To Your Health
July, 2009 (Vol. 03, Issue 07)
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Find Your Fat-Burning, Muscle-Building Zone

Make Sure Your Workouts Include Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise

By Chelsea Cooper, MPA, CPT

There has always been and probably always will be some debate on which type of metabolic training is best: aerobic or anaerobic. Before we go any further, let's define these three terms, which are so important to burning fat, building lean muscle and getting in great shape. Simply put, aerobic means "with oxygen" and refers to how the body utilizes oxygen during activity; anaerobic means "without oxygen." Metabolic training involves conditioning exercises designed to increase the efficiency and capacity of the body's energy pathways to store and deliver energy for activity, and can involve both aerobic and anaerobic activity.

Girl running - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark There are three energy pathways used to provide energy for activity; one is aerobic and two are anaerobic. Which of these energy pathways to train has been the source of some controversy and debate. The problem when you apply the terms aerobic and anaerobic to exercise is that we never actually switch from total aerobic to total anaerobic metabolic conditions. The more we increase our exercise intensity over a shorter period of time, the greater the need for anaerobic energy production. Lower intensity exercise, performed over a longer period of time, maintains aerobic metabolic conditions. So, it really is best to think of aerobic and anaerobic as transitions in metabolism, whereby the stage of exercise intensity we are in determines our metabolic reaction.

Aerobic or Anaerobic: Two Components of Successful Fitness

The big question is, how to do these concepts relate to you and your fitness goals? Most people aren't competitive athletes; they just want to exercise to gain the health benefits, feel good and to lose weight. Aerobic exercise allows you to exercise at a fairly low intensity for long period of times; it's usually less stressful to the muscles, joints and your heart, which may be appropriate for individuals with high blood pressure, arthritis, or heart disease. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, jogging, outdoor cycling, walking or jogging on a treadmill, rowing, swimming, and using the elliptical machine or stair climber. However, to improve more rapidly your exercise capability, results, tolerance, and performance, some anaerobic exercise also is necessary.

When starting a training program, I (like most trainers) start clients with lower intensity exercise (aerobic exercise), although anaerobic exercise is unavoidable for some kinds of exercises or activities. Lifting weights is anaerobic, for example, which is why muscles fatigue occurs so rapidly during weight training. Other activities such as walking up stairs can be anaerobic if you're unfit. A combination of anaerobic and aerobic exercise is needed to achieve lasting, full-body results.