Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise Explained



Once upon a time, for me, the word ‘aerobic,’ made me think of sweaty middle aged ladies in leotards.

…and as for anerobic….some kind of fancy dress?

It turns out that they are actually two different ways of exercising and each gives its own distinct benefit.

Let’s first look at aerobic exercise. When we exercise aerobically, our muscles are using oxygen as their main fuel source. Seeing as oxygen is all around us we can, in theory, exercise for hours on end as long as we top up that fuel with food and water.

Typically, aerobic exercise takes place between 40 and 65% of our maximum heart rates. In cycling terms this is could be when we are spinning light gears and taking things reasonably easy.

The benefit of aerobic exercise is that it improves our cardiovascular systems and burns fat. Happy days.

Once we start exceeding 65% of our max heart rate we begin exercising anaerobically. This is when our bodies begin supplementing some of that oxygen fuel source with the glycogen stored in our muscles. The further towards our maximum heart rates we go, the less oxygen and the more glycogen we use. Unlike oxygen, glycogen is in limited supply so we can’t exercise at this level for very long.

Hard riding, climbing and all out sprints are all examples of cycling anaerobically. The benefit of this type of riding is stronger muscles and improved speed. You’ll certainly know when you’ve been exercising anaerobically because your muscles will ache the day after. This is due to a build up of lactic acid which is a by-product of glycogen as it is used as by the body.

Typically, a good training plan will use both kinds of exercise; aerobic at first to build general fitness and then increasing levels of anaerobic to build speed and endurance.

A good heart rate monitor will help you to measure your efforts and ensure you are in the correct zone. I’ve already posted a film explaining this so please take a look.

If you would like to follow my efforts on the bike you can follow me on Strava. My profile is here:

You are also very welcome to join my virtual cycling club on Strava. By sharing our rides we can help and encourage each other to reach our fitness goals.

You can join the club here:

and the Chernobyl Cycling Club Facebook group here:


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