According to research, both men and women show decreased testosterone levels as they age. These scientifically proven workout strategies can help you increase this important hormone.
This article was originally authored by Ben Greenfield. It was significantly updated by Brock Armstrong on March 2, 2020.
According to the Harvard Medical School, more than a third of men over age 45 may have reduced levels of testosterone. Many women also show symptoms of testosterone deficiency, especially as they approach menopause. Aside from accepting your fate or popping a pill, there are some workout strategies you can use to help increase this important hormone.
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is a major sex steroid hormone that plays many roles for both men and women. It helps us increase lean muscle mass, maintain a healthy body composition, and maintain adequate bone density. Testosterone is found in humans and some animals. In men, testosterone is produced in the testicles. Women make testosterone in their ovaries, albeit in smaller amounts.
The brain and pituitary gland control the levels of testosterone produced by your body. Once it's produced, it moves through the blood to carry out many important tasks. The production of testosterone increases during puberty and then begins to drop later in middle-age.
Why is testosterone important?
Beyond helping you have a nice body, testosterone is crucial to good health. Low levels of testosterone, in both men and women, can lead to a number of health conditions, including increased risk of depression, low sex drive, obesity, and osteoporosis.
Low levels of testosterone, in both men and women, can lead to a number of health conditions.
Men with low testosterone tend to have higher rates of heart disease, depression, and even dementia. Women with low testosterone can lose muscle mass more rapidly and gain weight more easily.
There are entire industries built around supplements, pharmaceuticals, superfoods, light therapy, and other more dubious methods for increasing testosterone. Instead of spending a ton of money on the problem, let's look at six simple movement-based strategies for increasing testosterone without actually swallowing any questionable supplements.
The role of exercise in increasing testosterone
Before we get specific, it's important to note that getting any type of exercise can increase testosterone. A 2016 paper from the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition found that "an increase in physical activity greatly affected the increased serum testosterone levels in overweight and obese men during lifestyle modification." They reported that getting exercise on a regular basis did more to increase testosterone levels than losing weight. And a 2012 paper showed that physically active men show better hormone values than sedentary men.
Simply getting regular exercise and movement into your day is one of the true keys to overall health and wellbeing.
So before you get too carried away trying to craft The Perfect Testosterone Boosting Exercise Plan, remember that simply getting regular exercise and movement into your day is one of the true keys to overall health and wellbeing.
How to increase testosterone with exercise
- Use high-intensity interval training (HIIT)
- Lift heavy stuff
- Rest strategically
- Practice forced reps
- Don't skip leg day
- Branch out from cardio
Testosterone-increasing workout #1: HIIT
Multiple studies have shown that you can boost your testosterone levels by sprinting or performing HIIT (high-intensity interval training). In one study, testosterone levels increased significantly for people who performed a series of very short (but intense) 6-second sprints. Testosterone levels remained high even after those people had fully recovered from the sprint workout.
Another study called Testosterone responses to intensive interval versus steady-state endurance exercise compared a 60-minute comfortably-uncomfortable run to 45 minutes of alternating 90-seconds hard sprinting and 90-seconds of easy jogging and found that the sprints boosted testosterone significantly more than the relatively easy jog.
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 and do a few sprint repeats. If you are not a runner, you can 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 90 seconds, get full recovery after each sprint, and do a sprint workout 2-3 times a week for optimal results.
Testosterone-increasing workout #2: Lift heavy stuff
Just like the HIIT tip, you're going to need to push yourself to get the benefits from this one. Full body, heavy exercises like squats, deadlifts, and Olympic lifts are ideal. But they will need to be done at 85-95 percent of your 1RM (or one-repetition maximum). No matter who you are, that's going to feel pretty heavy.
You need to do 2-3 full body weightlifting workouts per week to get a good and long-lasting, testosterone-boost (don’t worry, in tip #5, I will 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. If you're worried about form or safety, you can simply do many of these exercises on weight training machines until you're strong and skilled enough to perform the free weight barbell, kettlebell, or dumbbell versions.
Testosterone-increasing workout #3: Use longer 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. But 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—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 goal for this particular workout is to boost testosterone, I recommend 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.
If your goal for this particular workout is to boost testosterone, I recommend you maximize your time at the gym by doing alternate activities during these long rest periods.
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, in a superset fashion. You’ll get twice as much done in half the time while still getting the testosterone-boosting benefits of lifting heavy stuff and taking long rest periods. You can learn more about that in my article about push-pull sets.
Testosterone-increasing workout #4: Do forced reps
To do a forced repetition, you perform a weightlifting exercise for as many reps as you can, and then have a partner (a friendly "gymborhood" spotter) assist you with completing a few additional repetitions (anywhere from 1-5 more).
Research done in Finland shows that this type of forced-rep set generates more testosterone than simply doing as many reps as you can by yourself.
It is best to do forced reps with multi-joint, large-range-of-motion movements.
It is best to do forced reps with multi-joint, large-range-of-motion movements. For example, you can do a warm-up set of barbell squats. Then—with a partner, personal trainer, or someone at the gym you ask 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 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.
Testosterone-increasing workout #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 to focus on exercises like biceps curls and bench press and skip leg day, you will get far better results in increasing lean muscle mass, energy, sex drive, and fat loss when you include multi-joint leg exercises such as lunges and squats in 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 (do the final set as a forced-rep set)
- 4 sets of 8 repetitions deadlifts paired with 4 sets of 8 repetitions pull-ups (do the final set as a forced-rep set)
- 8 sets of maximum 90-second sprints with a 90-second easy jog between
Testosterone-increasing workout #6: Avoid chronic cardio
Long-endurance sports such as ultra-marathon and distance cycling seem to lower testosterone where weight lifting and weight training seem to increase it. A 2003 study found that testosterone levels were significantly lower in cyclists than age-matched weightlifters or even an untrained control group.
If you’re trying to boost testosterone, avoid long jaunts on the treadmill.
This observation has led some researchers to conclude that low testosterone in endurance athletes is actually an adaptation that gives cyclists or distance runners a competitive advantage. After all, any 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 an Ironman triathlon, you may have to settle for slightly lower testosterone levels, at least for the time being.
Bonus testosterone-increasing workout: Get some sleep
Losing sleep can drastically reduce testosterone levels, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). For the men in this study, the effects of sleep loss on testosterone levels were already significant after just one week of bad sleep. When the participants slept five hours per night, their testosterone levels decreased by 10 percent to 15 percent. They also self-reported that their mood and vigor levels declined through the study as their blood testosterone levels dropped.
So, if you are incorporating these testosterone increasing workouts, don’t forget to also get adequate sleep or you could be canceling out all that hard work at the gym.
Get your testosterone levels checked
If you're concerned about your testosterone levels, please get them checked by a physician. Even though there's no harm in doing any of the workouts I've covered today, whether you have low or adequate testosterone, if you have symptoms of low or very high testosterone, you may need more than a good workout to balance the problem. In that case, consult your doctor and get to the bottom of the issue before it becomes a problem.