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Training Frequency and Testosterone: What Works Best?

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Is training frequency and testosterone related? And is their an optimum number of times to hit the gym for peak muscle growth androgen production? We find out…

As a guy that likes to look good and perform at his best, you regularly review your gym workouts and nutrition to get the very best results. If there’s any part of your lifestyle that doesn’t support your health and hormones, you change it. Plain and simple.

Training intensity and volume are important variables when it comes to muscle gain, fat loss, and male hormone production…

But what about training frequency and testosterone? 

In this article, we take a look at the evidence…


What Is Training Frequency and Why Is It Important?

Hitting the gym every now and then as an afterthought rather than dedicating time on a regular basis will never help you craft the physique you’re after.

Training frequency refers to the number of sessions you complete in the gym per week. 

To truly build something you’re proud of takes tenacity, persistence, and willpower. And that means embracing the grind on the days you want to hit the gym… as well as the days you don’t.

Frequency is an important stimulus for fitness improvements

Don’t train enough and results come slow (if at all). Train too often and you run the risk of burnout and overtraining.

Frequency is important when it comes to shredding fat and building slabs of muscle mass – but training at the correct frequency is where it’s at.

It’s important when you’re planning your gym workouts that you balance the stimulus of exercise with recovery.

Frequency and the fitness-fatigue model

The fitness-fatigue model [1] is built around the concept of stress-adaptation. In other words, when you train at the gym you provide a stimulus that your body has to cope with.

Let’s say for example you lift weights. You provide a stimulus by damaging your muscles fibers on a microscopic level. The adaptation is an increase in muscle cell donation and an increase in muscle size.

If the stimulus is sprinting during high-intensity interval training, for example, the adaptation is an increase in blood volume, lung function, and oxygen kinetics.

In other words, for every stimulus, a specific adaptation occurs.

So how are the fitness-fatigue model and frequency related?

When you train hard and more frequently you build both fitness and fatigue. If you train too often, the fatigue you build ‘masks’ your increasing fitness and your performance begins to decline.

But if you don’t train often enough, your fitness levels don’t improve.

It’s about balance. And at the heart of it all is training frequency.


Muscle-athlete-arm-curl-mechanical-tension

Key Point: Good training isn’t about training as frequently as possible, it’s about training frequently enough to build fitness, but not accumulate unnecessary fatigue.


Training Frequency and Muscle Mass – Is More Better?

When it comes to training frequency for building muscle mass there have always been two schools of thought.

One suggests that more is better and training a muscle multiple times each week maximizes growth. The other states that hitting a muscle once each week limits fatigue and allows more efficient training.

But to truly understand the relationship between training frequency and testosterone, clinical research is key.

Here are the most important studies you need to know about…

Higher training frequencies better for strength and muscle gains

A recent research paper from the prestigious journal Frontiers in Physiology [2] looked at the potential link between how often a group of athletes trained and the effects on leg strength and muscle damage (a measure of fatigue).

The volunteers were split into 2 group and over an 11-week period followed a pre-designed workout plan using ~70% of their 1RM:

  • High frequency – 6 x 12 reps
  • Low frequency – 2 x 12 reps

…high frequency groups improved muscle mass and strength, as well as muscle fiber thickness

The results showed that although both groups improved muscle mass and strength, as well as muscle fiber thickness, the high-frequency group’s results were more significant. Additionally, strength was much higher in the high-frequency group compared to the low group.

Meta-analysis shows training more frequently is translated into greater muscle gains

In a comprehensive meta-analysis by Brad Schoenfeld and James Krieger [3], 22 studies were analyzed. The research team included any study that compared muscular strength outcomes with different training frequencies.

The results were interesting.

…higher training frequencies translated into better muscle mass gains.

As you’d probably guess, training more frequently resulted in better muscle mass gains. The effect sizes (how scientists quantify differences between groups) were as followed.

  • One workout per week – 0.74
  • Two workouts – 0.82
  • Three workouts – 0.93
  • Four workouts per week – 1.08

In other words, four training sessions resulted in far more muscle mass and upper body 1RM strength (strangely not in lower body strength though).

The researchers also found that the effects of volume were much more significant in younger adults than in older ones, and that women benefited slightly more than the guys – probably because women can naturally handle higher volumes of training in comparison.



Key Point: Training more frequently leads to a significant increase in muscle mass, probably due to higher training volumes.


Training Frequency and Testosterone – The Link

Testosterone is a natural steroid hormone produced in the Leydig cells of your testes. It has both anabolic and androgenic properties and is responsible for a number of benefits:

  • Elevates muscle mass, protein synthesis, and maximal strength
  • Keeps you lean, fighting off fat gain
  • More energy, stamina, and endurance
  • Regulates sex drive and libido
  • Protects you from metabolic, vascular and neurodegenerative disease

So what about the relationship between training frequency and testosterone?

It’s common knowledge that strength training boosts testosterone. It supercharges androgen production, alongside growth factors such as growth hormone and IGF-1.

When you hit your body with a stimulus it can only adapt by using chemical messengers known as hormones to begin putting changes in place. Because testosterone is the most anabolic of male hormones, it makes sense that this specific steroid hormone leads from the front.

And once triggered, testosterone rushes to your androgen receptors to begin the muscle growth process.


Practical guidelines to boost testosterone with strength training

Training frequency

Muscle mass gains, training frequency, and testosterone are all inter-related. But the exact number of workouts you need to maximize testosterone production is individual to you.

Most guys find that 3-5 workouts per week (with a recovery week every 4-6 weeks) works best. The frequency is high enough to build slabs of strong, functional muscle without leading to burn out and fatigue.

However, if that sounds too high for your current fitness levels, aim for 3 strength-based workouts per week and build from there.

Full body workouts

Research shows that while arm curls and leg extension have some value in a muscle-building program, it’s the bigger compound exercises that take testosterone to the next level.

  • Presses and pulls
  • Deadlifts
  • Squats
  • Carriers

A study by strength training legend Bill Kraemer [4] found that compound exercises – ones that use multiple muscle groups – were optimal for boosting testosterone. And this has been supported by other research too [5].

Lift heavy and ramp up your hormone levels

The great thing about compound lifts is you’re easily able to add some big loads to the bar and really get to work.

Evidence shows that lifting heavy – 70-80% 1RM  or above – is optimal for both strength and testosterone production.

For example, a study published in the Journal of Gerontology found that men given heavy weights over a 6-month training period, the following benefits occurred:

  • Greater maximal strength and muscle mass
  • Higher maximal voluntary activation
  • Elevated growth hormone concentrations
  • Higher total and free testosterone

Handsome, athletic and muscular bodybuilder posing over black background

Summary – Does Training More Frequently Affect Testosterone Levels?

Training frequency refers to how many times per week you train in the gym.

But even though it’s a simple term, it’s one of the most important factors in gaining muscle and boosting testosterone, with numerous studies showing higher training frequency and testosterone increases are strongly related.


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References

  1. Chiu, L et al. The Fitness-Fatigue Model Revisited: Implications for Planning Short- and Long-Term Training. Strength Cond J. 2003; 25(6)
  2. Ochi, E et al. Higher Training Frequency Is Important for Gaining Muscular Strength Under Volume-Matched Training. Frontiers Phys. 2018
  3. Grgic, J et al. Effect of Resistance Training Frequency on Gains in Muscular Strength: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2018; 48(5): 1207-1220
  4. Kraemer, WJ et al. Acute hormonal responses in elite junior weightlifters. Int J Sports Med. 1992; 13(2): 103-9
  5. Hansen, S et al. The effect of short-term strength training on human skeletal muscle: the importance of physiologically elevated hormone levels. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2001; 11(6): 347-54
  6. Häkkinen, K et al. Basal concentrations and acute responses of serum hormones and strength development during heavy resistance training in middle-aged and elderly men and women. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2000; 55(2): B95-105

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