At the Olympic Games in 2016, every member of the Team Great Britain squad won a medal, taking the final tally to six golds, four silvers and one bronze. Thanks to their training which includes intensive workouts, muscular endurance, sprint power and anaerobic endurance. So what exactly is the difference between anaerobic exercise and aerobic exercise?

Anaerobic exercise

This is a physical exercise that is high in intensity and short in duration, lasting from mere seconds up to about two minutes. The body’s aerobic system kicks in after two minutes. Anaerobic exercise promotes strength, speed and power. More importantly, it builds strong muscles.

Oxygen is not present with anaerobic exercise – without air. During short bursts of exercise where our body demands more energy than it is available, glucose (“What to eat before and after your workout”) is broken down and lactate is produced. This allows energy production to continue. The body can continue this type of anaerobic energy production for one to three minutes.

Aerobic exercise

On the other hand, aerobic exercises include endurance activities which are lower in intensity and longer in duration. These exercises are cardiovascular exercises which increase your heart rate and breathing rate.

A great amount of oxygen is needed to generate the energy required for aerobic exercises. Oxygen is transported to the muscles and gives them energy during workouts.

Type of activities







  • Anaerobic exercises – Jumping, sprinting, bodybuilding, weight lifting
  • Aerobic exercises – Swimming, marathon running, long-distance cycling 


Anaerobic exercise increases your endurance and builds overall strength and muscle mass. The intense bursts of exercise cause micro tears in the muscles and muscles will become more toned as the body naturally repairs them. Anaerobic exercise also

increases the maximum amount of oxygen used during exercise, improving your cardio and respiratory fitness.

Anaerobic exercises burn a lot of calories (“5 ways to burn calories while sitting down”) in a short amount of time due to the intensity of the exercise.

During aerobic activity, you breathe faster and this increases blood flow to your muscles and back to your lungs. Your heart will be strengthened and can pump blood more efficiently. Aerobic exercise will also improve your stamina and reduce fatigue. This type of exercise can help burn fat during your workout.

Which muscle fibers benefit most from anaerobic exercise?

Our body has two types of skeletal muscle fibers: fast-twitch and slow-twitch. Fast-twitch muscles (“Type 2”) are used during powerful movements like sprinting, but require a longer recovery time. Slow-twitch muscles (“Type 1”) generate less power but are used during long-endurance activities like cycling and swimming.

Anaerobic training benefits fast-twitch muscles while aerobic training benefits slow-twitch muscles.

What are you?

You are at an advantage when it comes to activities that require endurance, if you are slow-twitch dominant. For those who are fast-twitch dominant, you will perform well in explosive exercises. You can go for long jogs or bike rides to improve your aerobic system.

New to exercising or have not worked out for quite some time? Build up your fitness levels first by starting with 10 to 15 minutes of aerobic exercise two days a week. Gradually increase your exercise routine. You can introduce anaerobic intervals into your workout once you have built up your endurance.