The definition of aerobic exercise is literally “with air”. Whenever you are moving your body, whether it’s by walking, running or wiggling your little finger, your body requires an extra dose of oxygen. Obviously, the harder you are working, the more aerobic your exercise becomes, and the more oxygen your body requires. To keep a continuous supply of fresh oxygen flowing, your lungs pull the oxygen from the air and send it to the muscles being worked.

Eventually, if you work so hard that your lungs can’t keep up with the muscle’s demand for oxygen, you pass out of the aerobic state and into the anaerobic states, which means “without oxygen”. Does this mean you fall over into a heap and pass out? Not exactly. Your body has the ability to continue working anaerobically for about 3 minutes. Then your body forces you to stop and take a break.

Examples of Anaerobic Exercise

Jogging is an aerobic exercise. Your large leg muscles are doing a lot of work and calling for oxygen to help do it. But if you break into an all-out sprint, you have about 90 seconds before you pass into anaerobic territory and your lungs start gasping for air. You may be able to sustain this pace for up to 3 minutes, but then you’ll need to stop and replenish your oxygen supplies.

Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise can be effective forms of cardio exercise; both give your heart and lungs a workout and both burn calories. But you will burn more calories doing 30-minutes of anaerobic exercise (try alternating 90-second sprints with 2-minutes of rest for an overall 30-minute cardio workout) than you will with 30-minutes of jogging at a sustained pace. The 3-minutes of aerobic jogging will burn calories during the workout, but will not boost your resting metabolic rate, whereas the anaerobic sprints will boost your metabolism for several hours following the workout itself.

Weight lifting is another effective form of anaerobic exercise. The short bursts of intense activity, alternated with a short rest that allows muscles to recover, builds the lean muscle mass that is necessary for increased BMR (basal metabolic rate).

Do You Need Both Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise For Maximum Fitness?

In a word, yes. It is best to includes forms of aerobic exercise, which helps increase cardiovascular endurance while burning calories, with anaerobic exercise which can also increase your resting metabolism. Some forms of physical activity already incorporate both forms of cardio exercise, such as basketball, soccer and tennis which combine longer periods of slow sustained movement with short bursts of high-intensity activity mixed in.