What is anaerobic exercise?

January 28, 2022
A man and woman skipping rope as a form of anaerobic exercise

In simple terms, anaerobic exercise means ‘without oxygen’. This means that unlike aerobic exercise where energy is produced from oxygen, anaerobic uses energy from muscle. This is because the exercises are short, and high intensity, therefore they do not require a sustained level of energy.

This article tells you everything you need to know about anaerobic exercise, including the health benefits, as well as the types of exercises you should be trying.

Aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise

You will definitely have heard of aerobic exercise, but anaerobic may be new to you! In fact, it’s more than likely you have been incorporating anaerobic exercises into your workout routine, but did not know it had a name! Both exercises are very similar, with the main difference being that they use a different form of energy.

Anaerobic exercise uses short bursts of high energy, whereas aerobic exercise uses a sustained exertion of energy. One of the best examples is jogging vs. sprinting. Jogging is a type of aerobic exercise because it’s a slower pace, over a long distance, so it requires your heart rate and energy levels to be sustained for a long period of time. On the other hand, sprinting is a fast pace exercise, over a short distance, so your energy is exerted quickly, making it an anaerobic exercise.

Anaerobic exercise benefits

Anaerobic exercise has a number of health benefits. It’s a fast pace, high intensity workout that can help with building muscle, strength, stamina or burning fat, making it a great exercise depending on your fitness goals. Some of these benefits include:

  1. Boosting muscle development – Aerobic exercise produces energy from oxygen, whereas the body uses energy stored in the muscle during anaerobic exercise which helps to improve muscle mass.
  2. Strengthening bones – Anaerobic exercises like weightlifting, which involves resistance, can improve bone density which reduces the risk of some bone related diseases.
  3. Helping to burn fat – Studies have found that high intensity, intermittent training like HIIT workouts are effective in burning fat which can help you on your fitness journey.
  4. Improving endurance – Training your body to get used to intense workouts can make other forms of exercise seem easier as you are building your stamina. This can help you if you are at the start of your fitness journey, by working your way up to more physically intense workouts.
  5. Helping to maintain muscle – Did you know that adults naturally lose muscle mass as they get older? Anaerobic exercise can not only help you build muscle mass, but maintain your current levels instead of letting them deteriorate.

Anaerobic exercise examples

  • Weightlifting – The key to making weightlifting a type of anaerobic exercise is the weight itself – the heavier the better. Of course, always go at your own level, and never over exert yourself. Once you have found the right weight there are a number of effective weightlifting exercises to try. From bench pressing, to deadlifting or an overhead press, start incorporating these moves into your routine.
  • HIIT Training – High intensity interval training is short bursts of really intense exercises with short periods of recovery. The ratio of exercise to recovery depends on your level of fitness. For beginners a ratio of 1:3 is a good place to start, with 15 seconds of exercise and 45 seconds of recovery. For a fitness fanatic, you could do a ratio of 1:1, such as 60 seconds of exercise and 60 seconds of recovery. These exercises can include anything from mountain climbers, to Russian twists as long as it is a high intensity workout.
  • Sprinting – One of the easiest exercises you can do, sprinting requires you to run as fast as your body can over a short distance. Despite its short time, this exercise is effective, with studies finding that you can burn 200 calories from just 2 and half minutes of sprinting. You can monitor your improvement by measuring your distance and seeing how far you get with every sprint.
  • Skipping – Not just for the school playground, skipping is a great cardio workout, used widely by boxers to improve their endurance. It’s also one of the most cost efficient workouts, which anyone can do at home! Simply grab a skipping rope, and jump for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds, and repeat for 12-15 reps. Keep increasing the length of these reps as you improve. Or for something different try skiers where you jump from side to side with your feet closed for 2 minutes.
  • Circuit Training – Typically involving 6-12 exercises, circuit training is a great way of getting a full body workout. It is also good for those looking to fit exercise around their busy lives because it’s very time efficient, focusing on intense workouts for a short amount of time. For example, 6 exercises such as burpees, bicep curls, lunges, squats, push ups and tricep dips for 30 seconds each. You can then build your reps depending on your strength and stamina.
  • Pull Ups – One of the best exercises for building upper-body strength, particularly the back muscles. All you need is a pull up bar which is available at most gyms, or you can easily install a door frame pull up bar at home. Then simply reach up and grab the bar so you are suspended off the ground. This in itself is a great workout so feel free to stop here if you are a beginner. Next, pull yourself up so that your chin is above the bar, and bring yourself back down again with control. Repeat this movement 10 times, or until you feel tired.
  • Battle Ropes – Those two big ropes you see lying around in the gym actually make for an intense workout. You simply need to pick up the ends of the rope, and make sure your grip is tight, then flick the ropes away, alternating between the left and right hand. This is known as the bicep wave, and requires the ropes to be moved as fast as possible for a high intensity workout.
  • Box Jumps – Adding jumps into your workout is a great way to build strength. However, you need to be aware of your ability as landing incorrectly on the box can be dangerous. For beginners, it is recommended to start with a box height of 12-24 inches. Stand in front of the box with your feet shoulder width apart. Squat down, and swing your arms backwards for momentum, then jump off the ground and land on top of the box. Next, jump back off the box with your knees slightly bent, or step back down, and repeat this motion for at least 3 sets. But remember, form is more important than how many jumps you do!

There we have it, everything you need to know about anaerobic exercise! For even more TREK blogs on fitness, read our articles on 5 Exercises to do at Home and How to Get Motivated for the Gym.

Of course, the best accompaniment to any exercise is one of our TREK bars, which are a great source of vegan protein to power you through your workout. Buy a TREK bar today!