You’ve probably come across the claim that certain compound exercises, the barbell squat in particular, will increase your testosterone levels, which in turn will lead to a faster rate of muscle growth.
Google around, and you’ll see headlines like:
- Exercises That Boost Testosterone Levels
- The Best Resistance Exercises to Increase Testosterone
- 7 Best Exercises to Naturally Increase Testosterone in Men
- 5 Moves to Boost Low Testosterone
- 10 Testosterone-Boosting Workout Routines
The idea is that this exercise or that workout will increase testosterone levels naturally, putting you on the fast track to bigger, stronger muscles.
I’ve even come across claims that certain workouts “can help men increase T levels naturally without the need for expensive hormone replacement therapy.”
It would be great if it were true, but it isn’t.
In fact, the size and duration of any post-exercise increase in testosterone is too small and too short-lived to have any meaningful impact on muscle growth.
Here’s a closer look at what the research has to say on the subject of the barbell squat, testosterone and muscle growth.
Does Squatting Increase Testosterone?
Heavy resistance exercise in general has been shown, in some studies at least, to increase testosterone levels after exercise.
That is, training sessions involving large amounts of muscle mass and relatively heavy weights typically lead to an increase in levels of testosterone .
The research on the subject started back in the 1990’s, when researchers from the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine put a group of men through multiple workouts involving the same exercises, but with different weights, rep ranges and inter-set rest periods .
Here’s what one of the workouts looked like:
- Bench press 5 sets x 5 reps
- Leg extension 5 sets x 5 reps
- Military press 3 sets x 5 reps
- Bent leg, incline sit-ups 3 sets x 5 reps
- Seated row 3 sets x 5 reps
- Lat pulldown 4 sets x 5 reps
- Arm curls 3 sets x 5 reps
- Leg press 5 sets x 5 reps
Blood samples taken 5, 15, 30, 60, 90, and 120 minutes after training show a significant increase in testosterone levels.
FREE: The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet. This is a quick guide to building muscle, which you can read online or keep as a PDF, that shows you exactly how to put on muscle. To get a FREE copy of the cheat sheet emailed to you, please click or tap here.
And it’s not just testosterone.
In the high volume workouts involving higher reps and short (60 seconds) rest periods between sets, there was also a spike in both human growth hormone (HGH) and IGF-1 levels, two hormones that often are labelled “anabolic.”
However, not all studies report an increase in testosterone following heavy resistance training.
A study of competitive powerlifters, for example, looked at the post-exercise hormonal response to 3, 6 and 12 sets of heavy squats, performed at 90% of their one-rep max .
While the heavy squats did affect growth hormone and IGF-1 levels, testosterone levels weren’t affected.
Do The Hormonal Benefits of Squats Matter?
Heavy resistance training involving large muscle groups does have the potential to increase post-training testosterone levels.
But how much of a difference is the increase in testosterone actually going to make to your rate of muscle growth over time?
Not much is the answer.
Post-exercise changes in testosterone levels also fail to explain why some people build muscle faster than others, even when they eat and train the same.
A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology analyzed data collected from a group of men who took part in a three-month resistance training program .
If the post-exercise change in levels of testosterone was important as far as muscle growth is concerned, you’d expect to see two things:
Guys with the largest testosterone response to training would build the most muscle. And those with the smallest response would build the least muscle.
But when they looked at the data, the researchers could find no significant link between the exercise-induced rise in testosterone levels and gains in muscle mass.
The hormonal responses of those who made the fastest gains in size and strength were no different than those who made the slowest gains.
Heavy resistance exercise does lead to a short-term increase in various hormones, including testosterone, growth hormone and IGF-1.
However, this temporary surge doesn’t do much for muscle growth, and designing a training program to maximize post-exercise hormone levels is unlikely to have much of an impact on the speed at which muscle is gained.
Squats and Testosterone: Frequently Asked Questions
How many squats in the gym would I need to do every day to increase my testosterone level by 50%?
Squatting every day, no matter how many squats you do, isn’t going to increase your resting testosterone levels by 50%. Heavy resistance exercise has been shown, in some studies at least, to increase post-exercise testosterone levels temporarily. But they don’t stay elevated for long.
If you want to raise your testosterone levels, I think you’re far better off looking at the food you eat, the exercise you do and the way you live your life.
If, for example. you’re following a very low fat diet, doing lots of endurance exercise, getting very little sleep, deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, and are overweight (all of which are known to lower testosterone), then fixing those issues will bring testosterone levels back to what they should be.
In fact, one of the simplest things you can do to raise your testosterone levels is to lose fat.
In a review published in the European Journal of Endocrinology, a 30% weight loss following bariatric surgery (which involves reducing the size of the stomach) was shown to raise testosterone levels by well over 50% .
A study of 1,822 men shows that a man’s waist size is the single strongest predictor of low testosterone levels — it’s even more accurate than age .
A 10-year increase in age was associated with a 36% increase in the odds of low testosterone. In contrast, a 4-inch (10-cm) increase in waist size was associated with a 75% increase in the odds of low testosterone.
Getting enough sleep is also very important. In one study, a single night of sleep deprivation decreased testosterone levels by an average of 24% . Muscle protein synthesis, which is what drives muscle growth, was down by 18%.
How much do squats increase testosterone?
In one study, the increase in free testosterone levels (free testosterone is the bioactive form of the hormone) immediately after squats ranged from roughly 40 to 55 per cent above baseline.
However, keep in mind that any increase in post-training testosterone levels is likely too short-lived to have any kind of meaningful impact on muscle growth.
How long does testosterone stay increased after squatting with heavy weights? Does it stay elevated for just a very short period of time or does the increased testosterone effect last last for more than 24 hours?
Testosterone levels only stay elevated for a short period of time after squatting with heavy weights. And by a short period of time, I’m talking about an hour or so at most . They’re not going to stay elevated for an entire day.
If you're overwhelmed and confused by all the conflicting advice out there, then check out The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet.
It's a quick guide to building muscle, which you can read online or keep as a PDF, that shows you exactly how to put on muscle. To get a copy of the cheat sheet sent to you, please enter your email address in the box below, and hit the “send it now” button.