Do leg workouts increase testosterone?

leg workouts and testosterone

The short and straightforward answer is yes! Leg workouts do increase testosterone levels. Leg workouts don’t just increase testosterone but also increase growth hormone. Growth hormone is another anabolic hormone that can help with fat loss, strength, and muscular gains.

This article will look at the research that supports training legs for increased anabolic hormone release. We will also examine which leg exercises elicit the most significant hormone response and why.

What is testosterone?

Among men, testosterone is the most crucial sex hormone and anabolic hormone. Testosterone plays an essential role in human development by promoting the growth of male reproductive tissues, such as testes and prostates, and the development of secondary sexual characteristics, including increased muscle and bone mass and the development of hair.

Testosterone is made by the Leydig cells within the testes in men and the ovaries in women. Small quantities are also produced in the adrenal gland in men and women. It is an androgenic hormone that stimulates the development of male traits such as deep voice, hair, and increased muscle mass. Because it is an anabolic hormone, it promotes the building of complex substances or molecules from simpler ones. An example of this anabolism or building up is its ability to stimulate new blood cells, muscle fibers, and bone mass.[1]

Do leg workouts increase testosterone?

Leg workouts have been shown in numerous studies to stimulate the release of anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone.[2] As we all know, the more anabolic hormones we have circulating in the body, the easier it will be to grow new muscle, and the more effective our training will be.

The increase in testosterone that a heavy leg workout can gain is close to 20 percent. The increase in anabolic hormones is so significant that researchers at Odense University in Denmark set up a study to test their hypothesis. They hypothesized that training legs at the end of a smaller muscle group workout like arms would help stimulate more growth from the increased testosterone levels and growth hormone. The result of the study confirmed their hypothesis and showed that the test subjects who combined leg workouts with smaller muscle group workouts saw an increased anabolic response. This elevated anabolic response resulted in more significant strength gains in the smaller muscle groups trained.[3]

This data is substantial and should pause athletes and bodybuilders and make them rethink how they structure the body parts they work together. Many athletes will split up body parts into different days like arms, including biceps and triceps, one day, the next day, maybe chest and back etc. Most bodybuilders train legs on their own day because it is such an intense workout. Perhaps this study means we athletes and bodybuilders might want to try something like arms and legs trained together, or shoulders and legs together. This small change could potentially increase gains in those smaller muscle groups. Compared to if they were trained independently without adding a leg workout with them.

What leg exercises increase testosterone?

The best leg exercise by far for increasing testosterone is the squat. Numerous studies show that the squat recruits and activates the most muscle fibers and stimulates a more significant release of anabolic hormones like growth hormone and testosterone compared to other leg exercises. 

A study done by researchers at the University of North Texas and published in the journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the squat to the leg press machine. The researchers found that the squat elicited more than double the amount of growth hormone secretion compared to the leg press. The squat stimulated almost 20 percent more testosterone release than the leg press in terms of testosterone.[4] The researchers think they know why the squat produces more anabolic hormone release. According to the researchers’ calculations, the men expended 42 percent more energy during the squat exercise than they did on the leg-press machine, even though they used more weight on the leg-press machine. This increased effort is because the squat is a free weight exercise, and you have to lift the weight, including your body weight. You also have to activate stabilizing and secondary muscles that do not get activated when doing exercises on machines. In addition to this, you have a better and more natural range of motion.

The squat is the only leg exercise that has studies backing it up as a reliable exercise that stimulates the release of testosterone. With that being said, any compound free weight leg exercise would probably boost testosterone in the same way as the squat. Avoid leg machines as the studies clearly show they do not activate and recruit the same number of muscle fibers, thus stimulating anabolic hormone release to a lesser degree than compound free weight exercises.

Picture of Back Squat Exercise
Picture of Back Squat Exercise

We have talked about how the squat is the best exercise for an increased anabolic response, but what about single versus double leg exercises, like lunges or single-leg squats etc.

Based on the studies, it does not matter if you do single leg or bilateral or two-legged exercises. Both options stimulated the same level of testosterone release as long as the exercises were free weight exercises and not machine-based.[5]

Summary of leg workouts and increased anabolic hormones

Leg workouts using compound movements with heavyweight is a proven way to increase your testosterone along with growth hormone dramatically. The surge in anabolic hormones that you can achieve by working your legs is significant and can significantly help and improve your strength and muscular gains. The key is to remember that weight machines such as the leg press are much less effective than free-weight leg exercises such as the squat. For another interesting way to increase leg size and muscle growth check out our article on walking and muscle growth