Hormone Elevation Through Exercise And Reality:Two Different Things

I was watching the Mr.Olympia prejudging the other day and my mind was racing. On stage, you have the ideal of physique development. Full, round and conditioned muscle with “barely” there body fat.

Sure, there’s performance enhancing items involved. There’s superior genetics, 24-7 dedication and various other factors involved in attaining that look. I’m also not naive enough to think that what’s on the Olympia stage (male or female) is the ideal or attainable for most.

It isn’t…

Look at the cover of Oxygen magazine or Men’s Fitness and you’ll see the ideal for 90% of individuals who read training and diet blogs like this as well as those who purchase supplements and even watch the Mr.Olympia. So I’m not basing what I’m going to say on a pro physique.

I sat there and wondered aloud on my facebook page “How much does leg training really contribute to overall muscle growth?”


Now I fully anticipated the usual responses that I got. I LOVE everyone that takes the time to post on my facebook page but the responses were traditional responses.

“You have to train your legs because you’ll raise your growth hormone”.

“Training your legs can add pounds of lean muscle onto your body”

“You need to train your legs”.

Now again, please keep in mind that we’re not talking about training your legs to compete in bodybuilding. You obviously have to. Bodybuilding shows are about the whole package.

But you know those guys on the cover of  the magazines,  the bodies that you personally desire to attain? They don’t really train their legs. Nor do they have.

For fitness modeling purposes, leg training DOESN’T matter.

But back to the issue at hand. Will training your legs result in a significant increase in the “show” areas such as the chest, arms, back and shoulders? Are you doomed to be puny if you don’t train your legs?

You’d certainly think it would, since it does so much for raising growth hormone and other anabolic hormones.

Not so fast…

In reality, when you have the physique development of a Jay Cutler or Phil Heath, you actually need to train your legs MORE then a Jimmy Smith, that’s my beef.

Which is no shade on my physique, click around and look at the pictures on my site. Now maybe I’m not the best example since I’m 6’6 which severely limits how fast I can gain lean muscle (an issue for another day). I can get bigger then someone who’s 5’9 but it’ll take me a lot longer to reach that point.

When you’re at a Jay Cutler level, the phrase “every little bit counts” really does matter since they look for every possible advantage in adding detail to their bodies. So let’s look the three common responses from trainers, strength coaches and everyone else for why you MUST train your legs for overall growth.

Leg Training Adds Body Weight

It certainly does but that doesn’t answer my question if it leads to more muscle growth overall. At 6’6, I could easily add close to 10 pounds on my frame in one year naturally with dedicated leg training. Will it make my arms significantly bigger then if you don’t do one rep of squats all year? No.

Your Body Wants To Maintain Structural Balance And Won’t Let You Add Muscle Size Elsewhere If Your Legs Aren’t Big Enough

I haven’t seen any research stating at my legs have to be 60% (or any random number) as strong as my arms or shoulders for them to grow. Any ratio of leg growth to other body part development is as phantom as the assumption that you can only digest 30 grams of protein at at time.

The theory sounds good but it doesn’t hold water. People assume that the human body will limit growth in other places of the body if there are weak links in the chain. While the human body is extremely complex, there’s zero evidence that we have this rate-limiting factor that halts the development of the other areas.

Might it? Sure but when will it? When you’re trying to get defined and vascular 24 inch pythons(Hogan never was defined, Rick Rude had better arms) or when you’re trying to hit 18,19 or 20 inch arms? The latter more attainable by natural athletes then the former. What’s harder on your body? Having 24 inch arms or 19 inch arms?

People will state that your body is trying to protect you from injury because your joints won’t be able to handle massive shoulders or big pecs with pencil legs. In reality, your upper back structure is substantially more important then your leg strength for maintaining structural integrity at your joints for your pecs, shoulders and arms.

Weak back strength and your curl will be limited (you’ll hit a sticking point in the curl), your chest growth will be affected as you won’t be able to stabilize under a heavy load and your ability to press overhead will be compromised. We all like to say that “no one trains back” but most people actually do. They might not do chin-ups but they train their back just enough.

This entire argument goes out the window if you deadlift regularly…

Now onto the money argument….

Leg training increases your growth hormone levels and other anabolic hormones that lead to muscle growth everywhere.

Wilkinson, et al, did possibly the most progressive study on anabolic hormones, muscle growth and exercise. They took young men with a average age of 20-21 (you know the age that your suppose to be “flooded” with hormones). They looked at their training response of testosterone, growth hormone and IGF-1 and how it impacts Muscle Protein Synthesis ,MPS, (the ability to to actually add new muscle tissue).

Here’s what the head researcher stated…

“We report here that, despite being exposed to substantial differences in purportedly anabolic hormones such as testosterone, GH, and IGF-1, the rate of MPS  in identically exercised muscles was not different.”

“Furthermore, our results indicate that increases in MPS are able to occur without increases in systemic anabolic hormone concentrations and are not enhanced by the acute elevation that can follow resistance exercise; this finding is in agreement with previous work from our lab showing that increases in circulating hormones are not necessary for hypertrophy”

West, et al, took 12 males with the average age of 21 and wanted to find out if higher levels of GH, test and IGF-1 would make the arm being trained on that day bigger.

They had 2 workouts. An arm day and a arm and leg day. They trained a different arm on each day.

After 15 weeks there was NO different in the size or strength of the arm trained with legs and the arm trained alone.

Might leg training actually lead to more growth hormone output? Sure, since it’s just a larger muscle area trained. When you train arms or shoulder or any muscle, you still have a growth hormone output, it’s just localized to that area.

Wrapping it up…..

I usually write smaller articles then this so thank you for reading this far. Based on the two studies and my sound theories presented above, we can see that an acute and short term increases in growth hormone has very little effect on overall growth. Long term, heavy use, that’s a different story.

Now if you progressively train to get stronger and move more weight and have a sound nutritional plan, that might lead to some growth….anywhere you want.

Please comment below, I encourage all kinds and I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Please have an open mind when you comment though and don’t get all funky and nasty just because I smacked tradition.


West DW, Kujbida GW, Moore D, Atherton PJ, Burd NA, Padzik JP, Delisio M, Tang JE, Parise G, Rennie MJ, Baker SK, Phillips SM. Resistance exercise-induced increases in putative anabolic hormones do not enhance muscle protein synthesis or intracellular signalling in young men. J Physiol 587: 5239–5247, 2009

Elevations in ostensibly anabolic hormones with resistance exercise enhance neither training-induced muscle hypertrophy nor strength of the elbow flexors.

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Leave A Reply (6 comments so far)

  1. myron
    8 years ago

    Again you are right. Now I do think the leg work out and i am only talking about the squat or heavy leg presses will take alot out of you, more than any other workout except for deadlift. I think this is what people confuse as it works the whole body and every muscle there in. Some also take the leg thing to far I see it all the time in the gym they only train what i call the show Muscles arms and chest. While they have nice upper bodies there legs are size of my forearms. Which means if and when they go to beach they will have to wear jeans.
    You are also correct, Rick Rude had bigger bi’s than Hogan as did Ivan Putski in fact his were a 2 inch’s bigger. The impressive thing was Hogan was 6’6″ and had arms like that. The above mentioned were shorter men.

  2. Mike Milton
    8 years ago

    I’m 59 years young and started powerlifting three years ago.
    I benched 325 raw last June 90kg class.
    I personally believe my bench went up because I worked hard on my squats. Sometimes I work my arms after squatting and find I can do a lot more wieght then I used to without working arms very often. I personal bevieve squatting and deadlifting improves my upper body workouts.

  3. Mike T Nelson
    8 years ago

    Correct. Exercising more muscle mass WILL raise acute hormone levels BUT it does NOT appear to add more muscle.

    While there are newer studies on this, you can go all the way back to 1975 by McManus et al. for similar results.

    More info here too at

    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

  4. JimmySmith
    8 years ago

    Was hoping you’d jump in. Yes, exactly, exercising any muscle will raise hormone for the short time. We always throw squats in there as the most hormone raising but do they really raises our hormones more so then a deadlift or a push press? Debatable.

    it’s so sad that some are stuck listening to their good old fashioned football coach…

    Good piece on your site.

  5. Raymond-ZenMyFitness
    8 years ago

    You know now I come to think about it!
    I was going to say the same old stuff like growth hormone, it works your entire body etc But I think that’s for Jay Cuttler and friends.

    My take on this and I love doing squats.
    Do I really need it to make me big? No not if I keep my calories low… no matter how many squats I do it ain’t gonna happen.

    I do it for my own ego, I love the challenge, it’s to show yourself or others how much business you mean in the gym!

    I’m athletic looking but not huge in anyway so I could live without them but when I turn up …its what turns me on!

  6. bob
    8 years ago

    Could not agree more with you. If you want to be in shape you have to train the legs.

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