Salivary testosterone and cortisol responses to four different rugby training exercise protocols

Eur J Sport Sci. 2015;15(6):497-504. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2015.1017012. Epub 2015 Mar 6.


This study assessed the acute response of salivary testosterone and cortisol concentrations to four exercise protocols in 27 elite male rugby players. Each athlete completed four protocols in random order on separate in-season weeks. Two protocols were resistance training based consisting of four exercises (high pull, bench press, squat and chin-ups/prone row): Protocol 1 consisted of 5 sets of 15 repetitions at 55% of 1 repetition maximum (1 RM) with 1-minute rest (5 × 15-55%). Protocol 2 consisted of three sets of five repetitions at 85% 1 RM with 2-minute rest (3 × 5-85%). Protocol 3 was a strongman (STRNG) session consisting of three stations within a circuit of exercises that included exercises such as battling ropes, prowler push, farmer's walk and tyre flips. Protocol 4 was based on boxing and wrestling inspired exercises (combative--COMB). Salivary testosterone and cortisol concentrations were measured before (PRE) and immediately after exercise (POST). Testosterone did not significantly change as a result of any intervention, whereas cortisol declined and the testosterone to cortisol (T/C) ratio increased significantly in both the 5 × 15-55% and 3 × 5-85% protocol. When results were retrospectively grouped and analysed according to the protocol that demonstrated the greatest absolute testosterone response, significant (P < 0.01) increases for the 5 × 15-55%, STRNG and COMB protocols were observed. The individualised hormone response to exercise observed in this study highlights the importance of recognising a protocol-dependent approach to training athletes. Furthermore this study also highlights a potential usefulness of employing STRNG and COMB training protocols as an alternative stimulus to resistance training.

Keywords: Strongman; boxing; endocrine response; resistance training; wrestling.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Football / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Male
  • Resistance Training
  • Saliva / chemistry*
  • Testosterone / analysis*
  • Young Adult


  • Testosterone
  • Hydrocortisone