Can Exercise Increase Testosterone Levels?

So the fact is that exercise can increase your testosterone.  Certain exercises can also decrease your testosterone levels.  It all depends on what you do, when, where, how often, and for how long.   These factors will determine whether you gain or lose muscle, decrease or gain belly fat, gain strength or lose strength, increase or decrease your energy levels.  Also the way you exercise can improve or decline your immune system, increase or decrease your sex drive and even impact your mood. 

If we are exercising so hard and for so long this can put stress on our system and begin to raise the hormone cortisol. The opposing hormone of testosterone is the stress hormone cortisol. This is why you do not want to increase cortisol because as the cortisol goes higher, your testosterone goes lower.  Cortisol does the opposite of testosterone, it decreases muscle and strength. It increases belly fat. It makes you tired, and it kills your sex drive. Too much stress is bad, and the wrong workouts will cause extra stress on your body.

I know when I was younger, I would often exercise, five, six and often seven times weekly, I would work out for at least an hour and sometimes two hours.  I thought the more I exercised would create better quicker results. I would lift heavy weights. I would push very hard and go to failure on all my exercises. I would also do cardio, almost every single day. I would do 20-30 minutes each session. And typically, it was riding the bike or jogging or using the Stair Master. It was hard and I always left the gym feeling really tired and exhausted. However, I felt like I had a good, honest workout because I gave it my all and I pushed as hard as I could. And I did this for years. Unfortunately, the end result is that sadly I looked pretty much the same all the time for years. It seemed like I also had a cold and I got sick often when I was training that intensely.  I rarely had much energy because I was just tired from my workouts.  The end result was I felt like I just didn't look good. I was kind of puffy most of the time.  I was always starving from the marathon workouts so I would consume a lot of carbohydrates to satisfy. I recall my sex drive was nonexistent. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as I was young and single, but compared to my other friends I just wasn’t that interested in that stuff. This was when I was in my early 20s.  I should have been in my prime.  And I was but what I realized is I was overtraining like crazy.  The workouts I was doing were dramatically raising my cortisol levels which was lowering my testosterone big time.  I felt all the effects of low testosterone during this period of my life.  Things should have been the opposite.  I should have had super high testosterone levels at such a young age. I was young, and honestly, this was as good as it was ever going to get. And yet, it sucked.

Then I recall going on a vacation for about 8-10 days and did not workout one time during that vacation. But when I finally did go back to the gym I was stronger than I’ve ever been.  I felt like I had so much more energy.  I also happened to come across an article about overtraining and I decided to completely start changing my work outs and this made a huge difference in my life and my testosterone levels.  

So let’s start with the basic shortcuts, the do's and don’ts.  First, let's discuss what you should try to do. You should lift weights, because lifting weights does increase your testosterone levels. You should keep your workouts short, about 45 minutes or less. Anything over an hour, like I used to do and your testosterone levels can start to drop. Your stress hormone cortisol starts to go up. Also workout no more than four times a week, about three or four times, ideally it would be something like every other day. The rest days are important as they help keep your cortisol levels lower. 

Now as far as things you should not do or at least limit is intense long cardiovascular exercise. This refers to running  or jogging long distances and biking. These can decrease your testosterone, and increase stress hormones. There are many benefits of aerobic training, boosting testosterone is not one of them.  It's much better to go for a fast walk especially outside, it greatly reduces your stress hormones and actually can help boost your testosterone. And finally, don't try killing yourself every workout at the gym.  Don't always go to failure  by pushing too hard every workout.

I want to show you some specific workouts that science says about what works specifically for increasing testosterone.

There are specific loading parameters that include reps, sets, rest, tempo and exercise selection. Among the loading parameters mentioned in the literature that work best for increasing testosterone are 5-6 sets of 7-8 reps using compound exercises.  Rest intervals between sets need to be relatively short, around 45-60 seconds.  One study found that 60 seconds of rest was more effective than 90 seconds for increasing testosterone.

Here is one example of what a 4x week program could look like:

MONDAY AND THURSDAY – LOWER BODY

A. Back Squat, 5 x 6-8

B. Romanian Deadlift, 5 x 6-8

C1. Lunge, 5 x 6-8

C2. Lying Leg Curl, 5 x 6-8

TUESDAY AND FRIDAY – UPPER BODY

A1. Barbell Military Press, 5 x 6-8

A2. Close Parallel-Grip Chin-Up, 5 x 6-8

B1. Incline Dumbbell Press, 5 x 6-8

B2. One-Arm Dumbbell Row, 5 x 6-8

So if you want to increase testosterone weight training with heavy loads, but not to failure seems to be the best scientifically supported solution. Now, it may not raise your testosterone levels as high as you want, but it's definitely taking things in the correct direction and not causing a decrease in testosterone.

Many of you might be endurance athletes or also enjoy exercise besides heavy weight bearing exercise, and there are several studies, exploring whether or not, endurance activity can increase or decrease testosterone levels.  What happens when you combine endurance activity and weight training?  If you do the endurance activity before or after the weight training?  And the takeaway from all of this was that endurance activity if performed first leads to decreases in testosterone during the weight training session, as compared to the same weight training session done first, followed by endurance activity. In other words, if you want to optimize testosterone levels, it seems to be the case that weight training first followed by mild to moderate cardio type endurance activity afterward, is the right order of business. 

When endurance and weight training are done on separate days it doesn't seem to have an effect. They showed no statistical interaction, but it seems that if you're going to do these in the same workout episode that it's moving heavy loads first, then do cardiovascular exercise.

Lastly I feel it’s worth mentioning the little bit of data looking specifically at how endurance exercise impacts testosterone and its derivatives.  It's very clear that high intensity interval training (HIIT) and sprinting somewhat mimics the neural activity that occurs while moving heavyweight loads (weight training).  This is going to increase testosterone, there's ample evidence for that in the literature.  Also that endurance exercise that extends beyond 75 minutes is going to start to lead to reductions in testosterone presumably by increases in cortisol.

Jacey Folkers D.C.

If you are wondering more about testosterone, schedule a consultation or call us today!

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