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Can You Increase Your Testosterone Level By Exercising?



man performing squats with barbell

Because of testosterone's effect on muscle growth, testosterone supplements have become a huge business. This is especially true now that it is no longer possible to buy testosterone precursors, except for DHEA, due to the passing of the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004. This act classifies androstenedione and other steroids as controlled substances and so you can't just go buy them. Of course most testosterone precursors, including DHEA, are going to have some unwanted side effects in addition to the intended effects, which is why the act was passed in the first place - to protect the consumer.

That only leaves supplements available that may raise testosterone levels indirectly, such as through an increase in luteinizing hormone or by blocking aromatase (the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen). Still, these supplements are going to produce some unwanted side effects. There must be a better way.

Is It Possible To Raise Testosterone Levels Without Using Supplements?

I've frequently seen the idea that simply lifting weights or performing some sort of heavy exercise will increase testosterone levels. It seems plausible, but lets see what the results of research studies have to say about it.

Testosterone and Exercise Research Studies - Men

Some research studies have shown that it is possible to increase your testosterone level by exercising. For example, in one study Schwab et al. (1993) measured the testosterone level in 2 groups of male study participants to obtain their baseline level. Then they had both groups perform four sets of six squats. One group of men did their squats using heavy weights and the other group of men performed their squats using light weights. After both groups of men were finished doing their squats, Schwab et al. remeasured their testosterone levels. They found that testosterone levels were increased from the baseline in both sets of men, regardless of whether or not the had used heavy or light weights. However, 10 minutes after the men were through exercising their testosterone levels dropped back to the baseline level.

In other study, Vogel et al. (1985) found that men who rode a stationary bike for 15 minutes had an increase in their testosterone levels from baseline. No information was available for how long testosterone levels were raised.

A different study by Craig et al. (1989) found that strength training for 45-60 minutes raised testosterone levels in both young and elderly men, but not to a level that reached statistical significance.

In a more recent study, Marin et al. (2006) found that exercise also increased testosterone levels in men. Men who participated in this study had their testosterone level tested prior to exercising and then again after performing lat pulls, bench presses, leg curls, leg extensions, leg presses, and military presses. Immediately after exercising the mens' testosterone levels were significantly raised, but then dropped back to baseline levels after 20 minutes had passed.

From the studies described above it appears that exercising may increase testosterone levels, but that increased testosterone levels drop back to baseline levels shortly after the exercise is over. However, there are also a few studies that show that exercising decreases testosterone levels in men after exercise (e.g., Wheeler, 2003) and so the jury is still out as to whether or not exercise can increase testosterone levels.

Testosterone and Exercise Research Studies - Women

Not nearly as many studies have been done to test post-exercise testosterone levels in women as with men, but there are a few. One study had college age women partipate in a 10 week resistance training program and found no increase in testosterone levels after exercise (Westerlind et al.,1987). Another study also found no significant increases in women's serum testosterone levels after resistance training (Hakkinen et al., 1992). Unfortunately, there are not many studies using women as participants and so it is difficult to draw firm conclusions.

Conclusions

Despite some popularity for the idea that certain types of exercise will increase testosterone levels, the results of research studies are mixed, with some studies finding support for increased testosterone levels after exercise and some finding the opposite effect.

So what does this mean? Well, who knows? It seems that it is a possibility that exercise may increase testosterone levels, but there really is no definitive answer at this point. Of course we all know that exercise is good for you, makes you stronger, and improves mood and so if you engage in any type of weight training or exercise in the hopes of increasing your testosterone levels at least you won't be wasting your time. You'll still reap some benefits. And, you may even slightly increase your testosterone levels.


REFERENCES

Craig, B. W., Brown, R., and Everhart, J. (1989). Effects of progressive resistance training on growth hormone and testosterone levels in young and elderly subjects. Mechanisms of Ageing and Development 49: 159-169.

Hakkinen, K., Pakarinen, A., and Kallinen, M. (1992). Neuromuscular adaptations and serum hormones in women during short-term intensive strength training. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology 64: 106-111.

Marin, D. P., Figueira, A. J. Jr., and Pinto, L. G. (2006). One Session of Resistance Training May Increase Serum Testosterone and Triiodetironine in Young Men? Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 38: S285.

Schwab, R., Johnson, G. O., Housh, T. J., Kinder, J. E., and Weir, J. P. (1993). Acute effects of different intensities of weight lifting on serum testosterone. Medicine and Science in Sports d Exercise 25: 1381-1385.

Vogel, R. B., Books, C. A., Ketchum, C., Zauner, C. W., and Murray, F. T. (1985). Increase of free and total testosterone during submaximal exercise in normal males. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 17: 119-123.

Westerlind, K. C., Byrnes, W. C., Freedson, P. S., and Katch, F. I. (1987). Exercise and serum androgens in women. Physician and Sportsmedicine 15: 87-90, 93-94.

Wheeler, G. D., Singh, M., Pierce, W. D., Epling, W. F., and Cumming, D. C. (1991). Endurance training decreases serum testosterone levels in men without change in luteinizing hormone pulsatile release. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 72: 422-425.

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