Episode 45 – Dr. Duncan French: How To Exercise For Optimal Strength Gains & Hormone Optimization | Huberman Lab

Key Takeaways

  • Heavy lifting increases testosterone release which has important benefits for muscle growth, ligament and tendon health, and bone density
  • Training protocol to increase testosterone: 6 x 10 protocols (6 sets of 10 reps) at 80% of 1RM with 2-minute rest between sets – work at a load you can sustain intensity over all 10 reps
  • If the goal is muscle growth, stick to high-intensity loads 2x per week and lower intensity (but higher volume) the remainder of your workouts
  • If you’re trying a new diet or exercise program, stay consistent for 12 weeks to train adaptation and stay in tuned with where the body is along the way
  • Use the trainability of the body to your advantage! Don’t be stuck on a fixed routine for exercise, nutrition, or recovery – be deliberate in your protocols
  • For the most benefit, periodize cold exposure: use it less when trying to maximize muscle growth or power; use more post-race or major events before the next training block
  • Teach the body to preferentially use a specific fuel source through diet & exercise manipulation – fat at low intensity, carbohydrate at high intensity
  • You’re better off having a shorter duration of training with higher quality than prolonging a mediocre session


Dr. Duncan French, Ph.D. (@dr_duncan_french) is the Vice President of Performance at the UFC Performance Institute (@ufcpi).  

Andrew Huberman and Duncan French take a deep dive into using exercise and recovery for optimal muscle growth and hormone balance. They breakdown specific resistance training regimens to impact hormones in men and women, effectively varying load and rest, mindset, rest protocols – and tons more!

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

How Weight Training Impacts Hormones

  • Heavy lifting increases androgens (e.g., testosterone, DHT, etc.)
  • The theory behind hormone release is that it’s a downstream stress response – in men released through testes or adrenal gland; in women, it’s released through adrenal glands (though significantly less)
  • Testosterone impacts performance by benefiting muscle growth, ligaments, tendons, bone density
  • Testosterone is stimulated by intensity and volume
  • Training Protocol to increase testosterone production: 6 x 10 protocols (6 sets of 10 reps) at 80% of 1RM with 2-minute rest between sets
    • Tip: adjust load for sustainable reps over all 10 reps in each set
  • Growth hormone release is mainly driven by the intensity if the workout
  • Rest is as important in load an intensity
  • If you increase rest periods, you’re influencing the metabolic system and triggering the removal of waste products and lactates, and removing needed stress for muscle development
  • If the objective is muscle growth (not necessarily strength), err on the side of high intensity with short duration rest
  • Work at high intensity loads 2x per week; the remainder of workouts should be high volume and low intensity
  • Most athletes have diverse needs in their sport beyond muscle growth

Is Stress Good For Performance?

  • In the short term, a sharp increase in stress hormone can promote the release of testosterone
  • Epinephrine and norepinephrine spike in anticipation of difficult workout ahead and prepare the body
  • “The greater the arousal, the higher the performance.” – Dr. Duncan French
  • Low stimulus pre-workout or during a workout will likely lead to lower performance levels throughout the workout
  • The more you do the challenging workout you become accustomed to it and need to vary training
  • Discomfort in exercise is beneficial!

Using Cold For Recovery

  • Cold causes stress but it’s paradoxically good for recovery as well
  • You can use cold stress to disrupt system and manage mindset
  • From a physiological perspective (i.e., flushing or redistribution of blood flow), cold exposure clamps down vascular system and will trigger a stress response
  • Your body can’t tell the difference between the types of stress you are exposing it to – you have to have a purpose for using cold exposure
  • Emerging research is showing cold exposure can actually hinder strength, power, hypertrophy
  • Periodization of cold exposure is the best route to explore: inversely tweak the level of cold exposure depending on whether you are in a high or low intensity phase of training

Heat Exposure

  • Heat is stress the same way cold is stress
  • “Heat is a stressor and when managed incorrectly you can have detrimental responses instead of beneficial responses.” – Dr. Duncan French
  • To acclimate to heat: start with 15 minutes in the sauna at 200 degrees F
  • You can train the body to tolerate heat the same way you train the body for anything else


  • Diet is highly individualized – no diet is the best and only way to go
  • In general, high-intensity efforts require carbohydrates for fueling
  • Mordern Martial Arts (MMA) athletes often use ketones after fights to maintain fueling and energy supply for the brain because it might have experienced trauma
  • Ketone cycling may be beneficial for metabolic efficiency
  • In general, stay away from standard American diet (SAD)
  • Be deliberate in exposure to carbohydrates and use for fuel immediately before and after exercise, keeping relatively low carb the rest of the meals
  • “At low intensities of exercise or just day to day living, we shouldn’t be tapping into carbohydrate fuel source extensively; that’s for high-intensity work or fight or flight needs.” – Dr. Duncan French
  • Teach the body to preferentially use a specific fuel source through diet & exercise manipulation – fat at low intensity, carbohydrate at high intensity
  • Try nutrition periodization – “needs-based eating”: consume higher carbohydrates for high-intensity weight training and interval training; try lower carbohydrate diet for lower intensity and volume exercise; if entering a competition stack carbohydrates and ketones

Mindset, Focus, & Acquiring Skill

  • Skill development is about the rehearsal & repetition of accurate movement patterns
  • Skill training is quality over quantity: stop as soon as fatigue is influencing the quality of repetition
  • You should leave training a session mentally and physically fatigued

Uniqueness Of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Fighters

  • Huge variety of technical skills and demands
  • Considerations you have to make are unprecedented
  • You always have to be ready – you don’t necessarily know when the next fight will be
  • It places a high demand on physical and mental resilience
  • Fighters live in the regular fluctuation of high and low stimulus
  • The goal is to inspire the global community around optimizing human performance
Huberman Lab : , , ,
Notes By Maryann

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 35,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks