Fitness, Fitness

Aerobic vs anerobic exercise

We know all exercise is good exercise, but did you know you can optimise different energy systems through aerobic or anerobic exercise? We asked Aquanation personal trainer Jake Williams to breakdown what aerobic and anerobic exercises are and how they can help you achieve your goals. 


Aerobic vs anerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise ain’t just lycra and Jane Fonda - unless you want it to be. If so, as you were. As Williams explains, the main difference between anaerobic and aerobic exercise is “anaerobic exercise means no oxygen is required, whereas aerobic does.”

But there’s a little more to it. Williams clarifies the differences are really down to which energy system you’re using and how that energy system responds to the intensity and duration of your workout.


“It’s never just one energy system, they all work together to some extent, but one will be far more effective than the others during a particular type of exercise,” says Williams.


Fun fact, there are actually three different energy systems you tap into when you work out: adenosine triphosphate and phosphocreatine (ATP-PC), anaerobic and aerobic.


Keen to know what the deal is with these systems? Well settle in friends, we’re gonna drop some science on you.


ATP-PC system - According to Williams, this is where instant energy is provided. He says, “this is the energy that we have simply sitting in our body at any given time.”


Williams explains “it’s usually enough for eight to ten seconds of instant full effort,” so if you’re a sprinter this is your jam.


Anaerobic glycolysis system - This one clocks in around 15 seconds and “starts to ramp up and works for roughly 2-3 minutes, but is slower than the ATP-PC system,” explains Williams. Tennis players, this is your go-to.


Aerobic system - This one peaks around one to two minutes after beginning your workout. William says, “it’s the slowest form of energy, however, it produces the most out of the three systems.”


Runners, cyclists and swimmers this is where it’s at for you.


How to optimise each energy system

Now we’ve gotten all sciencey, let’s figure out how you can optimise these energy systems for your goals.


As Williams puts it, all three systems will be working constantly but “the focus is always on a specific system dictated by intensity and duration.”


And what’s pretty cool is that you can manipulate your energy by utilising certain types of training methods to get results. That’s right fitness nerds, the science lesson ain’t over yet.


The first method is Fartlek (Swedish for ‘speed play’) and is basically interval training based on time.


The second is Billat (pronounced Bil-lay) training which is “focused on the point at which your muscles are taking up as much oxygen as they can - known as VO2Max (maximal volume of oxygen that can be taken up by the muscles) and training at that point,” Williams explains.


He says here you’ll be pushing your muscles to the max and uptake more oxygen. Williams clarifies this is usually done over longer distances around 1000km. So, runners, give this a go if you want to really push your energy systems.


The third method is Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS) running. “Similar in that it’s all about the speed at which you can still work aerobically and pushing past it. This is most commonly done at 120% of your maximal aerobic speed in short intervals,” Williams explains. Queue flashbacks to those high school beep tests.


Not sure which method to try? Williams suggests giving the Billat and Fartlek systems a go if you want to optimise your aerobic workout and train multiple energy systems at once.


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Think about your goals 

If all this is getting a little technical, Williams recommends coming back to what your goals are. “Do whatever style you prefer and what you enjoy because ultimately it comes down to your goals, what you need and what’s best for you,” suggests the personal trainer. 

No matter what your specific goals, Williams encourages pushing yourself a little harder to optimise your energy systems. He explains, “40-60% heart rate max is the optimal zone for fat burning, however, if you can burn 500g of fat in an hour on a bike or doing something of higher intensity it might be worth getting your heart rate up a bit higher past that fat-burning zone.”

Williams adds that if you’re just wanting to live an active lifestyle, your best bet is aerobic exercise but it all comes down to what you want to achieve. “Decide what works best for you, without neglecting any of your energy systems,” Williams recommends.


Jake Williams is a personal trainer at Aquanation with a Bachelor of Exercise and Sorts Science and is currently studying a Masters in Exercise Physiology at ACU. Learn more.