Aerobic & Anaerobic Training: The Optimal Way to Combine the Different Types of Workouts

Aerobic vs anaerobic – two different ways to produce energy
Aerobic vs anaerobic – two different ways to produce energy

Do you constantly hear those two terms, aerobic and anaerobic training, and want to know what they actually mean? Or maybe you’re wondering which type of exercise you should be focusing on to reach your goals and which type of exercise you’ve perhaps always done in the past? We’ve looked into both types of training for you, and have put together some information about what they’re all about.

Aerobic vs anaerobic – two different ways to produce energy

When training, we differentiate between two ways in which your body generates the energy required for sport: with oxygen (aerobic) and without oxygen (anaerobic). The terms aerobic and anaerobic refer to whether oxygen is used when converting energy in your body. But let’s look in more detail about what that actually means:

What is aerobic training?

When you do aerobic exercise, your body uses oxygen while burning carbohydrates and fats. The energy produced gives your muscles the power they need to get through the workout. You should do aerobic training if you want to subject your body to less intense training over a longer period of time. For example, a slow, long run or a long swimming session.

What is anaerobic training?

During an intensive, high-intensity training session, your body needs lots of energy fast. The aerobic energy metabolism is not enough. Instead, carbohydrates are converted into energy without oxygen via lactic acid fermentation. This produces lactic acid, which also makes it possible to measure whether your training is anaerobic or not. If you put your body under this kind of stress over a longer period, too much lactic acid can also cause acidosis. Considerably less energy is produced anaerobically than when you generate energy aerobically, so you can’t maintain high levels of training intensity for a long period.

If you want to do a sprint, build up your muscles with strength training in a short time, or if HIIT training is part of your training plan, you need to train anaerobically.

The threshold: the lactic acid value

In the previous section, we briefly mentioned the lactic acid value. The lactic acid value tells you how busy your body is generating energy. For example, the anaerobic threshold can be determined by a sports physician, and shows you the highest possible load intensity. The doctor determines when the formation and breakdown of lactic acid is balanced. This tells you the exact strain you can put your body under to produce maximum energy.

You can also use your heart rate as a guide to work out or discover your anaerobic threshold. For aerobic training, you should aim for a rate of between 70–80%. And for anaerobic training, the maximum heart rate is around 80–90%. We’ve already put everything you need to know about this in another post.

So which type of training should I do now?

What is your training goal?
What is your training goal?

That depends entirely on your training goal. If you want to lose weight or increase your stamina, then go for aerobic training. Carbohydrates and fats are used to produce energy, and in the lower heart rate range you can cope with a long training session. But if you aim to increase performance or build muscle, you should train in the top heart rate range, for short, intensive sessions.

Good to know: You shouldn’t think of the two training forms as opposites. Generally speaking, they go hand in hand. When you’ve completed a training session, your body will switch back and forth between the two forms of energy metabolism, depending on the intensity of the workout.

Aerobic and anaerobic training for runners

Most endurance sports involve aerobic work, including running. Over long distances, your body requires constant energy which is produced with oxygen. But when you do sprints, include hills in your route, or even incorporate interval training into your training plan, your body needs to produce energy anaerobically to be able to perform the way you want it to.

We’ve put together different runs for you, which you can use to vary your running training and improve your performance, and therefore also your anaerobic threshold.

Aerobic and anaerobic training for cyclists

To manage long distances on your bike, training aerobically will give your body sufficient energy. However, if you want to boost your performance and be able to cycle faster for longer without acidifying your muscles, you can try to increase your anaerobic threshold. Because if you regularly train at exactly this threshold, you can increase it. Before cycling uphill, it can help to increase performance. You should incorporate both basic training and intensive intervals into your training plan. This will help you organise your cycle training in a way that’s more varied. Many professional sportsmen swear by doing 20 percent intensive training sessions and 80 percent basic training sessions.

Aerobic and anaerobic training for swimmers

Aerobic and anaerobic training for swimmers
Aerobic and anaerobic training for swimmers

Swimming is similar to other types of sports. Over long distances, the aerobic energy metabolism takes over, and for short distances swimmers train anaerobically. Specifically, from 50 to 100 metres and in intensive swimming units you use anaerobic energy metabolism, and from 200 metres aerobic. And again, with swimming you can increase performance with targeted training sessions.

So, now we all know what anaerobic and aerobic mean, and how and why you should mix up your training. Good luck hitting those training goals 💪

Image sources: pexels-roman-pohorecki-287398, pexels-rfstudio-3059982, pexels-guduru-ajay-bhargav-863988

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