Hormonal responses after various resistance exercise protocols

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 Apr;35(4):644-54. doi: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000058366.04460.5F.


Purpose: This study examined the effects of the number of sets on testosterone, cortisol, and growth hormone (hGH) responses after maximum strength (MS), muscular hypertrophy (MH), and strength endurance (SE) protocols.

Methods: Eleven young men performed multi-joint dynamic exercises using MS (5 reps at 88% of one-repetition maximum (1-RM), 3-min rest) and MH (10 reps at 75% of 1-RM, 2-min rest) protocols with 2, 4, and 6 sets at each exercise; and an SE (15 reps at 60% of 1-RM, 1-min rest) with 2 and 4 sets. Hormonal concentrations were measured before exercise, immediately after, and at 15 and 30 min of recovery.

Results: The number of sets did not affect the hormonal responses after the MS protocol. Cortisol and hGH were higher (P < 0.05) after the four-set compared with the two-set sessions in the MH and SE protocols. No differences were observed between the six-set and the four-set sessions in the MH protocol. Cortisol and hGH were higher (P < 0.05) than the MS after the SE and MH protocols, and only when four and six sets were performed in the latter. hGH was higher than the MH after the SE protocol, whether two or four sets were executed, whereas cortisol (P < 0.05) was higher after the SE protocol only when two sets were performed. Testosterone did not change with any workout.

Conclusion: The number of sets functions up to a point as a stimulus for increased hormonal concentrations in order to optimize adaptations with MH and SE protocols, and has no effect on a MS protocol. Furthermore, the number of sets may differentiate long-term adaptations with MS, MH, and SE protocols causing distinct hormonal responses.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adult
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Human Growth Hormone / blood*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Hypertrophy
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Testosterone / blood*
  • Time Factors
  • Weight Lifting / physiology*


  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Testosterone
  • Hydrocortisone