For dudes, testosterone is the holy grail of hormones—it’s what literally makes us men. Often referred to as the “male sex hormone,” testosterone drives gains in muscle mass, bone density, body hair, and changes the timbre of your voice when you go through puberty. Testosterone also regulates important functions like sex drive, muscle and bone mass, muscle strength, fat distribution, and red blood cell production.
Unfortunately, though, most men’s testosterone levels start to drop once they reach their late 30s or early 40s. After 40, testosterone levels drop about 2% a year.
Guys who are interested in bigger and stronger muscles (along with increased libido) are constantly on the hunt to find easy ways to boost testosterone. But besides taking potentially dangerous drugs or getting a prescription to inject testosterone to build up flagging levels, the only foolproof techniques to increase and maintain healthy levels are lifting weights and eating the right foods, says Thomas King, M.S., C.S.C.S., strength and conditioning coach at JK Conditioning in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.
“To maintain high testosterone levels, it is best to eat foods high in magnesium, zinc, and vitamin K, like dark leafy greens for magnesium, shellfish to get a healthy dose of zinc, and plenty of egg yolks for vitamin K,” he says. “Heavy resistance training exercise protocols have been shown to increase T levels in men.”
The best exercises to build testosterone, King says, are multi-joint exercises that utilize the body’s largest muscle groups:
- bench press
- overhead press
“These exercises work because they recruit a significant amount of muscle mass, and the amount of muscle mass recruited during an exercise has been shown to be an important factor in the release of testosterone,” King says. To maximize testosterone levels, prioritize the big lifts; ideally, you should do a total-body workout three days per week.
Testosterone-building workout: How it works
While this workout lacks the flashiness of a body part split, the exercises selected here hit all the major movement patterns (hip hinge, squat, vertical and horizontal push, and vertical and horizontal pull), and maximizes your time spent in the gym.
Perform the workout featured below three times per week on nonconsecutive days, King says. “An added bonus of this training system is that it allows your weekends to be rest days.” Exercises labeled with a letter ("4A" and "4B," for example) are performed as supersets: Do the second exercise set right after the first one, resting only after the second set.
Each workout, change up the routine by doing a variation of the deadlift or squat. For the deadlift, you can do a suitcase deadlift, sumo deadlift, deficit deadlift, or Romanian deadlift. For the squat, you can do front squats, back squats (high or low bar), or safety bar squats. In both cases, make sure you adjust the weight accordingly.
For the deadlift and back squat, use a weight at 80% of your one-rep maximum. For the bench press, shoulder press, and bentover row, use a weight at 70% of your one-rep maximum.