Understanding Anaerobic Exercise

Pushing yourself can help you burn more calories and increase you endurance

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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. And 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 percent to 100 percent 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.
  • 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, tension, and anger.

Considerations

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.

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 rest days in between.

Adding Anaerobic Exercise to Your Workouts

Anaerobic activities can be cardio exercises or dynamic strength training options such as:

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:

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