Sometimes the names of exercises get thrown around faster than you can figure out how to do them correctly let alone put them into an effective routine and understand how they work. Pretty much every exercise can be placed into two categories: aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise. There are many differences between the two but there are benefits to each type of activity and when done together, they can be quite effective in helping you reach your fitness goals.

Let’s take a look at each, how they work, and their benefits. By the end of this article, you should know how and why you need both. Are you ready to grab your ear buds, crank up the tunes, and get to work?

What is aerobic exercise?

Aerobic exercise is a type of activity that can be sustained over long periods of time. This means that your muscles get adequate oxygen to keep contracting repeatedly without tiring even when the exercise is done for longer periods. You can keep up with aerobic exercise for a lot longer. This type of exercise will allow you to burn carbohydrates and fat as you continue to move, move, move. There are three types of aerobic exercise recognized by the American College of Sports Medicine, they are listed below.


  • Build your endurance
  • Boosts cardiac health
  • Prevents or reverses cardiovascular disease
  • Reduces total cholesterol


  • Easy physical activities: walking, jogging, climbing stairs, cycling, etc.
  • Moderate physical activities or exercise: dance classes, swimming, hiking, bench stepping, etc.
  • Strenuous physical exercise: basketball, volleyball, tennis, etc.

What is anaerobic exercise?

Unlike aerobic exercise, anaerobic exercise does not use oxygen to fuel the muscle usage. It also targets specific muscles and specific muscle groups instead of utilizing the whole body. It still burns carbohydrates, however, but it does it through very short bursts of very intense activity. Oftentimes, those who focus on anaerobic activity, such as bodybuilders, help their body perform better through these activities by “carbo-loading” before exercising so their body has enough carbohydrates to burn.


  • Build lean muscle mass
  • Burn calories to help lose weight quickly
  • Weight management
  • Build endurance


  • Weightlifting
  • Exercises in short bursts, such as a short burst of many push-ups
  • Sprinting
  • High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic

Because aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise is different, how do we know which one is better? Well, it turns out they work together to create the best routine. Even if you only perform anaerobic exercise but do it for a longer period of time, eventually you will be switching to an aerobic exercise simply due to the fact that at some point you are going to stop burning carbs because you will run out of them. Then you will be using oxygen as the fuel for your workout.

However, if you look at it a different way it is much easier to see the difference. Compare running and you will see there is a big difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Someone who is jogging but doing it over a really long period of time is getting a much different workout than someone who is sprinting for a short period of time. This is because jogging is an aerobic exercise and sprinting is an anaerobic exercise. Jogging uses oxygen to get your heart and lungs pumping a bit harder and your body working a bit harder. Sprinting pushes your muscles to the extreme, so they are doing the work and you are burning carbs.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) works to effectively combine both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. You will see not only the benefits of each type, but you will intensify those benefits because you don’t give your body much of a rest in between. With the fast pace of the high intensity bursts of anaerobic exercise and then the “rest periods” of aerobic exercise, you build the benefits up through each phase until you see the following benefits:

  • Burn a ton of calories in just a short period of time – your HIIT exercise doesn’t need to be if it is aerobic or anaerobic activity by themselves
  • Metabolic rate is increased for an extended period of time, even after you stop working out – this means you can rest and still burn calories
  • Build lean muscle quickly – it is really easy to build lean muscle through HIIT, and lean muscle helps to burn calories even when you aren’t working out (in fact, it burns calories even while you are asleep)
  • Reduce blood pressure and heart rate – as long as your doctor has approved you for HIIT exercise, your blood pressure and heart rate can improve through this type of exercise over time
  • Reduce blood sugar – because of the amount of carbs and sugar burned off during HIIT, and because it increases the metabolic rate long after the workout, HIIT can help you effectively control blood sugar levels

How Nutrition Helps

It is important, when creating a workout routine that involves HIIT that combines both aerobic and anaerobic exercise, that you eat well. Eating whole foods is important as well as limiting or removing processed foods as well as refined sugars. If you can, see a dietician, nutritionist, or even make an appointment with a personal trainer or other trained professional that can help you create a meal plan that will help you get the most out of your physical training. This can help you lose weight as well as get the best benefits from your HIIT.

Ready to Sweat?

Working out with HIIT, which combines aerobic and anaerobic activity, may take a little bit to adjust to. However, once you are out there joining HIIT classes and having fun doing it, you are going to enjoy the benefits you see rather quickly, and you are going to want to push yourself to see additional benefits. Why not try a free HIIT class to see what it’s like? You’ll love it and you’ll wonder why you haven’t tried it before.

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