Testosterone physiology in resistance exercise and training: the up-stream regulatory elements

Jakob L Vingren 1William J KraemerNicholas A RatamessJeffrey M AndersonJeff S VolekCarl M Maresh


Testosterone is one of the most potent naturally secreted androgenic-anabolic hormones, and its biological effects include promotion of muscle growth. In muscle, testosterone stimulates protein synthesis (anabolic effect) and inhibits protein degradation (anti-catabolic effect); combined, these effects account for the promotion of muscle hypertrophy by testosterone. These physiological signals from testosterone are modulated through the interaction of testosterone with the intracellular androgen receptor (AR). Testosterone is important for the desired adaptations to resistance exercise and training; in fact, testosterone is considered the major promoter of muscle growth and subsequent increase in muscle strength in response to resistance training in men. The acute endocrine response to a bout of heavy resistance exercise generally includes increased secretion of various catabolic (breakdown-related) and anabolic (growth-related) hormones including testosterone. The response of testosterone and AR to resistance exercise is largely determined by upper regulatory elements including the acute exercise programme variable domains, sex and age. In general, testosterone concentration is elevated directly following heavy resistance exercise in men. Findings on the testosterone response in women are equivocal with both increases and no changes observed in response to a bout of heavy resistance exercise. Age also significantly affects circulating testosterone concentrations. Until puberty, children do not experience an acute increase in testosterone from a bout of resistance exercise; after puberty some acute increases in testosterone from resistance exercise can be found in boys but not in girls. Aging beyond 35-40 years is associated with a 1-3% decline per year in circulating testosterone concentration in men; this decline eventually results in the condition known as andropause. Similarly, aging results in a reduced acute testosterone response to resistance exercise in men. In women, circulating testosterone concentration also gradually declines until menopause, after which a drastic reduction is found. In summary, testosterone is an important modulator of muscle mass in both men and women and acute increases in testosterone can be induced by resistance exercise. In general, the variables within the acute programme variable domains must be selected such that the resistance exercise session contains high volume and metabolic demand in order to induce an acute testosterone response.