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What is Anaerobic Exercise?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An anaerobic exercise is a type of exercise where the oxygen muscles use to burn energy is depleted faster than the body can replace it. Aerobic exercise is often known to increase heart and lung strength. Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, is known to increase muscle strength and can help a person stave off muscle fatigue in future exercises. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercises can be used in conjunction to help a person be physically fit and reach their fitness goals. It should be noted that any exercise regimen should be overseen by a doctor and should be started and concluded with a warm up and cool down period, respectively.

Aerobic processes are characterized by the presence and use of oxygen while anaerobic processes are characterized by the lack of oxygen. Therefore, an anaerobic exercise is one where oxygen is not available for use by the muscles. Instead, the muscles need to find energy from other sources, such as Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP), a compound that serves to provide a supply of energy for cells. When muscles burn energy without the presence of oxygen, a byproduct called lactic acid is produced. Lactic acid contributes to muscle fatigue.

Over time, the proper use of anaerobic exercise can lead to increased endurance. As a person continues their training regimen, the body learns how to produce less lactic acid, how to continue working with higher concentrations of the acid, and how to better rid itself of the byproduct. Thus, muscle fatigue is kept at bay for longer periods of time and endurance is increased. Anaerobic exercises are also commonly used to increase muscle mass and muscle strength. This effect is important for those wanting to sculpt their bodies and for those who are looking to burn calories more efficiently.

An anaerobic exercise is often done in short, rapid bursts. Between these bursts, slower, more prolonged exercise should be done in order to allow the muscles to recover. Some examples of anaerobic exercises include weight lifting, sprinting, and hill climbing. In fact, many types of exercise can be turned into an anaerobic exercise if done quickly enough to deplete the oxygen the muscles use.

The important thing to remember before adding any exercise to your regimen, however, is to be sure you are doing it properly and that your body is able to handle the type of exertion you are undertaking. Scheduling a session with a physical trainer and visiting your family doctor for a physical exam might be good starting points before beginning a new exercise regimen.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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