Aerobic vs Anaerobic Training: Why You Need Both For Running

Key Takeaways

• Aerobic exercise requires oxygen to produce energy. Examples include jogging, swimming, biking, hill climbing, rope jumping, or cycling. These can help runners improve cardiovascular endurance and overall fitness. 

• Anaerobic exercise does not rely on oxygen for energy production. These exercises use the body’s stored energy levels. Examples include sprinting, weightlifting, plyometrics, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). 

• Anaerobic exercises improve muscle strength and power. A well-rounded training program for runners should include both types of exercises to maximize their performance and overall health.

Becoming a professional runner is daunting and challenging because it requires a lot of effort. A 2020 study by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) highlights various factors affecting a runner’s ability, including innate talent and genetics, rigorous and intense training requirements, optimal nutrition, competition, and recovery practices. 

That’s why fewer people possess the essential skills, dedication, and determination to achieve success. The good news is that you can incorporate aerobic and anaerobic training into your regimen to achieve your goals. These exercises can: 

• Improve muscle strength 

• Increase endurance 

• Enhance flexibility 

• Increase range of motion 

• Reduce the risk of injury 

Aerobic and anaerobic exercises target specific muscles and maximize their potential to improve your running. Today’s article will discuss aerobic vs. anaerobic training for runners based on evidence and determine why they are essential for improving your overall running performance. 

What Is Aerobic Training?

Aerobic training targets your cardiovascular system and improves your body’s ability to deliver oxygenated blood to the muscles. A 2017 study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) highlights that aerobic training elevates the heart rate and maintains a steady exertion level over an extended period. Common examples of aerobic activities for runners are: 

• Running 

• Cycling 

• Biking 

• Swimming 

• Rowing 

• Hill climbing 

• Rope jumping 

Aerobic training can streamline your heart health and improve cardiovascular functions, enhancing endurance, boosting metabolism, increasing energy levels, and optimizing overall fitness. 

What Is Anaerobic Training?

Anaerobic training (without oxygen) focuses on short bursts of high-intensity activity, allowing runners to elevate energy levels and improve running performance. For instance, anaerobic exercises like jumping, sprinting, weightlifting, and plyometrics rely on your body’s stored energy, such as glycogen to fuel intense bursts of activity. 

Unlike aerobic exercises that use oxygen to trigger intracellular mechanisms and produce energy, anaerobic training utilizes the already stored energy in your body. The primary objective of incorporating anaerobic training in your regimen is to improve muscular strength, speed, and power. 

At the same time, it improves your body’s ability to recover from high-intensity exercise. Remember, anaerobic workouts are intense and take a massive toll on your body. Therefore, you must perform them cautiously to prevent the risk of injuries. The following table differentiates between aerobic and anaerobic training. 

                                                                                  Source: National Library of Medicine

Benefits of Aerobic Training For Runners

Running is a competitive sport or high form of exercise that requires you to maintain high cardiovascular fitness levels and increase endurance. Incorporating aerobic training into your running regimen is an excellent way to enhance your performance. 

Thus, you can become a professional runner and run long-distance marathons with increased stamina. Here are a few benefits of aerobic training for runners based on evidence.

Capillary Development

Capillaries are tiny blood vessels in your body that supply oxygenated and nutrient-rich blood to muscles and tissues. At the same time, these blood vessels deliver waste products and toxins to the concerned mechanisms, such as the lymphatic system, to remove them from the body. 

Research shows that aerobic exercises increase the number of capillaries surrounding the muscle fiber, ensuring faster, more efficient, and reliable transport of oxygen and carbohydrates into tissues. Another study published by NIH shows that aerobic exercises improve capillary density in skeletal muscles, increasing a runner’s performance. 

So, capillary development in your muscle will improve your cells and tissues’ ability to produce and maintain high energy levels. As a runner, you can maintain higher endurance levels through aerobic training, allowing you to run long distances efficiently, reliably, and quickly.  

Strengthens Muscles Fibers

A 2015 research study published on NCBI shows that aerobic exercises can strengthen muscle fibers by increasing myoglobin levels in muscles. Myoglobin is a protein that binds oxygen and ensures its entry into the muscle fiber. 

For example, when you experience limited oxygen due to exercise, myoglobin releases the stored oxygen, allowing the intracellular structures like mitochondria to use it for energy production. 

Another study shows that regular aerobic exercise or training can increase myoglobin content in muscles, tissues, and cells. For instance, six weeks of aerobic activity can improve myoglobin levels in muscle cells, increasing runners’ performance. 

According to PubMed Central, women who undergo 12 weeks of aerobic training can achieve higher myoglobin content in skeletal muscles and tissues. So, if you want to strengthen your muscle fibers, incorporate aerobic exercises like swimming, biking, and hill-climbing in your daily or weekly regimen. 

Increased Energy Levels

Mitochondria are the powerhouse of your cells because they produce energy. However, this organelle requires oxygen to react and break down fat, carbohydrate, and protein. 

A 2016 study published by NLM shows that aerobic exercises increase the strength and size of each mitochondrion in the cell, particularly in muscle fibers, leading to higher energy production. 

Besides, increased energy levels are essential for runners to perform optimally. For example, you can run more efficiently and faster for extended periods with increased energy levels. 

Benefits of Anaerobic Training For Runners

Like aerobic training, anaerobic exercises offer numerous benefits to runners, such as speed, power, strength, and endurance. Anaerobic exercises or training involves short, high-intensity intervals focusing on your body’s energy mechanisms and utilizing the stored ATP to improve performance. Let us discuss the benefits of anaerobic training for runners.

Increases Glycogen Stores

A 2018 study shows that anaerobic training boosts muscle glycogen stores via “glycogen super-compensation.” For example, when you perform a high-intensity exercise, your body uses glycogen to produce energy. 

Your body replenishes glycogen levels after the workout. The purpose is to prepare your body for future exercise. Experts recommend a carefully timed combination of training and carbohydrate intake to improve “glycogen super-compensation.” 

So this allows your tissues and cells to restore optimal glycogen levels. Maintaining balanced or increased glycogen content in cells or tissues can benefit you in several ways. For instance, it improves your endurance by delaying the onset of fatigue, especially if you run long distances. 

Likewise, it increases your speed and power during shorter, high-intensity runs. Performing anaerobic exercises in your training regimen is an excellent way to recover efficiently and quickly after a workout because they provide your body with the energy it needs to rebuild muscle tissue.

Tolerates Lactic Acid Buildup

Anaerobic exercises, such as plyometrics and weightlifting, can help your tissues and muscle become more resilient to lactic acid accumulation. These workouts improve your liver’s functions, such as gluconeogenesis, to convert lactic acid into energy. 

Anaerobic exercises can clear lactic acid from your muscles and tissues, depending on your body’s needs. According to NCBI, the body demands increased energy levels and more oxygen than is available during training, leading to elevated lactic acid levels. 

Researchers argued that the accumulated lactic acid is directly proportional to causing muscle discomfort, fatigue, and swelling. Thus, it will limit your ability to maintain optimal performance. 

However, you can perform anaerobic exercises to improve your lactate threshold, clearing lactic acid more efficiently. Not only does this improve your endurance, but it also helps you maintain a faster pace for an extended period. 

Boosts Running Economy

Anaerobic training can improve your running economy, ensuring your body maintains optimal oxygen levels to streamline your pace. A 2015 study published by NLM shows that an improved running economy allows a runner’s body to use oxygen more efficiently and optimize intracellular and intercellular processes to achieve a faster pace without frequent fatigue. 

In addition, anaerobic training improves your running economy in numerous ways. For instance, it increases your muscles’ strength, allowing you to generate more force with each stride. Thus, you can cover more ground with less effort and reduce the energy levels required for maintaining a specific pace. 

A systematic review concluded that anaerobic training can enhance a runner’s neuromuscular coordination, allowing muscles to work more efficiently, reducing wasted movement and energy, and increasing overall performance. It also improves your stride mechanics, ensuring you run more efficiently. 

Reduces Injuries

Anaerobic running can reduce the risk of injuries for runners by strengthening their muscles and efficiency. It also increases bone density, decreasing the risk of swelling, sprains, strains, tension, and inflammation. 

A 2022 study highlights that resistance training and high-intensity intervals can help runners improve muscle strength and makes the musculoskeletal system more resilient to injury. Thus, your muscle will require less energy due to decreased fatigued-related injuries. 

Another research article published on PubMed Central shows that high-intensity anaerobic exercises can increase bone density by reducing stress-related fractures. So, you can incorporate anaerobic exercises in your weekly or daily regimen to avoid putting stress on your bones with each stride during running. 

Controlled progression is another benefit of performing anaerobic exercises, allowing you to increase intensity and volume while reducing the risk of overtraining, inflammation, swelling, fractures, and other injuries. 

Enhances Resilience

Resilience is a critical factor for runners to handle or recover from physical and mental stress. It helps you withstand and adapt to challenges, setbacks, and injuries associated with running. 

Anaerobic exercises are an excellent way to push yourself to new limits and recover from injuries. It also promotes a positive mindset throughout the training and ensures optimal performance. 

In addition, anaerobic training can boost cardiovascular endurance, streamline lactate threshold, and improve mental toughness. Thus, this enables you to build better physical and psychological resilience without experiencing discomfort. 

Best Anaerobic Exercise for Runners (Besides Running Workouts)

There are numerous anaerobic exercises for runners. These include hill repeats, sprints, agility drills, such as cone or ladder drills, medicine ball exercises, battle ropes, stair running or bounding, resistance band training, weightlifting, such as deadlifts or squats, and plyometrics. 

Each of these anaerobic exercises has its pros and cons. You can choose any of them based on your preferences and particular muscle groups you want to strengthen or improve. In this section, we will discuss plyometrics and weightlifting, which are holistic and all-inclusive anaerobic exercises for runners. 


Plyometrics is a type of anaerobic training that focuses on your movements. It improves your strength and speed due to its quick movements that engage muscles to generate force and increase elasticity. Here are the steps to perform plyometrics. 

Step 1: Start the exercise by warming up for five to ten minutes. The purpose is to prepare your muscles for an intense workout. We recommend doing a light jog. You can also perform some dynamic stretching. 

Step 2: The next step is to select appropriate plyometric exercises that target muscles in your lower body. These include single-leg hops, squat jumps, or box jumps. 

Step 3: You must perform these exercises correctly. For instance, land on the ball of your feet and bend your knees to absorb the impact. 

Step 4: You can do three or five sets with 8-12 reps based on your stamina for each exercise. Maintain a rest period of 60 seconds between each set to avoid fatigue. 

Step 5: Finish the exercise with a 10-minute cool-down jog or static stretching to normalize your heart rate, optimize breathing, and restore energy levels. 


Weightlifting is a highly effective anaerobic exercise or strength training for runners to build muscle strength and endurance. Not only does weightlifting improve your speed and endurance, but it also streamlines your overall performance. Here is how you can do this! 

Step 1: Warm up for 5-10 minutes to ensure your muscles are ready for weightlifting. 

Step 2: Choose appropriate workouts that focus on your lower body muscles. We suggest calf raises, deadlifts, lunges, or squats. 

Note: You can also perform upper body exercises, such as shoulder presses, bench presses, or rows. That way, you can strengthen your entire body! 

Step 3: Use a comfortable weight when performing each exercise. Once you have become more comfortable with the exercise, you can increase the number of weights or dumbbells. 

Step 4: We recommend doing 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps based on your stamina and endurance. Rest for at least 60 seconds between each set to restore energy levels. 

Step 5: Perform cool-down workouts, such as a slow jog/run or stretching to lower your heart rate. 

A Final Recap

Incorporating aerobic and anaerobic training into your workout routine can help you improve your running performance. We have discussed the evidence-based benefits of both training types for runners. Hopefully by no you understand the benefits of each and why you need both training types in order to become a better runner. 

Scroll to Top