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Growth Hormone (HGH) – Do Squats Increase it?

I was scrolling through a forum the other day trying to find questions to answer here on the blog. Something that caught my eye was one regarding the ability of compound exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, to increase the rate of human growth hormone production in the body.

 I have wondered the same thing in the past, so I thought it would be an interesting topic to tackle here on the blog.

Back in the day, I remember hearing that squatting and deadlifting increases HGH production.

Of course, I didn’t actually know if I could believe what I was hearing because it wasn’t exactly coming from a reputable source.

Anyway, after consulting some academic literature, here’s what I found out about the concept.

Does Squatting Increase Growth Hormone (HGH) Production – Yes

Yes, they do. A study conducted in 2018 on endocrine response to high-intensity barbell squats found that GH increased after performing the exercise. Another study carried out in 1994 had trainees carry out a blood test post squatting, and they were found to be experiencing elevated levels of GH. And finally, a study conducted in 2000 found raised levels of GH in men and women after squatting.

What is Human Growth Hormone?

Well, Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is as it sounds. A hormone that helps humans grow. For those of you who are sciencey, HGH is secreted by the pituitary gland. It plays a role in regulating our body composition. Bodybuilders use artificial HGH as a way of growing bigger muscles. If you’re curious as to how HGH became accessible to the public, the answer is quite typical.

In the late 20th century scientists manufactured it for medicinal purposes. It was designed to help people with medical conditions such as Praeder-Willi syndrome, chronic kidney disease and growth hormone deficiency/insufficiency.

As soon as people realised it could be used to enhance performance and aesthetics, it took on a whole new use entirely.  

Do Squats Increase Growth Hormone

How Squats First Became Associated with HGH

The earliest study conducted linking HGH with squatting was in 1987. Now there were studies conducted before that. For example, in 1974, on the connection between exercise and HGH production, but those studies are neither here nor there when it comes to HGH and squatting, specifically.  

Anyway, the study conducted in 1987 did not actually focus on plasma growth hormone (GH) production during squatting.  The squat was just the exercise they were using to assess how oxygen demand and availability impact the secretion of growth hormone. But, the study notes that GH and lactate levels increased during and after squatting.

So on this somewhat questionable piece of evidence, I’m going to base my claim that this is how people began to associate squatting with Human Growth Hormone Production.

How Much Training Volume it takes to Produce Growth Hormone

This is probably going to be the most helpful subsection of this entire article, so please pay close attention and don’t skim.

The 2018 study hyperlinked above measuring the endocrine response to high intensity back squats concluded that six sets are the optimal amount when it comes to the production of hormones, which drive muscle growth, and tissue regeneration.

To clarify, that means you should be doing six sets on your heavy squat days to boost growth hormone production.

Something noteworthy about that study is that the participants performed those six sets at 90% of their one-rep max for three reps. That’s a total of 18 repetitions at 90% of the participants one rep max.

So What Does That Tell Us?

Well, it tells us that the more repetitions you complete at a higher intensity, the better the training stimulus your body is going to receive. A better training stimulus equals better gains.

Training with low reps but high sets will allow you to get more volume in at a higher training intensity.

But does all this mean that high reps are ineffective at producing HGH? Well, according to a study conducted in 2000, it doesn’t. The participants in that study performed six sets (again!) of 10 max reps squats. They still experienced an increase in somatotropin, or HGH, levels.

From both these studies, we can see that six sets is a good range for growth hormone secretion. But, when it comes to reps, there is a large discrepancy.

If we are to analyse training intensity, we can see that both groups were really pushing hard and training close to muscular failure.

I think what this tells us is that, firstly, repetitions are not as important as the rate of exertion when it comes to HGH production while squatting.

Secondly, it tells us that your reps and sets are irrelevant (well, somewhat irrelevant!), so long as you are training at a high intensity to exhibit a response.   

Squats and Human Growth Hormone Production

How Do Squats Compare To Leg Press When It Comes To GH Production?

You’re probably all sick of hearing how the squat is “the king of all exercises” and that “everyone should squat”, so we’re not going to get into that.  

But, as an advocate of the squat, I thought I’d fan the flames just a little bit by comparing the two when it comes to HGH.

So, without further ado, let’s crack on with a study conducted in 2014.

The study aimed to analyse the effects of free weight and machine weight resistance training on acute hormonal response using lower body multi-joint movements. Growth hormone was one of several indicators measured.

Unsurprisingly, both the squat and leg press resulted in increased levels of GH present in the blood immediately after exercise.

But, hold on, there’s a catch.

The squat resulted in higher growth hormone levels being detected in the blood than the leg press.

This was the case immediately after the exercises, 15 minutes after the exercises, and 30 minutes after the exercises had been completed.

Now if you dig deeper into this by clicking on the study I’ve linked and scan through the abstract, you’ll notice that the squat group had a greater workload in comparison to the leg press group because the squat required trainees to move not only the weight on the barbell but also their own bodyweight.

It comes back to the point I made earlier. A better training stimulus equals better gains. The squat had a higher workload, which is obviously going to result in a superior training stimulus.

Conclusion

Squats do increase HGH release. Any exercise appears to increase HGH so long as the exertion is high enough and there are six sets performed. But that response is based on data. So long as you train hard and push yourself in the gym, your body is going to produce growth hormone.

Keep the sets close to six and the reps at a high RPE, and you will produce HGH while you squat.

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Disclaimer: This is just my opinion. I am not a doctor, fitness professional, or qualified person in the health, or fitness, field. Also, I am not in any way liable for injury occurred as a result of you reading this article.