A surfeit of benefits come with exercise and it is hard to say which one is superior. Some of us train for the endorphins, some of us for longevity, some of us want to look good naked, and some of us train for all of the above. However, it would be hard to argue that the increase in hormone production post exercise wouldn’t be close to the top of that list as an increase in testosterone and growth hormone improve all of the aforementioned benefits. But not all exercises are created equal when it comes to exciting such a hormonal response, scrupulous attention should be given to exercise selection when designing a program to garner the cornucopia of anabolic hormones and other physiological benefits such as bone density and muscle mass. With that being said, we should first distinguish the difference between an isolation exercise (exercises that minutely increase hormone production) and a compound exercise (exercises that substantially increase hormone production).
For example, a single arm, supinated dumbbell curl would be considered an isolation exercise due to the exercise completely isolating the bicep without much stimulus on any other muscles. It is a great exercise to sculpt and build your bicep, improve strength, and ingrain a better mind-muscle connection, however it is not the best exercise for calorie burning or anabolic hormone production due to the bicep being so small and isolated. Now let’s juxtapose the isolated curl with a pull-up. The pull-up not only targets the bicep(s), but also nearly every muscle in your back, your entire core as well as your chest and shoulders making it what’s known as a compound exercise. With all of those muscles activated and working hard, your body not only burns more calories, while inducing more hypertrophy, but it also tells your body to release more of the anabolic hormones necessary for recovery and ultimately growth. Our bodies are incredible machines made to adapt, and adapt it will under the right stimulus. That’s not to say that isolation movements are erroneous exercises, but they shouldn’t be the focal point of a workout. Think of it like this rudimentary analogy: you are creating a clay sculpture and the compound movements give you the massive amounts of clay you’ll need to build, while isolation movements are the small tools used to shape and mold. That said, let’s dive into the top exercises for hormone production, as well as, hypertrophy.
First on the list is the back squat. Whether you want better glutes, a stronger back, or better quads, this exercise engages nearly 75% of our body’s musculature and is crowned king in most Trainers’ arsenals. Additionally, the front squat is tied with the back squat although it is harder to perform and places the emphasis on the quads and core more-so than the posterior chain. Both, however, reap the same rewards in regards to growth hormone and testosterone. If both are too difficult to perform, start with box squats, goblet squats, or TRX squats while working on strengthening weak points, mobility or flexibility issues preventing you from either of the barbell squats.
Second on the list is the deadlift. This exercise arguably targets more muscles than the squat, and is an exercise that can build up both your lower and upper body like no other exercise can. Don’t like squatting? Try deadlifting from a deficit. If that doesn’t build your legs then we have failed as a trainer. If you’re not there yet, start with stiff legged deadlifts, good mornings, barbell rows, and of course trap bar deadlifts until your strength, technique and/or mobility improves. Before starting check out our blog on the most common deadlift mistakes for reference on performing a correct Deadlift.
Third on the list we have the pull-up. It’s an exercise near and dear to our heart that has humbled me and many others multiple times. It is the holy grail of calisthenic (bodyweight) exercises and for good reason. It will build your upper back and biceps far better than any curl or cable row could ever come close to. Moreover, it hits the core more than a standard crunch and is a hell of a lot safer! Not there yet? Try negatives, assisted pull-ups with a band or machine, heavy curls, dead-hangs, and lat pull-downs to name a few.
At number four, we have the bench press. When performed correctly, this exercise targets the triceps, chest, shoulders, upper back, and core. Depending on your body type, I tend to have my clients with longer limbs (or shoulder issues) perform the chest press with dumbbells rather than barbells as it is less restrictive with a greater range of motion. Not there yet? Start with mastering push-ups with skull crushers, cable chest press, and the shoulder press as the accessory movements to follow.
Lastly, we have something for my cardio loving people out there (if there are any of you left)! Sprinting just happens to be on this list in case you can’t make it to the gym or want to spice up your training. It is a full body blend of cardio and weight training in respects to the movement itself and the surge in anabolic hormones. Do 5 to 10 sets of ten seconds where you go all out, full speed ahead and I guarantee you you’ll feel like you had a badass workout (soreness and all) plus you’ll be a more athletic human being if it is consistently in your program. Not there yet? Run faster until you are.
When adding these exercises to your regimen, we recommend adding in at least one complex, multi-joint exercise like these for each workout. Squats on your push or chest/shoulder/tri day, Deadlift for pull or back/bicep day, Front Squats for core day. Get to performing these movements as soon as possible and reap the rewards! Always master the fundamentals first, stay consistent with each of these exercises, and seek guidance where needed. Oh, and remember, you can’t out train a crappy diet and poor sleep. If those two aren’t in check, you’ll be spinning your wheels and frustrated.