You may have heard that exercising boosts testosterone.

But how much truth is there in this claim?

Does working out increase testosterone?

And does the type of exercise you do matter? For example, does working out legs increase testosterone more than training arms? Or is weightlifting more effective than cardio?

And does working out increase testosterone in females, too?

Learn evidence-based answers to all these questions and more in this article.  

What Is Testosterone?

Testosterone is a hormone predominantly produced in the testicles for men and in smaller amounts in the ovaries for women.

As the primary androgen (male sex hormone), men naturally have higher testosterone levels than women.

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Why Is Testosterone Important?

Testosterone plays a crucial role in various bodily processes, such as libido, sperm production, and mood regulation.

It’s also the body’s most potent anabolic (muscle-building) hormone, which is why many gym-goers are keen to keep “T” levels high.

Having low testosterone also causes several adverse side effects, including:

  • Diminished sex drive
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Decreased sperm count
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Muscle and strength loss
  • Increased body fat
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Depression

Does Working Out Increase Testosterone in Males?

Several studies have investigated how exercise affects testosterone levels in men. 

Here’s what they found. 

Strength Training

Research shows that total testosterone levels spike immediately after heavy strength training and tend to fall back to “baseline” (their starting point) or slightly below within 30 minutes.

How much muscle you train and the types of exercise you do significantly influence how much testosterone increases after heavy weightlifting.

Exercises involving small muscle groups, such as the biceps curl, don’t meaningfully increase T, even when you lift heavy weights. But exercises that train several large muscle groups simultaneously boost levels of testosterone more significantly. 

Similarly, free-weight exercises, like the squat, cause a greater spike in post-exercise T than machine exercises, like the leg press. While the reasons for this aren’t completely clear, scientists believe there are two likely explanations:

  1. Free-weight compound exercises engage more “stabilizer” muscles across your entire body than machine exercises.
  2. Free-weight exercises typically activate muscles to a higher degree than machine exercises. 

How hard you train, how many sets you do, and how long you rest between sets also contribute.

According to research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, training with moderately heavy weights (~75% of one-rep max) enhances T more than training with very heavy weights (~90% of one-rep max).

It also suggested doing a moderate number of sets and taking relatively short rest periods was more beneficial than doing lots of sets and resting for longer. 

There’s some evidence that training experience and body weight influence the testosterone-boosting effects of strength training, too.

For instance, research by scientists at the University of Saskatchewan suggests experienced weightlifters see a greater increase in T than newbies following resistance exercise.

Furthermore, studies show that testosterone either doesn’t meaningfully increase or increases less in obese men than lean men post-exercise.

In another study by California State University, researchers found that while testosterone spikes were comparable in lean and obese men immediately post-exercise, obese men had significantly lower levels after 30 minutes (20 vs. 8 nmol/L). 

Age can limit T production after strength training, as well.

Studies show that while testosterone typically rises in middle-aged and older men after lifting weights, the spikes are usually smaller and return to baseline faster than in younger people. 

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a type of exercise that involves alternating between bursts of near-maximal effort and periods of lower-intensity recovery.

A 2021 meta-analysis by the Sport and Health University Research Institute found that HIIT temporarily elevates testosterone post-workout. Still, levels typically return to baseline within 30 minutes.

Importantly, the study also found that HIIT escalates cortisol production, potentially offsetting the benefits associated with a hike in T. 

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Endurance Training

Some studies suggest endurance training positively affects T levels, provided you train at a high intensity and for long enough.

In a study published in the journal Endocrine, researchers had experienced runners run on a treadmill for 10 minutes at 60% and 75% of their VO2 max, then 5 minutes at 90% and 2 minutes at 100%.

The results showed that the runners’ testosterone levels only rose when they ran at 90% and 100% of their VO2 max, suggesting lower-intensity endurance training isn’t sufficiently challenging to boost testosterone. 

Similarly, older research conducted by the University of Copenhagen found that testosterone only increased significantly in young men when they ran at a very high intensity for 40 minutes. 

In an interesting study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that collegiate runners only saw an increase in T when they ran at 85% VO2 max and were adequately hydrated. When they ran at a lower intensity and were dehydrated, T didn’t increase significantly. 

Does Working Out Increase Testosterone in Females?

While testosterone is primarily thought of as a male hormone, it’s vital for women, too. 

Women with low testosterone suffer similar symptoms to men with low testosterone, including loss of muscle and bone density, irregular moods, reduced sex drive, weight gain, and fatigue. 

But does working out increase testosterone in women the way it does in men?

It depends on the type of exercise you do.

For example, several studies show that strength training exercises increase T in women. That said, the increase is often less pronounced and shorter-lived than the increase experienced by men. 

Studies on cardiovascular exercise are less consistent: some show HIIT and endurance exercise boosts T, others show it has no effect, and still others show it may even decrease testosterone levels in women. 

Ultimately, it seems likely that strength training increases women’s T levels, but we need more high-quality research before we can say what effect cardio has on T levels in females. 

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Do Post-Exercise Testosterone Spikes Boost Muscle Growth?

We’ve established that strength training boosts testosterone levels in men and women and that cardio has a similar effect in men.

However, most research shows these increases are temporary—T rises sharply following a workout and returns to baseline soon after.

Moreover, most research shows training doesn’t ramp up testosterone production over the long term. 

For instance, a 5-year study by Maryville College found that physically active men had similar T levels to their sedentary counterparts, while several studies show doing intense strength and cardiovascular training does little to improve day-to-day testosterone levels.

For testosterone to have a meaningful impact on muscle growth, levels must stay elevated for long periods. Thus, the boost in T you get from training probably won’t affect your ability to build muscle

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