Testosterone is a highly potent anabolic agent to skeletal muscle.
It is possible to raise your testosterone levels by more than double by following the correct training program.
Protocols high in volume, moderate to high in intensity, using short rest intervals and stressing a large muscle mass (not single joint exercises), tend to produce the greatest acute hormonal elevations. (study)
Following an exercise program higher in total sets (multiple sets) favor a greater testosterone response. However, too much volume is not needed.
It is shown that 9 to 15 sets per muscle group a week is more than enough volume to stimulate a muscle group optimally for hypertrophy.
An increase in total work (number of sets) does not appear to be a stimulus for enhanced acute anabolic/catabolic hormonal concentrations. 4 sets are enough to elicit an acute testosterone response and there is no difference between 4 sets or 6 sets. (study) I recommend doing around 3-4 sets per muscle group a training session.
One who is accustomed to strength or hypertrophy training, needs greater volume to stimulate a hormonal response, as the body has already adapted to training. (study)
Training at different intensities will provide different stimulus. For example, training at a higher intensity (lower reps) will result in better strength gained.
But in the case of testosterone, training at high to moderate intensity is the best stimulus to elicit an acute testosterone secretion.
Let’s look at these studies…
As shown in this study, doing a protocol of 3 sets x 15 reps with 90 sec rest seems most sufficient to elicit a testosterone secretion.
Training at different intensities, such as 4 sets x 6 reps and 4 sets x 9-10 reps with the same resting periods, both result in similar significant increases in testosterone. (study)
4 sets x 10 reps with 90 sec rest is the only protocol that elicit a significant increase in testosterone (back squats at 75% of their 1RM), compared to 11 sets x 3 reps with 5 min rest (back squats at 90% of their 1RM) or 8 sets x 6 reps (jump squats with body weight) with 3 min rest. (study) Showing that training explosively without adequate weight, will not result in a great testosterone increase.
This study also shows that there is no difference in the testosterone response between 6 or 12 reps for an exercise with the same amount of rest.
However this study shows that there is a slight advantage for testosterone response when training with +-10 reps instead of +-3 reps.
It is also shown that it is indeed unnecessary to go to failure for an acute testosterone response. (study)
Doing a bit higher reps (+-10 reps) are superior to lower reps (+-3 reps) for an acute testosterone response. It would seem however that the rep range isn’t such a big factor as rest is to determine the testosterone response, although I would personally not go higher than 12 reps on an exercise.
Rest is possibly the biggest factor affecting the testosterone response.
Evidence point to short rest being superior to long rest for multiple reasons. Such as…
1. Training to failure and resting short (60 – 90 sec) will increase lactate significantly. And lactate stimulates growth hormone release.
High lactate levels will increase testicular cAMP production and the release of GnRH, which will increase testosterone levels as a result. (study)
2. Another interesting point is that: shorter rest results in more motor unit recruitment –> which results in more muscle activation (more muscle motor units recruited) –> better testosterone response (study)
3. Shorter rest –> more lactate –> more catecholamine release –> more testosterone. (study)
Lets look at a few more studies on why short rest is superior for testosterone release.
Doing a protocol, 3 sets x 15 reps with 90 sec rest seems sufficient to elicit a testosterone secretion. (study)
3 – 6 min of rest doesn’t result in an acute increase of testosterone, only a blunted, non-significant increase, if any. (study)
Greater testosterone secretion is found when resting 90 sec between sets than resting 2 min. (study)
While resting for 1 min results in significant higher testosterone secretion than when resting for 2.5 min between sets. (study)
Both 1 min and 3 min rest result in an acute increase in testosterone post-workout, however, the longer rest resulted in a more long-lasting testosterone elevation. (study) In the study, neither of the groups went to failure, so lactate wasn’t elevated and growth hormone wasn’t elevated either. Interestingly, even when only resting for 1 min between sets, cortisol won’t increase if you stop before failure, as shown in this study.
Other things to keep in mind
1.Type of exercises
I never use exercise machines, but free weights as they are the best. And it’s also the best for testosterone production.
As seen in this study, individuals got a 18% greater testosterone increase when doing squats vs leg press.
However, doing unilateral or bilateral exercises show no difference in testosterone secretion, only in growth hormone levels. (study)
2. Cardiac rhythm
The testosterone response from resistance exercise is greater in the evening than in the morning, due to greater responsiveness of the hypothalamo-pituitary-testicular axis. However, testosterone levels are highest in the morning, as well as cortisol levels. Optimal adaptations to resistance training (muscle hypertrophy and strength increase) also seem to occur in the late afternoon. (study)
Digesting food before a workout will significantly blunt the testosterone and growth hormone secretion of the workout. (study)
So what would work best is a: 4 sets x 10 reps with 60 – 90 sec rest between sets, compound movement with free weight, for a muscle group each training session.