The Benefits of Anaerobic Exercise

Woman jumping onto a box in the gym

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Anaerobic exercise means you are working at such high intensity that your cardiovascular system can't deliver oxygen to your muscles fast enough ("anaerobic" means "without oxygen"). That doesn't sound like a desirable outcome, but this type of activity can improve both your endurance and muscle strength.

Because muscles need oxygen to continue working, anaerobic exercises can only last for short periods, allowing you to cut your total workout time. If you've ever gotten completely breathless during a workout, or made it to 90% to 100% of your maximum heart rate, you know what anaerobic exercise feels like.

Both cardio and strength training activities can be anaerobic. The biggest difference between aerobic ("with oxygen") and anaerobic exercise is the intensity at which you are working.

Benefits of Anaerobic Exercise

While anaerobic exercise used to be something that mainly athletes did to increase performance, everyday exercisers can also benefit from this type of training. When you train at high levels of intensity, you increase your anaerobic threshold. That means you can work harder for longer periods of time, all while burning more calories.

Other benefits include:

  • Endurance: Do some anaerobic training and your other workouts will get easier. Short bursts of intense exercise or strength training can help in your longer workout sessions, as well.
  • Improved VO2 max: Your body learns how to use more oxygen, which it converts into energy to allow you to exercise longer.
  • Stronger muscles: Instead of producing energy from oxygen (as it does during aerobic workouts), your body uses energy stores in the muscles during anaerobic exercise. That means it helps maintain and improve muscle mass.
  • Stronger bones: Some anaerobic exercise (such as intense resistance training) can improve bone density and strength. This, in turn, reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Fat loss: One study found that high-intensity intermittent exercise (that is, interval training) can be more effective than aerobic workouts at helping exercisers burn fat.
  • Improved mood: Just like aerobic exercise, anaerobic training has been shown to decrease feelings of depression, anxiety, tension, and anger.
  • Maintains muscle: As we age, our muscles lose their mass. Anaerobic exercise helps to maintain our muscle's makeup and builds strength.


This is a very challenging way of exercising, so don't start here if you're a beginner. Going too hard and fast could put you at risk for injury and discomfort, so start with aerobic interval training offered by a beginner interval workout.

Because anaerobic exercise is more demanding on your body than aerobic exercise, proper recovery is key. Once you do work up to incorporating some anaerobic exercise into your workouts, remember that you'll need full recovery afterward.

You should only do this type of exercise two to three times a week with one to two rest days in between.

Adding Anaerobic Exercise to Your Workouts

Anaerobic activities can be added into your regular workout. Both cardio exercises or dynamic strength training moves can be anaerobic. Options include:

You can try these or similar options, or add bursts of very high-intensity cardio to a regular steady-state workout. For example, if you're running on a treadmill, hop off every five minutes and do 30 to 60 seconds of intense cardio exercises like these:

  • Box squats
  • Burpees
  • Froggy jumps
  • Plyo jacks
  • Plyo lunges
  • Squat jumps

Whenever you're starting a new workout regimen, remember to begin slowly. Give your body time to adjust to the new sequence of moves and don't push it past its limits. Always perform a warm-up routine before beginning a high-intensity anaerobic workout. Go for a slow jog at recovery pace or do dynamic stretches before jumping straight into these anaerobic moves.

Perform these anaerobic moves in sets. If performing strength training, do eight to 12 repetitions of the same move, then rest. Complete a couple sets of each move before beginning the next. Once you've completed your workout, make sure you allocate time for a cool-down. A proper post-workout session or stretching routine with a foam roller can help aid in recovery between workouts.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."