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May 31, 2014

In the last issue we looked at testosterone, the basic role of the hormone and how to boost your levels of it naturally. In this issue we will look at two very important hormones for health and athletic performance. I will keep this as abbreviated as possible.

Insulin-like growth factor 1 or IGF-1

IGF-1 in humans is a protein coded by the IGF1 gene. IGF-1 is one of the most potent activators of the AKT signalling pathway, a stimulator of cell growth and proliferation. But lets look at this more simply. IGF-1 is a hormone that interacts closely with human growth hormone. More IGF-1 means greater muscle gain and more efficient use of fuel, resulting in less fat. Those with adequate to high levels of IGF-1 tend to have more muscle mass and less body fat, which are goals that most of you probably have.

How does this lovely hormone stimulate muscle growth? IGF-1 aids muscle growth by stimulating protein synthesis. A research review published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research considers IGF-1 “to provide the main anabolic response for the body as a whole” because it increases the rate of protein synthesis—illuminating IGF-1s essential role in muscle and tissue building.

How can you get more IGF-1? You could get it in a clinical setting if you have growth issues such as acondroplasia (dwarfism), or illegally from someone that deals performance enhancing drugs. But I will hazard a guess that you would rather a safer and more legal means of getting it, perhaps a way to naturally stimulate your own levels of IGF-1, just like you are now stimulating your own natural testosterone levels based on the information in the last issue.

There is significant evidence that suggests IGF-1 is significantly elevated immediately following a resistance training program where large compound movements are used in the range of 80% of maximum in the range of between 6-12 repetitions, or 90-120 seconds of total time under tension per set. Which evidence you say? How about a study by Parkhouse et al, a free abstract can be found here

Even more exciting though, there is also evidence to suggest that IGF-1 is chronically elevated by consistent resistance training over the long term, hence why strength and muscle size that is gained naturally and maintained for a long period of time often takes a very long time to lose compared with other components of fitness such as cardiovascular endurance. My dad was a blacksmith and he has had huge forearms his whole life as a result, even after ceasing that line of work. The bidy remembers.

But what if you want to restrict calorie intake significantly? Bad idea. Research on bodybuilders over an 11 week period preparing for competition showed that as they restricted calories more and more, IGF-1 decreased steadily, resulting is a higher concentration of catabolic hormones relative to anabolic ones.


Very simple. The following very simple points will help.

1. Be sure to include, as the dominant portion of your strength training, large compound movements that involve more muscle to perform. Think deadlifts, squats, barbell rows, bench press, military press etc.

2. Include phases of hypertrophy training in your program, training at about 80% of your 1RM in the range of 6-12 reps per set.

3. Do not chronically restrict calories significantly, focus on a slower approach and err of the side of increased expenditure and decreased carbohydrate intake in phases.

4. Get enough sleep, hormones are made while you sleep. Not enough sleep leaves your body with less resources to create required hormones.

Now for growth hormone. What does it do? Human growth hormone (HGH) is a peptide hormone that stimulates growth, cell production and regeneration. It also stimulates the above IGF-1. More growth hormone means more muscle tissue and less fat, much like IGF-1. These two hormones work closely together.


So how is it stimulated, elevated etc? This study and this one, among many others, conclude that exercise that induces high levels of blood lactate has a significant effect on elevated human growth hormone release. This is something that has been a strong topic of study for me for a number of years now. It influences many factors regarding exercise, such as training intensity, training volume, duration etc.

Blood lactate is increased as a result of anaerobic exercise that is sustained for a period longer than 10 seconds. The longer a person exerts themselves in the upper anaerobic zone, the higher the blood lactate levels. As we have seen from many different studies, these elevated blood lactate levels are a direct cause of increased hGH release. And remember, hGH makes you leaner and more muscular. In fact, bodybuilders will often inject hGH leading up to a competition in order to assist in getting to extremely low body fat levels while maintaining muscle mass. But we will be doing it naturally.

What can you do? Much the same as for IGF-1 production, you will be performing exercise that is anaerobic in nature, sustained for longer than 10 seconds per set/interval and will deliberately stimulate the elevation of blood lactate levels. How do you know that lactate levels are elevated? Elevated lactate is characterised by burning muscles, extreme exertion and complete fatigue at between 30 seconds to three minutes, depending on what you are doing and what percentage of maximal effort it is.

The following are a few things you can do in your training…

1. Again, choose mostly large compound movements like deadlifts and squats as part of your strength training program. The more muscle recruited the greater the response.

2. Include phases of strength training that involve an intensity that allows for 10-12 reps per set, or takes between 60-120 seconds to complete. Exercises chosen should apply more or less constant tension. Explosive movements are less favoured for stimulating growth hormone.

3. Include interval training if you are conducting cardiovascular conditioning in your training. Replace 30-60 minute running or cycling sessions with an interval protocol such as maximum pace one minute intervals or Tabata (look up an explanation for Tabata by google searching it).

4. Utilise the training protocol of density training. Density training is used as a resistance training tool to increase volume within a shorter time. In other words, fit more work into less time. This can be achieved by several means, with an example being; set up a barbell that would normally allow for a set of 12 squats. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Now aim to complete as many reps as possible of the squat at that weight in those 15 minutes. Rest as needed, aim to get as many reps as humanly possible.

There is a lot of information here, however there are common themes that tend to overlap. You will also notice how well each of these things tie in together, from boosting testosterone in the previous issue and boosting both IGF-1 and hGH in this issue. By utilising these strategies you can start to form a training program that is correctly periodised.

Are you a little overwhelmed by structuring an effective program? Do you think you might benefit from professional coaching in order to prescribe exactly what you need in a program? A professional coach can analyse every individual goal and circumstance, write you a comprehensive program designed to meet the specific objectives outlined and then coach you step by step through the entire process.

Lucky for you, I have just the solution. Whether you train with Unleashed Training face to face in Sydney or you live on the other side of the world, there is a solution for you and a coach waiting to help. Take out the guesswork and do it right the first time.

Online personal training and coaching anywhere in the world, click here.

One on one personal training in Sydney (Merrylands/Parramatta area), click here.

Hands-on strength and conditioning, click here.

Increase sprint speed by at least 25% in 12 weeks or less, click here for sprint coaching by a professional sprint coach.

In the next issue we will look at the three components of all performance, whether it’s squatting huge weight or running an ultra-marathon, these three factors must all align in order to perform at the highest level. Stay tuned.

Unleash your physical potential,

Chris Lyons. Click here to send us an email.

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