What Is Anaerobic Exercise and How Does It Benefit Your Health?

Anaerobic exercise is a type of exercise that doesn’t rely on oxygen as its main energy source. Instead, it requires short, intense bursts of energy. Examples of anaerobic exercises include high-intensity interval training (HIIT), weight lifting, circuit training, Pilates, yoga, and other forms of strength training. Let's explore how anaerobic and aerobic exercises differ and how you can incorporate them into your routine.


Anaerobic vs. Aerobic Exercise

The word aerobic means "with oxygen," while anaerobic means "without oxygen." Anaerobic exercises are generally higher in intensity than aerobic exercises and are shorter in duration.

Examples of anaerobic exercises:

  • Sprinting
  • Weightlifting
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • Plyometrics

Anaerobic exercises do require oxygen, but they don't use it in the same way as aerobic activities. Instead of using oxygen you inhale during exercise, anaerobic activities break down glucose in your muscles as fuel. This process produces lactic acid, which causes the burning sensation in your muscles during a workout.

Examples of aerobic exercises:

  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Running
  • Cycling

Differences Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise

Both aerobic and anaerobic exercises have similar benefits, such as improving blood circulation, strengthening the heart, improving lipid profiles, burning calories, increasing metabolism, lowering blood pressure, and enhancing mood. However, the key difference is that anaerobic exercise can build muscle. Weight-lifting, for example, causes micro-tears in your muscles that rebuild over time, making you stronger.

Anaerobic Exercises to Include in Your Routine

Anaerobic exercises use an energy pathway called anaerobic glycolysis. This process transforms glucose to lactate when limited amounts of oxygen are available, leading to a buildup of lactic acid in your muscles.

Weight Lifting

Weight lifting, also known as strength, weight, or resistance training, helps develop the strength and size of skeletal muscles. It uses weighted bars, dumbbells, or weight stacks to resist the weight. It's not the weight amount that makes an exercise anaerobic but the large burst of energy required over a short period.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT alternates between short bursts of intense activity and short recovery periods. The intense activity can range from 30 seconds to three minutes, while recovery times can be equal or longer, involving complete rest or low-intensity movements.

Benefits of Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic exercise offers the same benefits as aerobic exercise, with the added advantage of increasing muscle power, mass, and strength. It also improves blood glucose control and insulin sensitivity.

Benefits include:

  • Increases Your Fitness Level: Your body adapts to anaerobic exercises over time, allowing you to move more weight, increase repetitions, or shorten rest periods.
  • Improves Your Heart Health: Both aerobic and anaerobic exercises promote fat loss, but anaerobic exercises also help gain lean muscle mass, benefiting cardiovascular health.
  • Helps With Glucose Management: Resistance training and increased muscle mass enhance blood glucose control by increasing insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.

Anaerobic Exercise Examples and Techniques

Weight Lifting:

  • Focuses on building muscle strength and size.
  • Utilizes weights like dumbbells and barbells.
  • Involves short bursts of intense effort.


  • Combines intense exercise with rest periods.
  • Efficiently burns calories and builds muscle.
  • Can be tailored to any fitness level.

How to Incorporate Anaerobic Exercise into Your Routine


Start with basic strength training exercises like squats, push-ups, and lunges. Gradually increase the weight and intensity as you build strength and confidence.


Incorporate HIIT sessions into your weekly routine. Aim for 20-30 minute sessions, combining exercises like sprinting, jumping jacks, and burpees.


Focus on advanced weight lifting techniques and heavier weights. Include compound movements like deadlifts and bench presses for maximum muscle engagement.

Sample Weekly Plan

MondayWeight lifting (upper body)
TuesdayHIIT session (20 minutes)
WednesdayWeight lifting (lower body)
ThursdayRest or light aerobic exercise
FridayWeight lifting (full body)
SaturdayHIIT session (30 minutes)
SundayRest or light stretching/yoga


Anaerobic exercise, characterized by short bursts of high-intensity activity, is essential for building muscle, improving fitness, and enhancing heart health. By incorporating anaerobic exercises like weight lifting and HIIT into your routine, you can enjoy a wide range of health benefits. Start slow, stay consistent, and gradually increase the intensity to see the best results.