Anaerobic vs. Aerobic Conditioning: Why Do I Need These?

Oh, hello there. I’m so glad that you asked. For the sake of keeping this surface level informative as opposed to real deep dive educational, today I’m going to talk about the two kinds of conditioning that we do in the gym and while you will benefit from both.

We have aerobic conditioning which is longer and less intense in nature, and we have anaerobic conditioning which is shorter, more intense, and generally makes you wish you were dead. Of course, the majority of conditioning bouts exists somewhere between the two, getting a little benefit from each.

Anaerobic

To generalize, there are three kinds of anaerobic training that can occur:

  1. Intense activities of two minutes or less (400m sprint, 20R back squat, running stadium stairs) 
  2. Alternating periods of peak intensity and rest (EMOM, Tabata, etc)

In both, what we’re really talking about is our muscles working without a supply of oxygen, so it calls on other systems in place to fuel it. This kind of oxygen-less training elicits a few unique training benefits:

  • Muscle Growth – Think of an EMOM where we don’t get a ton of rest. The muscles are under high stress.
  • Increased Glycogen Storage – We are able to store more glycogen, which we use as fuel for a workout.
  • Speeds Up Our Aerobic Adaptations – It’s kind of like an aerobic hack. Your anaerobic work will help your aerobic work, which is why we very often see distance runners set PRs after a few months of training here (that and strength training).

Performed regularly yet infrequently and anaerobic training is a great stimulus to move adaptation further along.

There is a third type of anaerobic training I would like to point out that lives in the grey area. These are the 5-8 minute thrash and crash workouts, the “Mr. Red”, etc. that some of you know, or even a short density workout. These are too long to technically be pure anaerobic, but because of the peak intensity nature, they carry the same anaerobic physiological properties. While beneficial for the reasons mentioned above, these are far more risky when performed chronically because this kind of training tends to produce a lot of cortisol. In moderate spikes, cortisol is fine but when chronically overperformed we essentially turn our body into a catabolic state where we hold onto body fat and burn muscle. This is why a prolonged low carb diet with this kind of intense training is a nightmare on our bodies. The fuel source primarily used in anaerobic training are carbohydrates, so if we’re starting on an empty tank its a hormonal disaster because we basically have nothing to burn.

EMOMs are a great usage of anaerobic training. Competitive style workouts? Fun and helpful to move adaptation along, but a different kind of physiological beast.

Aerobic

This kind of training is slightly less complicated and can be summarized as longer duration training at lower intensity. Anything from a 20 minute workout at a moderate pace, to a longer run, to walking six miles. There is an intensity spectrum but anything past ten or fifteen minutes without a rest is undoubtedly aerobic in nature. Meaning, we use oxygen to fuel muscles.

Training benefits include:

  • Fat Oxidation¬†— We use fat as a fuel source.
  • Tidal Volume — The amount of air we can take into our lungs.
  • Capillary Density¬†— Basically, how quickly we can put oxygen to use.
  • Metabolic Efficiency –– How well we use fat as a fuel source in future training sessions.

The downside is its easier to sustain than anaerobic training, so if we never throttle intensity levels we’ll plateau pretty quickly. Still, aerobic training is fitness foundation that should be maintained throughout our entire lives. At some point, we give up the hustle of anaerobic work and this becomes our foundation to longevity (along with strength training).

As you can see, both forms of conditioning are very effective in their own right. The majority of P360 conditioning works across the spectrum, going back and forth always careful not to overdose anything.

For a deeper dive into the conditioning weeds, I’d like you to read this.