Push-Ups' Effect on Testosterone

Picture of a young athletic man doing push ups outdoors.
Push-ups naturally increase testosterone if you do them with enough intensity. (Image: Ivanko_Brnjakovic/iStock/Getty Images)

Testosterone is the king of the anabolic hormones, responsible for driving muscle growth and preserving existing muscle. It's so powerful that it's illegal to take in artificial form, known as anabolic steroids. It's the dominant sex hormone in males and is known for making people stronger and more aggressive, but women produce and thrive on testosterone as well. Resistance exercises, like push-ups, raise testosterone levels naturally.

Your testosterone levels naturally change throughout the day and slowly decline over your life. Resistance exercise, like push-ups, can naturally cause an increase in your testosterone levels. However, push-ups do not stimulate testosterone production more than lower body exercises that use bigger muscles. If you do a push-up workout, your goal should be to do as many sets and repetitions as possible, since this causes a bigger increase in testosterone.

Testosterone Basics

Men and women produce testosterone, although men produce significantly more. Men produce testosterone from their testicles and women produce it from their ovaries and adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys. Most of the testosterone that your body produces is attached to proteins in the body, with only about two percent of your testosterone floating around the blood stream.

This small percentage of testosterone is what researchers typically use to measure the changes in testosterone that you experience daily. Both men and women have a natural range of testosterone that goes up and down throughout their lifetime. For example, both sexes tend to have higher testosterone levels in the morning than in the evening.

Age and Testosterone

Testosterone levels also change as we age. For men, they peak around age 19, according to a study in the British Journal of Urology, which investigated testosterone levels of men as they age. Women have their peak testosterone at some point in their 20s. As we age, there is a slow decline in testosterone levels, although it 's unclear whether or not that decline stops at a certain age or continues throughout life.

Low Testosterone

For both sexes, it is possible to have testosterone levels that are either too low or too high. In men, low testosterone can cause osteoporosis, loss of sex drive and even metabolic problems like diabetes and obesity. In women, low testosterone can also cause loss of sex drive and fatigue, according to a 2002 study in the World Journal of Urology.

Resistance Exercise and Testosterone

While it won't cure the effects of low testosterone, resistance exercise does cause an increase in testosterone levels. Heavier weights and more intense, fast-paced activities will produce bigger increases in testosterone, according to a 2010 review in Sports Medicine, which compiled the results of 114 different studies to try to determine the effects of resistance exercise on men and women.

According to this review, the intensity, number of sets and reps, and the type of exercise all contribute to how much testosterone is released. They found that the heavier the weight lifted, the greater the increase in testosterone.

However, lifting heavy weights was not enough, there also had to be multiple sets and reps. A 2005 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology shows that performing four sets of 10 repetitions of a squat exercise produces more testosterone than doing 11 sets of three repetitions with more weight. The higher repetition sets proved to be better at increasing testosterone.

A woman exercises on the beach by doing push ups.
More sets and reps stimulates more testosterone. (Image: MisterDelirious/iStock/Getty Images)

Incorporating a lot of large muscles into your exercises produces more testosterone. This means that the push-up won't be as effective as, say, a squat in raising testosterone because the muscles used in a push-up are much smaller than the muscles used in a leg exercise. In Volume III of the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine, the authors explain that if you want to increase your testosterone, you'll have to choose exercises that use a lot of muscle mass, like a deadlift or squat. In other words, if you're looking to get a big spike in your testosterone, push-ups probably aren't going to cut it, you'll need to use more total-body exercises.

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