Does weight training increase testosterone?

Posted by for Strong Women

Does weight training increase testosterone? Experts debunk this common myth. 

We know our hormones help to regulate our body’s most vital functions, and their impact on our workout routines is just as important. From how our menstrual cycle impacts our exercise to the role of cortisol in our bodies, our hormones can hugely influence how we lift, run and train.

One common myth in this area is that strength training can increase the levels of testosterone in the body. While testosterone is often thought of as the “male hormone”, everyone has it. In women, testosterone typically combines with estrogen to help maintain everything from bone health to fertility.

We asked Emma Rawlinson, a personal trainer and fitness coach at Core Collective and Dr Anna Swisher, the Coach Education and Sports Science Manager at USA Weightlifting, for the lowdown on how strength training can impact testosterone levels, and whether it’s actually important. 

Does weight training increase testosterone?

Emma Rawlinson: 

“Research is always being updated on the full effects of testosterone in exercise. Testosterone will initially increase during exercise, especially if you are relatively new to exercise and weight training. However, this doesn’t last long, and research has shown that the increase in testosterone in women during exercise is little to none.” 

Dr Anna Swisher:

“Consistent strength training using heavy loads on exercises to target the lower body such as squats, cleans and deadlifts are effective at building strength and increasing testosterone levels. It’s important to remember, though, that for women, increases in testosterone have minimal effect on gains, so the focus of your training should be less on how to manipulate your hormone levels and more on how to effectively adapt your muscles with quality training.”

Do testosterone levels matter in weight training?

Emma Rawlinson:

“Yes and no. Testosterone, amongst other benefits, binds to receptors on the surface of muscle cells and aids protein synthesis, healing muscles after resistance training. Therefore, if your testosterone levels are low your recovery may be impeded, which will impact your performance in future weight training sessions and make you more prone to injury. That being said, one of the best ways to naturally boost your testosterone levels is to do more weight training!” 

Dr Anna Swisher:

“Most women have significantly lower testosterone levels than their male counterparts, however women are able to increase strength, add lean body mass, and change body composition successfully. Female weightlifters are a great example. They compete in bodyweight classes for five or ten years, maintaining the same body mass but dramatically increasing their strength. So being very strong and lifting heavy weights for years is unlikely to add muscle mass in the way that many women imagine it will. 

“Full body dynamic large muscle mass movements like cleans and squats and snatches are a time efficient way to increase strength, help maintain mobility, are great for core strength, and are a lot of fun to do.”

Do you need high testosterone levels to be good at weight training?

Emma Rawlinson: 

“Absolutely not! Anybody can learn to lift weights, and I would encourage everybody to do so for a healthy body and mind. Levels of testosterone will differ from person to person due to a number of factors such as gender, weight, fitness levels, training experience and age, so it’s important to assess your own rate of recovery, or hire a professional coach to help you determine the frequency of weight training that’s right for you.”

Dr Anna Swisher: 

“Women, who generally have much lower levels of testosterone than men, are certainly able to increase strength and gain lean muscle mass. But still, having higher levels of testosterone is advantageous to strength development no matter the gender of the person, hence why supplemental testosterone is banned in sport. However, hormone levels are rarely the reason why weight trainers who are looking to increase strength fail to do so. It most likely has to do with the training regimen itself.

“Weight training without also considering diet, rest and sleep will yield sub-optimal results regardless of gender. I think this is a critically important point to get across.” 

How can short-term increases in testosterone levels be beneficial for weight trainers?

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Emma Rawlinson: 

“Increased testosterone will increase energy and endurance while lowering fatigue, therefore increasing recovery time and allowing you to train more frequently. This would be beneficial in times such as preparation for a competition. 

“The best natural ways to boost your testosterone are to lift weights, have a healthy and balanced diet of protein, carbs and fats, manage your stress levels, get plenty of natural sunlight (or Vitamin D supplements if you live in the UK!), and optimise recovery time by prioritising sleep quality.”

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