I have had several people ask me recently what the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise is, which is actually a very good question. So I thought I would cover this in today’s blog. The (very) short answer is oxygen. Oxygen is the main difference between the two forms of exercise.
However there is of course a little more to it than that!
More often than not your workout is probably going to be aerobic. Aerobic covers low to moderate exercising and includes activities such as jogging, bike riding, swimming and many gym classes. In this form of exercise oxygen is carried from the lungs to the blood and into the muscle cells. This oxygen, along with glycogen and fat stores, provide your muscles with the energy they need to sustain the effort for extended periods of time.
Aerobic exercise is fantastic for burning through calories and fat stores, as well as strengthening your heart and lungs and flushing your body full of endorphins, making you feel energised and happy!
With Anaerobic exercises the body is pushed to its maximum capacity. At this level of intensity the body is using up energy sources faster than the oxygen can be transported, so glycogen is used as the main energy source instead of oxygen. The process in which the body uses glycogen as energy is called ‘glycolysis’. During this process the glycogen is metabolized into a substance called pyruvate. When oxygen levels are low, because of the high rate of energy being used, the body temporarily converts this pyruvate into lactate which assists in the whole process. This is why we can experience a lactate acid build up after participating in anaerobic exercise and should always warm down to help flush it out, instead of just abruptly stopping.
This type of anaerobic exercise is not sustainable for long periods of time (usually max of 2 minutes at a time), mainly because the glycogen levels get used up, and is most commonly used in short bursts interspersed with aerobic exercise. For example, Short sprints, with slower running/jogging in between, or reps of lifting very heavy weights, with rests in between each set.
This form of exercise works to build lean muscle mass and for this reason is a really effective way of losing weight because it turns your muscles into efficient calorie burners even when you are not exercising! Anaerobic exercises also work on building muscle and cardiovascular endurance and fitness levels.