The Difference Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Training for Sports


Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a professional athlete, a diverse training plan that involves different types of exercise, different intensity levels and one that works different muscle groups is important. There are two primary types of training—aerobic and anaerobic—but if you’re not a fitness buff, you may not know the differences and benefits of each. Keep reading to learn more about the different benefits of each.

What is aerobic training?

Aerobic training, sometimes referred to as “moderate-intensity training,” relies on a continual intake of oxygen. During aerobic exercise, the body burns fat and glycogen (stored glucose) for fuel. You burn calories at a higher rate while you’re exercising, then revert to a normal rate when you’re through.

Aerobic training increases your stamina and can be sustained for long periods—think marathon as opposed to sprint. This type of exercise benefits your health in a variety of ways; it burns fat, strengthens your heart and lungs, reduces your risk of diabetes, and even boosts your mood.

Riding a bike is a great alternate to jogging or running.

Aerobic exercise should be hard enough that you can tell you’re working, but not so hard that you’re out of breath. You should be able to carry on a simple conversation as you are exercising. Jogging, biking, swimming, and hiking are all forms of aerobic exercise.

What is anaerobic training?

Anaerobic training is sometimes called “high-intensity training,” and it is intense, requiring you to push yourself to the limit of your ability. Anaerobic exercise gets your heart rate and your breathing rate up—so carrying on a conversation while you’re exercising anaerobically is out of the question. Unlike aerobic exercise, it can’t be sustained for long periods of time without adequate rest. Sprinting and weightlifting are two examples of anaerobic exercise.

Weightlifting can be an intense exercise that is great for building muscle and maintaining strength.

When you exercise intensely, your body burns a lot of calories in a short time, and it continues to burn calories at a higher rate for up to two hours after you’re done, as your body recuperates. This is commonly called “after burn” or “oxygen debt” and can add to exercise’s usefulness in weight management. The higher the intensity of exercise engaged in, the more energy that will be expended in the recovery phase.

How do aerobic and anaerobic training impact my sports performance?

Both resistance training (anaerobic) and endurance training (aerobic) are excellent ways to improve fitness and burn calories. However, exercise that is primarily aerobic (i.e. that uses oxygen to make energy) generally results in greater amounts of calories being burned during a given amount of time, as compared to highly anaerobic exercise. For example, a person who runs for 1 hour, at a pace of 8 minutes per mile, will expend about 800 calories. The same person who does a vigorous resistance-based workout will expend about 400 calories in the same amount of time. While the oxygen debt after resistance training is somewhat higher than after endurance training, the total caloric expenditure will still be less. The best choice when designing exercise programs for weight loss is to include both highly anaerobic, resistance-type training for maintenance of muscle, and aerobic exercise for its ability to burn calories and to improve overall cardiovascular fitness.

The specific amount and types of training will depend upon your specific sport and are best tailored by an experienced trainer, with physician guidance if health issues or sports injuries are a factor in achieving or returning to peak performance.

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