thus, the healthier we will be. This type of exercise is great for most purposes, and just a little bit of it can go a very long way for your body.

Anaerobic Exercises

Contrary to aerobic exercises, anaerobic exercises are any kind of exercise that starves the body of oxygen. Without oxygen to use, our muscles instead have to turn to glycogen to get the fuel that they need to keep going. This turns fat into lean muscle mass with great efficiency, but it’s generally the tougher form of exercise to get. Without oxygen, our muscles can quickly grow tired.

Anaerobic exercise leaves a build up of lactic acid in our muscles that leaves them feeling fatigued. If they stop burning glycogen at any point, your muscles are likely to crash. The come down is hard, and can cause serious symptoms if not handled correctly. It’s not difficult for an endurance athlete to puke, or even pass out, after a long workout.

This type of exercise is high-intensity, but short. Sprinting is a common example of an anaerobic exercise that might seem aerobic. Notice, though, that when you’re sprinting, breathing becomes very difficult. Endurance sports, like biking or cross country, are partially anaerobic, which is why many people who partake load down on carbs before a meet. Similarly, weightlifting is anaerobic. This is why taking rests is so important: without them, your body could easily shut down. Too much anaerobic exercise can even lead to injury.

Which Should You Be Doing?

Knowing the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise, it’s only natural to ask which you should be doing. The answer, as with most things, is both. Each serves a purpose, but the two really go together in a way that makes it harmful to do all of one and none of the other. The easiest way to break it down is this: aerobic exercise burns fat, and anaerobic builds muscle.

So, if your goal is to lose weight, you’ll want to do mostly aerobic exercises. Running for an hour a day can do wonders for your body. However, only running might hurt you in the long run. You need to couple that with some anaerobic exercise, even if it’s light, to build muscle in place of the fact that you’re burning.

And if you’re just trying to build muscle, a quick aerobic warm-up will get your body primed to function at it’s highest.

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