Aerobic workouts are great because you don’t need to be a professional.
Most people associate the phrase “aerobic exercise” with jazzercise or Denise Austin videos. Perhaps you have used the term synonymously to cardio. All of these assumptions are accurate for the most part. However, aerobic exercise can be more complex than that. It all boils down to how intense your workout is.
What exactly is aerobic exercise? And which workouts are considered such? We spoke with experts to help us decode the training language so that you can incorporate aerobic exercise (and its counterpoint anaerobic exercise) in your workouts. Find out what these terms mean for you and your health.
What is aerobic exercise?
Aerobic exercise involves moving large muscle groups (think glutes, legs, core) simultaneously, often in a rhythmic manner and for a more extended period. Michele Olson is CSCS, senior clinical instructor of sports science at Huntingdon College, Montgomery, AL. “Your respiration goes up, as does your heart rate to about 60 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate, but not over that max,” Olson says.
All aerobic exercise counts towards cardiovascular activity. This is why you will often hear the term “cardio” instead of “aerobic.” You can also label aerobic activities such as running, swimming, cycling, and speed walking.
Noam Tamir, the CSCS owner of TS Fitness in New York City, explains that aerobic movement is only possible if you can sustain it for longer than two minutes without consuming enough oxygen. This means that even if your breathing rate increases, it shouldn’t cause you to gasp for air. “The intensity of the exercise is typically moderate to light, so it can be continued for 30-60 minutes without raising your heart rate.
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Most aerobic activity falls under the moderate-to-low-intensity category. However, there are other levels. Olson explains that low-intensity aerobic exercise can build endurance. This could be done by walking, or perhaps a group fitness class inspired by dance. This would be at a lower heart rate, around 60-70 percent of your maximum heart rate. Moderate intensity aerobic work is defined as a heart rate between 70 to 80 percent of your max. This could include exercises like jogging and step aerobics. Finally, high-intensity aerobic workouts elevate the heart rate between 80 to 90 percent of your max. You can do faster running, spinning, or stairs jogging. However, it does not require you to exert a lot of effort.
What is the difference between anaerobic and aerobic exercise?
Aerobic activity is a sustained effort of exerting your body for between 30-60 minutes. Your heart rate stays steady at 60-90 percent of maximum. Because you are getting enough oxygen, it is possible to inhale and exhale slowly and maintain your pace. Tamir says that aerobic exercise refers to “in the presence” of oxygen. Olson says that the body uses both fatty acids and carbohydrates to fuel its efforts to sustain submaximal levels.
Anaerobic exercise is where you need to exert maximum effort. This is another type of cardio where you should sustain activity for only about 30 seconds before you need to take a break. This type of training should make it difficult to catch your breath. Anaerobic means “the absence or lack of oxygen.” Anaerobic exercise can include explosive movements such as sprinting, plyometrics, and heavy weightlifting. Olson says that the body uses phosphocreatine (and carbohydrates) to fuel anaerobic exercise because they are easily broken down. Fats are too slow to be used as an energy source.
Interval training and circuit classes offer strong examples of activities that usually involve both anaerobic and aerobic fitness. Olson explains, “In these classes, you push to your maximum for short periods, then take shorter, more intense breaks.” This improves your anaerobic and power performance as well as your aerobic fitness.
What are the health benefits of aerobic exercise?
Cardio days are some of the most beneficial days for your heart (hence the name). But the benefits extend beyond the core. Olson explains that aerobic activity can lower blood pressure, blood lipids and normalize your blood glucose. This will allow you to live longer and reduce the risk of developing conditions such as diabetes.
Tons of research backs up these aerobic advantages, which is why the American Heart Association recommends people get 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. It can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other conditions.
You’ll also find that the more you do aerobic exercise, the better you will be at it. Aerobic training can improve the strength and size of slow-twitch muscles, which are those involved in long-distance running or another sustained exercise. Aerobic activity can increase your VO2 max. This is a crucial indicator of your fitness level and how much oxygen you can absorb. Tamir states that aerobic exercise can increase endurance. This means that you can run, jog, or walk miles without feeling tired.
How to do an Aerobic Workout at Home
While everyday aerobic activities include jogging, swimming, cycling, rowing, and brisk walking (to name a few, of course), circuit workouts work too. Tamir says, “All you need to do is to perform at the appropriate heart rate and intensity levels to be able to sustain it for an extended amount of time.”
This bodyweight routine by Tamir is perfect for those who don’t want to leave their house or go outside but still want to exercise. To get started, do the 12 exercises below. Each 30 second And 5 round, your best to get as much rest as possible in between each exercise.
- High knees
- Mountain climbers
- Butt kickers
- Alternating bodyweight reverse lunges
- Skips at high levels
- Squats for bodyweight
- Hops lateral
- Walking lunges
- Jumping Jacks
- Toe taps on a block or step
Keep this in mind as you perform the circuit. Work at a moderate level of intensity so that moving from one move to another without stopping should not feel difficult. You can take a break if you need it. You will get better with each repetition.