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How to… Boost Your Hormonal Response to MAXIMISE Your Muscle Gains Through Training

Katie Farnden

By Katie Farnden

Katie is a tutor for the Future Fit Schools of Personal Training and Pilates. She is also a personal trainer and UKBFF bikini-class athlete, competing nationally and internationally, as well as a fitness model… Read more.

The purpose of hormones is to regulate the functioning of the body's cells, organs and tissues. They are secreted by the endocrine glands in the body, with Growth Hormone in particular being responsible for cell growth and regeneration.  It also helps to maintain the health of all human tissue, whilst increasing protein synthesis and the release of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1).

These are all anabolic processes and as we know you can only build muscle if your body is in an anabolic state.  An intensive resistance training program is an important part of this, and we can develop an understanding of how to best optimise our natural Growth Hormone to aid our anabolic response by analysing the reactions and differences in regards to training factors and gender.

Boost Your Hormonal Response to MAXIMISE Your Muscle Gains Through Training with Katie Farnden

The major differences in male and females are that males produce high levels of testosterone in comparison to females, who have higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone.  However, women have the potential to increase Growth Hormone more than men, essentially making this the most beneficial anabolic hormone for women.

Research throughout the years has shown that this induced rise from factors such as minimised rest between sets (60 seconds or less), low reps (up to 10-12 maximum) at a moderate-heavy load (approximately 65-90% of your 1 rep max, or 1RM) will enable the transport of amino acids and increase protein synthesis which then leads to muscular growth.

In order to see results, it’s key to manipulate these kinds of training variables (number of training sets, number of repetitions, training intensity, and rest between sets), so let’s take a look at each…

Reps and Sets

Muscle fibres activated by resistance training will respond to increased levels of anabolic hormones.  When heavier weights and lower reps are used (e.g. 6-12 reps), more fibres are recruited, which leads to a greater effect on the muscle.

Dumbbell lifter

High reps are not as effective as they mostly use slow twitch type 1 muscle fibres which only hold limited hypertrophy ability whereas heavier weights stimulate type 2 fibres with more potential for growth.

Performing a high volume (high number of sets) with short rest periods in between minimises the opportunity for muscular recovery and enables lactic acid to accumulate in the muscles, which then subsequently boosts Growth Hormone.

Such a training protocol causes high levels of metabolic stress in the muscles, which is one of the key mechanisms for muscle growth.

Researchers have examined the adaptations associated with a circuit style, low-volume training programme compared to a higher volume resistance programme in women.

The study showed that the higher volume resistance programme produced higher testosterone, IGF-1, Growth Hormone and decreased levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with the breakdown of muscle tissue.

Similar studies in men have found the same results, therefore we can summarise that a training programme high in volume produces higher increases in muscle building hormones in both men and women.


Rack of weights

At approximately 80%+ of your total 1 rep maximum weight in an exercise (meaning you could do about 5-8 reps), nearly 100% fibre recruitment can be estimated from the very first repetition.

Using loads less than 80% 1RM, muscle fibre recruitment relies on ongoing fatigue as the set advances, so it’s the last few repetitions in these sets that will achieve near 100% fibre recruitment.

So we can say that the key is muscular fatigue through lactic acid buildup which produces the anabolic hormones required, and so, resistance training programmes that target muscle hypertrophy should generally utilise moderate to heavy loads.

The use of high repetitions in resistance training has proven to be inferior in hypertrophy results compared to moderate and lower repetition ranges as mentioned earlier. As leading hypertrophy researcher Brad Schoenfeld says:

A load less than approximately 65% of 1RM is not considered sufficient to promote substantial hypertrophy”.

Rack of weights


A pattern is starting to form in this research that higher intensity is more beneficial to succeeding in hypertrophy goals.  Whilst increasing the weight used is the primary way of raising intensity, in terms of making muscles work harder, we can also stipulate that the amount of rest between sets will affect the hormonal response on the body.

Traditionally, in order to maximise performance (e.g. strength or power), longer rest periods are often preferred.  However, for muscular hypertrophy, shorter rest periods (30-60 seconds between sets) are usually recommended as this is believed to augment the Growth Hormone response when compared with longer recovery times.

A study done in 2009 examined how Growth Hormone responses to rest intervals in strength trained women with the result showing that the greatest response occurred with rest intervals of 30 seconds.

To compare this to men we can once again factor in the research mentioned earlier into the number of repetitions and sets and apply the three varying rest periods that were used.  During 4 sets of hypertrophy training, a 60-second rest interval led to the greatest increases in Growth Hormone and testosterone.

Bodybuilder drinking water


Resistance exercise has been shown to dramatically affect the responses of Growth Hormone and testosterone in the body after training.

These responses play a huge role not only in immediate tissue remodelling and growth, but also to long term strength, power, and hypertrophy gains. Resistance exercise regimes that tend to produce the greatest hormonal elevations for optimal muscular hypertrophy are:

  • High in volume (number of sets)
  • Moderate to high in intensity (weight used), and
  • Feature decreased rest periods
gym clock

Final tip

Keep weights workouts under one hour.  Any longer and the stress placed on the body causes a rise in cortisol which due to its catabolic qualities consequently blunts the release and sustainability of Growth Hormone.

Katie Farnden

About Katie

Katie is a tutor for the Future Fit Schools of Personal Training and Pilates.

She is also a personal trainer and UKBFF bikini-class athlete, competing nationally and internationally, as well as a fitness model.


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