The exercises you perform and how you use them affect your hormonal response, and this in turn affects your training results. For example, longer rest periods produce a greater testosterone response to help you build muscle, whereas shorter rest periods produce a greater growth hormone (GH) response to help you lose fat. When you know the specific hormonal response to expect from your training, you can increase the productivity of your efforts to achieve physical superiority.
To help you design more effective workouts, here are 10 major training variables and how they affect hormonal response.
1) Multijoint Exercises
Squats, deadlifts, bench presses, Olympic lifts, and other such multijoint exercises will stimulate your body to release more testosterone compared with isolation exercises such as triceps extensions or calf raises.
2) Heavy Weights
The greatest increases in testosterone are achieved with heavy weights (85–95% of your one-repetition maximum, or 1RM, for a specific exercise).
3) Long Rest Intervals
Longer rest intervals are needed to produce the greatest testosterone response. In one study that reviewed the hormonal effects of rest periods on squats and bench presses, using 85% of 1RM and rest periods of 60, 90, and 120 seconds, the greatest testosterone response was observed in the group that rested 120 seconds.
4) Short Rest Periods
Growth hormone is necessary for protein synthesis, issue remodeling, and fat burning. Moderately heavy resistance is best (75–85% of the 1RM) with rest periods between 30 seconds and one minute. Regarding the results of the study mentioned in No. 3, the 60-second rest group had the highest increase in GH, indicating the value of short rest periods, especially if fat loss is one of your goals.
5) Eccentric- Enhanced training
Longer eccentric training tempos result in a maximal GH response, even when longer rest periods are used. One study that tested eccentric-enhanced training on GH response compared execution of the bench press and squat using a traditional program (4 sets of 6 reps at 52.5% of 1RM) with an eccentric-enhanced program (3 sets of 6 reps at 40% 1RM for the concentric motion and 100% 1RM for the eccentric).
GH increased significantly more after the eccentric-enhanced training compared with the traditional program and led to a greater post-exercise lactate response.
Even so, don’t get stuck on using just one lifting tempo (speed), because varying the tempo of training elicits the greatest hypertrophic response with maximal release of three hormones in particular: GH; insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), a potent hormone for synthesizing muscle protein; and mechano growth factor (MGF), a muscle-building hormone that is closely related to IGF-1.
6) Weighted Chains and Bands
Because you are weaker concentrically when your muscles are contracting (think of the squat’s down phase, where you can actually lower more weight than you can while rising in this concentric contraction), you’ll gain more strength by challenging the concentric portion of your lift. Granted, there’s a lack of research on how using chains and elastic bands specifically affect the endocrine system, but these methods are essential to include in this discussion of optimizing anabolic response; there is ample evidence that hypertrophy-type training boosts GH.
7) Usometric Pauses
The most powerful muscle fibers are the high-threshold, fast-twitch motor units. Isometric pauses (for example, holding the bar on your chest for four seconds before pressing it during a bench press) increase intramuscular tension and elevate IGF-1.
8) Wavelike loading
Use varied, wavelike loading to improve anabolic signaling, which affects how testosterone interacts with hormone receptors, specifically androgen receptors. Increasing the activity of androgen receptors, or upregulating them, results in a greater anabolic response. Research shows that using wavelike training with varied programming schemes can upregulate androgen receptors and elevate testosterone response.
Although wavelike loading is well known in weightlifting circles, bodybuilders may not be familiar with this type of training, which involves progressing to heavier weights in a series of waves. For example, you work up to a maximal weight in a pyramid fashion and then reduce the weight by a significant amount, then work back up in pyramid fashion to an even higher maximal weight. For examples of wavelike loading and its history, see my book Modern Trends in Strength Training.
9) Forced Reps
With a forced rep you perform a lift for the maximum number of reps possible, and then have a partner assist you in completing additional reps. This type of training produces the greatest responses in GH and IGF-1. One study compared a forced-repetition protocol and a maximum-rep scheme using squats. The forced-rep protocol included 12 reps, of which 8 were typically performed alone and 4 were forced, whereas the maximum-rep scheme had participants lift to failure. The forced-rep protocol led to a significantly greater testosterone response than the maximum-rep program in both trained and untrained individuals. Fully exhausting muscle fibers during training has been shown to trigger protein synthesis for up to 72 hours after a workout.
Finishers include isometric pauses or eccentric-enhanced lifts or both, depending on how much pain you can stand. Finishers performed at the end of workouts fully thrash muscle fibers and elevate IGF-1 and MGF. One of my favorite arm finishers is the 90-degree chinup. Use a supinated, close grip on the chinup bar and pull yourself up to 90 degrees of elbow flexion. Hold that position for as long as possible—preferably at least 30 seconds (and you can hang weight plates off yourself if you want to make it harder). Then slowly lower. If you have anything left in your arms, you can do it again.
Clearly, All of These Key variables for making you stronger and leaner cannot be put into a single workout. They need to be carefully programmed so you can get the most out of your gym time.