There are many benefits to exercising, both aerobic and anaerobic. We should try to understand both so that we can see which one works for us. Our bodies are all different, we are different in many ways, but one thing remains clear.

Exercise is important!

It is important for our health in many ways, it is a completely natural aspect of the human body. We have learned to adapt to physical activity through millennia of needing to do it for survival.

While we had to do all of this exercise in order to survive, obviously we burned calories and consequently needed to fill those calories. There was a natural balance.

In our modern day lives, the issue we tend to have access to far more calories, while performing far less physical activity.

The issues are obvious, we gain weight and a myriad of health issues because our bodies are not built to undergo the things we do to it.

So, exercise is important, but there are different kinds of cardio that we can perform.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise

What are the differences between these two types of exercise?

Well, by definition:

  • Aerobic – “Physical exercise of low intensity that depends on the “aerobic energy process.”
  • Anaerobic – “Physical excercise of extremely high intensity which causes lactic acid to form.”

So the difference is intensity, but let’s get more specific.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic Energy Process

I just mentioned that aerobic exercise depends on the “aerobic energy process,” but what exactly does that mean?

The concepts of “maximal oxygen uptake” and “oxygen debt” were coined nearly a century ago, in the 1920’s. Since then, vast amounts of research has been done showing the health benefits of regular aerobic exercise.

This was greatly expanded with the work of two Air Force Veterans, Pauline Potts and Dr. Kenneth Cooper. In fact, Dr. Cooper later became known as the “father of aerobics.”

He defined aerobic exercise as, “the ability to use the maximum amount of oxygen during exhaustive work.

This process of aerobic energy and oxygen consumption is called “cellular aspiration.” This is the key to being able to run long distances, and be an all-around better athlete.

Cellular Respiration

Cellular aspiration is a complex process of chemical reactions that occur in our bodies in order to produce energy. When we do anything that requires energy, this is the main process that occurs to provide that energy.

When we eat food, our bodies breaks them down to a cellular level. The body then converts these nutrients into biochemical energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP).

When we run, our bodies begin to break down fats, fatty acids, glucose, and glycogen so that it can produce ATP. This provides us the energy to continue running, biking, or jump roping. Cellular respiration is the key to exercise, because it is how your body produces cellular energy.

This a deeply complex process, and won’t do much good to go far into for the purposes of this article.

Simply put:

  • Glucose breaks down, consuming 2 ATP compounds
  • By using this ATP, the glucose creates several other compound, which creates pyruvic acid.
  • Through this process, a total of 4 ATP are created, resulting in a net gain of ATP, which produces more cellular energy for the body to use.

This is extremely simplified, but gives you an idea of your bodies ability to break down nutrients and convert them into cellular energy that you can then use for exercise.

Your body requires oxygen for this process. In endurance exercises like jogging, biking, or jump roping, your body is in a constant cycle of creating this energy so that you can continue. This is specifically what makes aerobic exercise aerobic, your body is completing this cycle and producing this energy with the exercise that your doing.

Anaerobic Exercise

As I said, this exercise is any that is intense enough to cause lactic acid to form.

But what is lactic acid and how does it form?

Well, keeping the process of cellular aspiration in mind, it is simply an altered version. Remember that anaerobic exercise is “without oxygen.” In the absence of oxygen, the pyruvic acid that is produced is not metabolized by cellular aspiration so it must undergo a fermentation process.

In intense exercise, the energy demands you are putting on your body is greater than the ability of your body to produce ATP. So, with the production of lactic acid, your body is able to endure the movements, while building up this acid. This is what causes “the burn” during weight lifting.

After you hit your rest period, your body is able to use oxygen, and bind a chemical with lactic acid and then forms ATP.

This is a much less efficient process, because it yields about 2 ATP per glucose, compared to aerobic respiration, which could produce over 30 ATP per glucose molecule consumed.

Isn’t it amazing the way your body is able to adapt to situations without us even realizing it?


I have addressed this topic in our article on HIIT.

HIIT stands for HighIntensity Interval Training, which is a form of anaerobic exercise. This is basically defined by having periods of intense exercise using high heart rates with short rest periods.

As we discussed, oxygen is consumed during aerobic exercise. During Anaerobic, it is consumed more during rest periods.

This is when something called Excess Post-Workout Oxygen Consumption occurs. When you are exercising, especially with great intensity, your metabolism spikes as a result of the demand for energy. It is trying to fulfill these great energy needs.

After intense workouts, your body may still need the oxygen to be replenished. This means that your metabolism may stay at an elevated level for up to 24 hours after a workout. EPOC has been labeled “the afterburn effect” because your body is essentially burning more calories while resting than it normally would so that it can replace the biochemicals that you have burned off during your workout.

This is a great fat burner, because fat and stored carbs are great sources for your body to burn for this energy.

Aerobic or Anaerobic. Which Should You Choose?

Since they both require your body to go through different avenues to produce energy, I would recommend balancing both of them.

Intense workouts (anaerobic) are great fat burners, so if that’s your goal then implementing HIIT is a great idea.

Endurance workouts (aerobic) are great at strengthening respiratory and heart muscles, improve blood circulation, and cellular respiration.

Personally, I jog almost every day. The length doesn’t always matter, some days I feel lazy and don’t want to run, but I make myself do it anyways. On a couple days of the week, I do HIIT or other forms of intense exercise, and I do not jog on those days. Generally, if I do a really intense workout such as a long run or intense training, I take a rest day afterwards so that my body can recuperate.

Both are great, and ideally we should be doing a mix of both.

It is important to remember that our bodies are all different, and you need to be realistic about your goals and what your body can handle. Injuries are no fun, and if you overexert yourself you will be hindering the progress that you could potentially have by overdoing it and negating your ability to workout at all.

Remember, there is nothing to prove and no one to impress. We should only be concerned with staying healthy!

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