Breathing new life into old ideas
Updated: May 19
Stop what you’re doing and question everything you know, because I have a revelation to share with you. It turns out that, in terms of breathing, standing upright with hands on head is not the most effective way to recover from a bout of exercise, and here’s the kicker, it’s actually more effective to stand with hands on knees. Well, technically, lying supine is also better than hands on head too, but not practical if you’re taking a moment between plays or a stoppage in the game. Now, maybe I’m just late to the party and this has been known to all and sundry long before my awakening from ignorance. Breathing posture aside, this tidbit pushed me to try tackling one of my own long-held beliefs regarding testosterone and resistance training.
This belief is that training longer than 60min in the gym is counter-productive because your testosterone concentration starts dipping after 45min. Upon reflection I realised that this “knowledge” had been with me for many years because a reputable classmate in 2nd year undergrad told me this was the case… Yup, that’s a pretty flimsy reason for justifying 45-60min as the goal for a gym session. I hang my head in shame, but I was young and impressionable and over the years it settled into my subconscious as a “known fact”. Quite scary, if you ask me.
After a fair effort, I haven’t been able to find research (and only one blog article) that supports this thinking on testosterone dynamics during resistance training, but that’s not to say it’s not out there. What I have found is a veritable rabbit hole of information about testosterone and other hormones that has me feeling a bit like John Snow (for those who don’t get the reference, I know nothing). What I can tell you for now is that individuals’ hormonal responses to resistance training vary and that on top of this different training modes (power, strength, etc.) elicit varying hormonal responses[2–5]. In one of the studies, circulating testosterone concentrations were found to be increased immediately after approximately 60min of resistance training (except with a power training modality), and then decreased to below baseline at 30min post-workout. One might look at this and say that my belief is confirmed, but we don’t know if the response would have been the same if the training was 90min. Furthermore, it’s possible that the subsequent decrease in testosterone is the result of upregulation of androgen receptors in response to the initial spike immediately post workout[5,6]. So it’s all part of the process and that drop in testosterone doesn’t mean you’re having a negative hormonal response. The take-away here, is that the type of training you do during the session is the important bit. This then affects the hormonal response after the session, and it doesn’t have to mean increased circulating testosterone for the next hour or so. There’s also so much more to consider when thinking about resistance training and testosterone. Without going into it in detail here, age, training history, sex, genetics, nutrient availability, program structure, and recovery methods will also influence your hormonal and general responses and adaptations to training. Lastly, testosterone isn’t the only hormone to consider, we haven’t even mentioned growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor.
Moving on from the brief foray into trying to understand testosterone responses to resistance training… What are some other long-standing beliefs we’ve reasoned out and guarded as truth over the years? It’s an old question, but maybe we can breathe new life into it. Pun intended.
One that comes to mind is the old practice of training with a plastic waste bag over the torso to increase sweating and therefore weight-loss. Common knowledge suggests that it doesn’t work because you replace the lost water weight by rehydrating. However, what if this is the poor man’s version of taking your squad to train in hot and humid climates in preparation for a tournament being held in such conditions? Would the benefits outweigh a potential decrement in training quality, and loss of training adaptation? Anyone interested in writing an article exploring this? I have my hands full trying to figure out this testosterone nonsense.
To close off, with the world being turned upside down, the next thing you know I’ll be telling you that backwards running training might be more effective than traditional forwards running training at improving sprinting performance over 10m and 20m. Bloody crazy stuff, if you ask me.
Del Vecchio, A. H., Del Vecchio, F. B. & Domingues, M. R. Effects of Two Different Active Recovery Modes During High-intensity Interval Training. Med. Sci. Sport. Exerc. 46, 390 (2014).
Beaven, C. M., Gill, N. D. & Cook, C. J. Salivary testosterone and cortisol responses in professional rugby players after four resistance exercise protocols. J. Strength … 22, 426–432 (2008).
Beaven, C. M., Cook, C. J. & Gill, N. D. Significant Strength Gains Observed in Rugby Players after Specific Resistance Exercise Protocols Based on Individual Salivary Testosterone Responses. J. Strength Cond. Res. 22, 419–425 (2008).
Beaven, C. M., Gill, N. D., Ingram, J. R. & Hopkins, W. G. Acute Salivary Hormone Responses to Complex Exercise Bouts. J. Strength Cond. Res. 25, 1072–1078 (2011).
Vingren, J. L. et al. Testosterone Physiology in Resistance Exercise and Training. Sport. Med. 40, 1037–1053 (2010).
Choenfeld, B. J. Postexercise Hypertrophic Adaptations: A Reexamination of the Hormone Hypothesis and Its Applicability to Resistance Training Program Design. J. Strength Cond. Res. 27, 1720–1730 (2013).
Uthoff, A., Oliver, J., Cronin, J., Harrison, C. & Winwood, P. Sprint-Specific Training in Youth: Backward Running vs. Forward Running Training on Speed and Power Measures in Adolescent Male Athletes. J. Strength Cond. Res. 00, 1–10 (2018).