The Difference Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercises

The key difference between aerobic or anaerobic exercise is the way the body uses oxygen. When you are performing aerobic exercise the body utilizes oxygen to create energy, aerobic literally means with oxygen. When you are doing anaerobic exercise the opposite happens and the body creates energy using chemicals inside the body instead of oxygen, and can produce lactic acid.

Examples of aerobic exercises are:

  • Aerobics or dance classes
  • Cross trainer
  • Exercise bike
  • Treadmill
  • Jogging
  • Badminton, football

Examples of anaerobic exercises are:

  • Weight lifting
  • Resistance training

Anaerobic exercise builds muscle and bone whilst aerobic exercise benefits the cardiovascular and circulatory system. Combining aerobic and anaerobic exercise will create optimum fitness.

It is worth noting that even when lifting weights it is possible to go into an aerobic zone, for example when you are circuit training with weights or doing kettle-bell training. To determine whether you are in the aerobic or anaerobic zone there a number of indicators you can use.

1) Heart Rate

The key indicator in determining whether you are participating in aerobic or anaerobic exercise is heart rate. The maximum heart rate for men is 220 (age dependent) and 225 for women (age dependent). The target heart rate for standard exercise should be 70% of your maximum heart rate.

When the heart beats faster than 70% of your maximum heart rate you are doing aerobic exercise. Heart rate can be monitored consistently whilst you work out by wearing a heart rate monitor. Most gyms have modern treadmills, exercise bikes and cross-trainers with built in heart rate monitors.

2) Perspiration

The second indicator in determining whether you are doing aerobic or anaerobic exercise will be perspiration. You will sweat far quicker and for longer periods of time when doing aerobic exercise. Lifting heavy weights will make you sweat, but the perspiration will be more a more gradual process.

3) Hunger

The third indicator is hunger. Aerobic exercise is likely to make you feel hungry when you stop exercising, yet anaerobic exercise causes you to be hungry over longer periods of time, often while you are training. This is the reason you find that people who lift weights regularly are always hungry. The science behind this is that anaerobic exercise raises your metabolic rate.

4) Wanting to Urinate

The fourth indicator in knowing whether you are doing aerobic or anaerobic exercise is wanting to urinate. The fast pace of aerobic exercise improves circulation and detoxifies the body. This prompts the liver to start expelling toxins, often making you want to urinate during aerobic exercise. The slower nature of weight lifting means that even with a large amount of fluid in the body, training is still possible and the need to urinate is less.

5) Breathing Patterns

The final indicator is breathing. It may seem obvious that aerobic exercise is capable of making you get out of breath quicker, yet for those who aren’t so fit, weightlifting can have a similar effect. The best way to tell if you are in an aerobic or anaerobic zone is by analyzing the pattern of breathing. Anaerobic exercise tends to make you breathe deeper and longer, whereas aerobic exercise creates a faster and shorter breathing pattern.


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