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What is Anaerobic Exercise? | 10 Great Anaerobic Exercises

You may have heard the terms “aerobic” and “anaerobic” used when referring to different types of exercise. But do you know the difference?

Aerobic and anaerobic exercise both serve different purposes and engage your body in different ways. Neither type of exercise is objectively “better” than the other, but whether you choose to engage in aerobic or anaerobic exercise (or both) may depend on your specific fitness goals.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise

Right off the bat, it’s essential to know the key differences between anaerobic and aerobic exercise. The key distinction between the two types of exercise is their effect on your heart rate and breathing. Aerobic exercise involves sustained exertion of energy at a steady rate. 

Traditional forms of cardiovascular exercise such as jogging, swimming, riding a bike or walking would be categorized as aerobic exercise. These exercises get your heart rate and breathing up and keep them elevated for a longer period of time. 

There are major benefits of aerobic exercise for your physical health, as well as your mental and emotional wellbeing. Aerobic exercise does, of course, burn calories, but it also keeps your heart healthy and can boost your immunity, making you more resistant to getting sick. In addition, weekly aerobic exercise can have major mood-boosting effects.

If you are struggling with feeling down, aerobic exercise can be a big help. This is because cardiovascular exercise promotes the release of endorphins, which keep you feeling happy and balanced. Anaerobic exercise can also boost your mood and help ease the effects of anxiety and depression. When looking for an exercise routine to improve your mental and emotional health, a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercises is a great option. 

Anaerobic exercise, in contrast to aerobic exercise, involves short bursts of exerted energy. Instead of keeping your heart rate up for a long period of time, anaerobic exercise involves higher-intensity activities that can boost the strength of your muscles and help you lose fat in the long run. 

Including anaerobic exercise in your workout routine is a great idea regardless of your specific fitness goals. If you are specifically focused on an activity that involves aerobic exercise like running, biking or swimming, anaerobic exercise can boost your endurance. Strengthening your muscles and improving your physique by engaging in anaerobic exercise will improve your performance in cardio. Likewise, engaging in some form of aerobic exercise will compliment your anaerobic exercise. These two forms of exercise complement each other and go great together.

If you aren’t sure where to start with anaerobic exercise, keep reading. Listed below are ten great anaerobic exercises to include in your workouts for building muscle, losing fat and boosting your endurance.

1. Sprints

Sprinting is a fantastic way to burn fat by exerting energy in bursts. Sprint interval training, or SIT, is a form of high intensity interval training (HIIT) that involves running as fast as you can for a short period of time. 

In contrast to jogging or running, which keep your heart rate elevated for a long period of time, sprinting builds up your strength, speed and endurance in a short burst. Sprints are a quick and effective way to burn fat without risking muscle loss.

2. Pushups

Bodyweight exercises are an excellent resource for staying fit while on the go. If you don’t have access to a gym, you can still build a great strength-boosting, fat-burning workout without any equipment. One of the best anaerobic bodyweight exercises that you can do anywhere is pushups.

Pushups engage your chest, shoulders, arms and core, and are ideal for at-home workouts. Because they work multiple parts of your body, pushups can be an excellent component of your daily bodyweight workout routine. 

3. Pull-Ups

Another bodyweight exercise that engages multiple muscle groups, pull-ups are famously challenging and rewarding. They work your back, shoulders and arms, specifically targeting your traps and lats. 

If you’re looking for a great bodyweight exercise to improve your overall health and fitness, look no further than the trusty pull-up. If you’re currently at a point where you can’t do a pull-up, start out with assisted pull-ups instead. If you are a member at a gym, look for a pull-up machine, which gives you a weight-assisted boost that you can adjust in increments as your strength increases.

4. Squats

Squats are a powerful form of anaerobic exercise that boost lower body strength. You can squat without added weight (this is called a bodyweight squat) or add weight for additional challenge and resistance.

Squats boost your overall fitness and can significantly improve your stability as well. Depending on your strength training and fitness goals, you can choose between bodyweight or weighted squats and experiment with different forms of each.

One of the most common forms of squatting is the barbell squat. This type of squat typically involves much heavier weight and can be a challenge. If you choose barbell squats as a part of your leg workout, make sure to start out with a low weight and work your way up. It can also be helpful to recruit a spotter for barbell squats.

5. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

A popular form of anaerobic exercise, HIIT involves quick sets of sprints and bodyweight exercises in rapid succession. HIIT is a powerful asset in fat burning and endurance training and can come in handy for athletes and fitness enthusiasts of all kinds.

HIIT is challenging, especially when first getting started. It requires discipline, patience and willingness to sweat hard. However, the results are impressive. Sticking with high intensity interval training can lead to a dramatic increase in strength and considerable fat loss.

6. Bench Presses

A fantastic exercise for your chest, the bench press is ideal for anyone looking to increase strength and build muscle. A bench press can be done with a barbell or free weights and primarily engages your chest and arms. 

If you choose to try barbell bench presses, make sure to start at a lower weight and increase in increments. Like barbell squats, these higher-weight exercises are often challenging and take time to master. For your safety, try and find someone to spot you when doing barbell bench presses at the gym. 

7. Jumping Rope

This form of anaerobic exercise is often implemented into high intensity interval training but can also be done on its own. You may have fond memories of jumping rope as a kid, but the exercise is a powerful fat-burning and endurance-boosting tool. 

Jumping rope takes practice, and it’s easy to lose your patience when first trying the exercise. Sticking with it is worth it, though. Interestingly, jumping rope can function as both an aerobic and an anaerobic workout – it all depends on the intensity and duration of your session. Jumping rope can improve your coordination, endurance and leg and core strength, and also burns lots and lots of calories. 

8. Burpees

Another common ingredient in a HIIT workout, burpees are an intense bodyweight exercise that builds your strength and endurance, all while helping you lose fat. A burpee is a combination of a jump and a pushup, and doing a set takes discipline and stamina. 

Burpees give you all the benefits of a pushup, but also double-up the benefits by including the motion of jumping. Jumping in itself is anaerobic exercise and can improve your strength and conditioning by engaging your legs and core.

9. Planks

Planks are another form of anaerobic exercise that, like pushups, requires no gear. You can do planks virtually anywhere by holding yourself off the ground on your elbows and contracting your core muscles. This exercise increases your core strength, a much-needed component of many other exercises and activities.

10. Swimming or Biking Sprints

Instead of sprinting on foot, you can get an anaerobic workout by doing swimming or biking sprints. These types of sprints involve the same short bursts of high-intensity, high-speed movement as on-foot sprinting. However, if you’re more of a biker or swimmer, you can get the same benefits as on-foot sprinting from your favorite workout activity. 

Biking and Swimming sprints can also be components of a HIIT session. Because swimming and biking are typically aerobic exercises, it’s important to make sure that you are pushing yourself to go fast enough to achieve sprint status. This means exerting the maximum amount of energy at the highest speed possible for a short period of time. 

Combining Exercises to Make a Workout

When you’re looking to build your own anaerobic workout, try combining a few of the exercises above to create a solid routine. Make sure to diversify the muscle groups you’re engaging with your exercises of choice. If your aim is to create a full-body workout, a combination of pushups, pull-ups, squats and sprints can be a great option. If you’re at the gym or have access to weights, including some bench presses and barbell squats is also a great idea.

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