The way you train determines the results you’ll 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 the effort. With anaerobic training, oxygen supplies have been exhausted.
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Its good to do both aerobic and anaerobic workouts as they have their own health and performance benefits. Read on to find out a bit more about each.
Aerobic exercise is more well 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 this type of 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, too.
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 and most fitness trackers will allow you to do this.
As mentioned, aerobic training is a particularly great way to burn fat. You just need to make sure you are in zones 2-3 for the majority of your workout, 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 for energy. Although it might sound counter-intuitive, if you are trying to lose body fat it’s important not to train too hard!
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A non-scientific way of doing this without a heart rate sensor is to simply 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. Slow down.
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. During this type of training your body has a challenging time delivering the oxygen requirement needed to your muscles fast enough. At this effort anaerobic energy pathways and sources stored in the muscles start helping out with energy production, i.e. glycogen (sugar) is used as fuel.
During anaerobic training heavy breathing begins and your body builds up lactic acid which causes discomfort and fatigue. For this reason such exercise only happens in short bursts. The best examples of anaerobic exercise are high intensity interval training and weight training. This also includes sports such as soccer, tennis and basketball. Anything that involves short bursts of high intensity activity.
When you heart-rate zone train, this would be anything above zone 4, or above 80% of your maximum heart rate. Its effort you can only sustain for so long.
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Anaerobic 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 gains for activities that typically last from a few seconds to up to 2 minutes. This is important to both endurance and non-endurance athletes.
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 a number of Garmin Forerunner watches (245/245M, 645M, 935, 945), Garmin Fenix 5 (and 5 Plus), Quantix, Fenix Chronos and Edge 1030.
So now you know. Next time you head out for exercise make sure you combine both aerobic and anaerobic training. This is important if you want to become a more balanced and durable athlete.