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What Is Anaerobic Exercise?

written by: Stephanie Mojica • edited by: DaniellaNicole • updated: 1/27/2010

Strength training, the answer to the question of what is anaerobic exercise, is a vital part of any fitness program. For optimal health of body, mind and spirit, aerobic and anaerobic routines should both be part of your exercise lifestyle.

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    Basic Definition

    What is anaerobic exercise? Simply put, anaerobic means "without oxygen." Short bursts of vigorous activity, such as running, jumping, or sprinting are not considered aerobic exercise. Weight lifting, stretching, and other forms of strength training are usually anaerobic even when prolonged.

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    How it Works

    Anaerobic exercise quickly works the muscles and builds strength and endurance. This is important especially when engaging in plenty of daily activities and other exercise, as strength training can help prevent injuries as well as fatigue and pain from potentially exhausting efforts such as lugging around a lot of books.

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    When starting any type of activity, easy does it is the best motto. If you have serious health concerns, always check with your doctor before changing your exercise regimen.

    Those looking for weight management are best served by doing some type of stretching (which by the way does build that all-important strength!) every day. Gradually stretch each muscle until you feel tension--but not pain--and hold that position for 20 to 30 seconds if you can. Six to 12 repetitions, especially in the beginning, is a good rule of thumb according to "The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Weight Management." You can do stretching and other anaerobic exercises every day; just be sure not to work the same muscles every day! For example, try arm strength training and stretching one day and work on your legs and thighs the next. This helps prevent injury. There is a such thing as too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to anaerobic activity.

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    Some soreness the next day, especially when first starting out, is to be expected. This is because lactic acid, rather than oxygen, is primarily used for energy during the movements. If you're in serious pain, don't exercise any further until talking to a medical professional. Otherwise, be sure to forge ahead--working another muscle group to avoid overusing your muscles' store of lactic acid.

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    Going Further

    Keep in mind that most aerobic warm-ups, such as running in place, are usually anaerobic. So getting plenty of cardio exercise is a great way to also get extra anaerobic boosts, though these should not comprise your entire program.

    The best benefits are usually found in those who do weight lifting--whether using dumbbells or machines--at least four days a week. But form is crucial here, not just to prevent injury. Doing anaerobic workouts the wrong way won't help you and can seriously hurt you. If you're serious about strength training, consider joining a gym and/or hiring the services of a personal trainer. Even one or two sessions can teach you the right form and get you well on your way to more endurance in all areas of your life!

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    "Anaerobic exercise."

    "Anaerobic exercise: energy without oxygen."

    "The Cogntive Behavioral Workbook for Weight Management;" Michele Lauberte, Ph.D., Randi E. McCabe, Ph.D.,Valerie Taylor, M.D., Ph.D.; New Harbinger Publications, 2009.