Anaerobic Exercise

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Overview

Anaerobic exercise — a higher intensity, higher power version of exercise — is different from aerobic exercise.

Although the term may not be one you’re familiar with, anaerobic exercise is a very common and effective workout. In fact, you’ve probably put yourself through an anaerobic workout at some point in your life!

Here’s everything you need to know about this calorie-torching, endurance-building type of exercise.

Types of anaerobic exercises

Anaerobic exercise is any activity that breaks down glucose for energy without using oxygen. Generally, these activities are of short length with high intensity. The idea is that a lot of energy is released within a small period of time, and your oxygen demand surpasses the oxygen supply.

Exercises and movements that require short bursts of intense energy are examples of anaerobic exercises.

These include:

  • weightlifting
  • jumping or jumping rope
  • sprinting
  • high-intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • biking

The difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise produces energy using a continuous supply of oxygen to sustain the current level of activity without needing additional energy from another source. But anaerobic exercise prompts your body to demand more energy than your aerobic system can produce.

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To produce more energy, your body uses its anaerobic system, which relies on energy sources stored in your muscles.

Slower-paced exercises like jogging or endurance cycling are examples of aerobic exercise. Fast-paced workouts like sprinting, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), jumping rope, and interval training take the more intense approach of anaerobic exercise.

One easy way to remember the difference between the two is the term “aerobic” means “with oxygen,” while “anaerobic” means “without oxygen.”

The science behind anaerobics

Oxygen is required for the body to be able to use fat for fuel. Since aerobic exercise uses oxygen to produce energy, it can use both fat and glucose for fuel. Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, can only use glucose for fuel.

Glucose is available in the muscles for quick and short bursts of movement, and can be used when the aerobic system is maxed out for a short period of time.

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When you begin to exercise vigorously, there is a temporary shortage of oxygen getting delivered to your working muscles. That means anaerobic exercise must be fueled using glucose through a process called glycolysis.

Glycolysis occurs in muscle cells during high-intensity training without oxygen, producing energy quickly. This process also produces lactic acid, which is the reason why your muscles get so tired after the energy burst.

By engaging in anaerobic exercise regularly, your body will be able to tolerate and eliminate lactic acid more effectively. That means you’ll get tired less quickly.

The benefits

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

Increases bone strength and density

Anaerobic activity — like resistance training — can increase the strength and density of your bones. This can also decrease your risk of osteoporosis.

Promotes weight maintenance

In addition to helping your body handle lactic acid more effectively, anaerobic exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight.

Increases power

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

Boosts metabolism

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

Increases lactic threshold

By regularly training above your anaerobic threshold, the body can increase its ability to handle lactic acid, which increases your lactic threshold, or the point at which you experience fatigue. That means you’ll be able to work out harder, for longer.

Fights depression

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

Reduces risk of disease

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

Protects joints

By building your muscle strength and muscle mass, your joints will be better protected, meaning you’ll have greater protection against injury.

Boosts energy

Consistent anaerobic exercise increases your body’s ability to store glycogen (what your body uses as energy), giving you more energy for your next bout of intense physical activity. This can improve your athletic ability.

Author: James Steinmetz

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