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Do you often find yourself losing the motivation to complete long exercise routines? Do you doubt your progress or just feel bogged down by the arduous nature of walking, jogging, swimming, or hiking?

Aerobic exercises--or ones that focus primarily on improving your cardiovascular fitness--are fantastic for your health, but they aren't the only type of physical activity you can do!

Incorporating anaerobic exercises can provide some variety to your regimen as well as health benefits you don't receive by focusing strictly on "cardio."

Today, we are going to discuss what anaerobic exercise is, how it differs from aerobic activities, and three reasons why you should consider adding it to your weekly routine.

What does “anaerobic” mean?

Breaking apart the word, an- means “without” and aer- means “air.” In other words, “anaerobic” means independent of the use of oxygen. When applied to exercise, it refers to high-intensity physical activity completed during a short period: think maximum effort within the first six to thirty seconds!

A good indicator of seeing whether you are performing at a high-intensity is the “talk test.” You should not be able to talk or hold any form of conversation during the few seconds of activity.

Examples of Anaerobic Exercises

  • sprinting
  • weight-lifting
  • rowing
  • pushups and squats

Remember: the key is to perform the exercises at a high-intensity.

When performing these anaerobic exercises, the energy demands for a high level of intensity exceed the amount of oxygen available to fuel the movements. This leads to a buildup of lactic acid in the muscle tissue, a marker of fatigue.

There are numerous formulas to determine a target heart rate for anaerobic exercise based on age and fitness level, with the crude benchmark being that you should NOT be able to talk or hold any form of conversation during the activity.

Aerobic versus Anaerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercises tend to be of lower intensity and, therefore, tend to last longer. While this is good for fat loss and weight management, the human body is good at adapting. Soon, you will find yourself needing to perform the same low-intensity exercises for a more extended period to continue to lose weight or to even feel as though you are exerting yourself.

As mentioned earlier, anaerobic exercise utilizes small, readily available ATP in the absence of oxygen. That’s why a 10-second all-out sprint can be so draining; we tap into our reserved ATP stores to fuel a maximal effort.

Unlike aerobic exercise (which utilizes oxygen), our bodies need to use other chemical compounds in place of oxygen to keep our metabolisms running.

Anaerobic workouts can better lead to fat loss when combined with aerobic activities.


Due to anaerobic exercise’s nature, it can often be tiring and challenging. Here are three benefits that should keep you motivated to go the anaerobic route (especially as you get older).

Muscle building

Muscle mass and strength decrease with age. By incorporating short-duration exercises with moderate weights at a moderate- to high-intensity, muscle atrophy can be staved off. It’s always a good idea to check with your primary care physician or orthopedist to see what kinds of exercise are best for you as you get older, so unintentional injuries do not occur.

Weightlifting leads to a brief period of muscle hypertrophy - meaning the muscle tissue expands temporarily during training, adapting to manage the increased weight and accommodate more nutrients. By performing anaerobic exercises frequently, your body sends and receives signals that it needs to become more efficient to maintain this level of activity. This eventually leads to the production of more mitochondria (complementing aerobic exercise) and more efficient removal of waste products such as lactic acid.

Metabolic improvements that result with anaerobic training ultimately help with aerobic activities, too.

Strengthens bone and joints

In addition to muscle atrophy—or the diminishment of muscle—as we age, our bones and joints accumulate significant wear and tear and can lead to osteoarthritis, the most common bone and joint condition.

Anaerobic activities can specifically help in strengthening bone and connective tissue. Strength-based exercises work by causing a momentary increase in load to the body while short sprints and push-up type activities help improve circulation, which in turn provides better bone nourishment and structure through an enhanced bone mineral density.

Changes in metabolism

Our aerobic capacity and metabolism become less efficient as we age to follow along with the common decrease in activity; blood vessels become less elastic, affecting response to increased demands on the heart.

The elevated heart rate obtained while performing anaerobic exercise causes the heart, muscle tissue, and blood vessels to respond better to all kinds of physical activity. Interval exercises that alternate between high and low intensity have the added advantage of keeping you active while your body recovers from short bursts of anaerobic activity. This also means your metabolism increases significantly during the exercise and remains elevated long after your workout, leading to better weight management.

What to do next

Exercise plays an integral part in a healthy lifestyle. If you’re interested in improving your fitness, muscle strength and endurance, or bone and joint integrity, check with your doctor to see if you are ready and able to perform anaerobic exercises.

Nutrition and exercise go hand-in-hand. Be sure you’re getting enough vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants through your diet to support your level of activity. Artic Flex can help in the bone and joint department by providing zinc, strontium, vitamin D and the little-known antioxidant, astaxanthin.

Want to learn more? Check out our list of blog posts that cover these nutrients!

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