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Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercises: Everything You Need to Know

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Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercises: Everything You Need to Know

Aerobic and anaerobic exercises are two different types of exercising that are defined by how the body sources its energy.

Anaerobic exercises are short, sharp, intense exercises that burn through the body's glucose to move muscles in the absence of oxygen. You work out anaerobically when you lift weights, perform sprints, or endure a HIIT workout.

Aerobic exercise uses oxygen to power the body over an extended and sustained amount of time. You work out aerobically when you're jogging, swimming, or cycling at a steady pace.

Both types of exercise are incredibly important for your fitness and health, but is one better than the other?

Quick answer: it all depends on your training goals!

In this article, we assess both anaerobic and aerobic exercise benefits. We also suggest a few anaerobic and aerobic exercise examples you can perform with either bands for pull-ups or with leg bands!

Difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise

Aerobic and anaerobic exercises are two very diverse ways in which the body acquires the energy it needs to function (although they sound similar, we know). The difference lies in how the body gets the energy it needs to move its muscles during exercise. These are fundamental differences that we need to explain in more detail to understand how one exercise might be better than the other for particular types of training.

Let's take a look at a few definitions, first of all.

Aerobic definition:  Defined at its simplest, aerobic is an action taking place in the presence of oxygen. Aerobic exercises, therefore, take place in the presence of oxygen.

Anaerobic definition: On the other side, anaerobic is defined as an action taking place without oxygen. Anaerobic exercises, therefore, require something other than oxygen to fuel them.

The differences, then, are entirely based around the human body's need for oxygen.

Ordinarily, the body requires oxygen to fuel itself. We breathe oxygen in, and the body's cells take in the oxygen. The cells then use the oxygen to burn the fuel(fatty acids and sugars) that we need to power our muscles to move.

If we don't have the oxygen that's needed to 'burn the fuel,' then it's much more difficult for the body to power itself. This is where we can start to understand the fundamental differences between aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise takes place primarily using oxygen. This means that as we jog or cycle, we breathe air into our lungs. The oxygen is passed into our cells, where it reacts, burning sugars or fatty acids—the resulting energy powers our muscles as we continue to cycle.

At a steady pace, we can keep breathing in air, essentially using the oxygen to continuously power us as we cycle or jog. As our body tires or the exercise intensifies, our heart rate increases, and we begin to breathe more rapidly. This causes the body to circulate more oxygen to continue burning its fuel. For cardio workouts, such as jogging or cycling, the body needs to keep up a continual, steady pace to keep exercising.

Anaerobic exercise

So, if anaerobic exercise occurs without oxygen, how does the body create the fuel it needs to power its muscles?

Anaerobic exercise occurs when the body meets an oxygen deficit that it can't regulate fast enough to keep working at an aerobic level. This happens when we start sprinting or lifting heavyweights. We get out of breath, and our heart rate reaches its maximum capacity. We can't breathe in and circulate oxygen fast enough or keep up with the intensity of the exercise.

The body's demand for oxygen is now higher than the supply.

When this happens, the body instead turns to glucose, which can break down without oxygen. The process of glycolysis allows the glucose to break down into the energy we need to keep running or lifting weights. Unfortunately, it can't sustain this for an extended amount of time.

As glycolysis occurs, we get a build-up of lactic acid in our muscles (a by-product of the process). It's the lactic acid that causes our muscles to ache after an intense period of exercise. As your fitness improves and you exercise more, your body can better deal with lactic acid and dispose of it faster, allowing you to exercise anaerobically for longer.

The benefits of aerobic and anaerobic exercises

The body can benefit from both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. It's beneficial to have a mixture of both types of exercise incorporated into your regular workout routines.

Neither is definitively better than the other, but they do have different benefits. Depending on your fitness goals, one style of exercise may then be better suited to you.

Aerobic exercise is generally a much longer exercise at a constant and steady pace. Whereas, anaerobic exercise is short and intense (you can jog for 20 minutes, but you can only sprint for a matter of seconds.) Both activities will burn fat, as your body uses its stores of fat or sugar for fuel. Anaerobic exercise, however, will burn fat faster, as it immediately digs into your fat reserves!

Here are the essential benefits of aerobic exercise:

  • Increase your body's health and fitness.
  • Reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
  • Lower blood pressure, thereby lowering the chance of strokes (and potentially, certain cancers, too.)
  • Build a stronger, healthier heart.
  • Boost your immune system.
  • Increase your stamina and endurance.
  • Lose weight at a steady rate (this only works if it's combined with a good diet, however!)

Anaerobic exercise is a lot more painful and more intense than aerobic exercise, but there are plenty of reasons why you want to suffer anaerobically when you workout.

Here are the significant benefits of anaerobic exercise:

  • Burn fat faster than aerobic exercise.
  • Significantly boost your metabolism (continue burning fat after you stop exercising.)
  • Increase your muscle mass, build strength.
  • Increase bone density.
  • Improve your lactic acid threshold.
  • Increase stamina.

Aerobic exercises using resistance bands

Aerobic exercises with resistance bands are lightweight movements that allow you to breathe consistently throughout the workout. Don't select a resistance band with too much resistance too soon, or you will start working anaerobically!

The following workout involves a mixture of cardio and strength training movements, which will help you to build all-around fitness, aerobically. Strengthen your cardiovascular system and build muscles at the same time.

As you improve your fitness and strength, aim to start using stronger resistance bands, but keep your body working aerobically to build endurance. For the following circuit, you need a long pull up assist style resistance band that forms a continuous loop.

Rest for 30 seconds between each exercise. After the circuit, rest again for at least 60 seconds. The goal is to complete 3 full circuits in one workout session.

  1. Resisted boxers for 60 seconds
  2. Squat hops for 60 seconds
  3. Standing swim for 60 seconds
  4. Skating squats for 60 seconds
  5. Opposition jacks for 60 seconds
  6. Zig zag drill for 30 seconds in each direction

Anaerobic exercises using resistance bands

The following HIIT workout is a great way to begin training anaerobically using resistance bands. You'll need hip circle bands or leg bands for this to be an effective exercise.

This is a short, intense workout and shouldn't take longer than 20 minutes to complete. Perform each exercise in the superset for 30 seconds. Rest for 1 minute between each superset.

Superset #1

 Place resistance band above both knees

  1. Squat jack to plank jack (move from one position to the next)
  2. 2 x sidesteps followed by a squat jump
  3. Bear plank pulse followed by 2 x fire hydrants

Superset #2

 Place a resistance band around both feet

  1. Squat to standing bicycle crunch
  2. Mountain climber marches
  3. Crunch abductions

Superset #3

 Place a resistance band around both wrists

  1. Jump lunge rows
  2. Shoulder press to spread
  3. Low squat hop to 2 x shoulder pulse

So, now you know the differences between aerobic and anaerobic exercises!

For anyone looking to increase their stamina or compete in long-distance or endurance sports, then aerobic exercise is crucial. Those that are looking to lose weight fast or build muscle mass need to focus on anaerobic exercises.

As you can see, though, there's no reason not to include a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic exercises in your schedule, as both have excellent benefits!

The final decision relies on determining the different types of workouts your body needs for the results you are trying to achieve!

Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Katherine is a CrossFit expert with humble origins. Starting out on a ranch, ever since she was nine, she spent most of her life roping and competing in team roping. After finding bodyweight exercises interesting she sought after a career in CrossFit and dedicated her life towards achieving the body of her dreams. Today Katherine is a personal trainer that loves to travel the world and change the lives of her clients.

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