Ways to Counteract Cortisol Build-Up during Exercise

cortisol during exercise

Have you ever wondered why it seems so difficult to build muscle? Are all those hours in the gym just not having as strong an effect as you had hoped or even any effect at all? More than likely, this issue will have something to do with Cortisol buildup. Indeed, scientists have known for years that elevated levels of this hormone interfere with all kinds of functions including learning and memory, immune function, weight control, blood pressure, and may even increase sadness.  Some supplements show promise in reducing Cortisol during exercise.

An article on Bodybuilding.com entitled “The Implications of Cortisol Release” discusses how Cortisol works. However, to make things easier for you, we have created a short “beginner’s guide” to Cortisol, if you will. Read on to find out more!

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is the primary stress hormone within the body. It is released as part of the body adapting to conditions whenever a threat is sensed. This reaction is also often called the “fight or flight” response. Unfortunately, as far as weight training is concerned, the hormone has a negative effect. It is catabolic, meaning that it actually works to break down muscles. This breakdown happens due to the fact that it reduces protein synthesis and prevents tissue growth. This breakdown generally begins occurring after about one hour of continuous exercise.

Total Workouts under an Hour:

So, the first thing that we can do to limit the buildup of Cortisol during exercise is to limit the time that we exercise. Try to keep the total workout to under an hour. Obviously, this limit might not be possible every time or for everyone, but the longer you go, the more of a problem Cortisol will become. An alternative to this shortening would be to take supplements during the workout that help to naturally raise or at least maintain testosterone levels such as D-Aspartic Acid, Horny Goat Weed, Tribulus Terrestris, or even Boron.

Limit the Cardio:

Although cardio time should be counted in the hour for the limit on workouts, it deserves special mention. The problem is that cardiovascular training causes the body to release Cortisol much faster than weight training. So, limit the time on the bike or treadmill. One option is to do your cardiovascular work on days that you do not lift weights.

Good Nutritional Habits:

The best way to eat in terms of Cortisol release is to consume more small meals throughout the day. In other words, take the same amount of food, but instead of having three relatively large meals, eat 5 or 6 smaller meals. Breakfast and the meal immediately following the workout are the most important. Also, make sure everything is balanced, since a good combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat has been shown to help control Cortisol levels the best.


For the entire Bodybuilding.com article, click here.

Free Weight vs. Machine Exercises (Which Produce the Best Results)

free weights vs machines

Many weight-training athletes prefer free weights over machine type exercises. But, then again, there are also certainly those athletes who would prefer the extra comfort and convenience of the machine exercises. This preference has led to an age-old controversy about whether free weights or machines are better in terms of the results they produce. While this question is not likely to be settled definitively any time soon, it is possible to examine the evidence more closely and then we can draw our own opinion.

Why Some People Prefer One Exercise over Another:

As a weight lifter myself, the phenomenon of watching some people walk halfway around the gym to find their favorite machine instead of doing the same exercise with a free weight…and vice versa…has baffled me at times. Yet, this situation is nothing new. Many weight lifters have their favorites.

A number of informal studies conducted years ago suggested that the choice of such a preference is much more individualistic in nature than whether one actually works better than the other. It turns out that the more aggressive types of people tend to gravitate more towards free weights. Conversely, people who are slightly more passive seem to focus more on the machine exercises. Ultimately, though, the most intelligent athletes focus on both free weights and machines to provide themselves with the best workout results possible.

Machines—Pros and Cons:

Since machines are usually the first thing one sees when walking into a gym, they seem to be the best place to start. They do have several benefits including faster workouts, reduced risk of injury (much harder to drop a machine than it is to drop a dumbbell or have a plate fly off a barbell…seriously, I have seen it happen too many times!), ease of use, and the ability to help rehabilitate an injury.

There are also downsides to machines. These downsides include the fact that you are basically locking yourself into a small or single range of motion. This small range of motion could lead to a higher risk for pattern overload injuries. As an example, try using a simple curl machine for weeks, then switch to a free weight curl. You will likely not be nearly as strong because now your stabilizer muscles have to work as well. Plus, if you actually tried using the same amount of weight, you might pull a bicep. This possible injury also illustrates the false sense of strength produced by machines.

Free Weights—Pros and Cons:

As was already hinted in the last section, free weights allow for the use of more stabilizer muscles. This type of lifting is also more of a “real” world type of lifting, where you find a more natural and authentic range of motion and you can even change up your pattern; there is no being locked into a set range or type of exercise. You also will develop an improved sense of balance (also related to the stabilizer muscles). You are required to actually use brain power with free weights. Yes, there is a chemical secreted that helps the body tell the brain (or vice versa) where it is in space. This secretion is also quite good for concentration and focus overall. Additionally, free weights are convenient and inexpensive.

There are also some disadvantages to free weights. These include an increased risk of injury if not using the proper form and decreased efficiency since you might need to wait for others to finish with those 50 pound dumbbells, since there might only be one or two pairs in the whole gym.


If you can only use one or the other, it would seem that free weights are a slightly better choice. Then again, it also might really depend on the reason why you are training. The most intelligent course of action is to constructively think about what you are trying to accomplish and then pick and choose the best option for each exercise. Switch back and forth until you discover which combination works best for your situation.