Virtually every workout you do can be categorized as aerobic or anaerobic. Which category your routine falls into depends on the energy-producing system your body uses at the time. It's no secret that your body requires energy to keep itself going during exercise. Aerobic training burns calories using a different process than anaerobic training, but the differences don't stop there. Your muscles, cells and heart have all evolved different physiological responses to aerobic and anaerobic training.
If you want to simplify aerobic and anaerobic training, you can separate them into workouts done with oxygen and without oxygen, but that's really just the tip of the iceberg. An exercise such as running can be both aerobic and anaerobic, depending on the pace you keep up. Your heart rate determines which zone you're working in during exercise. The harder you work, the harder you heart needs to work. Typically, aerobic training causes your heart to beat at a range of 70 to 80 percent of its maximum. Pushing your heart rate above 80 percent puts you in the anaerobic zone.
Aerobic training is characterized by exercises that allow your body to consume oxygen as its main energy source, while anaerobic training is a more intense form of conditioning in which your cardiovascular system is taxed beyond its capacity. In order to keep your muscles going in the anaerobic zone, your body breaks down glucose stored in the muscles to produce energy.
Fat vs. Carbs
Because your body produces energy in different ways in the aerobic and anaerobic training zones, the calories you burn in each zone will come from different sources. In the aerobic zone, more calories are lost from fat reserves relative to carbohydrates. In the anaerobic zone, the opposite is true and more calories are lost in the form of carbs stored in your muscles relative to fat. In addition to burning more total calories in the anaerobic zone compared to the aerobic zone, your metabolism will also increase following intense anaerobic exercise, which results in an after-burn effect that continues to burn off calories for hours after you exercise.
Once you get past all of the science and number crunching, it's all about physical results at the end of the day. Aerobic conditioning will burn calories and improve aerobic capacity, but it can be detrimental to those looking to maintain lean muscle mass and increase physical power. Using intense anaerobic exercises such as sprinting, you can increase your aerobic capacity without experiencing muscle atrophy, according to the National Council on Strength and Fitness.
- Brian Mac Sports Coach: Heart Rate Training Zones
- Scientific American: Why Does Lactic Acid Build Up in Muscles? And Why Does it Cause Soreness?
- Built Lean: The Fat Burning Zone Myth -- Don't Be Fooled
- National Council on Strength and Fitness: Benefits of Sprint Training vs. Traditional Aerobic Training
Steven Kelliher is an experienced sports writer, technical writer, proofreader and editor based out of the Greater Boston Area. His main area of expertise is in combat sports, as he is a lifelong competitor and active voice in the industry. His interviews with some of the sport's biggest names have appeared on large industry sites such as ESPN.com, as well as his own personal blog.