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Are you leaving biceps gains on the table by under or overtraining them? While only training biceps is not a great plan, they’re part of a great physique. But how much training do your biceps actually need to grow? Here’s what you want to know.
Beginners can grow their biceps with only 4 sets a week. More advanced lifters should aim for 8-20 sets of direct biceps work per week for optimal growth. This means hard-working sets so warm-ups and pulling exercises don’t count. 20 sets spread out over two workouts is the maximum for most people.
Let’s take a look at the details of those sets, which exercises you should count and how many repetitions per set works well as well as if exercise alone is enough to grow the biceps.
Most people need 4 sets of direct biceps work a week to maintain their biceps size. That’s for experienced weightlifters though. Beginners will likely see some growth even with this low amount of sets.
That amount of sets assumes direct bicep exercises like curls. While pulling exercises do contribute a little bit to biceps growth, direct bicep isolation exercises are necessary for significant size gains.
4 working sets can maintain biceps size but, for optimal growth aim for at least 8 sets and up to 20 sets per week. Spreading those sets out over 2 workouts (Up to 10 sets per workout) is best to grow your biceps. You want to pick 2-3 different bicep isolation exercises and spread the 4-10 sets per workout over those exercises.
20 sets of biceps work is a lot and for beginners, that amount of volume is not necessary when just starting out. About 12-16 sets per week are great for beginners to grow their biceps.
More than 20 per week is going to be a problem for most people because you can’t recover from it in time. Workouts break down the muscle and this has to be repaired for the muscle to grow. In the long run, doing more than 20 hard bicep sets per week might be counterproductive.
For biceps growth, doing sets from 10-20 repetitions is the best. Most people do sets in the 10-15 rep range and this is a good balance between building strength and size. However, if you exclusively want to focus on size, high rep sets might work a little better.
Alternatively, you can do a high repetition (15-20 reps per set) workout once a week and a lower repetition (8-12 reps per set) the second workout. The higher rep sets would be done with lower weight and vice versa. That way you focus on both strength and size but in different workouts.
In general, the lower the amount of repetitions is per set, the more you focus on strength, the more repetitions, the more focus on growth. However, that has to go together with the resistance. At the end of a set, you want to keep about 1-4 repetitions in reserve. That means for a set with higher repetitions, you use lighter weights (for you) and vice versa. Doing low repetitions with low weight isn’t going to do much and you can’t do many repetitions with a lot of weight. Of course what is heavy and light is relative to everyone.
Above you can notice I always mention ‘working’ or ‘hard’ sets as well as ‘direct isolation’ exercises. What does that actually mean?
Isolation exercises are those that work the biceps only and directly. With those exercises you can really focus all your effort into moving the weight with the biceps. Biceps isolation exercises are pretty much all variations of biceps curls.
Many pulling exercises like rows also use the biceps but in those movements, the biceps are not the hardest hit muscle. That means you don’t properly stimulate the biceps with rows since your back will likely fail before your biceps.
Working sets are the sets you do with the weight and rep range that challenges you. Usually you’ll start a little lighter to start activating the muscles. Those warm-up sets shouldn’t be counted as working sets. For a working set, you have to use a weight you can just lift for as many repetitions as you want.
For example, if you plan to do a set with 10 repetitions, you should finish the set with 2-3 repetitions in reserve. It should be challenging but you shouldn’t completely go to failure every set.
If you do the amount of sets and repetitions described above with the right resistance, is that enough to grow your biceps? Most people will get good biceps growth if they follow the prescriptions above.
The workout is just a signal to your body to repair and grow the muscles. The actual growth comes when you rest. Your biceps might look bigger directly after a workout but that’s mostly just extra blood flow. So the best way to optimize biceps growth is by optimizing your recovery.
The ways to optimize recovery are simply said but difficult to put into practice:
Those are easy things to write, read and understand but in practice, there are whole libraries that are written about each separate topic. Below is a super short summary.