Definition of Anaerobic Capacity


Anaerobic capacity is your body's capacity to run its systems without using oxygen. It contrasts with aerobic capacity, which requires oxygen as fuel. It is therefore important for high-intensity, low-duration activities such as lifting weights or sprinting. Sprint tests are an effective way to measure your anaerobic threshold.

Release of ATP

  • Adenosine triphosphat is a fuel that comes from the food we eat. When you exert yourself at high intensities for short periods of time, you're not giving your body time to get oxygen to the muscles in question. So, it uses ATP. The better your anaerobic capacity, the better your body's ability to release ATP and perform high-intensity actions.

PC as a Fallback

  • Phosphate creatine is the chemical your body falls back on once it is out of ATP, which is normally after just a few seconds. It can combine with other phosphates in your muscles and make more ATP, but it also only lasts a few seconds. Once PC is gone, the anaerobic activity has to stop because your body no longer has the energy it needs; you either need to slow down or have an efficient enough body to have started shuttling oxygen to your muscles.


  • The key feature of anaerobic capacity is how quickly your ATP-PC molecules recover. The more you exhausted and the lower your anaerobic capacity, the longer it will take to recover. So, someone with high anaerobic capacity can perform multiple, intense activities in a row with short periods of time in between them, while someone with low anaerobic capacity cannot.


  • A high anaerobic capacity also helps you perform long-term, endurance activities. This is because higher anaerobic capacity increases your ability to function at an anaerobic level for a longer period of time. A runner with high anaerobic capacity can run faster for longer periods than a runner with high aerobic capacity because his body is more efficient at powering his muscles at higher levels of intensity.


  • Photo Credit Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images
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