Image source: Garmin

Aerobic and Anaerobic training with wearables, what you should know

The way you train determines the results you will get.

When we think of training, most of the time we think aerobic rather than anaerobic exercise. The difference essentially comes down to oxygen. With aerobic, we get oxygen from breathing and this is filtered down to the muscles to give them energy to help sustain effort. With anaerobic training, oxygen is not present.

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Its good to do both aerobic and anaerobic workouts as each has its own health and performance benefits. Read on to find out a bit more about each.


aerobic anaerobic - Aerobic and Anaerobic training with wearables, what you should know
Image source: Garmin

Aerobic exercise is also known as cardio or endurance training. This is physical exercise of low to moderate intensity, so think medium to long distance running/jogging, long rides, walking or sustained efforts in the pool. A steady-state effort that you could perform for hours.

There are numerous health benefits to doing aerobic exercise. It burns fat, reduces stress, strengthens the heart and lungs, improves circulation and reduces your risk of diabetes to name a few. In addition to the health benefits, there are numerous performance benefits as well.

Essential reading: Heart rate zone training with wearables

If you’re training in the aerobic zone, your breathing will be light, and you should feel like you can keep moving for a long time. One of the best ways to know if you are in the aerobic threshold zone is to heart rate zone train.

These days, any half-decent sports watch will allow you to do this. As mentioned, aerobic training is also a great way to burn fat. You just need to make sure you are in zones 2-3 for the majority of your workouts, which is typically below 80% of your maximum heart rate. The top of this zone is your Anaerobic Threshold or the point at which your body stops burning fat and starts burning glucose. Although it might sound counter-intuitive, if you are trying to lose body fat its important not to train too hard.

A non-scientific way of doing the same thing is to see how long you can keep going. If you are doing an exercise, and find that after three minutes you cannot maintain your effort, your body has probably gone anaerobic.

Wearables that specifically quantify aerobic effort include, but are not limited to, most of the Garmin sports watches, Huawei Fit and the new Watch 2, Jabra Elite Sport and Sport Pulse Special Edition, Pulse On and Samsung Gear S. They all tap into Firstbeat technology to achieve this. Firstbeat has come up with a metric it calls Training Effect which quantifies the impact your physical activities on your body at a physiological level.


Anaerobic exercise is short-lasting, high-intensity activity, where your body’s demand for oxygen exceeds the supply available through breathing. This is effort at which anaerobic energy pathways and sources stored in the muscles start helping out with energy production, i.e. glycogen (sugar) is used as fuel.

During this time your body builds up lactic acid, which causes discomfort and fatigue. For this reason anaerobic exercise only happens in short bursts. The best examples of anaerobic exercises are high intensity interval training and weight training. When you heart-rate zone train, this would be anything above zone 4, or above 80% of your maximum heart rate.

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This type of exercise also has its own health benefits. It helps to build lean muscle, our bodies burn calories more efficiently and this continues hours after your workout.

In terms of performance, anaerobic training leads to greater performance in short duration, high intensity activities that typically last from a few seconds to up to 2 minutes. This is important to both endurance and non-endurance athletes.

review forerunner 935 a sports watch that packs a lot of punch into a slim body 5 - Aerobic and Anaerobic training with wearables, what you should know

If you’re training for a longer event, having an increased aerobic threshold is key for being able to go longer and further. For non-endurance sports it helps boost strength, speed and power.

For most people anaerobic training creates a more muscular look to the body. So if you are after muscle mass, anaerobic training is the way to go. If your aim is to burn fat and slim down, aerobic training should provide the desired effect.

The list of devices that specifically measure anaerobic activity by tapping into Firstbeat metrics is much shorter. This includes Garmin Fenix 5, Quantix, Forerunner 935 and Fenix Chronos. And, as mentioned, most sports watches and some fitness trackers will allow you to heart rate zone train.

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