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Aerobic vs Anaerobic Exercise

Some Essential "Do's" & "Don'ts"

Heard these terms thrown around at the gym, but never really understood what they meant for your body? We’ve got you covered. In short, aerobic exercise is endurance-based, and increases your heart rate and breathing rate over a relatively long period of time. Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, involves short bursts of intense activity. Both have their merits, so here’s a quick guide on how each can contribute to your fitness goals.


Aerobic exercise increases a person’s heart rate and breathing rate to supply more oxygen to the body’s muscles. Aerobic means “with air,” and in this case means that your muscles have enough oxygen to perform. What does this look like? Any type of endurance-based exercise in which a person’s muscles move in a rhythmic, coordinated manner for a sustained period. Think running, cycling, swimming, or any type of sustained cardio.

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When you want it

If you’re recovering from injury: In moderation, aerobic exercise is generally gentle on the joints and muscles, and low-impact aerobic training like swimming, running on an elliptical, or walking is an excellent way to stay active while your body heals up.

If you’re looking for an active form of meditation: Because of the rhythmic and continuous movements, aerobic exercise can have a meditative effect that in turn supports a calm and positive mental state.

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When you don't

If you need results fast:aerobic training is great for endurance, but it’s not a fast-track to weight loss or muscle synthesis.

If you want to build strength: aerobic exercise is great for your cardiovascular system, but it doesn’t build muscle well on its own. If you’re looking for gains, you’ll have to incorporate strength training into your routine alongside your aerobic workout.


Anaerobic means “without air,” as anaerobic exercises do not involve an increase in the absorption and transportation of oxygen. During anaerobic exercise, the body instead breaks down glucose stores for energy because it does not have enough oxygen to continually power your muscles. These exercises are short, intense bursts — like sprints, HIIT workouts, and weightlifting. A good way to tell if you’ve crossed over from aerobic to anaerobic exercise is the “talk test”: if you can’t talk during your training, it’s anaerobic.

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When you want it

If you’re short on time: because of its intensity, anaerobic training can pack the benefits of a full aerobic workout into a much shorter timeframe, plus a few bonuses.

If you’re trying to lose weight: anaerobic exercise burns more calories and builds muscle faster than aerobic exercise, in turn revving up your metabolism so it burns fat even when you’re not working out.


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When you don't

If you’re injured: the rapid bursts of activity and explosive movements required by anaerobic exercises are not safe if you’re recovering from an injury, and can slow or compromise the healing process.

If you haven’t worked out in a while: you need a certain level of fitness to safely engage in anaerobic training, otherwise it can be too intense for your body — particularly your heart. The rapid movements can also predispose you to injury if your body isn’t used to high-impact exercise.

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