Is Weight Training Aerobic or Anaerobic?

Weight training is one of the most versatile types of training anyone can do, but it’s easy to see it as mainly focused on building muscle and losing weight.

This traditional style of training focuses on heavy weights, fairly low reps, high intensity and is the type of training used by bodybuilders, powerlifters, and Olympic lifters. This style of weight lifting is anaerobic and is the most popular and well-known type of weight training.

However, there are other ways to incorporate weight training into your exercise regime and there are programs that have turned weight training into an aerobic form of exercise.

Circuit training is the most common form of aerobic weight training, but there are also alternatives such as CrossFit that take weight lifting and use it to improve cardiovascular endurance as well as physical strength and endurance.

Whether you decide to train aerobic or anaerobically is really a matter of how you prefer to train or what your fitness goals are.

Anaerobic training focuses on short bursts of intense exercise that use anywhere from 80 to 100% of your maximum exertion for each part of the exercise. The goal of this type of training is to develop your power, explosiveness, and strength.

Aerobic training is geared towards longer, less intense bursts of exercise that use between 60 to 80 percent of your exertion in order to build endurance. 

Mixed into both of these are other types of training such as calisthenics, plyometrics, and isometrics which can all be used as a part of either style of exercise. Flexibility training such  as yoga and pilates is also often mixed in to help prevent injury.

What does aerobic actually mean?

Aerobic exercise refers to the availability of oxygen, an adequate amount of which is required to meet energy requirements during exercise. Without getting too scientific, the body needs an adequate amount of oxygen for cellular respiration to function properly. If oxygen availability is too low, the body will use other processes to produce energy, which is known as anaerobic exercise. 

The availability of free oxygen has a lot of impact on these processes which is why aerobic training tends to be done at a slightly lower intensity and over a longer period of time than anaerobic training. 

The body is able to meet the demands of aerobic exercise without needing to use the anaerobic processes.

The most common types of aerobic training are long-distance running, cycling, swimming, and dancing as well as a host of sports from soccer to basketball. All of these sports and activities tend to take place over an extended period of time and while elements of anaerobic fitness may be used in short periods, a high level of cardiovascular fitness is essential to enable this type of activity.

There are several health benefits to aerobic training such as the strengthening of muscles involved in respiration, strengthening of the heart (this is known as aerobic conditioning) as well as a reduction in resting heart rate, resting blood pressure, and improved circulation. The reduction of cholesterol and body fat can also be positive for long-term health and there are also many mental health benefits associated with the rewards and achievements that come with aerobic exercise.

What does anaerobic actually mean?

Anaerobic simply means ‘without oxygen’ and anaerobic exercise is the process by which the body breaks down glucose without oxygen via a process called glycolysis, which is essentially how glucose is converted into ATP, the fuel for cellular reactions. 

The by-product of this process is lactic acid, which builds up far more quickly during anaerobic exercise and can be anywhere from discomforting to very painful. 

Lactic acid is what makes your muscles feel as if they’re heavy and dull, as they fill up with this by-product. 

Some examples of anaerobic exercises are sprints, high-intensity interval training, or HIIT as well as traditional strength and weight training

All of these processes are marked by their highly intense and fast-paced exercises, featuring explosive movements and maximal exertion in short bursts. The sheer intensity of these processes is what prevents an adequate supply of free oxygen from being available, and is what forces the body to rely on anaerobic processes. 

There are a host of benefits to this type of training that makes it a valuable inclusion into any fitness regime. 

Improved strength, bone density as well as explosive power are all common benefits of anaerobic exercise, however, there are some benefits that can also help improve aerobic fitness. 

Some studies show that anaerobic exercise can improve recovery times, which helps you to recover faster between periods of exercise, and there are a host of health benefits too.

Increased strength enables your body to prevent and recover faster from injuries and the rewards of achieving new personal bests can have huge benefits to mental health. There’s also the fact that strength training massively helps with fat loss, making you leaner and improving your physical appearance, which can do wonders for your personal confidence and wellbeing. 

Ultimately, the type of training you do will depend on your preferences and goals. Weight training can be adjusted to develop both types of fitness and this is probably the best way to increase the speed of your development and improvement. 

Using circuit training and other aerobic exercises to supplement an anaerobic weight lifting program will help you to gain mass and lose fat, while improving your recovery times, reducing the chance of injury, and helping to promote a healthy and balanced lifestyle, especially alongside an appropriate diet.

If you are thinking of taking up weight training or are looking to expand into circuit training and other aerobic activities, it’s important to make sure this lifestyle change won’t have any adverse effects on you. We always recommend checking with your doctor before starting any new exercise program or making major lifestyle changes, to ensure that no underlying issues cause any harm or risk to you.