What Causes GH To Be Released?
Just about anything you do to aggrieve the body will cause a release of growth hormone. Do heavy sets, bam! GH. Do high-rep moderate weights to failure, bam! GH. Hit yourself in the head with a hammer or stay up all night and yeah, GH.
However, there just aren't that many studies that measure the level of GH response to exercise or anything else, let alone the effects of that GH. Oftentimes, you have to look back in the research archives. Case in point, here's a largely overlooked study from a few years back that suggests a potentially valuable training strategy.
It seems that if you do sets with heavy weight and low reps (the traditional strength-training protocol) of a particular lift and then finish with a single set using less weight done to failure, you elicit a significant release of GH that corresponds with large increases of strength and muscle mass.
Japanese researchers recruited 17 male students and had them train legs on the leg press and leg-extension machines. For the first 6 weeks, the men followed a non-remarkable hypertrophy program where they did multiple sets of varying percentages of 1 RM (repetition maximum). All of them experienced good gains.
For the next 4 weeks, however, students were split into two groups, both of which performed a strength routine where they did 5 sets at 90% of their 1RM, resting 3 minutes between sets. However, one group, in addition to doing their 5 heavy sets, finished off the workout with one set at 50% of 1RM, done to failure.
While both groups showed a GH response, the group that finished their workout with a high-rep "finisher" experienced a greater GH response during the 60 minutes immediately following the workout. The high-GH group also showed greater increases in strength (greater improvement in their 1RM) and greater growth of their leg muscles than the group that didn't finish off with a high-rep set.
Clearly, lifting with heavy weights elicits a GH response, but finishing off a heavy weight training session with a high-rep finisher done at 50% of 1RM elicits a greater growth hormone response.
Whether this additional GH is from just doing more exercise (simply inflicting more damage or pain to the body) or is something specifically related to doing higher reps at a higher percentage of 1RM probably isn't known. However, the results were compelling and the methodologies can easily be adopted by anyone.
If you're training for strength, simply end your session for that particular body part with a set done to failure using approximately 50% of your rested 1RM.
Additionally, this high-rep finisher might be worth trying even if you're doing a standard hypertrophy program and not a strength program. Just add a finisher set where you use 50% of your 1RM and do it to failure. There's no logical reason, at least that I can see, where the additional work wouldn't have a positive effect on GH release.
- Goto K, Nagasawa M, Yanagisawa O, Kizuka T, Ishii N, Takamatsu K. "Muscular adaptations to combinations of high- and low-intensity resistance exercises." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Res. 2004 Nov;18(4):730-7.