Strength Training and The Hormonal Response

The term “hormonal response” gets thrown around a lot, especially in relation to weightlifting. It is one of my favorite things to say: “You have to squat or you won’t be getting that hormonal response, which will in turn impede your overall strength and/or size gains”. But what does it actually mean? This article will attempt to break down some of the science behind the hormonal and endocrine responses we all strive to achieve.

The Hormones In Question

Human Growth Hormone (HGH or GH) and testosterone are the two primary anabolic hormones. This means that when the levels of these hormones increase, muscular size and strength will also increase. Because they are also lipolytic, they mobilize body fat for use as fuel, leading to a reduction in overall body-fat. Another hormone, trilodothyronine T3 ( thyroid hormone) also has anabolic and lypolitic properties.

These are the hormones whose secretion we attempt to manipulate by various methods, but besides an intake of synthetic testosterone and HGH, how is this possible?

Like with so many other things, the answer is simple: SQUATS!

How To Manipulate the Hormonal Response

During heavy resistance exercises, there is a cascade of events that leads to an increase in several hormones that very specifically help deliver needed glucose for energy to the working muscle cells (Kraemer and Ratamess, 2005). There is also an immediate increase in epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones increase blood glucose and are also vital for increasing force production, muscle contraction rate, and energy production. An example of this would be the synthesis of ATP: the energy source of cells.

Interestingly enough, these hormones actually begin to rise prior to the strength training session. It has been described as an anticipatory response of the body, its way of preparing itself for the challenges it is about to face.

I am getting a hormonal response just from typing this.

Elevated blood glucose levels do not typically lead to an increase in insulin unless a protein/carbohydrate supplementation has preceded the workout. The increased uptake of blood glucose by the skeletal muscle occurs due to the functional increase of the cells glucose transporters. In laymans terms, this means strength training increases the body’s insulin sensitivity, causing it to intake and utilize glucose more effectively.

During conventional resistance exercise, there is a sequential concentric and eccentric muscle action. In training adaptations and hormonal responses, concentric muscle actions produced a greater amount of growth hormone when compared to an eccentric muscle action (Durand et al., 2003). Durand and colleagues compared both the concentric and eccentric muscle actions with the same absolute load. However, when compared using a relative load, both concentric and eccentric muscle actions produced similar growth hormone and testosterone responses (Kraemer et al., 2006).

Before you think that simply going to the gym and smashing on a set of dumbbell curls will give you the same response, think again. Research shows strength training programs that stress large muscle mass (ex: squats, deadlift, press, oly lifts) that are medium to high in volume, and medium to high in intensity tend to produce the greatest hormonal elevations for optimal muscular growth benefits.

In closing, strength training has been shown to dramatically affect acute hormonal responses in the body after training. These responses play a huge role not only in immediate tissue remodeling and growth, but as well as to long term strength, power, muscle gain, and fat loss. This is achieved by using multi-joint, heavy movements. In laymans terms: LIFT BIG & EAT BIG!.


-Ahtiainen, J.P., Pakarinen, A., Alen, M., Kraemer, W.J., and Hakkinen, K. (2005). Short vs. long rest period between the sets in hypertrophic resistance training: influence on muscle strength, size, and hormonal adaptations in trained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19 (3), 572-82.

-Ahtiainen, J.P., Pakarinen, A., Kraemer, W.J., and Hakkinen, K. (2004) Acute hormonal responses to heavy resistance exercise in strength athletes versus nonathletes. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology. 29 (5), 527-43.

-Durand, R.J., Castracane, V.D., Hollander, D.B., Tryniecki, J.L., Bamman, M.M., O’Neal, S., Hebert, E.P., and Kraemer, R.R. (2003). Hormonal responses from concentric and eccentric muscle contractions. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 35 (6), 937-943.

-Izquierdo, M., Ibanez, J., Gonzalez-Badillo, J.J., Hakkinen, K., Ratamess, N.A., Kraemer, W.J., French, D.N., Eslava, J., Altadill, A., Asiain, X., and Gorostiaga, E.M. (2006). Differential effects of strength training leading to failure versus not to failure on hormonal responses, strength, and muscle power gains. Journal of Applied Physiology, 100 (5), 1647-1656.

-Kraemer, R.R., Hollander, D.B., Reeves, G.V., Francois, M., Ramadan, Z.G., Meeker, B., Tryniecki, J.L., Hebert, E.P., and Castracane, V.D. (2006) Similar hormonal responses to concentric and eccentric muscle actions using relative loading. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 96 (5), 551-557.

-Kraemer, W.J., and Ratamess, N.A. (2005) Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training. Sports Medicine, 35, (4), 339-61



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