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Anaerobic vs. Aerobic Workouts: What's the Difference?

Elaine Standohar's picture
Anaerobic vs. Aerobic

In the world of fitness, not all exercises and/or workouts are created equal. The benefits your body experiences from a long-distance run are vastly different from the benefits offered to your body by a series of short-distance sprints. Likewise, lifting three 12-rep sets of moderate effort weights will not produce the same results as performing one set of 6-8 reps at maximum resistance to fatigue. The difference between these two workouts (long-distance run & high rep, low intensity weights VS sprints & maximum intensity weights) is expressed by how your body operates and performs during them and can be simply defined as either an anaerobic or aerobic workout.


Both Anaerobic and Aerobic types of workouts, though starkly opposite of one another, offer remarkable benefits to your health. To elaborate:

Anaerobic Exercise refers to any short duration, high intensity workout (ie: sprints). The term “anaerobic” means “without-oxygen.” These workouts demand more oxygen from the body than what is available in the bloodstream. This causes your body to pull energy beyond the bloodstream from sources stored within your body, giving this type of workout it’s famed “fat-burning” status. And since anaerobic exercises are higher in intensity than aerobic exercise, they tend to be more difficult workouts, albeit shorter ones. Try this great sprint workout.

Health benefits gained from anaerobic workouts include:

  • Increased muscle mass and strength
  • Improve muscular endurance
  • Incureases cardio-vascular functioning

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The following are examples of anaerobic workouts:

  • Jumping rope
  • Heavy weight-lifting
  • Sprints
  • High intensity interval training
  • Hill climbs

Aerobic Exercise is defined as, “any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously, and is rhythmic in nature” – The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). This type of workout increases your body’s need for oxygen for consistent performance, which explains why aerobic workouts are often referred to as cardio. Aerobic exercises tend to be lower intensity exercises, however, they can be much longer workouts, ranging anywhere from 30 – 90+ minutes of consistent movement.

Health benefits gained from aerobic workouts include:

  • Reduces resting blood pressure (systolic & diastolic)
  • Reduces cholesterol
  • Improves lung and heart function
  • Lowers resting heart rate
  • Decreases clinical symptoms of anxiety, tension and depression

The following are examples of aerobic workouts:

  • Jogging/running
  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Stair climbing

Photo Credit: health.howstuffworks.com