Effect of Exercise Intensity on Testosterone Levels

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve your testosterone levels is to exercise, and there are proven benefits to our cardiovascular, respiratory, and musculoskeletal health from working out.

But which exercises are the best for improving your testosterone levels? Running, pumping iron, taking spin classes, doing bodyweight exercises, trudging it out on a treadmill, sweating through a power yoga class, hitting the mat in a mixed martial arts gym … the options are endless, and they all have their adherents.

So how do you choose?

Sports medicine studies can help. Unfortunately, every few months, it seems, another study comes out saying something that throws cold water on a previous study. For instance, a recent study from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill drew conclusions that seemed to contradict what sports medicine has been telling us for years about the importance of frequent, vigorous exercise:

Of 1077 men, those with the highest intensity and duration of exercise reported a lower libido on a symptom questionnaire than the men in the moderate and low intensity and duration groups. The results may suggest that long term high intensity and long duration exercise might contribute to low libido.¹

Okay, that’s kind of surprising. The guys who were out there just killin’ it were being passed up by the guys who were just chillin’ it. So what’s the deal? What do we make of this?

Well first, when reading a study like this, the key is to interpret it not just read it. Digest it, don’t just swallow it whole.

For example, be aware that the UNC study quoted above is based on the subjective reports of 1,077 men who filled out a questionnaire. No laboratory blood assays were performed. That’s not necessarily bad, mind you. Questionnaires can be quite helpful in identifying correlations² between behaviors and various health outcomes. However, they can’t establish cause. You need to gather more information.

Is there anything that we can take away from this study and apply to our workouts?

If we look at the range of sports medicine studies out there, some things are incontrovertible. You should:

  • Exercise in some form on a daily basis
  • Choose exercises that you actually enjoy (walking counts!)
  • Mix it up with different types and intensities of exercise
  • Throw in a short duration, high intensity exercise session a couple of times a week

The UNC study, when interpreted in light of the other sports medicine studies out there, suggests there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to high intensity workouts. So, go out and exercise hard, just not every day. Kill it, but remember to chill it. It is actually possible to overtrain to the detriment of your sex life.

¹ Hackney A, Lane A, Register-Mihalik J, O’Leary C. Endurance Exercise Training and Male Sexual LibidoMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2017:1. doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000001235.

² “Correlation | Definition of Correlation by Merriam-Webster.”

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