Proper form is everything when it comes to maximizing the benefits of your workout routine, whether it’s high-intensity exercise, weight lifting, jogging, yoga, or anything else. This doesn’t just refer to body alignment or proper targeting of muscle groups; by modulating the intensity of your workout and recovery routines, you can better achieve specific fitness goals.
Below, we explain the differences between aerobic training and anaerobic exercises, both in technique and results, to help each athlete in the making find the perfect balance for their fitness regimen.
Identifying Why You’re Working Out
There are plenty of reasons why exercise is wonderful and plenty of growth to be had with testing your limits. Everyone has their own motivation to work out, but there are a couple that are commonly shared.
A few common motivators for working out:
Strength Gain: Exercise can help one's strength, whether for competition or daily living. It can also ward off the strength loss and injury that can occur with age.
Muscle Gain: While closely correlated to strength gain, specific exercises exist to target building lean muscle mass.
Weight Loss: Burning calories is great for those with this goal in mind and a pleasant side effect for those more interested in other benefits on this list. If you are looking to increase your health in this aspect, exercise can be part of that regiment.
Flexibility: Stretching and yoga can provide truly awe-inspiring flexibility or restore functionality to worn-out muscle groups. Not to mention, they are great energy sources.
Endurance: Exercises performed over a long period of time, more sustainable with aerobics, allow the body to go further and last longer whether in the gym or in everyday life.
Mental Health: Regular exercise can help improve mental health (like depression and anxiety) and boost your mood and self-esteem.
Different types of exercise are beneficial for different fitness aspirations. Setting goals is all about intentionality. When choosing between types of exercises, it’s essential to always think about short and long-term goals.
Aerobic Exercises and Anaerobic Exercises
The fundamental difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercises is where your heart rate lies, how your body reacts to the exercise, and the duration of the activity in question.
Your maximum heart rate can roughly be estimated by subtracting your current age from 220. Aerobic exercises consist of moderate-intensity exercise over long periods of time. The target heart rate for these workout routines is at least 50% of your maximum heart rate, but not to exceed 85%. On the other hand, anaerobic exercises are highly intense exercises performed over short periods of time wherein your heart rate is at or exceeding 85% of the maximum.
As stated previously, aerobic exercises are medium-intensity workouts whose challenge comes with duration. These traditionally include speed walking, light cardio, biking, and swimming. However, aerobic exercises can feature weight training done with a lower weight set and a higher number of reps, like in hypertrophy training.
Yoga, while not typically lumped in with aerobic or anaerobic exercises, can be a massive boon to flexibility while still slightly elevating the heart rate.
As far as fitness goes, aerobic exercises provide traditional health benefits in regard to blood pressure, lessening your risk of heart disease and boosting good cholesterol levels. Plus, the extra use of oxygen is great for your lungs.
They also assist with overall endurance, making aerobics perfect for increasing stamina or preparing for long-distance activities. Hypertrophy training, which is a specific form of weight training geared towards increasing muscle mass, can also be aided by an aerobic approach towards weightlifting.
Just as aerobics target a heart rate below that of anaerobic exercises, hypertrophy training seeks to hit a target below the maximum one-rep set. This keeps the body operating within anaerobic metabolism and maximizes the total amount of weight lifted.
Aerobic and anaerobic exercises also affect the way the body reacts during exercises. The aerobic metabolism, with which the body produces the energy needed with the aid of oxygen consumed, is highly efficient.
At a moderate heart rate, the body breaks down carbs and fats without needing to produce a buildup of lactic acid, making the next-day recovery easier. The aerobic metabolism is, above all, sustainable in a way that high-intensity performance does not allow, which is part of why both pace and speed are integral in marathon running.
Whereas aerobic exercises are focused on duration, anaerobic exercises emphasize short bursts of high-intensity reps. Sprinting, plyometrics, intense weightlifting, and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) are all popular forms of anaerobic exercises.
Anaerobic exercises hit high heart rates, meeting or exceeding 85% of the maximum heart rate for a given individual's age group. These exercises are more demanding than their aerobic counterparts, with the benefit that it takes less time to perform a complete workout.
Intense weightlifting, fast sprints, and HIIT workouts are all about pushing the body to its limits, using short bursts as an impetus. HIIT, in particular, is well-regarded for its impact when it comes to weight loss.
Anaerobic workouts, like weight and resistance training, are excellent for building and maintaining strength. While exercises at this intensity may be risky for those with heart conditions, anaerobic activities in moderation can be highly beneficial for cardiovascular health.
The anaerobic metabolism is less efficient than the aerobic metabolism but is effective at providing the energy needed for brief, intense activity over a short period of time. When the body operates at a high level which triggers anaerobic function, oxygen intake alone is not enough to trigger the complex breakdown that the aerobic metabolism involves.
The anaerobic metabolism uses glucose and glycogen in anaerobic glycolysis, which in the post-workout analysis also saddles the body with a large amount of lactic acid.
Lactic acid builds up from anaerobic exercise. Whereas aerobic exercises rely solely on oxygen to power the energy-producing processes, the energy needed for anaerobic function outstrips oxygen availability, with lactic acid build-up as a side effect.
Lactic acid is part of what leads to feelings of fatigue and exhaustion in the hours and days following a workout. This can be relieved by stretching, moderate-intensity activity, and activities with low intensity following the initial event.
Comparing Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercises
Aerobics exercises are well-loved for a good reason. These exercises can be performed over a longer stretch of time. These activities are generally kinder to bodies in recovery and those who have health concerns regarding high-intensity workouts. People who want to avoid the lactic acid-fueled aches the next day would benefit from aerobic exercise. When looking to build stamina for endurance sports or more, aerobic exercises are your friend.
Anaerobic workouts have some key strengths besides building strength. Life is all about balance: If you are busy splitting time between the office, local meetups, and the family, anaerobic exercises fit the bill perfectly. These exercises involve increased bouts of intensity for short periods of time, so they’re perfect for the man on the move. If you enjoy the challenge of being pushed to your limits, exercises like HIIT can create effective changes and fast.
When drawing the Venn diagram of these two categories, you’ll notice that they share great capacities for cardiovascular fitness, reduced risk of ailments like Type II diabetes, and improved mental health.
Integrating Aerobics and Anaerobics in Your Workouts
The first step to integrating aerobics and anaerobic workouts is figuring out your workout goals and the amount of time you have to spend working out on a weekly basis. Generally speaking, aerobic activities can be done for longer periods of time than anaerobic workouts, and the latter may require longer recovery times between full workouts to allow maximum results while minimizing the risk of injury.
If your top goals involve stamina or muscle growth, and you have enough time to spend a few hours a week, you can try focusing on aerobic workouts. To avoid breaking the anaerobic threshold, switch from medium to medium-high intensity.
It should be noted that once the anaerobic threshold has been breached, the body will begin producing lactic acid in high quantities.
If your key goals involve strength training or weight loss, anaerobic exercises are the way to go. These exercises help improve the maximum exertion your body can handle, and because of the high intensity involved, you will need to work out less for similar results compared to a routine of purely aerobic activity. Aerobics can still play a part in your anaerobic routine, however, in the form of active recovery.
Aerobic activities don’t require much in the way of cooldown or warm-up. However, aerobics can play a key part in anaerobic training. In traditional recovery methods, passive recovery is marked by a complete cessation of physical activity.
Active recovery uses low to medium-intensity aerobics as a means to alleviate the soreness and fatigue caused by lactic acid buildup in a bid to reduce recovery times and improve overall gains.
Active recovery, however, is still recovery. While aerobic exercise is utilized in it, the primary purpose here is recovery through the dissipation of lactic acid buildup and not a new workout. Hence, these workouts should be of lighter intensity and lower duration than your regular routine.
Activities like brisk walking, yoga, and swimming can provide a healthy recovery while reducing the risk of overtraining, while ancillary focuses on sleep and nutrition can supercharge your recovery process.
Your Balance Is What Matters
There exists a perfect balance to all things, in both duration and intensity, and finding that balance is part of working out.
Whether your routine is mostly aerobic or anaerobic, or a more even combination of the two, you should now have a better idea of how these exercise patterns interact and how they can be used to target your specific fitness goals.