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Enduring long, gruelling cardio sessions isn’t the only way to stay fit. Whilst aerobic activity is essential for increasing endurance and boosting your cardiovascular health, it’s not the only way to get a good workout.
In fact, anaerobic exercises can be just as challenging and rewarding as their aerobic counterparts. These high-intensity activities can help you build lean muscle, increase your strength, and reduce body fat. What’s more, anaerobic training usually takes much less time to complete so you won’t have to spend as long in the gym.
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In this article we’ll consider the differences between aerobic vs anaerobic workouts, the benefits of anaerobic exercise and suggest some exercises that you can incorporate into your training.
What Is Anaerobic Exercise?
Anaerobic exercise is an intensive form of training performed for a short duration. Anaerobic activities include weightlifting, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and circuit training.
The definition of anaerobic means ‘without oxygen’. When performing anaerobic exercise, your demand for oxygen will outstrip the body’s ability to supply it. When performing high-intensity exercises, your lungs can’t keep up with the demand for oxygen, so your body turns to stored energy sources such as carbohydrates, amino acids and even lactic acid which is recycled to produce energy quickly.
Benefits of Anaerobic Exercise
There are several health benefits to be had when adding in some anaerobic exercises into your workout routine. We’ve listed some of these below:
Increase Muscle Mass
Lifting heavy weight during your exercise session results in exercise induced muscle damage. Once muscle fibers have broken down during weight training, they then go through a period of rebuilding called muscle hypertrophy. For maximum muscle gains it’s important to allow for sufficient rest and recovery.
Whilst aerobic exercise utilises bodyfat as it’s fuel source during training, that’s not to say anaerobic training doesn’t help with fat burning. In fact, your metabolism remains elevated for a long period of time after anaerobic activity (known as EPOC) which continues to help with fat loss even when at rest.
Regular anaerobic exercise increases lean muscle mass. As certain muscle groups surround the joints, they provide better protection and stability. This in turns, results in less joint stiffness and pain and helps with mobility.
Improves Strength, Speed & Power
By challenging your muscles to work harder than they’re used to, you improve their ability to generate force and produce power. This can translate to better performance in certain sports, such as football and other physical activities, as well as improved overall physical function.
Increase Bone Density
Anaerobic exercise can also improve your bone density, reducing your risk of osteoporosis and other bone-related conditions.
Improve Energy Levels
Your body relies on glycogen for its primary energy source which is stored in the muscles. Regular anaerobic exercise increases the body’s ability to store glycogen providing you with more energy during physical activity.
Improve Mental Health
Anaerobic exercise has a positive impact on a person’s mental health by decreasing stress hormones and therefore reducing anxiety.
Anaerobic Exercises Vs Aerobic Exercises
Aerobic exercise is a form of endurance training, such as long-distance running, where the body utilises body fat as its main energy source. Conversely, anaerobic exercise is a type of training which is more intense, performed for shorter durations which uses glycogen for energy, such as sprinting.
Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, hiking, cycling, and swimming. They are low intensity forms of exercise that allow you to breath in enough air for a consistent oxygen supply helping to support your metabolism.
Once any form of exercise results in you becoming more breathless this means that your body can’t keep up in terms of oxygen supply, essentially meaning you are now exercising without air. This is anaerobic exercise.
Let’s look at running as an example.
If you start off with a slow-paced jog, you may find you can sustain a conversation whilst jogging. However, as you speed up, you’ll likely become more breathless to the extent that you can no longer talk and run at the same time. To be able to sustain this faster pace, your body will now switch from burning fat to burning sugar. This is because sugar provides energy faster.
However, when the body utilises sugar for energy it also creates the build-up of lactic acid. This causes the burning sensation to the muscles hence why this form of exercise can only be sustained for a short period of time.
Anaerobic Exercises List
There are different types of anaerobic exercises, and these include strength training (resistance and bodyweight), plyometrics, Fartlek training and other high-intensity workouts.
Below are some specific examples of anaerobic exercise:
High Plank To Low Plank
The high plank to low plank is a great way of strengthening the abdominal muscles whilst activating the triceps, back, glutes and chest. All you need to perform this movement is an exercise mat. Remember to keep your core engaged throughout.
How To Do The High Plank To Low Plank:
- Start in the high plank position. Your arms and feet should both be shoulder-width apart.
- Ensure that your head, neck and spine are in alignment with hands flat on the floor.
- Lower yourself down by placing one elbow on the floor followed by the other elbow.
- You should now be resting on your forearms. This is the low plank position.
- From here, and with each arm in turn, raise back up to the high plank position.
- Keep performing this movement at a steady pace for at least 30 seconds before resting for 30 seconds.
- Repeat this between 8 to 10 times.
The bear plank is an isometric exercise that helps to strengthen the core muscles. Isometric exercises involve activating muscle groups without movement.
How To Do The Bear Plank:
- Start by positioning yourself on all fours in a tabletop position, ideally on an exercise mat.
- Your hands should be directly under your shoulders with knees hip width apart.
- Position your feet so you’re resting on your toes.
- From here squeeze your belly button to your spine and then push through your palms raising your knees off the ground.
- Once your knees are approximately 2 inches away from the floor, hold this position for as long as possible.
- Repeat 3 times.
Alternating Curtsy Squat
The curtsy squat is a great exercise to target the quadriceps, glutes, and calf muscles. As you become stronger you can increase the number of sets performed.
How To Do The Curtsy Squat:
- Start by standing upright with feet shoulder-width apart with hands together at chest height. This is your start position.
- Cross your left leg behind you at a 45-degree angle whilst sinking your hips down as though performing a curtsy.
- Make sure your hips don’t rotate throughout this movement and they stay face forward.
- Brace your core and push back up to the starting position.
- Repeat for 2 sets of 10 to 12 reps before switching legs.
Single Leg Deadlift
The single leg deadlift is a unilateral exercise that helps to strengthen the lower back whilst activating the glutes and hamstrings. It’s also a great way of improving balance and stability. You’ll need to add some resistance to this movement by holding on to a dumbbell. Start with a light weight and as you get stronger you can switch up to a heavier dumbbell.
How To Do The Single Leg Deadlift:
- Take hold of your dumbbell in your right hand and stand upright.
- Hold the dumbbell just in front of your quad with palm facing towards you. This is your start position.
- Push through your left foot and slowly take your right leg back out behind you whilst keeping it straight.
- As you raise up your right leg, you should simultaneously hinge forward at the hips so that your upper body moves forward.
- Once your upper body and right leg are parallel to the floor, slowly begin to stand up to the starting position.
- Repeat for around 8 to 10 repetitions before switching legs.
The squat jump, sometimes referred to as the plyometric jump, is an explosive movement that helps to increase power and mobility whilst working the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles.
How To Do The Squat Jump:
- Start in a squat position with feet shoulder width apart and thighs just above parallel to the floor.
- Hold your hands together just in front of your chest. This will help with stability.
- Keeping your head and chest up, propel your body up into a jump whilst pulling your arms downwards increasing your momentum.
- Keep your core engaged throughout so you remain in control during the exercise.
- Once you’ve landed on the ground, immediately proceed into another jump.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.
A burpee works the muscles across the entire body and is a fantastic way of increasing your heart rate resulting in a boost to your metabolism.
How To Do A Burpee:
- Start in a squat position with feet shoulder width apart with knees slightly bent. This is your starting position.
- Hold your hands out in front of you for stability.
- Use your legs to power up into a jump and take your arms straight up overhead as you go.
- As soon as you land, squat down to return to the starting position.
- From here, bend over and place your hands on the floor. Your body should now be forming a V shape.
- With palms flat on the ground, jump both feet into a high plank position.
- Engage the core and perform a push up, keeping your elbows tucked in throughout.
- Jump both feet forward so that they are flat on the floor.
- Return to the squat position and then repeat.
- Perform 5 to 10 repetitions.
The jack press, sometimes called the jumping jack, is a resistance-based movement that will increase the heart rate and work multiple muscle groups. You’ll need a pair of dumbbells for this exercise but avoid going too heavy as this could put stress on the elbow joints which may result in injury.
How To Perform A Jack Press:
- Stand upright with toes pointing forwards and hold your dumbbells down by your sides.
- Keep your feet around shoulder width apart and take the dumbbells up as though about to perform a military press.
- Your upper arms should be parallel to the floor, elbows bent to 90 degrees with palms facing forward.
- Press the dumbbells up and overhead whilst simultaneously jumping both your feet out.
- Jump back to the starting position and bring your arms back to the military press position.
- Perform as many repetitions as possible for around 30 seconds.
- Rest for 60 seconds and repeat the exercise 3 times overall.
Anaerobic training is a great way of increasing your heart rate whilst building lean muscle and increasing cardiovascular strength. This type of exercise can be performed by anyone no matter their fitness level. If you’re new to this form of training, you can begin with body weight exercises before progressing to adding weights where possible.
The exercises mentioned above are a just a few that can be performed either at the gym or at home with minimal equipment. You can also increase the exercise intensity by performing more repetitions and sets. As with any exercise, always listen to your body and if something feels uncomfortable make sure to stop.