Sports Medicine

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 103–123 | Cite as

Two Emerging Concepts for Elite Athletes

The Short-Term Effects of Testosterone and Cortisol on the Neuromuscular System and the Dose-Response Training Role of these Endogenous Hormones
  • Blair T. Crewther
  • Christian Cook
  • Marco Cardinale
  • Robert P. Weatherby
  • Tim Lowe
Review Article


The aim of this review is to highlight two emerging concepts for the elite athlete using the resistance-training model: (i) the short-term effects of testosterone (T) and cortisol (C) on the neuromuscular system; and (ii) the dose-response training role of these endogenous hormones. Exogenous evidence confirms that T and C can regulate long-term changes in muscle growth and performance, especially with resistance training. This evidence also confirms that changes in T or C concentrations can moderate or support neuromuscular performance through various short-term mechanisms (e.g. second messengers, lipid/protein pathways, neuronal activity, behaviour, cognition, motor-system function, muscle properties and energy metabolism). The possibility of dual T and C effects on the neuromuscular system offers a new paradigm for understanding resistance-training performance and adaptations.

Endogenous evidence supports the short-term T and C effects on human performance. Several factors (e.g. workout design, nutrition, genetics, training status and type) can acutely modify T and/or C concentrations and thereby potentially influence resistance-training performance and the adaptive outcomes. This novel short-term pathway appears to be more prominent in athletes (vs non-athletes), possibly due to the training of the neuromuscular and endocrine systems. However, the exact contribution of these endogenous hormones to the training process is still unclear. Research also confirms a dose-response training role for basal changes in endogenous T and C, again, especially for elite athletes. Although full proof within the physiological range is lacking, this athlete model reconciles a proposed permissive role for endogenous hormones in untrained individuals. It is also clear that the steroid receptors (cell bound) mediate target tissue effects by adapting to exercise and training, but the response patterns of the membrane-bound receptors remain highly speculative.

This information provides a new perspective for examining, interpreting and utilizing T and C within the elite sporting environment. For example, individual hormonal data may be used to better prescribe resistance exercise and training programmes or to assess the trainability of elite athletes. Possible strategies for acutely modifying the hormonal milieu and, thereafter, the performance/training outcomes were also identified (see above). The limitations and challenges associated with the analysis and interpretation of hormonal research in sport (e.g. procedural issues, analytical methods, research design) were another discussion point. Finally, this review highlights the need for more experimental research on humans, in particular athletes, to specifically address the concept of dual steroid effects on the neuromuscular system.


Resistance Training Resistance Exercise Elite Athlete Muscle Growth Endurance Athlete 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This review was written as part of the PhD thesis for Southern Cross University by the first author. Support for the preparation of this manuscript was provided by The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Limited, UK Sport and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of the UK. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.


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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Blair T. Crewther
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Christian Cook
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Marco Cardinale
    • 6
    • 7
  • Robert P. Weatherby
    • 2
  • Tim Lowe
    • 8
  1. 1.The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research LimitedHamiltonNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of Exercise Science and Sport ManagementSouthern Cross UniversityLismoreAustralia
  3. 3.Hamlyn Centre, Institute of Global Health InnovationImperial CollegeLondonUK
  4. 4.United Kingdom Sport CouncilLondonUK
  5. 5.Sport, Health and Exercise ScienceBath UniversityBathUK
  6. 6.British Olympic Medical InstituteLondonUK
  7. 7.Division of Surgical and Interventional ScienceUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  8. 8.School of Applied SciencesBay of Plenty PolytechnicTaurangaNew Zealand

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