This past month I have become very interested in a little hormone that ain’t so little: Testosterone.
This chemical is the lifeblood of male health, and that ain’t news. Yet very little is done to monitor or maintain testosterone levels in the modern world.
It’d be bad enough if that were all, but testosterone has been on the decline for the past 100 years and is rapidly declining as of the past 30 years.
I get into detail on why in part 1 of this series: Why Warfighters Have Low Testosterone, And How To Test Your Hormones Properly. For Part 2, we’re gonna address the best ways to exercise for optimal T.
Leg Day Every Day
Okay, maybe not every day, but working your legs is the best muscle group to focus on for optimal testosterone. This study showed significant testosterone elevations after workouts that included both leg and arm work, but did not show the same improvements in an arm-only training group.
This may be why leg strength is more correlated with life expectancy as well.
Regardless, my first big tip is to get big-ass legs. Don’t stop working your upper body, but leg strength should be the bedrock of your training.
Now, everyone always talks about workouts. But I want to discuss another awesome way to build your legs: Sports. Though I’ve been working out all my life, I got big legs, not from P90X, but from Taekwondo. This gave me a keen appreciation for the ability to get awesome leg strength from your hobbies rather than from the gym.
If you’d rather learn a new skill or prefer sports to gym training, here are several options that will give you hockey legs, without ever touching a weight.
- Taekwondo (and other kicking based martial arts. Muay Thai. Etc.)
- Hockey (duh)
- Crossfit (I know, it’s exercise but it feels like a sport)
- Water Polo
Look for a club or a studio in your city and get to work.
As far as workouts, I have several more testosterone tactics that can also be used to build your legs. However just to keep it all in one place, here are the best training styles I know of for building leg strength.
- Barbell Squat Sessions: 3–5 rounds, 3 to 5 reps. I prefer back squats
- Plyometrics. P90X2 has the best plyometric workout I know of, aptly named Plyocide.
- Bosu Squats: Squatting on the dome of a bosu ball. Grab weights and let the instability work it’s magic
When it comes to energy, our body has 3 key systems available: aerobic, anaerobic, and the creatine phosphate system.
The creatine phosphate system has to do with the available energy in your cells to immediately explode and do a movement. We train this system by lifting heavy or moving fast, then taking long breaks to recover.
This system also seems to be intimately involved with testosterone. Hence the focus on sprints.
To take advantage of sprinting for testosterone, I recommend doing 4 to 8 sprints for no more than 60 seconds each, and resting for 90 seconds to 2 minutes between rounds.
The key is to go hard during the work portion of the sprint. Honestly, I prefer to sprint for as short as 20 seconds to really make sure I’m focused on intensity.
Prescription: Once a week, go to a track or football field and sprint 200 meters. Rest for 2 minutes between rounds. Do 4 rounds. Got more in ya? Then do 8 rounds or sprint for 400 meters. Focus on intensity.
Another way to train the creatine phosphate system is to lift heavy. Heavy lifts have been shown to improve testosterone in Men as well as upregulating hormone function in general. I’m talking 5 reps at most. This kind of training would be barbell work, likely pursuing a 1 rep max, or doing no more than 3 rounds of 5 reps increasing weight each time.
If you are not familiar with barbell work, I strongly recommend getting a coach or reading a book like Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength first. Barbell work is technical, but some of the best stuff you can do.
Don’t have barbells? Don’t worry. Just use weights that require you to do only 5 reps per round. You can use dumbbells and other free weights.
Take Long Breaks
This is a mini-point that is relevant to all testosterone training. Did you notice my focus on breaks in the last tip about sprinting? The theme continues here. Long breaks allow the creatine-phosphate system to recovery as much as possible between sets.
When it comes to heavy lifting, I recommend a minimum of 5 minutes between sets and as much as 10 minutes. Seem like a long time? Sure, but you can keep your bloodflow by stretching or walking around.
Prescription: 3×5 Heavy Lifting Once A Week. Pick one movement and do 3 sets of 5 reps at a heavy weight, with 5 minutes of rest in between. This does not include warm-up sets. You can combine this with the leg-day tip by doing squats. Read the article, Lift or Die!, to give yourself even more motivation for lifting
Use your legs, train with intensity, and lift heavy stuff. Sounds like all you gotta do is join a crossfit gym huh? Not exactly.
You see, these training methods are all hyper-efficient ways to boost your testosterone, but they can also by hyper-efficient ways to destroy it. The more effective a technique is for stimulating your hormones, the more resources it probably requires and therefore the greater risk of overtraining if you do too much.
This is why I make such a big point to educate people about overtraining. I spent 6 months training nearly 15 hours a week in Crossfit and powerlifting. The result? My health crashed and I dealt with chronic disease for 2 years (and though I never got it tested, I had every symptom of terrible testosterone.) You don’t want that.
Here’s what I suggest: Train 3 to 5 hours a week at most, and take 2 weeks off after every 6 week cycle.
Called over-reaching, taking a two week break every 6 weeks has been shown to prevent the effects of over training and also allow the breakthrough of plateaus. If you have had a chronic disease, are aging, or have a high stress life, then consider taking your two week break every month.
Now, while you’re on this break, I suggest keeping active with walks, mobility work, yoga, and more cardio/mobility style work. You don’t want to stagnate, just focus on movement rather than exercise.
As far as your actual training program? Try to space as much time between workouts as possible. Muscle takes 24 to 48 hours to fully repair, and the nervous system takes 48 to 72 hours to fully repair. My personal training schedule involves hard but short workouts on Monday, Wednesday, & Friday. If I do a sport like rock climbing, I replace a workout with it.
On off days, I do long walks or big mobility sessions. At most I’ll do yoga. It’s essential to keep moving, but not necessarily to “train.”
Hell, some of the most effective exercise programs I’ve seen involve training only 15 minutes a week. Check out people’s results from the Body By Science program if you want to see what that’s all about.
For a full guide to my philosophy on recovery-based training, check out my article: How To Build Muscle Fast.
And there you have it guys: Part 2. This is how to use exercise to optimize your testosterone.
Use your legs. Sprint. Lift Heavy. Take Long Breaks. And Recover. Do all this and you’ll be well on your way to natural testosterone optimization.
Exercise is just one piece of the puzzle though. Stay tuned as we get into nutrition, environmental factors, stress, and a whole plethora of ways to boost your testosterone in this low-T world.
Thank you for reading and go become Hard to kill!
Train Hard, Fight Easy
Keenan’s singular purpose is to help as many people as possible achieve optimal physical and mental health. He believes biology and psychology are linked, and that by providing a healthy environment for the body we are more likely to fulfill our personal potential through a happy and optimized life. He healed from chronic fatigue syndrome, in two years, despite being bedridden and having a minuscule income. You can find him dropping mad knowledge at Keenan Eriksson Fitness. And you can check him out on Episode 30 of the HRD2KILL Podcast