Choose running for your conditioning exercise to get the best testosterone to cortisol ratio and avoid the elliptical and bike. I suggest running outside or on a track and doing sprint intervals for best results, but certain limitations including winter weather may send you inside and put you at the mercy of cardio machines. Choose the treadmill over the bike or elliptical for the greatest anabolic response. Perform sprints or very high-intensity running for even better overall results.
A new study in the International Journal of Exercise Science compared hormone response to exercise on a treadmill, an elliptical, and a cycle ergometer—a version of a bike. Researchers used young men with previous exercise experience and had them perform six 25-minute time trials. They tested hormone response to an intensity of 70 percent of maximum heart rate, and an intensity of 85 percent of maximum heart rates on all three pieces of exercise equipment.
Cortisol decreased following the running sessions on the treadmill at both intensities, and it decreased slightly more after the 70 percent time trial. Cortisol increased after the elliptical and cycling sessions at both intensities. This data alone should send you to the treadmill anytime you have to condition indoors, but testosterone response was also better following the treadmill runs than the elliptical or ergometer trials. Testosterone did increase for all exercise modes and intensities, the boost was simply best using the treadmill.
The testosterone to cortisol ratio was significantly better following both intensities on the treadmill as well, and this was the only mode in which the improvement in ratio was statistically significant. A better testosterone to cortisol ratio indicates an anabolic state, and researchers suggest that this was seen only in the treadmill trial because running requires weight bearing and pounding. The elliptical trial also resulted in an elevation in testosterone, which was likely because it is also a weight bearing activity compared to the cycle ergometer, which is not. Greatest anabolic results will come from running on the ground because treadmills alter running mechanics and actually detract from the weight bearing intensity of running because the spinning band creates momentum to help propel you along.
Avoiding the elliptical and ergometer are essential if you want to make the greatest gains in strength and health. You want to minimize cortisol response when training because of its catabolic effects, and it’s unclear why cortisol was up so much in both the elliptical and ergometer. Researchers note that the boost in cortisol was not statistically significant, but it should not be ignored because the exercise trials occurred at 4 p.m. when cortisol concentration naturally starts declining, meaning the significance of elevated cortisol should not be ignored.
Take it outside for your conditioning whenever you can or consider strongman-type exercises inside as an alternative to cardio machines. Opt for the treadmill if you have to, and perform higher intensity training or sprint intervals for best results.
Azarbayjani, M., Fatolahi, H., et al. The Effect of Exercise Mode and Intensity of Sub-Maximal Physical Activities on Salivary Testosterone to Cortisol Ratio and Amylase in Young Active Males. International Journal of Exercise Science. 2011. 4(4), 283-293.
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