Anaerobic vs Aerobic Exercise


Everyone is always looking for that magic workout that is going to get them to their goals quicker. What’s best? Cardio? Weights? HIIT? The answer depends on what your ultimate goals are, but for the majority of us just looking to get in shape or lose a little weight, our bodies benefit from a combination and variety of all types of exercise. Each exercise type provides different and equal benefits to our well-being. Our bodies use several different systems to provide us with the energy that allows us to continue through our training movements. The type of system and energy source our body uses depends on the intensity and duration of the activity we are performing. For our purpose, exercise can be simplified into two types of training: Anaerobic training and Aerobic training.

Anaerobic Training

Meaning “without oxygen”, qualifies as short duration, high intensity exercise with long rest periods in between. Typically this type of exercise lasts anywhere from 2 seconds to 2 minutes with rest periods lasting on average 3-5 minutes. Think weight lifting, plyometric exercise, sprinting, etc. These workouts are designed to build strength, muscle and power. Our body is unable to breakdown fatty acid stored in our body fast enough to fuel these workouts, so it relies solely on what is readily available in our muscles. These energy stores, called glycogen and ATP (adenosine triphosphate) are the body’s primary fuel source. These stores are used up quickly which is why you are not able to sustain a high intensity exercise for longer than 2 minutes. The long rest period allows your body and energy system time to recharge for your next set.

Some benefits Anaerobic Training provides are:

  • Strength

  • Growth in muscle mass

  • Strengthening of bones

  • Strengthening and protection of joints

  • Helps control body weight. (Greater muscle mass = increased calorie burn at rest)

  • Can withstand a greater buildup of lactic acid and other waste substances, and their body can eliminate them quicker.

Aerobic Training

Meaning “with oxygen”, includes long duration exercise with short rest periods. Typically, this means any exercise lasting longer than 2 minutes. Because the intensity is lower and the duration is longer, the body has more time to pull and convert fatty acids stored elsewhere in your body into energy to sustain the workout. The body’s primary fuel of choice here are carbohydrates and fats with oxygen. Without going into too much detail, our bodies use several different cycles within the aerobic system to convert energy. (KREBS cycle bring back nightmares for anyone else?)

Some benefits of Aerobic Training include:

  • Strengthened muscles involved in respiration (breathing)

  • Stronger heart muscle (able to pump more efficiently)

  • Tones muscles throughout most of the body

  • Reduces blood pressure

  • Improves circulation

  • Raises the number of red blood cells, which improves oxygen transportation

  • Can improve sleep quality of insomnia patients

  • Shown to improve mental health

  • Some research shows exercise may reduce migraine symptoms

  • Reduces the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular problems

  • Helps improve survival rates of patients with cardiovascular diseases significantly

  • High impact aerobic exercise stimulates bone growth and reduces the risk of osteoporosis

  • Increases stamina or endurance - aerobic activity increases the body's ability to store energy molecules such as fats and carbohydrates within the muscle

  • Increases blood flow through muscles

Many times in our workouts, these systems work together, but the type of exercise being performed dictates which system our bodies rely on the most. Our bodies are able to shift between systems relatively seamlessly.

At IronPlate Studios, the reason we encourage you to not only weight train but add in those intervals, plyos, and that cardio is so you can train both systems to perform at their optimal level. (Not just to nag you on your days outside the studio ;-). ). Talk to your trainers at IronPlate Studios today to make sure you’re getting the best bang-for-your-buck in all our workouts!


“Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning (2.Ed.).” Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning (2.Ed.), by Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle, Human Kinetics, 2000, pp. 137–159.