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Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise: What’s the Difference?

We hear a lot about aerobic activity—it’s good for the heart, helps with weight loss, and is a key building block of physical fitness. What we don’t hear as much about is aerobic exercise’s counterpart—anaerobic exercise. But anaerobic movements are no less important when it comes to a great total body workout for getting in shape and losing weight. With that in mind, here’s an overview of the differences between aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

The Science Behind the Terms

First, keep in mind that both aerobic and anaerobic exercise are types of cardiovascular activity, or “cardio.” The word aerobic means “with oxygen.” Aerobic activity involves larger movements that increase your breathing and heart rate and increase the level of oxygen in your blood and the rest of your body.1 Aerobic activity is usually done for more than two minutes at a time (ideally, 30 to 45 minutes), in what’s called a “steady state.” 2

Examples of aerobic activity include running, biking, and swimming. 3

Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, is any activity the body does without the use of oxygen. Anaerobic activities are quick bursts of energy at a high intensity, such as sprinting, jumping, and lifting heavy weight. 4

During anaerobic exercise, instead of oxygen, your body burns glucose and an energy-carrying molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). 5

The Benefits of Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic exercise may not sound like it’s good for your body, but it is. These higher intensity movements exercise the fast-twitch muscle fibers, which stimulate muscles to grow bigger and stronger. The more muscle your body has, the faster your metabolism. Therefore, anaerobic workouts also help you burn fat and lose weight. 6

Anaerobic exercise also increases stamina and strengthens bones, and it helps support cardiovascular health.

The benefits of aerobic exercise—activities including running, walking, swimming, or biking at a continuous pace for an extended period—are plenty. When done as part of a regular total body workout, aerobic activity can help:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Strengthen the heart muscle
  • Boost energy
  • Increase stamina
  • Reduce risk of injury
  • Increase “good” HDL cholesterol
  • Lower blood sugar
  • Decrease resting heart rate
  • Strengthen the lungs
  • Improve weight loss 7

Anaerobic or Aerobic Exercise: What is Best for You?

The answer is: both! The ideal full body workout for women is one that combines aerobic and anaerobic exercise, in addition to supporting strength and flexibility. However, it’s important to recognize that anaerobic exercise may not work for all women. If you have problems with joint pain or mobility, the risks associated with anaerobic exercise may outweigh its benefits. If you have an underlying health condition, talk with your health care provider before adding anaerobic moves to your workout routine. If you’re a member at Curves, your Curves Coach can help you optimize anaerobic moves safely, without increasing your risk of injury.

Aerobic activity is a wonderful option for women of all ages and fitness levels to help achieve health, weight loss, and fitness goals.  Women who cannot engage in higher intensity aerobic exercise may want to explore low intensity aerobic workouts. Both Curves circuits in-club and online with MyCurves On Demand offer amazing variety and can easily be adapted to varying intensities and tolerances. Talk to your Curves coach about modifications to movements and, if you’re a member of MyCurves On Demand, you’ll see alternate exercises in the corner of the workout video.

How Curves Can Help

Curves incorporates some aerobic and anaerobic exercise into all their 30-minute full body workouts for women. You’ll work every major muscle group with an exercise routine that combines strength training, aerobic cardio, anaerobic cardio, stretching, and flexibility. The variety of hydraulic resistance machines provide an effective low-impact workout, ideal to help women of all fitness levels achieve their health and weight loss goals. Plus, you’ll get to work out under the guidance of a certified Curves Coach and side-by-side with Curves friends. Rather exercise in the comfort of your living room? Curves also provides a total body workout including aerobic exercise at home, with MyCurves On Demand. Give Curves a try today!

The Curves women’s gym workout is convenient, combining strength training and cardio plus stretching – all in just 30 minutes – to strengthen your whole body. For more information about Curves and the full body workouts the Curves Circuit provides, visit ‘Why Curves’.


  1. What is the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise?
  2. The Three Primary Energy Pathways Explained
  3. Aerobic Exercise
  4. What is the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise?
  5. The Three Primary Energy Pathways Explained
  6. The benefits of anaerobic exercise
  7. Aerobic Exercise
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