In this article we will dig deeper into the relationship between HIIT & testosterone, but first let me introduce you to a real life story as example:
I had a coworker at the last job, with whom I used to chat during our lunch break. He seemed like a true gym bro; always talking about his training split and meal-prep Saturdays.
The peculiar thing was, he never changed much; all year round. He had the same skinny-fat look with some muscularity. I saw his gym bag daily with his branded apparel; wrist wraps, knee wraps, compression shorts and what not.
So, he did hit the gym daily and according to him, his sessions are at least two hours long. This always made me question his diet but then again; he's all broccoli and rice during lunch time and hardly snacks/binges (during work, at least).
Then, one fine day, he asked me if I would like to join him for a training session, that evening. Well, that's where I got answers to all my questions.
His workout was a stretched-out sequence of warm-up exercises with LOTS of resting and social-media whoring (excuse my language). I mean what I would consider a warm-up set (given the intensity, not the weight lifted) was his top working set.
He was training with weights 50% of his 1 rep max and calling it a day. The answer to my wonderment was Intensity; his training lacked intensity (and discipline!) and that's what was the missing piece of the puzzle.
The workout wasn't hard enough to push his body. It didn't matter if he continued with the same intensity for 3 hours or longer; the exercise intensity wasn't challenging enough. I think Dorian Yates has said it better.
The Surprising Dorian Yates
Dorian Yates (six times Mr. Olympia and British Bodybuilding champion) on his high intensity training regimen:
"Well, if you write it down on a piece of paper, it doesn’t mean much, it doesn’t look like much. It’s nothing special... But the point is what you put into it. It’s the intensity that you put into those sets...
Your body has no reason to change if it’s working within its capacity. Why would it? You have to overload it. You have to give it something that it’s not used to, that’s going to be a shock.
Basically, muscle growth is an adaptation to stress. You’ve got to give your muscles more stress than they’re accustomed to, otherwise they won’t change. Quite basically, that’s it.
That last set you’ve just got to put everything into it. It’s not about throwing weights around and screaming and shouting. It’s about concentrating. It’s about doing the movement correctly.
It’s about moving the weights slowly, under control, even when it gets absolutely, tortuously hard and impossible to do those last reps at the end."
Yes, you heard it right, 6 times Mr. Olympia trained less than an hour each day and five times a week! His training style was based on Mike Mentzer's (Mr. Universe) training style who originally borrowed it from Arthur Jones (businessman, who used to design bodybuilding equipment).
Now, the unique thing about all these workout regimens is that they were less than hour, very high intensity, low rest period workouts with many supersets and drop sets.
The aim was to push your body beyond what it thought was possible to induce a growth response for lean muscle tissue growth/repair. This is exactly what most high intensity workout templates emulate nowadays.
So, the next question is, what is the optimal training intensity for muscle growth?
HIIT Testosterone Optimization & Training Intensity
We all know testosterone; its our best friend, the one hormone that can enable your body to pack on lean muscle! We also know that the testosterone levels vary throughout the day and it is our intention to stabilize them for optimal growth & recovery.
Testosterone levels are also prone to crash during endurance type exercises that have low/intermediate intensity that last for a relatively long period of time. Such crashes must be avoided.
One thing that you should clearly understand is that there is a difference between endurance exercise and weight training. When the time you spend at the gym exceeds 60-90 minutes (this time can vary individual to individual), you're essentially moving into the endurance exercise zone which can stunt your muscle growth and recovery time.
It is scientifically proven that endurance training negatively affects (or doesn't affect at all) you, anabolically speaking. Keeping this in view, the complicated balance of intensity, volume and frequency must be optimized.
Training intensity should be at a level were your body does not have the capacity to perform at that intensity for over 90 minutes.
HIT or High Intensity Training System
I never condone a single workout template to everyone. We're all different and what works for you may not work for someone else.
High Intensity training is one regimen worth mentioning because it's short, crisp & scientifically proven to give you the best anabolic response.
Now, there are many HIT templates out there and a lot of work has been done by top bodybuilders to develop this training scheme. Some fine details may vary across the templates but the basic principles of HIT remain the same.
Characteristics of HIT include:
- Each training session should be short. Close to 30-45 minutes max.
- Exercises are to be performed at a very high intensity, nearing maximal effort.
- Cadence of a lift is very important as compared to the actual weight. Each rep must be controlled.
- Special emphasis is given to the eccentric (or negative) phase of the lift (especially Dorian Yates HIT template). Maximum number of muscle fibers are recruited during this phase.
- Jerking or bouncing the weight is not allowed!
- Holds are very important! You must hold your lift at peak position (or at top of the muscle contraction) to optimize muscle fiber recruitment.
- Rest between subsequent sets should be short. Ideally around 30 seconds.
- Include rest-pauses during your sets (These are very brief 5-10 second rests during your set during maximum effort).
- Forced reps are ideally used during the eccentric to maximize muscle recruitment.
- Drop sets are used to exhaust the muscle and take it beyond failure.
Training Intensity: Sweet Spot Training & Training by Feel
If HIT or High Intensity Training is not the answer to your question, you can adopt another training style - sweet spot training:
We hear this all the time: I don't count reps, I just go by feel. What exactly is this by feel. How do we go about a set's intensity based on our feeling?
The thing we're looking for is the sweet spot. You push your body enough to produce a good-enough growth/repair response but not so much that you're unable to recover from it.
This sweet-spot is highly individualized and cannot be quantified in terms of repetitions or weight lifted. Scientists are in-pursuit of developing a scale (for strength training) that can quantify this perceived effort or intensity but for simplicity we would like to describe this sweet spot in words, rather than scientific mumbo jumbo!
The sweet spot intensity can be effectively put into words by saying going all the way but leaving 1-2 reps in the tank. This is the recommended training intensity for a natural.
If you're enhanced, well; you can go balls to the wall and you can still recover from the training stress but as a natural, it's an entirely different ball-game. Naturals should be working in the hypertrophy rep-scheme and the weight should be challenging.
Your set should be such that you don't go to failure (Isolation movements are an exception) and leave ONLY 1-2 reps in the tank.
Consistent training to failure may eventually lead you to overtraining, and can be detrimental to your health.
Conclusion and Take-Aways
- You don't have to train the Dorian Yates way if it's not for you!
- You shouldn't train like my coworker either! Long hours at the gym do not translate into a great body. Make each set count!
- Intensity yields results. Focus on your intensity rather than getting bogged down on training volume.
- Couple your training intensity with adequate training frequency. Make sure you recover from your workouts.
- Create a positive and optimal intensity, frequency & volume trio. Balance these three and see what works best for you.
- Optimize your rest periods during sets. 30-60 seconds for isolation exercises whereas anything around 2 min for multi-joint compound movements for higher %RPM weight ranges.