Human Lungs

What’s the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercises? I’ll make this simple:

Aerobic– In the presence of oxygen

Anaerobic– Without the presence of oxygen

That’s the basic definition of the two general types of exercises. To be a little bit more specific, aerobic exercises are the ones that cause your heart rate to increase for an extended period of time. Think of exercises such as running, swimming, exercise bikes, etc. These types of exercises burn fat or calories to meet their energy needs.

Anaerobic exercises, on the other hand, are high-intensity activities that build up an appreciable oxygen debt. Basically, this means that these exercises are too intense for your body to supply the oxygen that is necessary for long periods of time. Anaerobic exercises burn a type of muscle sugar called glycogen to meet energy requirements.

Exercises Come in All Shades.

Not all exercises are purely aerobic or anaerobic. Power lifters probably do the most anaerobic of all exercises. Their goal is to maximize their strength for just one lift. Power lifting exercises usually involve low numbers of repetitions at very heavy weights. It doesn’t get much more anaerobic than that.

Body builders, on the other hand, tend to focus on sets that fall into the range of anywhere between 5-15 repetitions with some breathing. Their workouts are still very anaerobic.

Now, it might be easy to just say that all weight lifting is anaerobic while running is always aerobic. That would be a mistake. Instead of thinking about the type of exercise being performed, think more about the intensity and how it is being executed. Sprinting is a very anaerobic exercise, while weight lifting can actually be aerobic.

Circuit training is an excellent example of aerobic weight lifting. In circuit training, light weights are used and exercises are done back-to-back with little or no rest between.  [And as you’ll learn in the coming weeks, “circuit” does not mean “machines” – you can do free-weight circuits too!]

There are Two Types of Endurance:

You will have to build two types of endurance in order for your body to perform well when you lift weights. The two types of endurance are:

  1. Muscular Endurance: This is the ability of your muscles to contract over and over during an exercise and to effectively utilize the maximum number of muscle fibers possible.
  2. Cardiovascular Endurance: This relates to your circulatory system. Your heart and lungs need to be able to efficiently bring oxygen to the muscle sites during exercise and also carry away waste products such as lactic acid.

These two types of endurance are actually complementary and quite necessary.  Unlike many other muscle-focused sites, you won’t hear us bashing cardio training (which itself has many forms and functions).

For example, what is the use of having excellent cardiovascular endurance if your muscles can’t keep up while you exercise? And on the other hand, how well will your muscles perform during a lifting exercise if they have incredible muscular endurance but your cardiovascular system is unable to deliver the oxygen they need?

Keep Breathing!

Please, keep breathing. Yes, you need to breathe to stay alive, so definitely keep that up, but what I’m referring to is maintaining the proper breathing techniques while you lift weights. I’ve told you what anaerobic means: exercise without the presence of oxygen. Now I’d like to tell you what anaerobic does not mean.

Anaerobic does not mean that you don’t have to breathe at all. I hear some of you out there saying “duh.” But there are more people out there that don’t remember to breathe than one might think. Not breathing properly when you lift weights can be a great way to injure yourself in the gym.

Not breathing properly deprives your brain of the oxygen it needs and can cause a person to pass out. Just think of the damage that could be caused if you were to pass out while holding heavy weights above your head, or while squatting with hundreds of pounds on your back!

The “Valsava Movement” calls for you to hold your breath throughout the movement for each rep, and get your breathing in between each rep that you do.

But a generally safer and effective rule is to inhale on the eccentric and exhale on the concentric.  In other words, as you raise the weight you breath out and when you lower the weight you breath in.  It’s ok to hold your breath for a second or so right when you start the concentric but exhale through the lift.

Pay attention to these small things until they become a habit. This will keep you safe from injury so that you can continue breathing for many days to come.

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