1.Be Lean and Have Some Muscle Mass
You definitely don’t have to be light to increase your testosterone levels naturally, but you should be LEAN. More specifically, your body fat percentage should be relatively low (something between 8-14%), if your goal is to get more T oozing through your veins.
Generally speaking – though there are some rare exceptions – the higher the fat percentage, the lower the testosterone (study, study, study, study). So in retrospect, the leaner you are, the more likely you are to have more testosterone rushing in your bloodstream. Increased amount of muscle mass also positively correlates with serum testosterone levels, so if you burn the fat and build the muscle, you’ll not only look shredded, but you can improve your hormonal health too.
Why does being fat often leads to low testosterone levels? The full answer is likely much more complex than this, but what we do know is thatincreased fat-mass leads to increased aromatase enzyme activity, which in turn leads to more testosterone being converted to estrogen. Also, increased oxidative stress, metabolic syndrome, and poor insulin-sensitivity are some other major-players in obesity related low-T.
Good news is that you can easily increase testosterone naturally just by losing weight, in particular losing the fat-mass, not muscle. Though it’s worth mentioning that there is a limit to your leanness where it start to negatively impact testosterone production; going below ~8% body fat starts to decrease thyroid activity, and because of that you’ll eventually have to start cutting your caloric intake too much, and both of those things will start zapping the life out of your androgens.
2.Resistance Training Recommended
To up regulate androgen receptors in muscle tissue while also increasing testosterone levels both acutely and moving the baseline higher and higher can be best done with some form of resistance training.
There’s a mounting pile of evidence to suggest that resistance/strength training (basically lifting medium-heavy weights) can stimulate testosterone production in the short-term (study, study, study,study)…
…But also in the long-term by forcing the body to adapt into a new “normal” where your testosterone production is significantly higher even at rest mainly due to “forced” neuromuscular adaptations (study, study, study,study).
Resistance training is also generally very healthy, and it’s easily the best way for men to make your body look great, which amps up your confidence and can furthermore boost your T-levels due to feelings of success.
The idea is not just to “lift weights” in any manner that you can think of, but instead what you want to do for optimal hormonal response is to;
- lift heavy enough
- be explosive but still maintain form
- activate large amounts of muscle mass
- stimulate fast-twitch glycotic muscle fibers
- do all of this in a short-period of time
- rest properly.
3.Do Some High Intensity Intervals
When it comes to “cardio” high intensity interval training (HIIT) fits a testosterone boosting routine like a nose to the head.
Consider adding 1-2 quick HIIT-sessions on top of your resistance training routine to maximize exercise induced hormonal adaptations.
Due to its explosive nature, short-duration, activation of fast-twitch muscle fibers, and increased production of lactic acid – without being “chronic” enough to cause prolonged increases in stress hormones – HIIT, aka. short bouts of intense exercise can cause sharp increases in total testosterone, free testosterone, DHEA, growth hormone, and dihydrotestosterone (study,study, study, study)
Some examples of this type of training are;
- regular sprinting
- hill & wind sprints
- circuit training
- playing hockey
- HIIT cycling
Bottom line: Basically any type of exercise where you can do quick 15-30 second all-out bouts of exercise in 2-8 intervals will work wonders for anabolic hormones and neuroendocrine adaptations. Instead of boring hours of steady-state cardio, consider crushing it with few all-out sprints for maximal hormonal gains.
4.Maintain Regular Physical Activity
Aside from lifting weights and sprinting your ass off, you should maintain some regular physical activity on a daily basis.
This includes things like walking, plowing the snow/mowing the lawn, chopping trees, and other sorts of recreational stuff.
Maybe a low-intensity hockey game with the lads? Some ball-games with the family? Anything that can be considered “active rest”.
There are even studies to show how effective regular physical activity is for T:
…A recent study from the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutritionobserved 41 obese and overweight male subject who were put on a lifestyle modification program lasting 12-weeks, consisting of varied amounts of physical activity (measured by a pedometer) and reduced caloric intake. The goal of the study was to determine which one had the biggest impact on testosterone levels; increased physical activity or reduced caloric intake and the resultant weight-loss? After the 12-weeks had passed, the researchers found out that it was the high physical activity – not so much the magnitude of the calorie deficit – which was the driving factor in the subjects rising T levels.
Of course walking isn’t the only physical activity that boosts T-levels, when sedentary subjects are compared against “active” subjects, the more physically active guys do have higher sperm counts and testosterone levels. Also its seen in studies that when sedentary men start some sort of physical activity and/or low-pace exercise routine, their T levels tend to go up as well (study, study, study)…
5.Cardio Before Weights? Train in AM or PM?
The age old questions spanning around the fitness industry in relation to hormones and workout timing are;
— Should you train in the morning or evening for better testosterone levels?
— Should you hit the weights before cardio or the other way around?
The cardio question first. Sure, there are many opinions, but the actual evidence is suggesting that yes, cardio before weights is more ‘anabolic’.
In fact a study by Rosa et al. showed that the guys who hit cardio before weights had 7x higher post-workout testosterone levels than the guys who did cardio after weight training (due to ‘stimulus interference’ the researchers claim).
NOTE: Although the immediate post-exercise hormone alterations are not going to massively impact your physique or resting T-levels, its still good to have that 7x higher testosterone response once in a while huh?
When it comes to morning or evening training, it doesn’t really matter. Even though your T-levels are naturally highest in the morning, over long-term training increases testosterone levels in similar fashion regardless of the time of the day (study, study).
6.Lower the Amount of Endurance Training
I get that for some, dropping endurance training isn’t an option, maybe you compete in running or triathlon for example?
Though that doesn’t change the fact that endurance-type long steady state exercise is very good at lowering testosterone levels and causing chronically elevated cortisol response.
Research has shown that endurance cyclists and runners, but not swimmers, have significantly lower testosterone levels than sedentary controls. Furthermore male distance runners are known for having significantly lower than average testosterone levels (study, study, study, study, study).
It also goes without saying that your body will look quite weak and frail if you train mainly for endurance.
A much better option for those of us who don’t “need” to train for endurance, would be something like low-pace walking or hiking. Obviously resistance training and high-intensity intervals are the optimal way to train for T, but if you’re looking for a bit more lighter way to balance hormones, slowly walking with a small incline is actually much more beneficial for T and especially normal cortisol secretion than chronic endurance training.
7.Reverse Pyramid Training
Reverse pyramid training (RPT) is a set/rep pattern used in resistance exercise movements where you (after warming up) hit the heaviest weight on your first set and then reduce some of that weight and add more reps to the 2nd and possibly 3rd set.
Basically reverse pyramid training comes down to first warming up, then hitting your first set with all-out effort of say for example 5-8 reps, then you rest for roughly 3-5 minutes and reduce the weight by 10% and do the same with 1-2 more reps than in the first set. If you want to do more sets, keep reducing the weight by ~10% and adding 1-2 reps. IMHO 2-3 sets is optimal (more than that is just unnecessary strain for the central nervous system).
Here’s an example of a RPT low-volume high-intensity back workout:
- 4 reps of deadlifts -> Reduce weight by 10%, rest ~4 minutes and do 5-6 reps of the same movement.
- 5 reps of weighted wide-grip pull-ups -> Reduce the weight by 10%, rest ~4 minutes and do 7 reps of the same movement.
- 8 reps of weighted chin-ups -> Reduce weight by 10%, rest ~4 minutes and continue with 10 reps of the same movement.
- 6 reps of lat pulldowns with narrow handle -> Reduce weight by 10%, rest ~4 minutes and do 8 reps.
Aaand that’s it for the back, a total of 8 sets – which might seem like a ridiculously low amount of work – but when done correctly (1st set is really ALL OUT set) you’re actually going to be pretty done.
In short its a type of weight/bodyweight training that maximizes the stimulus of the nervous system, leading to maximal stimulus of the neuroendocrine system, leading to increased testosterone production and androgen receptor up regulation.
The way to do this is by activating large amounts of muscle volume (how much muscle mass you activate), with high intensity (how explosive you are), under a performance threshold (avoiding the negative adaptations that come with increased glugocorticoid receptor up regulation and chronic cortisol elevations).
Since increased muscle activation is known to increase the testosterone and growth hormone response, you’ll often see people saying that in order to boost testosterone you have to squat, squat, deadlift, squat and then do some deadlifts. And sure enough deadlifts and squats are very good movements for size and increased muscle activation, but they fall short on intensity (explosiveness) not allowing you to maximize the activation of fast glycotic muscle fibers, and they also bring you more easily to the training threshold.
Some movements which actually can be used for NM training to maximize all the above factors are;
- weighted chin-ups and pull-ups
- weighted dips
- clean & jerk
- box jumps
9.Avoid the Pitfalls of Overtraining
It seems to be in fashion now in the fitness circles to claim that over training would not exist. Sure, those guys claiming that are usually on steroids or don’t really know how to really work hard enough to really need recovery. Also their goal is rarely to maximize hormonal output.
If you workout with a reverse pyramid style doing neuromuscular movements and some HIIT cardio once in a while, you really can’t be lifting every day. You can try but eventually this will lead to sluggish progress and messed up hormonal response, which is exactly what were trying to avoid here.
In short, you want to workout 3-5 times a week with ALL OUT INTENSITY and then REST properly so that your muscles, endocrine system, and CNS are always primed for your next workout which will be slightly more intense/heavier.
Going to the gym with no energy and when you’re still recovering from the previous workouts does very little to your progress and only negatively affects the hormonal response.
Remember, constant progress is the key to gains and hormonal adaptations. In order to push for that increased testosterone response and to move your resting baseline higher and higher (creating the new “normal”) you have to get out of your comfort zone and constantly progress to heavier weights and higher intensities…
…A good example of this is a study where non-athletes experienced significantly higher testosterone levels after an intense lifting workout in comparison to elite athletes. For the sedentary subjects this was a huge step out of the comfort zone and forced the body to adapt to new training stimuli, resulting in hormonal adaptations, whereas for the elite athletes this was just “another workout” and the hormonal adaptations weren’t as strong.
Another study saw that after sedentary subjects started a resistance training routine, their baseline testosterone levels shot up by over 40% in just 4-weeks. Why? Likely because they had to get out of the comfort-zone and create a “new normal” to which their hormones had to adapt into.
That’s the idea behind constantly pushing yourself and getting to higher weights and better intensities as you get stronger and stronger, you’re slowly pushing the hormonal baseline up by forcing your body into using bigger workloads and heavier weights…
…If you overtrain, your lifts will start degrading and your CNS will be too taxed to actually make that constant progress, and that’s just one of the many reasons to avoid the pitfalls of training too much.