What is anaerobic exercise?

We've previously discussed the positive impact of anaerobic exercise on the body, including increases in muscle mass and insulin sensitivity. But what constitutes anaerobic exercise?

The key word when it comes to anaerobic activity is intensity. When exercise is performed at low to moderate intensity, our body uses our aerobic energy system to fuel it (oxygen + glucose).

When exercise is performed at a high intensity, our body predominantly uses our anaerobic energy system to fuel it (glucose with a small amount of oxygen).

Anaerobic exercise is considered to be an exercise that pushes you above 85-90% of your maximum heart rate, or above 8 out of 10 on the RPE scale.


If you're not used to being physically active, we wouldn’t recommend doing anaerobic exercise, as it can lead to potential injuries and a poor exercise experience! Before you do any exercise at a high-intensity, you should first develop an aerobic base, for more information on how to do this, read our article on 'Building your aerobic base'. 

Because of the intensity of this type of training, we'd suggest only doing it 2-3 times a week with rest days in between. You can do other cardio exercises in and around this, depending on your current fitness level.

As with all exercise, ensure you're warming up and cooling down.

Anaerobic workouts

Anaerobic exercise can be cardio based high-intensity workouts or various types of strength training such as:

  • Weight training
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • Sprint interval training (can be performed with running, cycling, swimming etc.)

You can also add short, sharp bursts of high-intensity exercises into a cardio session, for example, after 15 minutes of jogging, you could perform 20 push-ups and 20 squats, take a short rest, then continue your run.

This would add extra intensity to your existing training and may be easier to integrate than doing whole workouts dedicated to high-intensity. Try adding the following exercises to your existing sessions:

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