Anaerobic Capacity: A Key Fitness Component

Embarking on a fitness journey involves understanding and implementing various components of exercise, one of which is anaerobic capacity. This critical aspect of fitness is often overlooked in common exercise routines, but it plays a significant role in your overall athletic performance and health. 

Let’s take a look at the intricate concept of anaerobic capacity, distinguishing it from its aerobic counterpart, discussing its importance in different sports, and offering tips on how to improve it. 

What Is Anaerobic Capacity?

Anaerobic capacity refers to the total energy produced by the anaerobic energy systems during a single bout of high-intensity exercise. The term "anaerobic" means "without oxygen," indicating that these energy systems produce energy without needing to use oxygen. 

They break down stored carbohydrates, or glycogen, in your muscles. This process happens in short, powerful bursts, making anaerobic capacity particularly important for high-intensity, explosive movements.

Anaerobic capacity plays a significant role in your overall fitness. It affects how well and how long you can sustain high-intensity activities. Whether you're sprinting towards the finish line, pushing through a tough resistance training session, or playing an intense football game, your anaerobic capacity comes into play.

Anaerobic vs. Aerobic Exercise

While both anaerobic and aerobic exercises are pillars of fitness, they cater to different bodily functions and energy systems. As we have discussed, anaerobic exercises involve short, high-intensity activities where the body's oxygen demand exceeds the available oxygen supply. Examples include weightlifting, sprinting, and other explosive movements.

On the other hand, aerobic exercises are activities you can sustain for longer periods, as they rely on oxygen to generate energy. These exercises are typically lower in intensity but longer in duration, such as jogging, swimming, or cycling. Aerobic exercises primarily enhance your cardiovascular endurance, improving the efficiency of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

Understanding the distinction between these two types of exercise is crucial because they train different aspects of your physical fitness and rely on different energy systems. While aerobic exercises improve your stamina and cardiovascular health, anaerobic exercises are key to improving your strength, power, and muscle mass. Thus, a well-rounded fitness routine incorporates both.

What Is the Importance of Anaerobic Capacity in Various Sports?

Anaerobic capacity is vital in numerous sports and physical activities, especially those requiring short, powerful bursts of effort.

  • Track and Field Sports: Athletes participating in short-distance track events such as the 100-meter sprint rely heavily on their anaerobic capacity. The quick, explosive power needed for these short races is supplied primarily by the anaerobic energy systems.
  • Team Sports: Sports like football, basketball, and hockey involve periods of intense effort followed by recovery, which is a prime example of anaerobic exertion. Whether it's making a quick break towards the goal, jumping for a rebound, or a fast sprint to control the puck, these sports demand a high anaerobic capacity.
  • Gym Workouts: High-intensity interval training (HIIT), CrossFit, and weightlifting all require a robust anaerobic capacity. These exercises involve short, intense bursts of activity that push your anaerobic energy systems to their limits.
  • Martial Arts and Boxing: The intense, explosive movements in martial arts and boxing, such as powerful kicks, punches, or takedowns, rely on anaerobic energy. Maintaining this high-intensity effort throughout a round or match necessitates a high anaerobic capacity.

How Is Anaerobic Capacity Measured?

To track your progress and tailor your workouts effectively, it's important to have a means of measuring your anaerobic capacity. 

Several tests can help estimate your anaerobic capacity:

  • Wingate Test: This test involves a cycle ergometer and requires you to cycle as fast as possible against a specific resistance for 30 seconds. The power output is measured, providing an estimate of your anaerobic capacity.
  • RAST (Running-based Anaerobic Sprint Test): Similar to the Wingate test but performed as a running sprint, the RAST involves six 35-meter sprints with 10-second recovery periods.
  • Margaria-Kalamen Stair Climb Test: This test measures the power output of your lower body over a short duration. You sprint up a set of stairs as fast as possible, and the time taken is used to estimate your anaerobic power.

Note: These tests should be administered under professional supervision to ensure accuracy and safety.

Training to Improve Anaerobic Capacity

Increasing your anaerobic capacity requires targeted training that involves high-intensity exercises. These workouts push your body to work without sufficient oxygen, leading to the anaerobic breakdown of glucose for energy. 

Here are the key components of an effective anaerobic training program, which, when done correctly, can significantly improve your anaerobic capacity.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT):

HIIT workouts involve alternating short, intense bursts of activity with slower recovery phases. This on-and-off approach pushes your body into an anaerobic state during intense intervals, helping to improve your anaerobic fitness over time. 

A typical HIIT session might include sprinting for 30 seconds, followed by a 90-second recovery walk or jog, repeated for 15 to 20 minutes. The intense intervals should be performed at around 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate to ensure you're working in the anaerobic zone.

Weightlifting and Strength Training:

Another effective way to improve anaerobic capacity is through weightlifting and strength training. Heavy lifting sessions are typically anaerobic because they involve short bursts of intense effort. 

For example, doing a set of heavy squats or deadlifts might only last for 20 to 30 seconds, but it's an intense effort that requires your muscles to work without enough oxygen, pushing them into anaerobic metabolism.

Sport-Specific Drills

For athletes, incorporating sport-specific drills that mimic the high-intensity actions of your sport can improve anaerobic fitness. For instance, a football player might perform short, intense drills like shuttle runs or sled pushes, while a swimmer might do sprint intervals in the pool.


Plyometrics, or jump training, is another high-intensity exercise that can enhance anaerobic capacity. Exercises such as box jumps, burpees, and jump squats are all examples of plyometric exercises. These activities require maximum effort for short intervals, making them perfect for boosting anaerobic fitness.

The Role of Recovery in Enhancing Anaerobic Capacity 

While high-intensity workouts drive your anaerobic capacity's growth, recovery is the fuel that keeps it running smoothly. Your body repairs muscle damage, replenishes energy stores, and reinforces strength during recovery, making them essential for your fitness journey.

Here are some crucial strategies to optimize your recovery process:

Active Recovery:

Engaging in light activities during your recovery days, such as walking or easy cycling, can promote blood flow to your muscles, accelerate the removal of waste products, and supply essential nutrients for repair. Wearing our Light Speed Compression Tights during these activities can make a world of difference. 

These tights are specifically developed with a detailed understanding of the impact running has on the legs. They help reduce muscle movement and soothe discomfort and fatigue.


Don't underestimate the power of a good night's sleep. During these vital hours of rest, the production of growth hormone, necessary for muscle repair and growth, peaks. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night to aid your recovery process.

Nutrition and Hydration:

Proper nutrition goes hand in hand with effective recovery. A post-workout meal or snack rich in carbohydrates and protein aids in replenishing glycogen stores and assists in muscle repair. Hydration is also a key player, so ensure you drink enough fluids.

Stretching and Mobility Work:

Regular stretching and mobility exercises can reduce muscle tension, improve range of motion, and contribute to better recovery. During these sessions, consider wearing our Force Compression Tights. They support the major muscle groups, making your stretches effective and comfortable, ensuring you're ready for your next high-intensity workout.

Consider recovery as a part of your workout, not the absence of it. By giving due attention to recovery, you'll pave the way for improved anaerobic performance and long-term fitness success.

Nutrition for Anaerobic Exercise

When engaging in anaerobic exercise, your body primarily uses carbohydrates, stored in your muscles as glycogen, for energy. It's essential to fuel your body appropriately before, during, and after exercise to support this process, replenish lost nutrients, and aid in recovery.

Pre-Workout Nutrition

Before an anaerobic session, aim to consume a meal or snack rich in carbohydrates. This increases the glycogen stores in your muscles, ensuring you have enough energy for the intense workout ahead. 

For example, eat a banana or a slice of whole-grain bread with honey 30 to 60 minutes before your workout. It's best to avoid large quantities of fat and protein, as these digest more slowly and can lead to discomfort during your workout.

Intra-Workout Nutrition

For workouts lasting longer than an hour, consuming carbohydrates during the workout can help maintain your energy levels. However, for shorter, high-intensity workouts such as a typical HIIT or weight lifting session, intra-workout nutrition is generally not necessary.

Post-Workout Nutrition

After your workout, it's crucial to replenish your glycogen stores and provide your muscles with the nutrients they need to recover and grow. Consuming a meal or snack with both carbohydrates and protein can achieve this. 

Protein supports muscle repair and growth, while carbohydrates replace lost glycogen. A smoothie with fruit and protein powder or a meal with lean protein, vegetables, and a starchy carbohydrate like rice or potatoes, would be an excellent choice.


Hydration is equally important when it comes to anaerobic exercise. During intense workouts, you lose fluids and electrolytes through sweat. Staying hydrated helps maintain your performance during the workout and supports recovery afterward. 

Aim to drink water consistently throughout the day, and consider an electrolyte drink during or after intense workouts, especially if they are lengthy or performed in hot conditions.


Certain supplements can also support anaerobic performance and recovery. Creatine, for example, can enhance performance in high-intensity, short-duration exercises by helping your muscles produce more energy. 

Beta-Alanine can help buffer acid in your muscles, reducing fatigue during intense exercise. Always consult a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen.

Note: Remember that individual nutritional needs can vary greatly depending on the person, the type of exercise, the intensity and duration of workouts, and personal goals. Therefore, it's always recommended to work with a registered dietitian or sports nutritionist to develop an individualized plan. Balancing a well-planned diet with rigorous anaerobic training can ultimately lead to improved performance, faster recovery, and better overall health.

A Sample Workout Regimen To Boost Anaerobic Capacity

Let's look at an example workout regimen that can enhance your anaerobic capacity. Everyone is different, and the right workout plan for you should be tailored to your current fitness level, goals, and preferences.

Monday - High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Kickstart your week with a powerful HIIT session. This could be on a stationary bike, where you sprint for 30 seconds at nearly maximum effort, followed by 90 seconds of easy cycling for recovery. Repeat this pattern for 15 to 20 minutes.

Ensure to sport our Core Compression Shorts during these sessions. Designed for high-intensity workouts, these shorts offer excellent flexibility and support, helping you power through those challenging sprints.

Tuesday - Strength Training

Spend this day focusing on compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. These exercises work multiple muscle groups at once, providing a significant stimulus for strength and muscle growth. Aim for three to five sets of five to eight reps with heavy weights.

Our Core Compression Tights could be your perfect companion for these strength sessions. Engineered with a high-performance fabric, they provide powerful compression and flexibility, supporting your muscles as they work hard.

Wednesday - Active Recovery

After two days of high-intensity workouts, it's time for an active recovery session. This could be a light jog, a yoga class, or even a relaxed swim. The goal is to get your body moving gently to promote recovery.

Remember to wear your Light Speed Compression Tights for optimum recovery support. Their specialized design reduces muscle movement and can help soothe any discomfort or fatigue you experience.

Thursday - Sport-Specific Drills or Plyometrics

Engaging in sport-specific drills or plyometric exercises depends on your sport or fitness goals. This could involve agility ladders, shuttle runs, box jumps, or burpees. These exercises can help develop your speed, agility, and power, all crucial for anaerobic capacity.

Sporting our Aero 5” Shorts during these workouts can help support your performance. Their lightweight and flexible design allows you to move freely and with precision.

Friday - Strength Training

Back to the weight room for another round of strength training. You might want to focus on different muscle groups than you did on Tuesday or introduce some variation in your exercises to keep things challenging.

Pair your workout with our Flex Compression Tights for maximum support and freedom of movement.

6. Saturday - HIIT

Finish your week strong with another round of HIIT. You can switch up the mode if you'd like — perhaps a sprint-swim routine or a circuit of high-intensity bodyweight exercises.

Our Refresh Recovery Compression Tights, with their high-stretch fabric and targeted compression, are perfect for these dynamic, high-intensity workouts.

7. Sunday - Rest and Recovery

Congratulations on making it through the week! Sunday is a full rest day. Take time to stretch, relax, and maybe engage in some light mobility work. Your body needs time to rest and rejuvenate.

Our Power Recovery Compression Tights are an excellent option for your stretching and mobility sessions, providing just the right amount of support for your muscles.

Wrapping Things Up

Embarking on a journey to enhance your anaerobic capacity can feel daunting, but remember, change is possible, and you're capable of remarkable things. With 2XU by your side, providing quality gear and guidance, you can reset your goals, refocus your energy, and reshape your life. 

The road to a fitter, healthier you isn't easy, but the benefits — greater strength, increased power, improved health — far outweigh the effort. So take that first step today, and together, let's unlock your full fitness potential!


Measurement of anaerobic capacities in humans | PubMed

Aerobic Exercise Health: What Is It, Benefits & Examples | Cleveland Clinic

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

A Beginner’s Guide to Plyometrics Workouts | HSS

4.6: Nutrients that are critical to athletes | Medicine LibreTexts