TO PUT IT simply, hormones are a combination of chemicals released from the body that cause specific responses. These reactions can be varied to include building more muscle (anabolic hormones), breaking down muscle (catabolic hormones), and even helping the body to uptake blood sugar after a meal.

Hormones can have a widespread effect on the body, so reaching optimal levels is crucial for developing your desired physique along with having more energy and a higher libido. Testosterone, perhaps the most widely known hormone, is responsible for helping lifters put on more muscle and recover faster from workouts. Other hormones such as growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), and hCG also play a huge role in recovery and seeing jumps in size and strength (not to mention your mood and sex life).

Increasing your hormone levels to the optimal numbers involves balancing your lifestyle, perfecting your nutrition, and training at the right intensity. Too much stress in day-to-day activities can release more catabolic hormones (like cortisol) which breakdown muscle and make it tough to build the physique you want.

“Our best evidence identifies regular exercise, good night’s sleep, and plenty of sex as our best bets at increasing testosterone),” says Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, family physician and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. Freedhoff adds that green, leafy vegetables and a healthy dose of mono-unsaturated fats may also prove to be beneficial.

When it comes to exercise intensity, make high-intensity lifting and interval cardio a regular part of your routine. These higher intensity bouts trigger a powerful release of anabolic hormones. Make an effort to include heavier lifting (3-5 rep range) and shorter sprints (less than 20 seconds) in your routine.

by Jeremey DuVall, M.S., C.P.T.