Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise: Why You Need Both

When it comes to exercise, there’s a lot of discussion on the best type of exercise for your health goals. From cardio to weight lifting, you’ll find an advocate for just about every type of exercise out there. Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain muscle, or build power, you’ve probably heard about aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise.

While the terms are familiar, many people don’t understand the science behind the different types of exercises. The similar terms can cause confusion and make it difficult to know which one is which.

If you’re trying to hack your health and fitness, knowing the difference between aerobic vs. anaerobic is key. Here, we’ll break down the differences between the two types of exercises and show you why each one matters to your overall well-being. Plus, we’ll show you how a wearable tracker can improve your fitness and help you achieve your goals.

Note: The information in this article is the opinion of the article’s author and does not represent the opinion of Biostrap or its affiliates. This article is for informational purposes and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a qualified professional if you require medical attention.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic: A Breakdown

Aerobic vs. anaerobic: A man does aerobic exercise by running on a track

Both anaerobic and aerobic are terms used to describe exercises based on how the body creates energy and uses oxygen consumption. Anaerobic means the absence of oxygen while aerobic translates to “with oxygen.” When you work out, both energy systems work seamlessly to help you complete both high intensity and endurance activities. Here’s the difference between aerobic vs anaerobic exercises.


Anaerobic exercises refer to high-intensity exercises that are typically short. Essentially, anaerobic exercise is any activity that your body performs that relies on other energy sources besides just oxygen. When you work out, your heart rate increases and your body works to pump more oxygen to muscles and nerves. In anaerobic activity, this oxygen isn’t enough to supply your body with what it needs for it to keep engaging in the activity.

During anaerobic exercise, your body produces energy through two mechanisms: ATP and lactic acid. Your body uses ATP — short for adenosine triphosphate — and glucose in muscle cells to produce additional energy. It’s the science behind short sprints, long jumps, and powerful throws. The ATP system can provide energy for high-intensity activities that last no more than 10 seconds or so.

The second energy system is the lactic acid system, and it works in sequence with the ATP system. As your body produces ATP, it creates pyruvic acid, which is then broken down into lactic acid and lactate. In the liver, these compounds are converted to glucose, which the body uses as energy.

This energy can only be used to power high-intensity physical exertion for around 2 minutes. As lactic acid and lactate build up in your muscles, you begin to feel fatigued. This is what triggers the need to take a break during these high-intensity, short-duration workouts.

Anaerobic exercise uses mainly fast-twitch muscle fibers to provide short bursts of energy. Examples of anaerobic exercise include sprinting, plyometrics, and weightlifting. Calisthenics and high-intensity interval training (HIIT workouts) are also forms of anaerobic exercise.


Aerobic exercises are physical activities that are usually less intense and performed over a longer period of time. During these exercises, your body gets enough oxygen to produce energy to power the activity. When you do aerobic activities, your body uses slow-twitch muscle fibers along with glucose and energy produced by the anaerobic system.

Aerobic exercise is anything that requires a steady amount of energy, which can be sustained over a long period of time. Things like low-intensity cardio, walking, long-distance running, cycling, cross country skiing, and swimming are aerobic exercises.

Why These Workouts Matter

Aerobic vs. anaerobic: A woman does anaerobic exercise by lifting weightsWhile anaerobic and aerobic workouts are different, they’re both equally important to your overall health and a good exercise regimen. Anaerobic workouts are great for building muscle mass and improving power. These types of exercises are higher intensity and shorter. Research shows that high-intensity exercise burns calories faster than steady-state exercise.

Anaerobic exercise also offers other health benefits. It can help to burn a modest amount of fat in people who are overweight. Additionally, research shows that sprint conditioning and HIIT anaerobic exercise is more effective at improving the power of athletes compared to aerobic activity. Some research also shows that strength training can help boost mood and vigor.

On the other hand, aerobic activity triggers fat loss and may improve weight loss. During aerobic exercise, your body burns fat stores to create more energy, rather than feeding off glucose stores like during anaerobic exercises. Aerobic exercise is also key to improving endurance and strengthening your cardiovascular system. Regular aerobic exercise can increase your VO2 max, a metric that measures the amount of oxygen your body requires during exercise.

Aerobic exercise can also offer additional health benefits. It may help lower blood pressure in people with hypertension, control blood sugar for people with diabetes, and improve heart health. It can also increase lung capacity and reduce your resting heart rate.

How Often To Get Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise

Aerobic vs. anaerobic: A woman does aerobic exercise by swimming lapsHealth and well-being don’t exist in a vacuum. There isn’t one specific exercise you need to do to stay fit, healthy, and reach your workout goals. Instead, a well-rounded approach to fitness is the best way to build the body you want. To do this, you’ll need to incorporate both aerobic and anaerobic fitness activities.

Try to plan a workout regimen that includes short-burst, high-intensity anaerobic exercises. Add sprinting, heavy weight lifting, and box jumps to your workout plan. Make sure to also include aerobic activities to build endurance. Good choices include swimming laps, running on the treadmill, rowing, or jumping rope. Make sure to warm up before partaking in strenuous physical activity to avoid injuries.

According to Health and Human Services (HHS), adults should get between two and a half hours to five hours of moderate-intensity exercise per week. They recommend at least one hour and fifteen minutes of that time be spent on vigorous, high-intensity aerobic fitness. People should also plan muscle-building and strength training activities in the form of anaerobic training at least two times per week.

Get Moving With Biostrap

Aerobic vs. anaerobic: Women do lunges in an anaerobic fitness class

At Biostrap, we make it easy to track all of your fitness biometrics and ensure you’re getting the most out of each and every workout. Our health tracker offers insight into your resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and oxygen saturation levels. Paired with the app, the wearable tracker makes it easy to monitor your workouts and create exercise routines that fit your needs.

Our activity classification tool also makes it incredibly easy to get detailed data from every workout. You can classify your favorite cardio activities and strength training exercises. This helps give you insight into rep consistency, the duration of your exercise, and how many calories you’ve burned.

Whether you’re performing aerobic or anaerobic exercises, the Biostrap wearable can offer incredible metrics to help you master your fitness. The wristband and shoe pod work seamlessly to provide a 12-axis motion capture to monitor everything from hand movements to velocity. By tracking your every move, you’ll be able to push yourself to achieve new fitness goals.

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