Anaerobic Exercise vs. Aerobic Exercise: What’s the Difference? (Everyday Health)

Posted: Sep 26, 2023 in In the News

This article originally appeared in Everyday Health on September 26, 2023.


Anaerobic Exercise vs. Aerobic Exercise: What’s the Difference?

By Lauren Bedosky

Aerobic activity tends to dominate exercise guidelines for overall health and fitness. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, for one, specifies 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise as the minimum amount all adults should aim for every week.

But we can’t forget about anaerobic exercise. This form of exercise offers unique health benefits, making it an essential component of a well-rounded fitness routine.

Read on to learn what anaerobic exercise is, what makes it different from other types of exercise, and how to get started.

What Is Anaerobic Exercise?

Anaerobic exercise is any intense physical activity that doesn’t use oxygen to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy that powers every move, per a review published in February 2017 in the World Journal of Cardiology.

There are two systems (also known as pathways) your body can use to create ATP anaerobically:

  • The phosphagen system uses a chemical compound known as creatine phosphate to produce ATP rapidly. However, the amount of creatine phosphate available is limited, so the phosphagen system can only fuel activities lasting about 1 to 30 seconds, per the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
  • Anaerobic glycolysis uses the energy in glucose (sugar) to create ATP. This system also works quickly, but it can last a little longer, fueling activities lasting 30 seconds to three minutes (maximum), according to ACE. The problem with this process is that it produces a waste product known as lactate in addition to ATP. At a certain point, your body can’t metabolize lactate fast enough to clear it from your muscles, says Janet Hamilton, CSCS, a registered clinical exercise physiologist and running coach in Atlanta. This is when you feel that burning sensation in your muscles.

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