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Exercise — Increase testosterone?

Alice,

Does exercise (i.e., weight lifting) increase testosterone levels?

— Working Out

Dear Working Out,

Great question! Testosterone is a sex hormone present in everyone, and a hormone that differs depending on the anatomy that a person is born with. Testosterone levels tend to be far lower in those assigned females at birth than those assigned male at birth. It's also associated with muscle development and improved muscular performance. Weight lifting, along with other types of physical activity, are great ways to boost testosterone levels, at least temporarily. Too much activity, on the other hand, could lower testosterone levels. 

In those with testes, testosterone is produced by signals from the brain which communicate to the pituitary gland, which then go to the testes. It affects the development of healthy reproductive organs, facial hair, and bone, and is equally critical in regulating sex drive and mood. The balance of maintaining proper testosterone levels is crucial to well-being as low testosterone levels may lead to fatigue, anemia, or low libido while high testosterone levels inhibit sperm production, bone growth, and sleep.

Though testosterone's often associated with people assigned male at birth, it's equally critical for many biological functions in those assigned female at birth. It's produced in the ovaries and adrenal gland. The balance between testosterone and estrogen levels is necessary to support proper functions including the regulating of reproductive organs and bone. Much like in males, testosterone has also been shown to regulate mood, sex drive, and other cognitive functions. High testosterone levels in females are characteristic of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common condition in premenopausal women that affects overall hormone balance and related biological functions. Low testosterone, on the other hand, is common among postmenopausal women and may impair sexual well-being.

When you’re hitting the gym, testosterone functions to help increase muscle mass and, therefore, decrease fatigue and improve fitness overall. This is especially beneficial during exhaustive exercises, such as heavy lifting. One study found that regular physical exercise in those assigned female at birth (ten or more hours a week) helped to increase testosterone levels while lowering body mass index. With this, it's worth noting that research on transgender athletes is extremely limited, so the impact of physical activity on those who are using hormone therapy isn't known.

If you're an athlete or are experiencing symptoms of low testosterone, you may want to consider these suggestions to give your testosterone a boost:

  • Include exercises in your routine that work large muscle groups (bench press, back rows, squats).
  • Include heavier weights on some training days, even if it means cutting down on the number of times (reps) you can lift this weight.
  • Make sure your workout includes at least three sets of each exercise.
  • Give your body at least one day (preferably two) to rest and recover before working the same muscle group again.
  • Fuel your body with adequate food and water to support your workouts. Maximal testosterone increases occur when fully hydrated.

Other workout methods such as cardio/endurance or high-intensity-interval training have proven to be effective in increasing testosterone levels as well. Some other factors to consider are age and body weight, both of which are negatively correlated with testosterone and, thus, may make increasing testosterone levels more difficult. For example, testosterone levels in men drop approximately one to two percent each year, making it harder to maintain body hair, a high sex drive, and other functions regulated by testosterone. Testosterone levels could also be affected by diseases in the testes, the pituitary gland, or the hypothalamus. Depending on your reasons for wanting to increase or decrease testosterone levels, there may be more than one option for doing so. For example, therapies are clinically available to help boost testosterone levels, though many have adverse effects. If you’re concerned that you’re experiencing symptoms of low or high testosterone, it's wise to consult your health care provider to determine the best course of action.

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Last updated Jun 30, 2022
Originally published Oct 01, 1993

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