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Try These Exercises to Improve Anaerobic Endurance

Reading Time: 5 minutes 28 seconds


Date: 2022-04-01

When most people think about working out, they probably picture an aerobic workout: 

  • A long, slow jog on the treadmill

  • 30 minutes on the bike

  • A session with light weights and a lot of reps

  • Group fitness classes at medium-to-low intensity

As a trainer, it’s important for you to teach clients the difference between these important aerobic workouts and equally important anaerobic workouts. 

For maximum fitness and health benefits, clients need to engage in both types. We’ll help you out by providing some information you can share with clients, the benefits of anaerobic exercise, and some workout ideas for improving anaerobic endurance. 

Anaerobic vs. Aerobic Exercise

First, make sure your clients understand what anaerobic means. The easy answer is that aerobic means “with oxygen” and anaerobic means “without oxygen.” But, your clients will need you to break it down a little more: 

Aerobic Exercise Uses Oxygen for Energy

When you’re engaging in aerobic activity, the body uses oxygen to supply energy. There is no need for energy from anywhere else. As you exercise this way, your heart rate goes up and you begin breathing more heavily to get oxygen to muscles for aerobic energy production. 

Lower-intensity, slower-paced endurance activities like running, cycling, and low-intensity strength training are aerobic. These workouts are beneficial in many ways. An important benefit is that aerobic exercise burns fat, so it can help change body composition and with weight loss. 

Anaerobic Activity Kicks in When Oxygen Isn’t Enough

When you push your body to a higher intensity it gets to the point that the aerobic system of using oxygen to generate energy just isn’t adequate. At this point, your muscles switch to the anaerobic system.

Anaerobic exercise uses glucose, not oxygen, to produce energy. Muscles store a small amount of glucose to provide short bursts of energy for intense activities. Glucose is metabolized in a process called glycolysis, which does not require oxygen. 

Glycolysis also results in the production of lactic acid. It’s the buildup of this chemical and hydrogen ions in muscles that creates fatigue and the burning sensation we’re all familiar with when working really hard. This is what limits the time you can engage in anaerobic exercise. But, with proper training, you can better tolerate lactic acid and improve anaerobic endurance.

This post on the ISSA blog breaks down how aerobic and anaerobic workouts change the body. 

The Benefits of Anaerobic Workouts

Anyone new to these kinds of exercises will find that they burn out quickly. They can only give a short burst of lifting a heavy weight or sprinting before the lactic acid buildup becomes too much and a break becomes necessary. 

One very important benefit of building more anaerobic workouts into your clients’ schedules is that it will increase this type of endurance. With practice, they will be able to better tolerate the lactic acid and endure longer. Here are some other reasons anaerobic exercises are important:

Exercises to Improve Anaerobic Endurance Also Build Strength

Endurance is important, but anaerobic exercises also develop muscle strength and power. In contrast to aerobic exercises, which lead to more slow twitch muscle fibers, anaerobic exercises build up fast twitch fibers. These are the fibers of power and strength. They also increase the size of muscles, leading to hypertrophy. 

Anaerobic Exercise is Important for Weight Loss and Maintenance

By helping the body build more lean muscle, anaerobic workouts boost metabolism. This, in turn, promotes weight loss or healthy weight maintenance. The high-intensity workouts needed to trigger the anaerobic system also increases calorie burn long after the session is done. 

Anaerobic Workouts Strengthen Bones

An important health benefit of these exercises is that they improve bone health. Anaerobic workouts increase bone density and strength, which reduces injury risk and lowers the risk of developing osteoporosis. 

Fight Fatigue with Anaerobic Workouts

These workouts are tough, but the payouts are important, including giving you more energy overall. By increasing anaerobic endurance, you improve the capacity for storing glycogen, the source of glucose your muscles need to work. 

10 Exercises to Improve Anaerobic Endurance

Any high-intensity, shorter workout that involves quick bursts of energy and activity will trigger the anaerobic system and build endurance. Make sure you ease beginning and intermediate clients into these workouts. Anaerobic exercise is intense and challenging. Start slower with clients as needed and also make sure they have a good level of aerobic fitness before beginning these workouts. 


Sprinting is not just for 100-meter runners. This is a fun way to work on anaerobic fitness and to change muscle composition. For a truly anaerobic running workout, you need to really sprint, running all out at your fastest pace. That means that a sprint workout will involve short distances. 

If you have access to a track, sprints of 50, 100, or 200 meters with walking or jogging recovery in between is a great anaerobic workout. Running some hill sprints outdoors is also a good way to change up this kind of workout. Start with shorter distances and fewer reps for your beginner clients and work up to tougher workouts. 

HIIT Workouts

A good sprint session is a type of high intensity interval training (HIIT). If your clients don’t like running or you want to introduce more variety, use any type of cardio activity in a HIIT format for an anaerobic workout. 

A good general pattern for these workouts is to complete the exercise at about 90 percent of maximum heart rate for 10 to 15 seconds, followed by 30 to 60 seconds of recovery. Cycling, running, and rowing are all good activities for HIIT workouts. 

Is there anyone who shouldn’t do HIIT workouts? Find out by reading this ISSA blog post.


Plyometric training is often used for power development, but it can also be a great anaerobic workout. Plyo moves done at high intensity and that get the heart rate up to 80 or 90 percent of the maximum, can also serve as a HIIT workout. 

For beginner clients, you can ease into plyometric workouts with jump roping. This is a great way to start conditioning the body and preparing the joints for the jumps and landings used in plyo, not to mention practicing coordination to avoid injuries. Here are some plyometric moves you can build into a tough anaerobic workout: 

  • Squat jumps. Start with just a few and allow beginner clients to rest a second or two in between jumps. For more advanced clients do more jumps with no hesitation between each one. 

  • Lunge jumps. Only slightly more difficult is jumping between lunges. Progress your clients from jumping squats to jumping lunges. 

  • Box jumps. For intermediate and advanced clients, bring in the box. You can start small and work up to higher boxes, jumping onto it, quickly off, and back up again. Add in one-leg jumps to progress. 

  • Low hurdles. Use low hurdles to do a series of jumps, progressing from pauses to no pauses between jumps. You can also use the low hurdles to do lateral jumps. 

Weight Lifting

All of your clients should be doing strength training regularly, but there are some important factors to consider in making lifting a more anaerobic activity. Essentially, you need your clients to lift heavier, more challenging weights to get into the anaerobic zones. So if you have those who like to do a lot of reps with little weights, push them to do fewer reps with bigger weights. 

You don’t have to spend a lot of time on this for it to be effective. A 30-minute session that hits all of the major muscle groups with challenging weights can be a great anaerobic workout that will improve endurance over time.

Varying your clients’ workouts is always a good idea, and focusing at least once a week on anaerobic exercises will bring them serious results. Because these workouts are so intense and challenging, it’s especially important to get clients warmed up first and to ease them into the exercises, progressing as they get fitter and more confident. 

Not yet a trainer but interested in becoming one? Check out the ISSA’s personal training course online. Learn more about exercise and health and how you can help others achieve their fitness goals. 

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