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What is Anaerobic Exercise?

Bryan McMahon, Donna Ricketts, Dawn Mills
  • Author
    Bryan McMahon

    Bryan is a veteran high school special education science teacher with over 15 years of experience. Bryan holds a Master's degree in Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, along with his dual undergrad degree in Biology and Special Education. Most recently, Bryan has been creating content and writing curriculum in the educational technology field.

  • Instructor
    Donna Ricketts

    Donna Ricketts is a health educator with 15 years of professional experience designing health and wellness programs for adults and children.

  • Expert Contributor
    Dawn Mills

    Dawn has taught chemistry and forensic courses at the college level for 9 years. She has a PhD in Chemistry and is an author of peer reviewed publications in chemistry.

Learn about anaerobic sports. Study the anaerobic definition, discover aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise examples, and examine tips for anaerobic workouts. Updated: 03/10/2022

Anaerobic Definition

Exercise comes in many different forms and can have benefits any way it is performed. There are two main types of exercise: aerobic and anaerobic. The anaerobic exercise definition encompasses activities that are generally short, quick and high-intensity in nature, which cause the body to use no oxygen. It is of importance to note that the term anaerobic means without oxygen. Conversely, aerobic exercise is generally longer, less intense, and utilizes oxygen to help the body produce energy throughout the exercise or activity. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise have their own benefits and can be part of a balanced exercise plan.

The body operates quite differently when it does not have oxygen available and produces energy through a pathway known as anaerobic respiration. The anaerobic respiration pathway begins with glycolysis, which is a process that breaks down glycogen into glucose that the body has available and produces another molecule called pyruvic acid. Pyruvic acid is then used to enter the lactic acid fermentation process, which produces energy in the absence of oxygen. Lactic acid is a by-product of the glycolysis process, is generally associated with low oxygen states and forms in the body due to breaking down glucose. One side effect of this process is the build-up of lactic acid, which can cause a burning feeling to muscles, and even damage if it is not dissipated from the area it forms in.

What is Anaerobic Exercise?

Anaerobic means without oxygen. Anaerobic exercise consists of brief intense bursts of physical activity, such as weightlifting and sprints, where oxygen demand surpasses oxygen supply.

While aerobic exercise relies on oxygen, anaerobic exercise is fueled by energy stored in your muscles through a process called glycolysis. Glycolysis is a method by which glycogen is broken down into glucose, also known as 'sugar' and is converted into energy. Glycolysis occurs in muscle cells during anaerobic exercise without the use of oxygen in order to produce energy quickly, thus producing lactic acid.

Lactic acid is a by-product of glycolysis and forms when your body breaks down glucose for energy when oxygen is low. Participation in regular anaerobic exercise will help your body tolerate and eliminate lactic acid more efficiently.

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Anaerobic vs. Aerobic Examples

The two main types of exercise include various activities or sports, depending on the exercise intensity and duration. Below are the anaerobic exercise examples list, as well as the aerobic ones.

Anaerobic Exercise Examples:

  • Biking sprints
  • Weight training (high intensity)
  • Running sprints
  • High-Intensity Interval Training or HITT
  • Swimming short distances
  • Yoga


High intensity training such as using these heavy ropes is a great example of anaerobic exercise

This is a photo of a man using heavy ropes to exercise vigorously


Aerobic Exercise Examples:

  • Long-distance running
  • Pilates
  • Hiking or walking

Benefits and Risks of Anaerobic Sports

Anaerobic sports and exercise can be very beneficial to the body; however, it has to be done with planning, care and caution as there are also some risks if it is not executed properly. The many benefits of anaerobic exercise are improving energy, increasing sports performance, and building/maintaining lean muscle mass. Over time, it can also lead to weight loss as well. Aerobic exercise helps the body perform at a higher level as it trains the body to create energy in situations where there is no oxygen. If athletes train anaerobically, they can be prepared to play their sport at a higher level, calling on the body to perform under stress when oxygen is not being replenished quickly or readily available.

Anaerobic training needs to be performed with care and planning not to cause harm or undue stress to the body. If an individual does not prepare for or at least ease into anaerobic training, injury and harm to the body can occur. Anaerobic exercise creates lactic acid build-up, which can damage muscle if it does not dissipate properly. After anaerobic exercise is performed, a proper cool down is essential to help dissipate the lactic acid build-up and prevent injury or, in extreme cases, heart attack or other heart-related issues. As lactic acid is an acid, it creates an environment in the body and perhaps the blood that can become too acidic, which can lead to heart attacks in extreme instances. Individuals who have a history of cardiovascular complications should consult their specialists prior to beginning anaerobic training as their risks are much higher than otherwise healthy individuals.

Benefits

In addition to helping your body handle lactic acid effectively, anaerobic exercise has great benefits for your overall health. Anaerobic exercise:

  • Builds and maintains lean muscle mass.
  • Protects your joints. Increased muscle strength and muscle mass helps protect your joints, which can protect you from injury.
  • Boosts metabolism. Anaerobic exercise helps boost metabolism because it helps build and maintain lean muscle. Lean muscle mass is metabolically active, so the more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn.
  • Increases bone strength and density. Anaerobic activity will increase the strength and density of your bones more than any other type of exercise, therefore decreasing your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Improves your energy. Your body relies on glycogen stored in your muscles as energy. Regular anaerobic exercise increases your body's ability to store glycogen, giving you more energy during intense physical activity.
  • Increases sports performance. Regular anaerobic exercise increases strength, speed and power, which will ultimately help improve your sports performance.

Examples of Anaerobic Exercise

Examples of anaerobic exercise include heavy weight training, sprinting (running or cycling) and jumping. Basically, any exercise that consists of short exertion, high-intensity movement is an anaerobic exercise.

Heavy weight training is an excellent way to build strength and muscle mass. You should only be able to complete three to six repetitions with the weight chosen until you reach muscle fatigue, or the inability to do one more rep.

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Video Transcript

What is Anaerobic Exercise?

Anaerobic means without oxygen. Anaerobic exercise consists of brief intense bursts of physical activity, such as weightlifting and sprints, where oxygen demand surpasses oxygen supply.

While aerobic exercise relies on oxygen, anaerobic exercise is fueled by energy stored in your muscles through a process called glycolysis. Glycolysis is a method by which glycogen is broken down into glucose, also known as 'sugar' and is converted into energy. Glycolysis occurs in muscle cells during anaerobic exercise without the use of oxygen in order to produce energy quickly, thus producing lactic acid.

Lactic acid is a by-product of glycolysis and forms when your body breaks down glucose for energy when oxygen is low. Participation in regular anaerobic exercise will help your body tolerate and eliminate lactic acid more efficiently.

Benefits

In addition to helping your body handle lactic acid effectively, anaerobic exercise has great benefits for your overall health. Anaerobic exercise:

  • Builds and maintains lean muscle mass.
  • Protects your joints. Increased muscle strength and muscle mass helps protect your joints, which can protect you from injury.
  • Boosts metabolism. Anaerobic exercise helps boost metabolism because it helps build and maintain lean muscle. Lean muscle mass is metabolically active, so the more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn.
  • Increases bone strength and density. Anaerobic activity will increase the strength and density of your bones more than any other type of exercise, therefore decreasing your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Improves your energy. Your body relies on glycogen stored in your muscles as energy. Regular anaerobic exercise increases your body's ability to store glycogen, giving you more energy during intense physical activity.
  • Increases sports performance. Regular anaerobic exercise increases strength, speed and power, which will ultimately help improve your sports performance.

Examples of Anaerobic Exercise

Examples of anaerobic exercise include heavy weight training, sprinting (running or cycling) and jumping. Basically, any exercise that consists of short exertion, high-intensity movement is an anaerobic exercise.

Heavy weight training is an excellent way to build strength and muscle mass. You should only be able to complete three to six repetitions with the weight chosen until you reach muscle fatigue, or the inability to do one more rep.

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  • FAQs

Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic exercise is an exercise or movement that will break down the glucose in your body without the use of oxygen. Typically, anaerobic activities are short in length and are high intensity. Incorporating anaerobic exercise into your workout routines will help burn fat and build lean muscle mass.

Scenarios

Determine if the following scenarios below describe anaerobic exercise and provide a reason for why or why not.

1. Ana took a high intensity interval training (HIIT) class at her gym to improve her physique.

2. Trisha decided to jump rope for charity for an hour.

3. Jonathan walked a mile and then jogged an additional 5 miles.

4. Carl went to the gym to lift heavy weights to train for his upcoming competition.

Discussion

1. Yes, HIIT classes are anaerobic because they involve high intensity training over short intervals.

2. No, jumping rope is an aerobic exercise since it is a cardio exercise. In this case she is also performing the exercise over a long period of time.

3. No, both walking and jogging are cardio exercises that are not high intensity. Both of these exercises are aerobic.

4. Yes, weight lifting is anaerobic since the body is using energy to lift heavy weights.

What are 3 examples of anaerobic and aerobic exercise?

Examples of anaerobic exercise include running and biking sprints and high-intensity weight training. Examples of aerobic exercise include jogging, biking at a moderate pace, or hiking.

What does anaerobic mean?

The term anaerobic refers to a process that occurs without oxygen. Anaerobic exercise is usually high-intensity and is performed when oxygen is absent or very low.

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