In the previous article, ‘Aerobic versus anaerobic exercise: Part 1,’ we discussed what aerobic exercise is and a generalization of how to properly do it. In this article we will discuss the opposite type of exercise known as anaerobic exercise. Aerobic simply means that oxygen is needed in the metabolism cycle used to break down the body’s storage of energy into a usable form known as ATP. Anaerobic means without oxygen, meaning there are different metabolism cycles used to break down our body’s energy stores into ATP.
We won’t get into metabolism cycles and how specifically ATP can be made from the breakdown of fat, protein, or carbohydrates, but we will discuss the basics and how it can be beneficial to a normal exercise routine. Before going too far, just because anaerobic exercise utilizes metabolic cycles that do not require oxygen for ATP production does not mean we do not need oxygen to keep exercising! We will always need to keep breathing in order for our muscles to work properly!
So what types of exercise are considered anaerobic? Anything that gets your heart pumping real fast, real quick can probably be considered anaerobic; heavy shoveling, sprinting, and weight lifting are all excellent examples of activities that are typically considered anaerobic. Weight lifting is one of the most commonly utilized forms of exercise that do not immediately require lots of oxygen for energy production. How is it beneficial in combination with a good cardiovascular workout thought?
Weight lifting and other anaerobic activities generally help to improve muscle strength through increasing muscle cell size. Muscle cells cannot be created or multiplied by exercising, but they can become larger and more tone. Anaerobic exercise helps muscles with the first part, becoming larger, and aerobic exercise tends to help out with the latter, toning muscles. There are exceptions to both sides, but we will not go into detail here. Having larger muscle cells allows people to work harder, run faster, jump higher, etcetera while having more tone muscles will allow us to work longer, run farther, and keep jumping all night long; through this perspective most people can now understand why having a fitness routine that incorporates both aerobic and anaerobic activities will be more beneficial than one or the other.
One last note on aerobic and anaerobic exercises we should discuss is frequency. Aerobic exercise should be done on a very regular basis…meaning every single day if possible. Again, at a bare minimum 20-30 minutes is required for aerobic activities, but to really see good results people need to shoot for 45-60 minutes at least five days per week. Anaerobic activities can be done less frequently as they require more time for muscles to recover. As a general rule of thumb, exercises that work the same muscles should not be done two days in a row. For example, doing arm curls two days in a row would not be recommended whereas working your biceps one day then your legs the next day would be perfectly fine even though they are both anaerobic activities. The key is to allow your muscles to get a rest to recover and regenerate before working them harder and harder as they grow bigger and bigger!