Examples of Aerobic & Anaerobic Activities
You might be surprised to know that jogging and other forms of aerobic training can degrade your conditioning if you train this way during your sports season. Aerobic and anaerobic activities call on different energy systems in your body, and training with one when you need another to compete can hurt your results. Understanding the difference between anaerobic and aerobic exercise will help you create effective year-round training programs.
Aerobic vs. Anaerobic
Aerobic exercise is continuous activity performed for 15 minutes or longer, between approximately 60 percent and 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. The longer you exercise and the higher your heart rate, the more aerobic capacity and endurance you build. This type of training recruits your slow-twitch muscle fibers, creates lactic acid in your muscle and burns more calories from fat than glycogen, compared to short, intense exercise. Anaerobic activity takes place in short bursts, calls on your fast-twitch muscle fibers and burns more glycogen than fat. During recovery periods, some lactic acid leaves your muscles.
Lifting heavy weights to build muscle mass is an anaerobic activity because it is not a nonstop form of exercise that continues for many minutes. You can use light weights to perform cardio workouts, but if you can continue to perform weighted exercises for 30 minutes with dumbbells, for example, the weights are too light to build much muscle mass.
When you exercise continuously at the low end of the aerobic heart rate range, you burn more fat than glycogen, creating a so-called fat-burning exercise. Power walking at a pace that raises your heart rate but doesn’t get you sweating, or riding a bike at a leisurely pace, are examples of aerobic fat-burning exercise. These are considered cardio workouts, even though you perform them below the common aerobic target heart rate range of 70 percent to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Workouts specifically designed to keep you at 70 percent to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, such as a bicycle spinning class, aerobic dancing, martial arts-type workouts or step classes, are often referred to as aerobics. These types of activities often require you to check a personal heart rate monitor or take your pulse during the workout to make sure you stay in your target heart rate range.
To improve conditioning for sports, athletes use sprint, or interval, training to create short, high-intensity bursts of anaerobic activity, followed by longer recovery periods. These intervals are performed anywhere from 80 percent to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate, for 10 to 60 seconds, followed by recovery periods that last thee to four times as long as the sprint.
Tennis, basketball, racquetball, soccer, volleyball, football and other start-and-stop sports are anaerobic because of the high heart rates, short durations and longer recovery periods you experience when you play them. Depending on how competitive you are, the number of people on the field and what rules you use, your heart rate will vary. For example, a recreational game of tennis doubles will not raise your heart rate or burn as many calories as competitive singles. A soccer goalie will not have the same heart rate as a midfielder.
Jogging and running are classic examples of aerobic activity. If you exercise at a pace higher than a jog or run, you are sprinting, entering your anaerobic heart rate, and won’t able to continue very long. If you go below your aerobic heart rate, you would be walking.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.