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Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise: What’s the Best Balance?

You need both for overall fitness. Here’s how to combine them, along with a workout for each type.

by goldsgym

To reach peak fitness performance, you need both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. But what’s the right balance?

First, though, a quick review:

  • Aerobic exercise involves continuous activity that builds endurance, such as cycling, walking and long-distance running.
  • Anaerobic exercise consists of short bursts of intense activity, with a period of rest in between. Think weight training, high-intensity interval training or sprinting.

“If you’re only training one way, you’re going to hit the ceiling of your overall capacity a lot faster,” says Carlisle Price, a Gold’s Gym fitness expert.

This is because the steady effort of aerobic exercises helps you gain endurance, and the maximum effort of anaerobic exercises helps you gain strength.

“In general, a 2-to-1 ratio of these types of workouts is ideal,” he says. “Do aerobic exercise for two days, and then do one day of anaerobic exercise. If you’re switching between them every day, you could be overtraining.” It’s important to allow your body to get enough rest.

A Gold’s Gym personal trainer can help you find your starting point and advise you on a routine suitable to your specific needs.

Aerobic exercise

In an aerobic workout, you should be able to maintain a steady output and talk while doing the moves. Your body uses oxygen as fuel, and when it gets used to doing that, you can perform for a longer period of time.

“You’re essentially able to recover while you’re working,” Price says. “That cardio training allows you to get a lot of work done in a given amount of time.”

Aerobic workout circuit

Try this aerobic routine, with no rest in between these four moves:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups

Cycle through the circuit for 15 minutes. “That constant, steady work has the same aerobic effect as running on a treadmill — possibly more, since you’re pushing against your body weight,” Price says.

Squats. Stand with your legs hip-width apart and toes straight ahead or slightly turned out, based on comfort. Lift your chest and straighten your back as you lower your hips, keeping your knees in line with your feet, as if you’re sitting in a chair. Once you’ve gone as low as you comfortably can (ideally to the point where your hips are level with your knees), return to standing. The goal: 10 reps

Lunges. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides. Step forward several feet with your right foot and bend down until your right leg forms a 90-degree angle and your left knee almost touches the floor and come up. Repeat on the opposite side. The goal: 10 reps

Push-ups. Start in plank position, with your arms fully extended and your body in a straight line from head to heels. Keep your hands directly under your shoulders, and maintain enough space between your feet so that you can comfortably balance your body weight. Lower your entire body evenly until your chest touches the floor (or as low as it can go). Then press into the floor to return to the starting position. The goal: 10 reps

Pull-ups. Depending on your strength, you can loop a band around the pull-up bar for assistance or use an assisted pull-up machine. Begin by hanging freely from a bar (or if using assistance, with a foot in a band, or your knee or foot on the machine’s padded support). With your arms fully extended, raise your body up until your chin is above the bar. Once there, lower your body down with control until your elbows are nearly locked. The goal: 10 reps

Remember that you want a sustainable pace. Common mistakes are pushing too fast and too hard.

Anaerobic exercise

Because anaerobic moves are done with very short bursts of high-energy output, these movements demand more oxygen from the body than it can supply and so they draw on energy stored in muscle. (Aerobic exercise draws energy from the burning of carbs and fats, combined with oxygen.) Since you’re working so hard, you can’t talk. Then, during the rest period, you’re breathing so hard, you still can’t talk.

“The harder you work in an amount of time, the longer your body takes to make up for the oxygen you didn’t take in during the workout,” Price says. “During that recovery, you burn more calories.”

Anaerobic workouts

Give this anaerobic routine a try. There are three moves to choose from:

  • Burpees
  • Rowing
  • Kettlebell Swings

You can get a full workout by doing eight rounds of just one of the moves. But to engage more muscles and get more variety, try doing two of the three moves in one workout.

Burpees. Start in a squat position with your hands on the floor in front of you. Kick your feet back to a pushup position and chest to floor. Immediately bring feet back to the squat position. Jump up on toes with arms overhead. That’s one rep. The goal: For the single-move workout, do as many reps as you can for 30 seconds, and then rest for 90 seconds. Try to complete six to eight rounds. If doing two of the three moves: Do as many reps as you can for one minute, and then rest for three minutes. Do three to four rounds.

Rowing. Drive hard with your legs first, then swing back so you’re upper body is in a vertical position, then finish by pulling your arms; to complete the sequence going forward, let your arms straighten before your hips begin to move forward, then let your knees bend to slide the seat forward. The goal: For the single-move workout, do as many reps as you can for 30 seconds, and then rest for 90 seconds. Try to complete six to eight rounds. If doing two of the three moves: Do as many strokes as you can on the machine for one minute and then rest for three minutes. Do three to four rounds.

Kettlebell swings. Use the heaviest weight possible. Start with your feet on either side of the kettlebell. Bend down and pick up the kettlebell by the handle, then drop your hips down and back with a slight bend through the knee. Swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height, driving the hips through as you swing the kettlebell up and driving it down to gain momentum. Make sure you keep your core tight and your glutes squeezed, and try not to over extend the back. The goal: For the single-move workout, do as many reps as you can for 30 seconds, and then rest for 90 seconds. Try to complete six to eight rounds. If doing two of the three moves: Do as many swings as you can in one minute and then rest for three minutes.  Do three to four rounds.

“These are classic anaerobic exercise examples we do in GOLD’S FIT®,” Price says. “A common anaerobic work-to-rest ratio is 1-to-3, which is why you’ll see a lot of weightlifters taking long breaks between moves.”

Be sure your moves are done properly. A common mistake is poor movement, which prevents you from achieving maximum output and can lead to injury.

How the workouts work together

The endurance and strength benefits of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, respectively, create a perfect training circle, Price says.

“Because you work at such a high capacity in anaerobic training, when you go back to aerobic, it feels more relaxed,” he says. “That’s when you can push yourself to work a little harder for a little longer during those workouts.

“Because you’re building that endurance, when you go to anaerobic again and push yourself to the max, you will be able to recover more quickly during the rest periods.”

Find more fitness tips and workouts from our experts:

Resistance Bands for Beginners

Three Ways to Avoid Workout Burnout

Breaking Down EMOM vs. AMRAP Workouts

What to Expect in Your Next Group Exercise Classes



What started out in 1965 as a small gym in Venice Beach, California has since become the most well-known and traditional fitness company in the world – Gold’s Gym. Over the last 55 years, Gold’s Gym has developed into a global brand with over 600 locations spanning 6 continents. Bodybuilding greats such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno and Franco Columbu worked out at the original Gold’s Gym, which went on to become the most legendary gym in the world. In the fitness industry, the brand enjoys cult status and universal appeal with 96% aided brand awareness. In 2020, the RSG Group acquired Gold’s Gym and integrated the brand into its portfolio, making it the global leader in the fitness sector.

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