couple drinking water during exercise

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

Categories: Back Pain / Exercises

As casual and committed athletes alike are aware, different exercises yield different benefits for the body. Basketball players who are looking to improve their speed and shooting ability may not have a workout routine similar to swimmers looking to build arm strength, endurance and leg muscles. Aside from the muscle groups that specific exercises enhance, exercises can also be separated into two distinct groups– aerobic and anaerobic. At Central Orthopedics, we believe that understanding the difference between these two exercise groups is imperative to achieving the results you desire, and avoiding the need for sports medicine.


What’s the difference?

In short, aerobic exercises are performed for longer periods of time at a lower intensity, while anaerobic exercises are performed for shorter periods of time at a higher intensity. But there’s much more to it than that.


Couple Running Outside

Aerobic Exercises

The goal of aerobic exercises is to increase the heart rate for an extended period of time. Some people accomplish this by walking long distances or running moderate distances. Others do so by swimming– but it’s important to be proactive in preventing injuries.

The benefits of aerobic exercising are plentiful. Not only will you increase your stamina, but you will also strengthen your heart and lungs. While exercising, you will be burning calories at a higher rate than normal. Aerobic exercises should not cause shortness of breath. From a sports medicine perspective, aerobic exercises that are done correctly can be quite safe.


couple lifting weights

Anaerobic Exercises

Also called resistance and strength training, anaerobic exercises are more strenuous, requiring you to push the boundaries of your abilities. Rather than the mile-long jog that one would do as an aerobic exercise, an anaerobic exercise would be sprinting 100m. Lifting weights is another common example of anaerobic exercising, in that weightlifters constantly attempt to increase their lifting capacity. Where aerobic exercises might leave you slightly winded, the goal of anaerobic exercises is to leave you completely out of breath.

In addition to increasing your heart rate, anaerobic exercises should also increase your breathing rate. This intense physical activity causes you to burn many calories in a short period of time. When done correctly, anaerobic exercises will cause your body to continue to burn calories, sometimes for even two hours after finishing the exercise. This is because your body continues to exert energy as it recovers from this activity.


Which is Better? Aerobic or Anaerobic Exercises

There is no simple or forward answer to this question.

Anyone seeking to be in his or her optimal physical condition must do both types of exercises. However, based on particular needs or goals of your own, you may want to prioritize one over the other.

Our team of doctors and sports medicine specialists will help you understand the needs that your body has, and implement a safe, effective workout routine.


Orthopedic Injuries to Watch Out For

Because of the categorical difference between these two classifications of exercises, they often lead to different injury types.

3 Common Aerobic Exercise Injuries

  1. Knee- If you’ve been exercising for a while, chances are you’ve at least heard of runner’s knee. As is common with aerobic exercise injuries, runner’s knee is caused by overuse (rather than overexertion). As you run, the cartilage on your kneecap gradually wears down, inducing pain during stressful motions. Thanks to impressive sports medicine advancements, cartilage regeneration technology technology may be on its way.
  2. Shin Splint– Shin splints often result from drastic changes in your workout routine, namely the frequency or distance of your running. This pain is usually located along the lower bone of the leg in your non-dominant foot.
  3. Stress Fracture– This small crack in the bone is most common after increasing workout intensity without the proper adjustment. It can also be caused by starting a new activity altogether.

4 Common Anaerobic Exercise Injuries

  1. Lower Back Pain- Because weightlifting is one of the most common anaerobic exercises, lower back pain is one of the most common resulting injuries. If you do lift weights, then be sure that you are following safe lifting procedures.
  2. Shoulder Impingement- Another common anaerobic exercise injury, shoulder impingement syndrome results from lifting techniques that stress several parts of the body. These include bench presses, shoulder presses and more. Pain usually occurs in the front of the shoulder and side of the upper arm.
  3. Rotator Cuff Tear- A rotator cuff tear is caused by the same exercises that cause shoulder impingement. However, the magnitude of this injury is much worse. In some cases, surgery may be necessary.
  4. Herniated Disk- This injury occurs most often when weightlifters use their back to lift, rather than their legs. Dead lifts, or lifts that start with the weight on the floor, are the most likely to cause a herniated disk.


At Central Orthopedics, we encourage physical activity as an outlet for both fun and health. However, it’s important to be mindful of how your workout routine or recreational activities is affecting your body. If you begin to feel sore or abnormal in a particular area of your body, contact us to schedule an appointment. Based on your individual body, we can find a sports medicine solution for your condition. Our qualified staff of doctors and physical therapists will do our best to help treat your injury, and prevent it in the future.