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The most important differences and benefits of aerobic and anaerobic exercise

You must have heard numerous times yourself that the terms aerobic and anaerobic training are often mentioned in the conversation and in the exercise texts. To finally find out what seasoned athletes are talking about, our coach has taken care of it!

What Are Aerobic Exercises?

Aerobic exercise or aerobic fitness training is any form of movement that is performed relatively long (more than 20 minutes) at a pace of 60-80% of the maximum heart rate of an individual. When we say any form of movement, it refers to cyclic exercises such as walking, running, rowing, cycling, hiking, rope jumping, etc.

In this type of activity, the energy to initiate muscle is obtained in biochemical reactions in which food substances are broken down by oxygen. Such exercises do not cause muscular pain as anaerobic and are more appropriate for recreational athletes and those looking to get back in shape after a long break.

During aerobic training, it is important to determine the pace at which exercise is performed. As we said at the beginning of the text, aerobic mode ranges from 60-80% of the maximum heart rate of an individual, which means that people of different ages do not train at the same pace.

Determination of heart rate

A person who is 35 years old will calculate the heart rate for performing aerobic training as follows: 220 – 35 (years) = 185 MFS (max heart rate). The following is 185 x 0.6 = 111 FS (60% of maximum heart rate).

In this way, we calculated the lower limit of heart rate below which the exerciser should not lower when performing aerobic training. We next calculate 80% of the maximum heart rate as follows: 185 x 0.8 = 148 FS and this is the upper limit of the heart rate that a workout should not exceed because it then exits the aerobic training zone.

Now our trainer has instructions at which pace to move in order to reap the full benefits of this form of movement. The pace is such that it is difficult to talk when doing the training, but also if we cannot say one sentence, it means that we are moving too fast! For the most accurate pulse measurement, a pulse meter is recommended, but we can also sense the pulse and calculate it by counting the pulse in 10 seconds and multiplying that number by 6.

How Long Should Aerobic Training Take?

Depending on your current fitness level, it is advisable to gradually increase the time from 20 minutes to longer each time until the optimum duration of 45 to 60 minutes is reached.

After 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, the body begins to use stored fat as fuel.

If you catch the continuity of exercise you will notice how the body adapts to the load. Eg. Four weeks ago, your pulse rate was 135 FS, and now it’s 130 FS when running.

Benefits of aerobic exercise

  • Easy to perform (beginner can also perform)
  • It can be performed frequently, every day
  • Improves cardiovascular and respiratory function
  • Increases work capacity
  • It speeds up recovery after heavy training
  • It lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces subcutaneous adipose tissue
  • It lowers blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels
  • It improves glucose tolerance and reduces insulin resistance

What are anaerobic exercises?

Anaerobic exercise or training of anaerobic abilities is an intense workout with a greater load than aerobic training. This is a type of activity in which the energy to work is derived from anaerobic capacities that are housed within the athlete’s body, and their capacity varies depending on the level of training and the genetics itself. It takes a certain amount of time for the body to start using the substances that break down in the presence of oxygen (aerobic training) as energy, and until the organism “switches” to aerobic mode, it will use anaerobic capacity.

Anaerobic exercise lasts up to 2 minutes, which means that some longer-term endurance of the body is not associated with this training.

There are two ways to provide energy to work in anaerobic mode:

  • ATP-CP
  • Anaerobic glycolysis (lactic acid) that uses glycogen in the absence of oxygen

Anaerobic physical activities include strength training, tennis, squash, rowing, fast running up to 1500 m, shorter and faster running in sports such as football, handball… But it should be noted that no activity is exclusively aerobic or anaerobic. Depending on the intensity of the activity, one way or the other is dominated by energy.

How do I know I’m in the anaerobic zone?

Above we have listed the upper limits in which we do aerobic training, in the case of our athlete of 35 years. Which means all of the above goes into anaerobic training. In particular, if our athlete’s heart rate is higher than 148 beats per minute, it means that the athlete is in the anaerobic zone. Depending on the intensity of exercise and the fitness of the athlete, they will spend more time in the lower or upper zone of the anaerobic system.

Lactal threshold

There is a term called lactate threshold – LP, it refers to the intensity of exercise in which lactic acid collects into the bloodstream faster than it is removed. This term is often referred to as the anaerobic threshold! This involves feeling uneasy, tingling in the muscles, and simply feeling that we cannot keep up at this pace for a long time.

How to train “anaerobically”?

As we have stated, no activity can be directly divided into aerobic or anaerobic. Therefore, we should look at activities in such a way that when we want to train anaerobically and reap the benefits of such training, we should strive for more intense and shorter activities, those activities where there is a lot of change of pace. In addition to sports such as football, handball, basketball, etc., we can also include walking, running, swimming, cycling, rowing, which we will perform with greater intensity, combined with some other activity, with a change of pace (faster, slower, stronger -lower) but shorter duration.

We know for sure that we are on the right track if we have difficulty breathing after the exercise.

Likewise, exercises in the gym, and especially exercises performed with the weight of one’s body, if performed in a faster or more difficult way without much break between exercises, can be part of anaerobic training.

Benefits of anaerobic training:

  • Increased metabolic activity and some time after training (after anaerobic training a debt of oxygen has been created, which consumes fats and some time after the training has ended)
  • It improves cardiovascular and respiratory system to a lesser extent
  • It reduces the possibility of muscle atrophy, increases muscle strength and hyperophy, increases bone density
  • It is shorter and is not as monotonous as aerobic training
  • Depending on the activity level, it is possible to burn more calories than during aerobic training
  • Improves insulin sensitivity
  • Preparing a person for better response in sudden situations

The difference between aerobic and anaerobic training

When considering all the factors related to aerobic and anaerobic type of training, we can say that both modes have their advantages and disadvantages. Depending on what type of training you prefer and you can expect to be more involved in it. Aerobic mode would be more for those people who do not like excessively difficult activities and who like to keep a certain pace for a period. Anaerobic mode is again the total opposite, because here the feeling of weight in the body, breathlessness and simply not for every person comes to the fore.

Aerobic training has a better effect on fat loss, while anaerobic training has a better effect on gaining strength and muscle mass,

In aerobic training there is less chance of injury

Anaerobic training creates oxygen debt and consumes calories even when we are done

Aerobic training is easier to perform, but it is also more tedious

Anaerobic training makes a person more versatile and capable, because whoever does quality anaerobic training can certainly do quality aerobic training

Which training to choose? My recommendation would be a combination of both training sessions. Why? Because that way we hit all the segments that the body needs to function properly and make us feel healthier and better!

Enjoy your workout!

Irena Pavlović

Irena is a dentist, working extensively in her field as well as in the fields of fitness, nutrition and medicine. She has been educated about healthy lifestyles for years, helping others learn as much as possible. She seeks to help people adopt healthy habits as well as healthy and positive thinking about life. In her spare time, she hikes, runs, plays saxophone and guitar, and develops her own health page ( Her life motto is: When they expect a lot from you, you do even more.

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