Anaerobic Exercise: Definition, Benefits, and Examples

Anaerobic exercise primarily strengthens your muscles. “Anaerobic” means “without oxygen” and involves more intense, short bursts of physical activity compared to aerobic exercise.

Some of the benefits of anaerobic exercise are increased endurance, fat loss, and strengthened bones and muscles.

This article will describe the benefits of anaerobic exercise, examples of it, and ways to incorporate it into your routine.

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What Is Anaerobic Exercise? 

Anaerobic exercise is any exercise that occurs in the absence of oxygen. Unlike aerobic exercise, which uses oxygen for energy, anaerobic exercise involves intense, powerful muscle contractions that require energy faster than oxygen can be supplied. Since an alternative energy source is needed, the body uses glycogen (a form of glucose) that is stored within muscles as fuel.

Science Behind Anaerobic Exercise

Without oxygen, muscle cells break down stored glycogen into individual glucose (sugar) molecules. These glucose molecules are then broken down further in a two-step process called lactic acid fermentation to release energy to power muscle cells.

The first step in lactic acid fermentation is glycolysis, in which glucose molecules are broken down and converted into pyruvic acid in order to release energy. The second step in lactic acid fermentation involves converting pyruvic acid into lactic acid as a by-product, which accumulates in muscle cells and produces a burning sensation.

Because lactic acid fermentation does not produce much energy and because lactic acid accumulation in muscle cells is uncomfortable, anaerobic exercises can only be performed for a short period of time before a rest break is needed.

Examples of Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic exercises are short bursts of intense activity. Common anaerobic exercises include:

  • Weight lifting
  • Sprinting
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT): Short intervals of exercise at maximum intensity followed by short periods of rest
  • Plyometrics: Quick, powerful, explosive movements, like jumping, hopping, skipping, jump squats, and jump lunges
  • Calisthenics: Bodyweight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and dips


Anaerobic exercise has multiple benefits for the cardiovascular system, muscles, and joints. Anaerobic exercise can:

  • Increase muscle strength and power
  • Increase fat loss and muscle mass
  • Improve bone mineral density
  • Decrease joint stiffness
  • Correct muscle imbalances and improve posture
  • Improve circulation and heart and lung function
  • Decrease high blood pressure
  • Decrease inflammation throughout the body
  • Improve mood and energy
  • Decrease risk of developing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke
  • Lower your blood sugar
  • Lower high cholesterol and triglycerides

How Much Anaerobic Exercise Should You Do? 

Adults should participate in one of the following physical activities each week in order to promote optimal heart health and lower the risk of developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) or hardening of the arteries:

  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity
  • 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity
  • An equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous physical activity

Anaerobic exercises like weight lifting, sprinting, calisthenics, plyometrics, and high-intensity interval training are all considered forms of vigorous-intensity physical activity. In order to promote overall health and physical fitness, aim for a combination of both anaerobic exercises and aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming to improve your strength and endurance.

How to Get Started

Sedentary (inactive) individuals should always start off slowly and gradually increase exercise intensity, duration, and frequency over time. This allows the heart, lungs, and muscles to get used to a change in physical activity. A physical therapist or personal trainer can show you the correct way to perform the exercises to avoid injury.

When performing anaerobic exercises, it is best to let your body rest and recover for one to three days between working the same muscle groups. It is normal to be quite sore after starting any new exercise or increasing the intensity of an exercise, but muscle soreness will decrease over time as you build up more strength.

Always make sure to consult with your healthcare provider before beginning or increasing the intensity of any exercise program to make sure that your heart, lungs, and blood vessels are healthy enough to support the increased demands from anaerobic exercise.


Anaerobic exercise is any exercise that uses energy stores to supply working muscles in the absence of oxygen. It can only be performed for short bursts of intense activity. Anaerobic exercises like weight lifting, sprinting, calisthenics, plyometrics, and high-intensity interval training can improve your heart and lung function, increase muscle strength, improve bone mineral density, and decrease high blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides, and inflammation.

When beginning or increasing the amount of anaerobic exercise, make sure you are cleared by your healthcare provider, start off slowly, and gradually increase your physical activity level over time.

A Word From Verywell 

Anaerobic exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for all adults to help build muscle strength and lower the risk of developing inflammatory conditions. Make sure you start off slowly. Gradually increase the intensity, frequency, and duration to allow your body to adapt to a new change in pace and prevent injury.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are three types of anaerobic exercise?

    Types of anaerobic exercises include weight lifting, sprinting, and plyometrics.

  • How many calories do you burn with anaerobic exercise?

    Calories burned with anaerobic exercise will vary based on your weight, individual fitness level, exercise intensity, and duration of physical activity.

  • Are squats an anaerobic exercise?

    Squatting, especially with increased resistance with weights, is an anaerobic exercise that requires short bursts of powerful muscular contraction from the leg muscles.

  • Are planks an anaerobic exercise?

    Calisthenic exercises like planks are considered anaerobic exercises that utilize energy stores within muscles

  • Is anaerobic exercise good for weight loss?

    Anaerobic exercise is good for weight loss as it increases your energy expenditure, which burns more calories and helps to break down fat tissue. Anaerobic exercise also helps you build muscle, which can help improve your overall body composition.