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October 6, 2011

Is Anaerobic Exercise Better Than Aerobic Exercise?

Anaerobic Exercise and Weight LiftingWhat’s better for you? Aerobic or anaerobic exercise? It depends on your goals.  Exercise training is specific – muscles adapt in very specific ways to the demands place on them.  This is called the SAID principle, or” specific adaptation to imposed demand”.

So it’s important to know what you are trying to accomplish by exercising.  Are you striving for bigger and stronger muscles?  Are you trying to lose weight?  Do you want to be able to run a marathon?  Once you ask and answer these types of question you can then begin the process of developing an exercise program tailored to your goals.

Anaerobic versus Aerobic

If you want bigger and stronger muscles then “yes” anaerobic exercise is better.  We hear so much about aerobic exercise and weight loss.  But, if losing body fat is a primary goal, better results will be obtained through anaerobic exercise.  In my opinion, anaerobic exercise is also better for performing and maintaining activities of daily living.

Anaerobic Exercise

“Anaerobic” means without oxygen.  The body has 3 main energy systems: ATP-CP pathway, Glycolytic pathway, and the Oxidative pathway.  Oxygen is needed for the oxidative pathway, but not the ATP-CP or glycolytic pathways.  The ATP-CP and glycolytic pathways, however, can only provide energy for short periods of time.  Together they can provide energy for about 2 minutes of all out effort.

The body’s anaerobic system is well-designed for explosive and short bursts of activity.  Some have described life as a “marathon” and therefore recommend we focus on endurance activities.  But, in reality life is a marathon consisting of short bursts of activity.  Most of our daily activities are short bursts – getting out of a chair, climbing stairs, or squatting to pick something up.  So it’s important to include anaerobic exercises to your training program.

There are basically 2 types of muscle fibers; type I or slow twitch and type 2 or fast twitch fibers (in reality there are different categories of type 2).  Each muscle has varying degrees of each.  Type 1 fibers are great for endurance and type 2 fibers better for explosive activities.   It’s debatable whether training can change type 1 to type 2 and vice versa.  The main thing to understand is if you do aerobic training you’re basically improving the health of type 1 muscle fibers, and if you do anaerobic training you’re improving the health of type 2 fibers.  If all you do is aerobic exercise your type 2 fibers diminish in their ability to produce power and you will get weaker even though you are exercising.

Types of Anaerobic Exercise

Resistance or strength training is an example of anaerobic exercise – short bursts of activity.  Also “aerobic” exercises done at high intensity in repeated short bursts, or what’s called high intensity interval training is another example of anaerobic exercise. This can be short bursts on a cycle, treadmill, stair climber, elliptical, or with callisthenic exercises.

Anaerobic Exercise, Hormone Production, and Weight Loss

Performing anaerobic exercises can stimulate release of growth hormone and testosterone.  Aerobic exercise does not stimulate release of these hormones. Both of these hormones enable muscles to get bigger and stronger.  Muscle burns more calories than fat and that improves metabolism facilitating loss of body fat.  In addition, it takes far more calories for your body to recover after session strength training than it does following a session of similar duration of aerobic exercise.  In essence, anaerobic exercise turns the body into a fat burning machine.

For overall fitness and health, it is wise to perform both anaerobic and aerobic exercise, but if your goal is to lose body fat and/or gain muscle strength anaerobic exercise is better.

See related articles.

“Boosting Nitric Oxide with Exercise”

“The Benefits or Body Weight Exercises”

“10 Exercise Tips for Beginners”

“Kettlebells, Boot Camp, Kick Boxing, What’s Best: Part Two, Yoga, Jazzercize, and More”

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

  1. I’m impressed, I must say. Really seldom do I learn a weblog that is equally educational and entertaining, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    1. Thank you for you generous words. We do strive to make the content both educational and “entertaining” when possible and present it in an easy to understand manner. Looks like we accomplished that on this post. Let us know if there are other topics you would like to see from us, and please let others know that we exist. Dr. Joe

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