Why Men need to incorporate Legs: Increase Testosterone and GH through Program Design

This blog focuses on the major benefits of the hormonal response when incorporating total body and lower body resistance training into a program.  AKA Why Men NEED to lift legs!  Lower Body resistance training will increase testosterone and Growth Hormone in males.  Men who skip out of Squats and deadlifts are missing out on a plethora of total muscle strength and hypertrophy benefits brought on by increased serum levels of testosterone and Growth Hormone.  

One of the most effective ways to elicit more gains from resistance training can be taken from basic neuroendocrinology.   In other words, the strong relationship between the neurological and endocrine system can work to your benefit, producing increases in muscle strength and hypertrophy (size), when manipulated correctly.   

You do not need to be a physiology major, or even a personal trainer to understand this.  It is quite simple.  Here are the basics.

First; understand what a hormone is… A hormone is simply a chemical messenger released into our blood stream by endocrine glands and they act on a target tissue or bind directly to DNA.  This blog is a brief specifically on naturally occurring  anabolic steroid hormones.  (Anabolic – Build up  Steroid – attach to DNA of cell and permeable to cell walls.  hormone – chemical messenger)  I will focus on Serum total Testosterone and Growth Hormone in Men.

Most men who exercise are aware that strength and size gains can be increased by manipulating program design, weights, repetitions, and sets.   I want to illustrate the correlation between program design, hormone response, and overall gains in size and strength.  

What are Testosterone and Growth Hormone?

Testosterone primarily effects skeletal muscle and augments GH release, increasing protein synthesis within muscle cells. It increases the amount of neurotransmitters within muscle cells influencing the force production of a muscle along with the amount of nerve intervention.

Testosterone levels fluctuate throughout the day in males.  This is called diurnal variation.  Seurm total testosterone, or “free” testosterone is greatest in the morning and slowly falls throughout the day.  This is why men who workout in the morning can have larger gains in their workout, but men who workout in the evening might have a better chance of increasing overall resting levels of testosterone.  According to the NSCA more studies need to be conducted on this hypothesis.  

Growth Hormone is released by the pituitary gland and with resistance training can increase protein synthesis and amino acid uptake in skeletal muscle.   Growth Hormone increases utilization of fatty acids,  fat breakdown, availability of glucose and amino acids, protein synthesis, collagen synthesis, stimulates cartilage regrowth, and enhances the immune system.  Growth hormone also plays an important role with the release of IGF’s (Insulin like Growth Factors) which are key components in protein anabolism, or muscle growth.  

Why is this important?

These hormones increase and are more accessible through resistance training of large muscle groups through specific manipulation of repetitions, sets, and rest periods.  Heavy weight training in large muscle groups creates a neurological response that releases anabolic steroid hormones into the blood stream which act on corresponding skeletal muscle tissue increasing muscle strength and size.

Resistance training stimulates the muscles cell sensitivity and permeability to hormones.  This allows Testosterone and GH to work more efficiently on the cell promoting increased hypertrophy and strength.  Resistance training also increases the tissues response to hormones, the amount of tissue stimulated, and increases the amount of tissue repair required; increasing cell degradation, repair, and protein synthesis.  

A session of resistance training acutely spikes levels of Testosterone and Growth Hormone; Continued resistance training increases resting levels of Testosterone and Growth Hormone.  


“Large-muscle group exercises result in acute increased serum total Testosterone concentrations in men.” – Essentials of Strength and Conditioning 2nd ED NSCA

Large muscle groups must be activated in order to increase GH and Testosterone from resistance training.  65-70% muscle mass is in the lower body.  Some of the most effective exercises to manipulate hormone release are Squats, Deadlifts, and Power Cleans.  Others include any lower body or multi-joint movement.  Bicep Curls, or Chest press will NOT have as great of an effect as lower body exercise will.  Essentially this means DO NOT SKIP LEG DAY!!!!!

Although large muscle group exercises are the most effective, only activated muscle fibers will be effected by the increased hormone levels.  By including these large muscle group movements into each workout, you increase the effectiveness of every training session.  Training with these increased serum values allows all muscles used to benefit from the circulating hormones.  Over time, continued strength training raises resting steroid hormone levels and increases muscle cell sensitivity, making each workout more beneficial.  

Studies show that testosterone is most increased in large muscle group exercises with heavy resistance (85%-95% of 1RM), high volume of exercise, and rest intervals of 30-60 seconds.  

Similarly Growth Hormone increases are seen with heavy resistance (10RM about 85% 1RM) with at least 3 sets of each exercise and a rest period less than 1 minute.

In closing, Don’t skip legs day.  Anabolic Steroids are released from within our own body naturally.  Slight alterations in your program can significantly increase the release of GH and testosterone, by including these guidelines into your program, you will see dramatic results within weeks.

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