Growth Hormones

Q: I've heard different opinions on the effect of growth hormone on body composition. How can you influence it with training and does it really make a difference?

A: Let's discuss endogenous hormone production (i.e. hormones produced within the body) during exercise, in particular, the anabolic hormones testosterone (T) and growth hormone (GH). In general, T is influenced by intensity (the greater the load, the more T is produced) and GH is affected by rest interval (shorter rest intervals induce greater lactate production/accumulation which in turn promotes an increase in GH release.) Obviously, if strength gains are your goal, greater intensity (with subsequent increases in T) is necessary in your workouts. However, if body composition is a priority, you should aim to maximize GH levels as GH has been shown to be a potent fat-burner. And how is this accomplished? Research by Hakkinen & Pakarinen, 1993 show that 10 sets of 10 reps with a submaximal load (70% 1RM) increases GH by twenty-fold! This is about the same amount that is released early in sleep (that's why it is a good idea to take frequent, short naps to spike GH levels throughout the day, but no longer than an hour. You do not want to enter REM stage which could adversely affect sleep at night.) Most conventional training programs produce only a ten-fold increase in GH, so the above protocol with short rest intervals (60-90 seconds between sets) will cut fat at an astonishing rate ... if the trainee can tolerate it! I say this because that type of training will induce nausea - not a pleasant feeling at all. People think that I am sadistic and evil when I put them through that torture (and in a way, I guess I am), but it works!

Now, it is debatable whether a transient effect in the above-mentioned hormones will make a major difference. Also, women have significantly higher amounts of GH floating around their bodies, yet ironically, they have greater fat levels than men! So, what gives? All I can say is that sometimes theory and practice do not coincide. In theory, greater GH produced in your workouts should not make much of a difference at all, but in practice, I've seen this type of training have a BIG effect regardless of gender. If you want an example, with this type of training, I had a client (male, mid 40's) drop 30 pounds in 3 months and go from 28% to 21% body fat (which was a total reduction of 21 pounds of body fat) which we brought into the teens shortly there afterwards all the while increasing his strength (all muscular strength and endurance scores increased indicating an increase in lean body mass.) Another example involves a female in her mid 20's who dropped 5 sizes (from 14 to 9) in just a season (that's only 12 weeks!) Furthermore, the psychological, emotional and social ramifications in this individual were huge! She came to me with absolutely zero self-esteem, severe depression, and practically no social life to speak of ... after a short while, this all changed. Now, she's on a constant high and won't shut-up! She is a totally new person and I'm very proud of her. [For abstracts on the psychological and emotional benefits of exercise, send me an email.] Anyhow, to get back to my original point, athletes and bodybuilders who take exogenous GH (i.e. from external sources) display lean physiques with low body fat levels so there is some support albeit limited. The only way to tell is to try it for yourself. Keep a detailed record of your measurements (although the mirror alone will tell you all you need to know) and let me know how you fare.