What is the difference between aerobic and strength training exercise?

Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart, vascular and respiratory systems. Strength training exercise increases the amount of muscle fibers used within a muscle to increase strength.
Andrea Metcalf

It is simple to think of this in terms of where each benefit. 

Aerobic training helps benefit the HEART. The heart is the most important muscle of the body and aerobic training helps lower cholesterol, improve stroke volume, lower blood pressure, lower resting heart rate, and burns calories.

Strength training benefits both the MUSCLES and the JOINTS. Strength training increases bone density, lean muscle mass ( resulting in higher metabolic rates throughout the day) and increases flexibility when done properly in balancing opposing muscle groups.

But both are needed to complete your fitness regimen. 

Aerobic exercise requires oxygen and involves activities at lower intensity, for longer periods of time such as walking on a treadmill for 20-30 minutes. Carbohydrates and fats provide the main fuel source needed to match the muscular requirements of aerobic exercise. This is a great choice for weight loss and cardiovascular performance enhancements.

Strength training is anaerobic exercise and does not require oxygen and involves moderate to high-intensity, moderate duration (30-50 seconds) activities such as a set of 8-12 repetitions with dumbbells. Carbohydrates provide the main fuel source needed to match the requirements of strength training activities. 

For even higher intensity levels, shorter duration (up to 10 seconds) bouts of strength training, ATP and CP (phosphagens) provide the energy for heavy load, low repetition exercises and even short sprinting events.

Strength training improves the stabilization of the body's core musculature, increases lean body mass and general performance and can also be used to develop muscle size and power.

The difference between aerobic exercise and strength exercise is that aerobic means "with oxygen." Strength training typically falls under anaerobic forms of exercise which means "without oxygen." "Without oxygen" does not mean you are not breathing, it just means the type of energy your body is using.

Some forms of aerobic exercise is: walking, jogging, running, swimming, rowing, etc.

Strength training examples are: weightlifting, resistance bands, pull-ups, resistance training using one's own body weight as in a squat or push-up.

Strength training and aerobic exercise are both an important part of a balanced fitness plan. Strength training works on the over load principle, where you are lifting a heavy weight and are putting stress on the muscles. A chest press or a leg press machine are examples of strength training exercises. Aerobic exercise focuses on increasing the heart rate, often you hear about getting into a "target heart rate zone". Activities such as running, biking, or stair climbing are examples of aerobic types of exercise.

Aerobic exercise stresses the cardiorespiratory (heart and lungs) system, whereas strength training places emphasis on the musculoskeletal (muscles, bones, joints) system. Each should be performed as part of a comprehensive fitness program.

Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
Aerobic exercises (bike, treadmill, elliptical, jogging, swimming) are exercises that if done for 20 minutes or more improve your heart health. Strength training exercises are exercises that utilize external resistance (machines, dumbbells, cables, tubing) or your body weight (push-ups, lunges) for 8-12 repetitions and improve your muscle and bone health.
Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine



  • Burns more calories per hour than weight training.
  • Builds little muscle.
  • Has minimal effects on metabolism in the hours after exercise.
  • Has greater effects on metabolism when workout is very hard.
  • Can be done every day
  • Needs to be done at least three times per week for sustained benefits.


  • Raises resting basal metabolic rate (BMR).
  • Raises the metabolism for several hours after the workout.
  • Should be limited to three or four times per week.
  • Produces benefits from as little as one hard workout per week.
Hunger Free Forever: The New Science of Appetite Control

More About this Book

Hunger Free Forever: The New Science of Appetite Control

From two leading authorities on appetite control, obesity, natural medicine, and food comes a breakthrough in getting healthy and staying slim without starving.Millions have spent years searching for...

Continue Learning about Types Of Exercise Programs

Squats for Toned Legs
Squats for Toned Legs
If you have time for only one lower-body exercise, squats should be it. They strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings, and butt, giving you a firm found...
Read More
How hard should I be working when I do my cardiorespiratory exercise?
National Academy of Sports MedicineNational Academy of Sports Medicine
The difficulty of your cardiorespiratory program really depends on what goal you are trying to achie...
More Answers
Do-Anywhere Workout Plan
Do-Anywhere Workout PlanDo-Anywhere Workout PlanDo-Anywhere Workout PlanDo-Anywhere Workout Plan
This 14-move, excuse-proof workout is perfect for you.
Start Slideshow
Learn the 60 Second Workout
Learn the 60 Second Workout

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.