Who has the better fitness plan the endurance runner or the weight lifter ? As you can imagine, their training plans are quite different yet anyone would agree that they both are in great physical shape. Which path should you take? Long and slow or short and intense? With interval and HIIT training becoming more and more popular these days, many people wonder if their cardio sessions should be mostly aerobic or anaerobic. Which will offer the results they are looking for the quickest? Let’s look at the real difference between these two types of cardiovascular exercises.
Aerobic exercises are long in duration (20-60 min typically) and use oxygen to sustain energy. In the beginning of an aerobic workout, the muscles burn the glycogen from carbohydrates and then the body begins to use oxygen to burn fat to create energy to keep going. An activity is considered aerobic if the intensity remains around 60-65% of the maximum heart rate. Running, walking, elliptical machines, long distance cycling are examples of aerobic activity.
Aerobic exercise has some great benefits such as producing more red blood cells in the body thus allowing more oxygen to circulate. It is also a great way to strengthen the cardiovascular and respiratory system and fight against heart disease. One “benefit” that is usually associated with aerobic exercise is that is the best way to burn fat. This seems logical since after the glycogen is used, the body starts to burn fat. However, we will see that it truly is the most calories burned during and AFTER a workout that make the greatest gains in weight loss.
Anaerobic exercise seems to be increasing in popularity whether people realize it or not. Intervals and HIIT training are forms of anaerobic exercise along with sprinting and strength training. During anaerobic exercise the body does not use oxygen; it uses the glycogen from the muscles as its only energy source which is why the duration is much shorter than aerobic exercise. Due to the intensity, once the glycogen is used, lactic acid begins to form causing that “burn”you feel just before “failure ” of the muscles. Your maximum heart rate is 85% on average which allows the exercise to last only between 30 seconds and 1 minute. The amount of power needed to perform theses exercises is utilizing the fast twitch muscle fibers instead of slow twitch as is the case in endurance (aerobic) exercises. This power increases a person’s lean muscle mass and strength. A great benefit from anaerobic activity is it increases your metabolism from the muscle growth ( RMR or resting Metabolic Rate); remember 1 pound of lean muscle burns 50 calories a day!
So which activity is better? In my opinion we need both types of exercise. Both aerobic and anaerobic training have their own specific benefits that if combined, make for a well balanced fitness program. The idea that a long and slow/moderate workout is the best way to burn fat has seen some controversy in the past few years. Moderate aerobic exercise is a great way to burn calories and strengthen the heart, but the addition of lean muscle mass through anaerobic and strength training activities are great calorie burners as well. We can’t ignore the metabolic benefits of increasing our lean muscle mass to lose weight. At the end of the day it comes down to the total amount of calories burned which may not necessarily equal the amount of time spent exercising.
It is imperative in any fitness plan to add variety to keep our bodies changing and our minds excited about continuing exercise. Anaerobic activity should not be done on a daily basis b/c it is taxing on your body. I recommend alternating aerobic and anaerobic exercises every to her day if possible. Truly intense anaerobic activity should be kept to 2-3 times a week depending on your fitness level to allow full recovery.
Again changing up our workouts wins again! Utilize both of these types of exercises for the best results!