The word anaerobic literally means ‘without oxygen’ or ‘without air.’ Anaerobic exercise is a high-intensity but short-lasting activity, where the body’s demand for oxygen is much greater than the oxygen supply that’s available. This kind of exercise depends on energy sources that are stored in the muscles. Some types of anaerobic exercise include jumping rope, interval training, heavy weightlifting, all types of sprints (biking, running, etc.), hill climbing, swimming, isometrics, or any quick burst of hard exercise.
It’s important to remember that, while the names sound similar, there is a difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise. The key difference is that they use different energy systems. Aerobic exercise — meaning ‘with oxygen’ — uses energy stored in the body from fats, carbs, and proteins, along with oxygen from breathing, to make energy available to the muscles. Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, uses energy stored in the muscles. Aerobic exercises burn calories during the activity only, while anaerobic exercise burns calories even when the body is at rest. And while aerobic exercises tend to develop stamina, anaerobic exercises focus on developing force.
Anaerobic exercise is beneficial for the body and promotes good health by building muscle, burning fats, strengthening bones, and maintaining muscle mass, which is particularly important as you age. Let’s look at some of the benefits of anaerobic exercise.
1. Builds muscle
One of the most popular anaerobic exercise benefits is that it helps build lean muscle mass and improve endurance and fitness levels. Increased lean muscle mass due to exercise boosts the metabolism and helps combat fatigue. It also helps reduce body fat, which is a key factor for people trying to achieve weight loss goals.
2. Improves mood
Exercising has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also relieves stress, helps you sleep better, improves your memory, and boosts your overall mood. Why? Engaging in exercise releases endorphins — chemicals released in the brain that trigger a positive feeling, similar to that of morphine — that energize your spirits and make you feel good. Finally, anaerobic exercise can also serve as a distraction, helping you to find a calm and relaxing time to break out of the cycle of negative feelings that feed depression.
3. Increases endurance
Anaerobic exercise helps build endurance and fitness levels. In fact, many lower body strength training exercises are designed to increase stamina and endurance.
4. Lowers blood sugar
The body turns the food you eat into sugar. Food that remains unused is either burned immediately, stored as fat in the body, or stored as glycogen in the muscles. Regular anaerobic exercise helps regulate insulin by burning the stored glycogen in order to help your body stay healthy. This helps you avoid spikes in blood sugar levels.
5. Raises VO2 max
VO2 max is the greatest quantity of oxygen the body is capable of consuming during exercise. The average VO2 max for untrained, healthy males is about 35–40 mL/(kg·min), and for healthy females about 27–31 mL/(kg·min). Regular anaerobic exercise helps increase these numbers. This is significant because it allows the body more oxygen to perform swift bursts of activity in your daily life, and also helps improve endurance for other activities, like aerobic activity.
6. Increases metabolism
High-intensity anaerobic exercise makes the muscles in the body hungry. After an intense workout, your metabolism functions at a higher rate of speed for several hours. Repeated exercise and workout build larger muscles, which raise your resting metabolic rate and result in the body burning more calories — even in your sleep!
7. Boosts energy
Your body depends on the glycogen stored in your muscles for energy. Regular anaerobic exercise boosts and enhances your body's tendency to store glycogen, providing you with more energy when you need it.
8. Protects joints
Regular anaerobic exercise increases muscle strength, and this additional muscle mass and strength translates to joint protection in the body. The result? You’re less likely to get injured.
9. Improves bone strength and density
Anaerobic exercises increase bone density, which helps prevent osteoporosis (bone loss) that happens naturally as the body ages.
10. Promotes fat loss
Anaerobic exercise like high-intensity intermittent training (HIIT) helps you burn fat more quickly than with aerobic exercise. It also helps fade away the appearance of cellulite by plumping up the collagen in your skin.
11. Reduces the risk of disease
Anaerobic workouts are best for burning calories and fighting fat — and maintaining a healthy weight is key to good overall health and well being. Anaerobic training also improves overall cardiopulmonary health. Strengthened bone density attained by high-intensity anaerobic training (like push-ups and bodyweight squats) reduces the risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Anaerobic exercise isn’t all sprints. There are a wide variety of exercises that can be classified as anaerobic. Examples of anaerobic exercise include:
- Weight lifting and bodybuilding
- Sprinting (running sprints and swimming sprints)
- Climbing hills
- Intensive and fast skipping (with a rope)
- Interval training
- Any exercise that comprises of short exertion, high-intensity movement
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