Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is big business, and it keeps getting bigger. In the US alone, revenue for these drugs is expected to reach 3.8 billion this year. There is no question that TRT works, but consider that there are many non-pharmaceutical ways to deal with the issue of “low-T,” which might, for some men, be enough to bring their testosterone to normal levels. Exercise is one such method, but what is often not considered is the type of workout you perform. This begs the question, “Is there a specific training protocol that will boost testosterone production?”
Before answering, consider that testosterone levels in males have been declining steadily since the ’70s – even young people have much lower testosterone levels than previous generations. Among the possible reasons are poor diet, lack of sleep, environmental factors such as toxins, and possibly excessive cell phone use. As such, you need to approach the problem of low-T from many different angles -- exercise by itself is probably not going to give you the hormonal changes you want to achieve.
One reason to consider trying a workout to improve testosterone is that although TRT is a simple, proven solution to low-T, TRT is a lifelong commitment. When men start using these drugs, their testicles will reduce their production; if they stop using them, they may be worse off than they were before. The result is often depression, lack of motivation, and reduced sex drive. There are also other issues, such as the risk of developing cardiac issues, especially when protocols are not followed precisely and treatment is not continually monitored by a doctor.
The first thing you need to know about a testosterone-boosting workout is that although there are many benefits of aerobic training, boosting testosterone is not one of them. Yes, research has found that regular aerobic exercise at a moderate level (such as 40 minutes of walking, 3x a week) can increase testosterone levels in those who are overweight. But too much aerobic training may excessively elevate cortisol, a stress hormone that can lower testosterone. For example, a high frequency and high volume of aerobic training has been linked to lower testosterone levels in runners and cyclists.
The best choice of exercise to increase testosterone is resistance training. But to get the most benefits from pumping iron, you need to follow specific loading parameters that include reps, sets, rest, tempo, and exercise selection.
One of the foremost experts on testosterone and exercise is E. Todd Schroeder, Ph.D. An associate professor of clinical physical therapy at USC, Schroeder has done considerable research on the effects of exercise on testosterone. Among the loading parameters he says work best for increasing testosterone are 6 sets of 7-8 reps using compound exercises. He says the rest intervals between sets need to be relatively short, around 45-60 seconds. In one study Schroeder was involved with, he and his colleagues found that 60 seconds of rest was more effective than 90 seconds for increasing testosterone.
Such a prescription of these loading parameters is similar to those recommended in the Advanced German Volume Training (GVT) program, more so than the regular GVT that prescribes a higher repetition bracket. The Advanced GVT program, usually recommended for those with several years of training experience, focuses on compound movements, relatively short rest intervals, and 10 sets of 6 reps.
The lower reps for GVT are prescribed because advanced trainees have better neurological efficiency. Neurological efficiency refers to how effectively you recruit your higher-threshold (i.e., fast twitch) muscle fibers. If you are neurologically inefficient, you will respond better to higher reps because you cannot effectively recruit these more powerful muscle fibers to help you lift the weight. Here is an example of a leg workout using the advanced GVT protocols:
A1. Barbell Back Squat, 10 x 6, 4010, 90s
A2. Lying Leg Curl, 10 x 6, 4010, 90s
B1. Dumbbell Alternate Lunge, 3 x 6-8, 3010, 60s
B2. Standing Wide-Stance Good Morning, 3 x 6-8, 3010, 60s
From this starting point, you could change several loading parameters, such as exercise selection, to enjoy continued progress. However, consider that this 10 sets method is an advanced program and should not be used year-round as it can lead to overtraining.
Using Dr. Schroeder’s general recommendation of 6 sets of 7-8 reps, you could consider a range of 4-8 sets of 6-10 reps. 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, 4010, 60s
B. Romanian Deadlift, 5 x 6-8, 4020, 60s
C1. Lunge, 5 x 6-8, 4010, 45s
C2. Lying Leg Curl, 5 x 6-8, 4010, 60s
Tuesday and Friday – Upper Body
A1. Barbell Military Press, 5 x 6-8, 3010, 60s
A2. Close Parallel-Grip Chin-Up, 5 x 6-8, 4010, 60s
B1. Incline Dumbbell Press, 5 x 6-8, 3010, 45s
B2. One-Arm Dumbbell Row, 5 x 6-8, 3010, 60s
If low testosterone is an issue with you, consider skipping the cardio area and getting some iron in your blood with weight training.