Episode 115: November 19, 2012
by Ben Greenfield
Testosterone is a steroid hormone that helps you increase lean muscle mass and bone density – and beyond simply helping you have a nice body, it’s also crucial for good health! Low levels of testosterone, in both men and women, can lead to a number of serious health conditions, including increased risk of depression, low sex drive, obesity, and osteoporosis.
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Men with low testosterone tend to have higher rates of heart disease, depression, and even dementia – and a decrease in testosterone levels in women can lead to a loss of muscle mass and weight gain (especially when paired with the rising levels of estrogen that you learned about in my episode on Hormonal Imbalances and Weight Gain).
Although there are entire industries built up around herbal and pharmaceutical pills, capsules, lotions, injections, super foods, and other methods for increasing testosterone, in this episode you’re going to get 6 simple strategies for increasing testosterone without actually swallowing any questionable supplements.
6 Ways to Increase Testosterone With Exercise
Tip #1: Sprint
Multiple studies have shown that you can boost your testosterone levels by sprinting. In one study, testosterone levels increased significantly for people who performed a series of very short (but intense) 6-second sprints – and testosterone levels remained high even after those people had fully recovered from the sprint workout.
So how can you implement the strategy of sprinting to increase testosterone? Try performing several sprints on the treadmill after you’ve lifted weights at the gym, or just head out into the backyard, a park, or your neighborhood block and do a few sprint repeats on your days off from weigh training. You can even do your sprints on a bicycle or elliptical trainer. Try to include 5-10 short sprints when you do a sprint workout, sprint no longer than 15 seconds, get full recovery after each sprint (generally 3-4 times longer than you actually sprinted), and do a sprint workout 2-3 times a week for optimal results.
Tip #2: Lift Heavy Stuff
While you can do high reps with low weights or low reps with high weights, studies have shown that it definitely takes heavy weights to significantly boost testosterone. Full body, heavy exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and Olympic lifts should ideally be used, at 85-95% of your 1RM (or one repetition maximum). You need to do 2-3 full body weight lifting workouts per week to get good testosterone-boosting results (in tip #5, I’ll give you a sample workout).
If you're a beginner or new to weight training, don’t let this concept of heavy lifting scare you away. You can simulate many of these exercises on weight training machines until you’re strong and skilled enough to perform the free weight barbell or dumbbell versions.
Tip #3: Use Long Rest Periods
Scientists have studied the effects of very short rest periods on testosterone and found that longer rest periods of around 120 seconds between sets are better for building testosterone (although you can still build other hormones, such as growth hormone, with shorter rest periods).
Considering what you’ve just learned about lifting heavy weights, this makes sense – since the shorter your recovery periods, the less weight you’re going to be able to lift. However, it can seem like a waste of time to be sitting on your butt for 3 minutes between each exercise.
So if your goals are to increase testosterone, I recommend that you maximize your time at the gym by doing alternate activities during these long rest periods, such as stretching, or better yet, exercises that don’t stress the same muscles you just worked.
For example, you can do one heavy set of bench presses, recover for just 30-60 seconds, then do one heavy set of squats. Go back and forth until all your sets are done, and you’ll get twice as much done in half the time, while still getting the testosterone boosting benefits of lifting heavy and long rest periods.
Tip #4: Do Forced Reps
To do a forced repetition, you perform a weight lifting exercise for as many reps as you can, and then have partner (a “spotter”) assist you with completing several additional repetitions (anywhere from 1-5 extra reps).
Research shows that this type of forced rep set generates more testosterone than simply doing as many reps as you can do by yourself.
It’s best to do forced reps with a multi-joint, large motor movement exercise. For example, you can do a warm-up set of barbell squats, then, with a partner, a personal trainer, or someone you ask at the gym to help you, choose a weight that allows you to do 5-6 repetitions on your own, but requires an assistant to get another 3-4 reps done after that, for a total of 8-10 reps. You can repeat this for anywhere from 2-6 sets.
While you don’t need to perform forced reps for every workout or set that you do, if you’re trying to increase testosterone, it can be especially helpful to do your last set of any exercise as a forced rep set.
Tip #5: Use Your Legs
In another study that investigated the hormonal response to weight training, participants were split into an arm-only training group and a leg-plus-arm training group. Testosterone increases were significantly higher in the group that added lower body training to their upper body training.
While it can be tempting, especially for guys, to focus on exercises like biceps curls and bench pressing, you’ll notice far better results for lean muscle mass, energy, sex drive, and fat loss when you include multi-joint leg exercises such as lunges and squats into your regimen.
So here’s an example of a full body workout you could do 3 days per week to boost testosterone:
4 sets of 8 repetitions bench press, paired with 4 sets of 8 repetitions squats.
4 sets of 8 repetitions deadlifts paired with 4 sets of 8 repetitions pull-ups.
6 sets of maximum 10 second sprints.
Tip #6: Avoid Chronic Cardio
Long endurance sports such as cycling seem to lower testosterone in the same way that weight lifting and weight training seem to increase it. For example, one 2003 study found that testosterone levels were significantly lower in cyclists than age-matched weightlifters, or even an untrained control group. Some researchers have even concluded that this type of low testosterone in endurance athletes is an adaptation that gives cyclists or runners a competitive advantage – since the extra muscle mass from testosterone would probably slow you down.
So if you’re trying to boost testosterone, avoid long jaunts on the treadmill, and accept the fact that if you’re going to run marathons or do Ironman triathlon, you may have to settle for slightly lower testosterone levels.
If you have more questions about how to boost testosterone with exercise, or other testosterone-enhancing questions, then join the conversation at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!
Woman Running, Young Woman Lifting Weights and Class Doing Leg Excercises images from Shutterstock