The question of which type of exercise is better for health is the subject of much debate: aerobic or anaerobic. Aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling, or running, means you move your body, breathe faster, and increase blood flow. This is a level of activity that you can sustain for an extended period of time.

Can you pass the “talking test?”

If you can comfortably carry on a conversation during exercise, not talking like you’re not exercising at all, but being able to talk while slightly out of breath, you’re at an aerobic level.

Anaerobic exercise, such as sprinting or weight lifting, is a short, intense activity that makes you work at your maximum, and cannot be sustained for long.

What is best for losing weight?

Both aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise have benefits, and you should incorporate each into your routine. But if your primary concern is losing fat, anaerobic exercise is the best way to go.

The science behind aerobics and anaerobics

The difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise comes down to oxygen levels. In aerobic exercise, or “with oxygen”, your muscles have enough oxygen to produce the energy needed for performance.
Anaerobic exercise, or “without oxygen”, means that the demand for oxygen is greater than the supply of oxygen and you cannot supply the energy demanded by your body. This leads to lactate production and eventually cessation of exercise.

Why anaerobic exercise is better for fat loss

Aerobic exercise, or steady-state cardio, is performed at a steady, low to moderate pace. This type of exercise, which uses slow-twitch muscle fibers, is ideal for cardiovascular conditioning and improving muscular endurance. While this type of low-intensity cardio is generally thought to be optimal for fat loss, you have to think twice. Although it uses a higher percentage of fat for energy compared to muscle glycogen, the total amount of energy burned at this level is lower than during anaerobic exercise over a period of time.

This means that for most people, prolonged periods of aerobic exercise are necessary to achieve significant fat loss. This often results in a plateau. Anaerobic exercise in the form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), where you alternate high-intensity intervals with recovery intervals, has been shown to be beneficial for several reasons.

Win time

First, you can complete an intense workout in a fraction of the time. If time is a constraint for you, a HIIT session is a great option. You will exhaust your muscles and burn more calories than if you did cardio continuously in the same amount of time.

Burn more calories

Second, you will burn more calories during this time frame. Ultimately, the harder your workout, the more calories you burn. With HIIT, your caloric expenditure will be higher than if you just walked or cycled for the same amount of time.

Increase metabolism

Third, you will build muscle and increase your metabolism. HIIT requires your fast-twitch muscle fibers to engage in exercises like sprinting, plyometrics, and weightlifting, which increase muscle size and strength. This means that you will be activating the muscles to a higher degree, which will in turn speed up your metabolism because muscle burns more calories than fat.

The afterburn effect

Fourth, you will feel the afterburn effect. The scientific name for the afterburn effect is excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC is the amount of oxygen needed to bring the body back to its resting state. HIIT sessions stimulate higher EPOC because you consume more oxygen during these sessions, which creates a larger deficit to replace after training. This means that you will continue to burn calories even after your HIIT session is over.

The disadvantages of HIIT

Although HIIT as an anaerobic exercise is beneficial for fat loss, it has some drawbacks. The main downside is that it’s not for everyone. You need to be at a basic level of fitness before you can practice HIIT safely and effectively. If you are new to exercise, exercise may be too intense for your body, especially your heart.
If you are able to do HIIT, exercises like plyometrics, sprinting, and weightlifting increase your risk of injury because these explosive movements are fast and require a lot of strength.
Finally, HIIT can be painful during the session, due to the high intensity, or afterwards, due to the aches.

HIIT training

If you feel fit enough to try your hand at intense anaerobic exercise, try these sample HIIT workouts for maximum calorie burn.


Sprint hard for 30 seconds, then recover for 1 minute. Repeat the exercise for 15-20 minutes. Remember that it is always important to warm up properly before starting a HIIT workout.

Circuit training

Perform each exercise in the circuit for 30 seconds, with a 10 second break after each exercise if needed. Repeat this circuit continuously for 10 minutes:

jump squats
jump lunges
jumping jacks

To remember

While both aerobic and anaerobic exercises have their place in a well-rounded fitness program, anaerobic exercises like HIIT may be more effective for fat loss. If you’re integrating HIIT and strength training, remember that total weight loss isn’t an accurate indicator of your progress. With this type of exercise, your body will recompose, which usually means fat loss and increased muscle. To track your progress, measure fat loss instead, because muscle is denser and takes up less space for a given weight. Consult your physician before engaging in any high intensity exercise.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.