The Definition of Anaerobic Exercises From the ACSM


The American College of Sports Medicine is a group of more than 45,000 health and fitness professionals from around the world. The organization was started back in 1954. The ACSM’s most basic definition of anaerobic exercise is any type of exercise that activates the body’s nonoxidative system to fuel the movement. Anaerobic is actually defined as “no oxygen,” and that’s exactly how this energy system works. It sounds confusing, but it’s easier to understand by comparing it to the more recognizable type of exercise, aerobic.

Weight training is one type of anaerobic exercise.
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Your body uses two different energy systems when you exercise: aerobic and anaerobic. Anaerobic exercises are those that are highly intense and short in duration, while aerobic exercises are longer steady-state movements. Your anaerobic energy system kicks in during the first 30 to 180 seconds of an intense exercise, such as sprinting. This energy system requires no oxygen to produce andenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which is your muscle’s main source of energy when you exercise. The aerobic energy system, on the other hand, requires oxygen to produce ATP to fuel your muscles during exercise lasting longer than 180 seconds, such as jogging a mile.

Your anaerobic threshold is a way to measure your body’s ability to prolong the anaerobic energy system before you begin to feel fatigued. Running out of energy during a full sprint is an example of reaching your AT. Elite athletes have higher ATs compared to untrained people, but you can raise your AT by training anaerobically. If you’ve ever lifted weights, your AT is when you reach failure during a lift, meaning you can’t do another repetition. Through consistent weight training, you can train your body to increase its AT and thus enable you to do more reps.

Sprinting, weight lifting, plyometrics and cycle sprinting are all types of anaerobic exercises. These exercises help build strength, muscle size, aerobic capacity and explosiveness. Because of these benefits, athletes often use anaerobic exercise. Because of the high-intensity nature of anaerobic exercise, beginners should start off at a lower intensity to help prevent injuries.

The ACSM suggests adults engage in some form of resistance training two or three times per week. Each workout should consist of one to three sets of eight to 12 reps targeting each of the major muscle groups, including the chest, back, shoulders, legs, upper torso, arms and hips. The ACSM also suggests resting for 48 to 72 hours between resistance-training sessions.

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