What is anaerobic vs aerobic exercise?

By Physiotherapist, Paulina Backiel 


Any type of physical training (including running) requires energy, which, in turn, requires a biological system that transforms energy into movement and/or power. By constantly running the same route at a leisurely pace, you are not utilizing your body’s full potential and may feel like your running performance has plateaued. Our bodies love to be tested/stressed by new challenges because it is how they learn, adapt, and grow.

So what does Anaerobic and aerobic training mean? What are the differences between both types of training? 

To answer this question, we are going to jump right into learning about our human physiology.

Human Physiology, Simplified

The body has many systems, but we will focus on 2 main energy systems that our body uses to allow us to run:


1.Anaerobic System 

Does not need oxygen to function

Bi-product: Lactic acid

Example: sprinting

2. Aerobic System (oxidative)

Needs Oxygen present to function

Bi-product: Carbon dioxide

Example: distance running


Should I be training both as a distance runner?


A 2017 article done by Bolotin and Bakayev shows evidence that increasing the variability in the type of exercises that you do allows your body to recover more quickly.


So, for example, runners that mixed up their runs with sprinting (anaerobic) and long distance (aerobic) showed fewer fluctuations between the systems that transform energy into movement (in this case the movement is running). Increasing the variability in exercises allows your body to utilize all of your energy systems more efficiently.  In this particular study, the researchers call this type of exercise program “mixed,” meaning that runners do a combination of both aerobic and anaerobic exercises. 


In my next blog, I’ll explain what types of runs you can do to try and target both systems, so stay tuned!! =)


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Bolotin A, Bakayev V. Method for Training of Long Distance Runners Taking into Account Bioenergetic Types of Energy Provision for Muscular Activity. InicSPORTS 2017 Oct (pp. 126-131).