Modern-day exercise science shows us that not all exercise is created equal as there is aerobic, anaerobic or HITT training styles. So when it comes to achieving your fitness goals, some approaches may actually yield better results for you than others.
This is why, today, we will be addressing the difference between aerobic, anaerobic or HITT training.
As a weight management specialist who has helped hundreds of dieters achieve their ideal body weights over the last several years, this difference is up there with the most frequently asked questions about exercise.
In this blog post, we’ll go through:
- Aerobic exercise
- Benefits of aerobic exercise
- Anaerobic exercise
- Benefits of anaerobic exercise
- Research behind HITT
- How often to do HITT
To begin, let’s first talk about aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercise is any activity that propels your body forward, which lasts longer than two minutes in duration, so activities like swimming, rowing or jogging. Endurance activities, essentially.
Although walking isn’t exactly an activity you would think of when you hear the word endurance, it’s also an aerobic activity.
Aerobic exercise is low-moderate intensity activities that can be sustained over long periods. For an idea of how strenuous low-moderate intensity is, it’s basically any activity that you’d be able to turn to a friend and have a conversation with while doing.
In aerobic exercise, oxygen is used as the fuel to give your muscles the energy needed to sustain the effort.
Now you’re probably thinking, “but isn’t oxygen used for every type of exercise and not just aerobic?”
Well, of course, it’s used for breathing guys but what I mean is that in aerobic exercise, oxygen is used to convert nutrients (carbs, fat, and protein) to ATP, whereas in anaerobic exercise, it uses glycogen which we will expand on a bit later.
This is why many people who train for a ten-mile running event by sprinting or skipping rope, for instance, frequently fail to complete the race. As oxygen isn’t used to create the energy needed for these anaerobic activities, relying on glycogen instead, the efficiency of using oxygen isn’t being trained as it would be with running.
And what is ATP?
Well, if your body was a car, ATP would be the gasoline needed to keep it going.
I understand that this can be confusing as you may think that carbs, fat, protein and maybe several cups of coffee are what keep us going throughout the day.
And you’d be right to think that, but ATP is just the final product on the molecular level used as the primary energy source for cells from the breakdown of carbs, fat and protein.
To read our article on the importance of warming up and cooling down correctly, please follow the link here.
Benefits of aerobic exercise
Now that we know what aerobic exercise is, what are the physiological benefits of it?
Well, it burns calories, strengthens your heart and increases cardiovascular fitness. Additionally, it lowers heart rate and blood pressure while removing cholesterol, triglycerides, and plaque buildup from your arteries, improving blood circulation.
However, too much or too intensive aerobic exercise can decrease muscle mass over extended periods while enhancing the risk of overtraining, so be mindful of this.
Further, it also decreases your chances of developing heart disease, stroke, some forms of cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Finally, the last benefit of aerobic exercise, as we’ve mentioned, is that it increases the efficiency in which oxygen is utilized.
Next, let’s talk about anaerobic exercise.
So, where aerobic exercise is low-moderate intense exercise sustained over long periods of time, anaerobic exercise is high-intensity exercise lasting from several seconds to around two minutes.
In contrast to aerobic exercise that focuses on endurance, anaerobic exercise focuses on building power, strength and speed.
As sprints develop speed and last shorter than two minutes, whether in running or swimming, they are an anaerobic activity.
Other examples of anaerobic activities would be like skipping, heavy weight training and burpees, for example.
Moreover, in comparison to aerobic exercise, which utilises oxygen to create energy, anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, uses glycogen that is the storage form of carbohydrates in your liver and muscles, which provides your body with a readily available energy source.
And what are the benefits of anaerobic exercise?
Benefits of anaerobic exercise
Besides the mentioned increase in power, strength and speed, it also burns calories and strengthens bone, decreasing the risk of osteoporosis.
Additionally, it helps build lean muscle mass, which is beneficial as the more lean muscle mass we have, the more our metabolism burns calories when we’re at rest!
Now that we have discussed aerobic and anaerobic exercise, which is the most effective when we want to burn the most calories from our workouts?
Well, generally, anaerobic exercise does not burn as many calories as aerobic exercise.
However, the most efficient way to burn calories is with HIIT, which actually falls within the anaerobic exercise category.
HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. It is intervals of someone performing a short burst of max-intensity effort followed by a brief low-intensity effort, repeated until exhaustion.
And what constitutes brief low-intensity exercise?
Well, the low-intensity interval should be done at 50% of your max intensity. This means that if you sprint at max power, then a light jog would be 50% of your max intensity.
A typical routine of HIIT involves a two to one ratio of work to recovery periods.
So, for instance, 40 seconds of hard sprinting alternated with 20 seconds of jogging, repeated until failure.
To read our article about how to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, please follow the link here.
However, HIIT isn’t just limited to running related activities, guys. You can also incorporate its principles towards activities such as swimming and cycling. Alternatively, you could apply the principles of HIIT to push-ups or squats, too, by doing ten push-ups or squats, resting for 30 seconds after, repeating until failure.
Further, you could also perform HIIT with skipping because you could skip for 40 seconds at your max intensity and then skip at half of the intensity for 20 seconds and then going back to the max power of 40 seconds for the next interval and so forth.
It’s the principles of HIIT that is important, guys.
So now that we know what HIIT is, what are the advantages of HIIT versus traditional steady-state cardio (aerobic exercise).
Well, firstly, it’s an excellent way to maximize a workout that is limited on time as a HIIT workout is typically under 30 minutes.
Secondly, you lose more fat and less muscle than standard cardio.
A long-duration traditional cardio session is, of course, effective at losing fat, but in the process, you may also lose some muscle mass.
In contrast, studies show that when HIIT is combined with weight training in a training plan, it allows dieters to preserve hard-earned muscle mass while ensuring most of the weight lost comes from fat stores.
Next, as mentioned, you will burn more calories than strength training and traditional steady-state cardio.
Research behind HITT
A demonstration of HIITs effectiveness at burning calories may be from a study by Falcone et al. (2015) of 9 men who performed four separate exercise sessions for 30 minutes, including a resistance training session, an endurance cycling session, an endurance running session and a HIIT session.
The study found that the men burned on average 379 calories in the HIIT session versus 284 calories in treadmill session, 277 calories in the cycling session and 265 in the resistance training session. This shows that HITT can burn almost 30% more calories than other forms of exercise!
To add to this point, it has also been shown in a study by Wingfield et al. (2015) that HIIT burns more calories through metabolism post-workout than aerobic exercise.
In the study, 20 recreationally active women in their 20s completed six total exercise sessions of 60-minute duration over six weeks, including two HITT sessions, two aerobic training sessions and two resistance training sessions.
The findings demonstrated that, on average, the women lost almost 200 calories more due to a heightened metabolism with HITT than standard aerobic training and resistance training. The reason for this is because HIIT is tougher on the body than aerobic and resistance training as it requires more energy to repair itself afterwards.
Further, HIIT has been found to be a more enjoyable and time-efficient strategy than moderate-intensity exercise for weight loss which suggests that it could be easier for maintaining consistency over the long-term, which is often the time length required for significant weight loss (Kong et al., 2016).
And this brings us to how often should HIIT be done?
To read our blog about cholesterol and ways to reduce it, please follow the link here.
How often to do HITT
We recommend that three times per week is the ideal amount of HIIT training with 30 minutes per session. It would be counterproductive doing it every day as your risk for overtraining improves significantly if your muscles don’t have enough time to repair.
However, when starting, we recommend that you do it twice per week for the first couple of weeks whilst building up to 30 minutes from 15 minutes as it is physically and mentally demanding!
To conclude, it is important to initially identify your exact fitness goals as your training method will be dictated by them. If you are looking to increase your cardiovascular fitness, then aerobic training may be the way to go.
At the same time, if you wish to build muscle, then anaerobic exercise would be paramount. Further, if you are looking to burn as many calories while retaining as much muscle as possible in the shortest amount of time, we recommend HITT training.
Although if you have any underlying health conditions, always make sure to contact your doctor before starting any new training regimens.
If you would like further help in the pursuit of your fitness goals, make sure to contact us here for expert assistance.
Falcone, P. H., Tai, C., Carson, L. R., Joy, J. M., Mosman, M. M., McCann, T. R., . . . Moon, J. R. (2015). Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or Combined high-intensity interval training using a Hydraulic RESISTANCE system in healthy men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(3), 779-785. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000000661
Kong, Z., Fan, X., Sun, S., Song, L., Shi, Q., & Nie, J. (2016). Comparison of high-intensity interval training and moderate-to-vigorous continuous training for cardiometabolic health and exercise enjoyment in obese young women: A randomized controlled trial. PLOS ONE, 11(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0158589
Wingfield, H. L., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Melvin, M. N., Roelofs, E. J., Trexler, E. T., Hackney, A. C., . . . Ryan, E. D. (2015). The acute effect of exercise modality and nutrition manipulations on post-exercise resting energy expenditure and respiratory exchange ratio in women: A randomized trial. Sports Medicine – Open, 1(1). doi:10.1186/s40798-015-0010-3