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The Most Anabolic Androgenic Exercises

November 25, 2014

My father, and his father for that matter, are the manliest men I have ever known.  I know every boy has probably thought that at one point in their life, but for me it still holds true today even in my 30’s. And for good reason: if something needed fixing my father could fix it.  If something needed to be built, he could build it: He built our home, garage, and wood shop.  My father lost ½ a phalange installing a backhoe onto his tractor and paid it no consideration until after he dug our pool.  Even pushing 60 years old, he spends all weekend on our property lifting heavy things up, fixing them, and putting them down.  And when he’s not doing that, he’s cycling several hundred miles on any given summer weekend through the hills of southern New England.

I’ve always wondered, what is his secret?  I can hardly grow a beard, my dad can will the beard of a lumberjack in just a few hours.  Perhaps, that is the answer: Lumberjack!  My parents have a wood stove, and rely predominantly on wood to heat their home during the long New England winters.  My father manually wheels about 8 cord of a wood a year down the hill to stack under the deck each fall, and then splits it every weekend throughout the cold season.  Maybe, just maybe, chopping wood is his secret?

New research published in the journal of Human Evolution and Behavior [1] would suggest that chopping wood is indeed the secret to ultimate manliness.  Before discussing the findings, let’s take a look at the unique subject pool.  The Tsimane is a group of indigenous peoples living in the low lands of Bolivia.  They are forager-horticulturalists (simply put, they produce food by hunting, gathering, and small scale farming).  The Tsimane use slash and burn farming, which involves clearing land first by chopping down trees and then burning the downed vegetation.  The large tree clearing is a metabolically demanding task and is often done in solitary without help from unrelated males [2].

Trumble and colleagues investigated the effects of 3 months of wood chopping on Tsimane men, and compared the changes in testosterone to a similar group Tsimane men competing in a soccer match.  One hour of wood chopping led to a significantly greater rise in post-exercise testosterone than athletic competition: there was a 48.7% increase in testosterone with wood chopping which was about 66% greater than the increase with playing soccer.

Given the effects of testosterone on muscle anabolism and adipose catabolism, you might think investing in a cord of wood and an axe will lead to new muscle and strength gains!  Let’s first examine the evidence first before trading in our HVACs for wood furnaces.

While high volume resistance training induces a significant elevation in total and free testosterone in young men, these transient rises have not been shown to increase anabolic signaling (i.e.: mTOR) or muscle protein synthesis [3]. Moreover, Stuart and colleagues [4] reported exercise induced increases in anabolic hormones do not enhance muscle strength or hypertrophy. More than likely training-induced secretions of testosterone and growth hormone serve to liberate substrates to fuel the recovery process and not enhance the anabolic signal.

But then again, there’s something primal feeling about picking up large pieces of wood (or any odd object for that matter), and even though the testosterone increases in doing so won’t enhance gains, the nature of the movement will load your core like nothing you’ve ever lifted before.

jason pick up wood 1 jason pick up wood 2 jason pick up wood 3

There’s also something masculine and powerful and breaking that wood into splinter, and then roasting a large slab of “cancer-causing” red meat over it.  So go on, buy a wood stove and chop away!

Classic masculinity.  This man utterly wreaks of testosterone.

Classic masculinity. This man utterly reeks of testosterone.

Jason Cholewa, Ph.D, CSCS

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  1. Trumble BC1, Cummings DK, O’Connor KA, Holman DJ, Smith EA, Kaplan HS, Gurven MD. Age-independent increases in male salivary testosterone during horticultural activity among Tsimane forager-farmers. Evol Hum Behav. 2013 Sep 1;34(5).
  2. Gurven M, Winking J, Kaplan H, von Rueden C, McAllister L. A Bioeconomic Approach to Marriage and the Sexual Division of Labor. Human Nature. 2009;20:151–183.
  3. West DW1, Kujbida GW, Moore DR, Atherton P, Burd NA, Padzik JP, De Lisio M, Tang JE, Parise G, Rennie MJ, Baker SK, Phillips SM. Resistance exercise-induced increases in putative anabolic hormones do not enhance muscle protein synthesis or intracellular signalling in young men. J Physiol. 20091;587(Pt 21):5239-47.
  4. West DW, Burd NA, Tang JE, Moore DR, Staples AW, Holwerda AM, Baker SK, Phillips SM. Elevations in ostensibly anabolic hormones with resistance exercise enhance neither training-induced muscle hypertrophy nor strength of the elbow flexors. J Appl Physiol. 2010;108(1):60-7.

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