Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise: Does it make a difference?

If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then what is it called when you do the same thing over and over again expecting the same result, and never get that result?

Fact #1: Most people do not know the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise or understand the results of one versus the other.

Fact #2: Most people’s exercise is predominately aerobic, and the little anaerobic exercise they think they’re doing is not really anaerobic at all.

Fact #3: Because of facts 1 and 2, many people give up on exercise because they never experience the results they’re hoping for.

Aerobic means with air! Aerobic exercise is a rhythmic movement of major muscle groups of the body, in such a way that you begin to breathe harder, taking in lots of oxygen (i.e. walking, jogging, cycling, etc.). The benefits of aerobic exercise are usually emphasized as cardiovascular health and burning calories.

I strongly urge people not to make burning calories the goal of their exercise. Why? Because doing so can be very frustrating and confusing. You’ll replace most of the calories you burn in a moderate aerobic workout by eating a bran muffin. If your goal is to lose weight and keep if off, you need to build muscle.

If aerobic means with air, then anaerobic means without air. I’ve discovered that there is a special group of people who understand the true meaning of anaerobic exercise, but are unaware of the fact they do. This group consists of any women who have given birth. That’s anaerobic exercise − and boy is it ever! During the birthing process, she’s stressing virtually every muscle in her body with great intensity, usually grunting, groaning, and at times, screaming. During this workout , if she’s not careful, she can pass out because she’s stressing her muscles so hard that she’s not taking in much air. That’s why they started Lamaze − teaching her to keep breathing.

When I ask people if they’re doing anaerobic exercise, I’ll often get a response similar to this, “Oh yes, I now carry 3-pound weights when I walk or jog.” Based on the previous paragraph I don’t think I need to comment on how far off the mark that is to actually understanding anaerobic exercise.

Anaerobic exercise is really any exercise done with vigorous intensity, or the maximum effort required to build strength. This can be anything from lifting weights, to peddling a bike, to running as fast as you can.

Here’s the sixty four thousand dollar question: what do you most want to accomplish with exercise? Do you want to (A) run a marathon some day, or (B) shape your body, build lean strong muscle, and lose fat? If you’re answer is “B,” it’s quite possible you’re doing the wrong type of exercise. If so, it won’t be long before you’re standing in front of a mirror examining the results of your workouts and saying, “That’s it, I’m through exercising, I’m wasting my time!”

The key to fitness is building strength to speed up your metabolism. Studies show that metabolism stays elevated for 15 hours after high-intensity strength training. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. Add 3 pounds of muscle to your frame and you can figure in about an extra pound of fat burned each month, without even trying.

Besides eating smart, the key to dropping a suit size, rediscovering your waist, and losing fat is adjusting your workouts so that you’re doing primarily anaerobic exercise. In other words, short bursts with maximum effort. And, as science is now proving, that’s also a superior formula for cardiovascular fitness, to build a strong heart.

Try adjusting your workout to do the following, and watch what happens:

  • Exercise at very high intensity: 80-100% maximum effort
  • Exercise for a shorter duration:  5-15 minutes (Long duration exercise actually enhances the production of Cortisol − the stress hormone. Many people are “over-exercising,” which can dampen weight loss, energy levels, and immune function)
  • Exercise on an empty stomach, allowing your body to dig deep into its stored glycogen (stored carbohydrate) within the liver and muscle

Adjusting your workouts toward doing primarily anaerobic exercise can also play a key role in helping you to stay motivated with exercise as a habit in your life. Why? Because you’ll see better results, while spending less time working out.

Image credit: Peter Skadberg

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