The arm muscles can be notoriously difficult to bulk up if you don’t know what you’re doing. This post explains how many sets and reps you should be doing for maximum biceps growth.
Generally speaking, the biceps should be trained with 10-20 sets per week or 3-5 sets per workout. Each set should comprise 8-15 repetitions using a weight that challenges the individual. This ensures a sufficient training volume to increase biceps size, build strength, and get bigger arms.
I’m a former skinny guy.
And I still remember how frustratingly hard it was to build my biceps and get bigger arms.
Whilst I managed to develop some arm tone, they were never really as big as I wanted them to be.
That’s until I cracked the code to optimize biceps training volume.
Below, I share my experience and research on how to maximize biceps size.
- The Optimal Number Of Weekly Sets For Biceps Growth
- How Many Biceps Sets Should You Do Per Workout?
- How Many Sets Is Too Many For Biceps?
- The Ideal Number Of Reps Per Biceps Set
- How Many Reps Are Too Much For Biceps Growth?
- How To Build Big Biceps And Bulk Up Your Arms
- How To Do Biceps Sets And Reps At Home
The Optimal Number Of Weekly Sets For Biceps Growth
For the average lifter, doing 10-20 sets per week of direct biceps exercises like dumbbell curls is enough to maximize biceps growth. Beginners should stay on the low end of this spectrum, whilst trained lifters should stay towards the high end.
Optimizing your training volume is essential for building bigger biceps efficiently.
Simply put- you should perform enough weekly sets to promote biceps hypertrophy (growth) but not so much that you overtrain, preventing your biceps from recovering properly, and negatively impacting hypertrophy.
So why 10-20 direct biceps sets per week?
“Most intermediate-advanced lifters require 8 sets (minimum) of direct bicep work per week to promote hypertrophy. But the maximum recoverable volume for biceps is around 20 sets per week.”Dr. Mike Israetelli, Renaissance Periodization.
In other words, the average person needs 10-20 sets of direct biceps training to strike a balance between maximal hypertrophy and giving your biceps enough time to recover and grow.
Note, that’s 10-20 sets of DIRECT biceps training (think isolation-type moves like the dumbbell curl).
But you shouldn’t forget to account for INDIRECT biceps exercises either (think compound-type movements like the pull-up or row). These are not only great for overall biceps development but also generally balanced upper-body gains.
As a general rule, 2 sets of indirect biceps training equals 1 set of direct biceps training.
For example: 4 sets of dumbbell curls would give your biceps a similar training volume as 8 sets of pull-ups.
I call this the rule of halves.
How Many Biceps Sets Should You Do Per Workout?
Generally speaking, performing 3 to 5 direct sets of biceps training per workout is ideal for growth. Additionally, 2 to 4 biceps training days should be completed every week for best results. This equates to 10-20 total weekly biceps sets which are ideal for hypertrophy.
Choosing the right number of sets per workout is important.
A 2017 scientific review concluded that (hypertrophy) follows a dose-response relationship to training volume (i.e. number of weekly sets and reps).
“Our findings suggest a graded dose-response relationship whereby increasing training volume produces greater gains in muscle hypertrophy.”Schoenfeld et Al. 2017
In other words, you need to hit your biceps with a sufficient number of sets and reps to maximize muscle growth.
But there’s a catch
Doing TOO MANY sets in a given workout is a waste of time and could even lead to overtraining.
This has been shown in a 2018 study.
Here, the scientists concluded that performing anything more than 5 sets per muscle group per day does not give added benefits in your goal to build muscle (so-called “wasted sets).
“Performing more than 5 sets per exercise does not produce greater gains in muscle strength and size.”Hackett et Al. 2018
Taken together, the research suggests it’s best to complete 10 to 20 direct biceps sets per week, split over 2 to 4 training days, at around 3 to 5 sets per training day.
Furthermore, this also allows you to take the recommended 24 to 48-hour rest between workouts for bicep recovery and growth to occur.
How Many Sets Is Too Many For Biceps?
I’ve compiled the research and made a general recommendation for the ideal number sets required to bulk up your biceps and ensure maximum growth.
The table below shows you how many biceps sets are enough, not enough, and too much:
|Number Of Biceps Sets||Per Week||Per Day/Workout|
|1||Not enough||Not enough|
|2||Not enough||Barely enough for growth|
|3||Not enough||Ideal for maximal growth|
|4||Not enough||Ideal for maximal growth|
|5||Not enough||Ideal for maximal growth|
|6||Barely enough for growth||Too many and overtraining|
|7||Barely enough for growth||Too many and overtraining|
|8||Barely enough for growth||Too many and overtraining|
|9||Barely enough for growth||Too many and overtraining|
|10||Barely enough for growth||Too many and overtraining|
|11-15||Ideal for maximal growth||Too many and overtraining|
|16-20||Ideal for maximal growth||Too many and overtraining|
|20+||Too many and overtraining||Too many and overtraining|
You’ll notice that the spectrum for “ideal maximal growth” is quite large.
That’s because these are general recommendations that don’t factor in your training level.
The average beginner to intermediate (1 to 3 years of training experience) should stay on the lower end of the spectrum.
In contrast, pro bodybuilders like Chris Bumstead will typically work in the upper end of the spectrum. They may even occasionally do more sets to get a good pre-competition pump.
You can see Chris’s arm bodybuilding routine here.
But as an Average Joe, stay in the lower range for “ideal maximal growth”. Only increase your sets when you feel your body is ready.
This will prevent you from overtraining your biceps.
You might also be interested in checking out my other post to find out if it’s better to do 3 or 4 sets per workout.
The Ideal Number Of Reps Per Biceps Set
Generally speaking, performing 8-15 repetitions per set is ideal for maximizing biceps size. This is the recommended rep range for biceps hypertrophy since the biceps respond better to high reps. However, an individual must use a weight that is challenging enough to drive biceps growth.
Doing 6-12 reps is the common consensus for building optimal muscle strength and size.
But this usually refers to the big compound lifts like the row, pull-up, bench press, etc which work multiple large muscle groups in a single motion.
Smaller muscles like the biceps generally respond better to a high-rep pump.
And this is especially so when performing small isolation-type exercises like the bicep curl.
“A slightly higher rep range will maximize your biceps pump.”Bill Geiger, Bodybuilding.com
Bodybuilders typically work their biceps in the 8/9/10/11/12-rep range during the start of a workout and finish with biceps exercises done in a 13/14/15-rep range.
Maximal gains in both biceps strength AND size.
Just make sure you use a weight that challenges you for whichever rep range you’re performing.
Generally speaking, the lower your reps the heavier the weight should be and vice versa.
Training in the 8-rep range usually means lifting 80% of your 1-repetition maximum (1RM).
In contrast, training in the 15-rep range usually means lifting 50% of your 1-rep max.
You can check out my other post for a detailed explanation of what percentage of your max you should lift for strength and hypertrophy.
How Many Reps Are Too Much For Biceps Growth?
Generally speaking, a rep range of over 15 repetitions per set is considered to be too much for maximizing biceps growth. 3-6 reps are ideal for strength gains, 8-15 reps are best for hypertrophy, and anything more than 15 reps emphasizes muscular endurance.
So if you see the phrase “high-volume pump” being touted by aspiring bodybuilders, just be aware that this applies within reason.
You’ll rarely find anyone lifting more than 15 reps per set if their goal is to maximize biceps size and strength.
In support of this, 80% of users in this Reddit thread say they usually work in the 6-12 rep range for biceps. And the remaining 20% agreed that the occasional 15-rep pump is advisable.
How To Build Big Biceps And Bulk Up Your Arms
OK, here it is.
Taking everything into consideration, here’s the perfect workout program to increase biceps strength, size, and bulk.
The program alternates between cycles of biceps strength phases (low reps) and hypertrophy phases (high reps).
Each cycle lasts for 4-6 weeks and the variable is the rep range.
It’s a popular training method called periodization.
The idea behind periodization training is to build up a foundation of biceps strength before switching to a high-volume pump to maximize size.
You would then repeat the cycle all over again.
Maximum strength and size gains for sleeve-busting biceps!
1) biceps strength phase:
Work your biceps with 10 weekly sets of direct exercises like the bicep curl.
I’d also recommend doing compound pulling exercises like the pull-up and row for balanced upper body development.
If you do this, be sure to adjust your total weekly sets according to the rule of halves.
For example, your 10 direct biceps sets for the week could comprise:
- Dumbbell curls x 4 sets
- Weighted pull-ups x 4 sets
- Dumbbell/barbell rows x 4 sets
- Weighted chin-ups x 4 sets.
This gives you 16 total sets, 4 of which are direct, and 12 of which are indirect (which equates to 6 direct based on the rule of halves mentioned at the start of the post).
Work in the 8-rep range using a weight that challenges you for those 8 reps but not so heavy that your form breaks (around 85% of your 1RM).
Note: you can click on the links above to see the weight standards for each exercise.
Take a 3-minute rest between sets.
Complete these exercises over 2 to 4 training days (they can also be added to your current workout program).
You’ll need to master bodyweight pull/chin-ups before progressing onto the weighted variation.
Apply progressive overload by increasing the weight on each workout every time you complete the previous workout with good form.
Add 2.5lbs for the bicep curl, pull-up, and chin-up.
Add 5lbs for the row.
This style of overloading is based on the Stronglifts 5x5 program which is great for strength gains.
2) biceps hypertrophy phase:
Perform the same biceps exercises as before with the same number of sets.
The only difference in the hypertrophy phase is in the rep range, weight, and rest times.
Do 12-15 reps per set, again using a weight that challenges you for those reps (this will be less than in the strength phase).
Add weight whenever you feel like you are ready.
Take 1-2 minute rest in between sets.
You can also apply time under tension (TUT) training to take this workout to another level.
To do this, slow down your lifting tempo so that the downward and upward phases both last 3 seconds each. This may mean you have to lower the reps by 1-3.
TUT lifting is much harder than conventional lifting.
But trust me you’ll feel your biceps contract and maximize growth potential!
3) best exercises for biceps growth:
The biceps primarily consists of two muscles- the biceps brachii and brachialis.
The biceps brachii – which is further comprised of the long and short heads- are used for elbow flexion and supination. They are also the main muscles responsible for the coveted “biceps bulge”.
In contrast, the brachialis sits underneath the biceps brachii and is purely used for elbow flexion. It adds overall volume to your biceps.
You also have the brachioradialis which is responsible for forearm flexion. It attaches between the upper arm and forearm and completes the look of your biceps.
With multiple muscles at play, it’s important to train your biceps with a variety of exercises. The aim is to hit your biceps at different angles to promote hypertrophy in all three muscles.
The exercises below will hit all your biceps muscles. They are the exercises that helped me to build my biceps:
- Supinated bicep curls (start with a neutral grip and rotate the wrists up and out to get a really good biceps contraction).
- Overhand curls.
- Hammer curls.
Select 4 exercises and complete a strength and hypertrophy cycle for each. Then try a different combination on the next cycles to drive maximal biceps growth!
How To Do Biceps Sets And Reps At Home
Any half-decent gym will have all the equipment required to do the above exercises.
But if you’re training at home, you’ll need a good pair of adjustable dumbbells and a pull-up bar.
They aren’t the cheapest dumbbells on the market. And they aren’t as durable as fixed-weight dumbbells (they’ll still last a lifetime if looked after though).
But they are one of the best value for money (I’ve tested two dozen brands and models).
The Powerblocks are ideal for biceps training.
Each dumbbell can be quickly adjusted from 2.5lbs all the way to 50lbs with 2.5/5lb increments in between. The small increments are ideal for slow but gradual progressive overload on bicep curls, weighted pull-ups, and weighted chin-ups.
Most dumbbells do not have increments this small.
The Powerblocks are more than capable of taking you to the advanced stages of biceps training (5+ years).
This Sports Royal tower (you can find the reviews here) is great for doing pull-ups and chin-ups at home.
You can go for a doorway pull-up bar like this Prosource if money and space are tight. But speaking from personal experience, even the best bars are prone to damaging your property (especially when doing weighted variations).
I use a cheap weight belt like this DMoose chained belt to attach the Powerblocks to my body for weighted pull-ups/chin-ups.
I’ve explained the ideal number of sets and reps to do for maximum biceps growth.
Aim for 10-20 sets per week spread over 2-4 separate training days. For most beginners-intermediates, this equates to 3-5 sets per workout.
You can allocate all these sets to isolation-type lifts like the bicep curl which work the biceps directly.
But ideally, you should also be doing compound lifts like pull-ups, chin-ups, and rows to make balanced upper-body gains.
Just be sure to account for these extra sets since they also work the biceps indirectly (and very good at it mind you).
Regarding reps- aim to perform 8-15 reps per set since the biceps generally respond better to higher rep ranges.
You can also try my periodization program to quickly build both biceps strength AND size.
How will you be training your biceps?
Let me know in the comments!
You may also be interested in the downloadable Kalibre Blueprint PDF which details exactly how I gained 40lbs of lean muscle (it’s 100% free!). It details the exact exercises and nutrition I used to go from skinny to ripped!
Thanks for reading guys!
(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)