More weight or reps for bigger arms

Should You Lift More Weight Or Reps For Bigger Arms? This Approach Combines Both Methods For Huge Arms!

Most people know that progressive overload is essential to get huge arms, but it can be difficult for a beginner to decide between adding more weight or doing more reps. I explain whether you should lift more weight or do more reps for bigger arms.

Generally speaking, it is better to lift high reps with less weight to build bigger arms. But it is also beneficial to perform low reps with a heavy weight to promote strength gains. Therefore an effective arm hypertrophy program should include both high and low rep ranges.

When I first started training my arms, I made the mistake of working solely in a low-rep range with heavy loads.

My arm growth plateaued as a result.

This post shares how you can include both high AND low rep ranges in your program to avoid my mistake and drive optimum muscle gains.

Results to show how I chose the right number of reps and weight to grow bigger arms.

Looking To Build Bigger Biceps At Home?

If you’re interested, here’s the home gym setup I use, recommend, and reference throughout this post!

Benefits And Drawbacks Of Lifting More Weight For Bigger Arms

It is recommended for most people to lift heavy weights for bigger arms. The benefits of training with heavier loads include a greater mechanical tension stimulus on the biceps and triceps that promote increased arm strength. However, the weight shouldn’t be too heavy that it promotes cheating.

The adage that you need to “lift heavy to get big” is widely accepted in the bodybuilding and strength training worlds.

And the arm muscles are no exception.

Pros Of Lifting More Weight For Bigger ArmsCons Of Lifting More Weight For Bigger Arms
Greater mechanical tensionReduced time under tension and metabolic stress
Increased arm strengthPromotes bad lifting form and cheating
Ideal for compound arm exercisesActivation of non-target muscles
Unsuitable for isolation-type arm exercises

Put simply, you NEED to be lifting a weight that’s heavy enough to challenge your biceps or triceps if you want them to get stronger and grow bigger.

Why?

The heavier the load, the greater the mechanical tension put on your arm muscles.

“A high degree of mechanical tension is a trigger for hypertrophy”

Chris Beardsley, SandC Research.

But there’s a caveat to lifting heavy weights for isolation-type exercises like the bicep curl and tricep extension.

These movements specifically target small muscle groups like the biceps and triceps.

The caveat is that the weight shouldn’t be TOO heavy.

Pros and cons of lifting more weight and less reps for arm exercises.

Having gone through numerous other dumbbell models, I found PowerBlocks to be the best!

Lifting too heavy a weight promotes bad lifting form and cheating.

And when this happens, larger neighboring muscles (e.g. in the back, hips, and shoulders) are recruited to make up for the fact that your smaller arm muscles are unable to cope with the excessive weight.

As a result, you reduce activation of your target muscles (i.e. the biceps and triceps) and you won’t capitalize on the full potential of gains.

Why You Need To Lift Heavy To Get Bigger Arms

Generally speaking, most people need to lift heavy to get bigger arms. The act of lifting heavy loads presents the arm muscles with a mechanical tension stimulus that is a key driver for muscle growth (hypertrophy). Therefore heavy weight lifting will maximize arm growth.

Now you may be thinking:

“How does mechanical tension drive muscle growth?”

Why you need to lift heavy weights to grow bigger arms.

Well, muscle contraction requires a combination of neuronal activation and the shortening of muscle fibers.

Therefore muscle growth comes as a result of GREATER neuronal activation and INCREASED muscle fiber recruitment.

And it turns out that lifting heavy loads (which produces a greater mechanical tension) is the best way to achieve this.

“Heavy loading is needed to recruit the high-threshold neuronal units that may not be activated during light-to-moderate lifting.”

Kraemer et Al. 2004

In the above study, Kraemer et Al. suggest it’s better to lift more weight than reps to activate the maximum number of motor units in the arms.

A motor unit is a term used to describe a combination of the neuron and the muscle fibers it activates.

If you’re not hitting your arms with a sufficient amount of weight, you won’t recruit the optimal number of motor units.

Therefore you must lift a weight that challenges your biceps and triceps if you want bigger arms.

Just make sure it’s a weight that allows you to complete the movement with good form and you aren’t doing TOO many reps which would train your arms for endurance.

You can check out my other posts for more details on the Ideal weight for bicep curls and tricep extensions.

Benefits And Drawbacks Of Lifting More Reps For Bigger Arms

It is recommended for most people to lift 8-15 reps per set for bigger arms. The benefits of training in a higher rep range include a greater time under tension and metabolic stress on the biceps and triceps muscles. This is a strong driver for arm hypertrophy.

So far I’ve discussed why you should lift more weight to get bigger arms, but there are also benefits to lifting more reps too.

And these benefits are particularly applicable to small muscle groups like the biceps and triceps.

Pros Of Lifting More Reps For Bigger ArmsCons Of Lifting More Reps For Bigger Arms
Greater time under tension and metabolic stressReduced mechanical tension
Increased arm hypertrophyBeginners can be tempted to lift an insufficient weight
Ideal for isolation-type arm exercisesUnsuitable for compound arm exercises

Whilst mechanical tension is essential for hypertrophy, it’s by no means the only driver.

Time under tension (TUT) and metabolic stress are 2 other types of stimuli required for muscle growth.

TUT describes the duration your muscle remains contracted for.

A higher TUT is achieved by slowing down the tempo of a lift.

Rather than curling a dumbbell up and lowering it immediately, TUT curls involve counting for 3 seconds on the upward concentric phase and another 3 seconds on the downward eccentric phase.

The extended contraction period places a greater metabolic (energy) demand on your muscles.

And this is widely accepted to be one of the best drivers for hypertrophy.

Pros and cons of lifting less weight and more reps for arm exercises.

Having gone through numerous other dumbbell models, I found PowerBlocks to be the best!

To maximize TUT for bigger arms, it’s better to lift more reps than to lift more weight.

Lifting in a higher rep range allows you to lower the weight and focus on contracting your biceps/triceps to induce the greatest metabolic stress.

The obvious downside to this, however, is that mechanical tension will be reduced.

You can check out my other post to find out the ideal number of sets and reps for biceps training.

Can Higher Reps Make Your Arms Bigger?

Performing bicep and tricep exercises with a focus on higher reps in the range of 12-15 per set can help to drive hypertrophy and make the arms bigger. But it is also recommended to periodically include lower reps in the range of 8-10 per set to increase strength.

Combine high rep light weight and low rep heavy weight training to maximize arm growth.

To train small muscles like the biceps and triceps, “high reps” generally refer to anything more than 12 reps per set. This rep range is good for hypertrophy.

In contrast, “low reps” refers to anything less than 10 reps per set. This rep range is great for gaining strength.

Both high and low rep training has a place in building bigger arms.

That’s because strength and hypertrophy are RELATED.

Bodybuilders like Chris Bumstead typically focus on high rep ranges performed at 50-65% of 1 rep max (RM) to grow their arms.

But they’ll also switch to low rep training once in a while to present a new training stimulus for their arms to adapt to.

As a beginner, working in either rep range will be adequate to help you to increase arm size since your untrained arms will be responsive to most types of training stimuli.

But you’ll likely reach a point where you need to include both rep ranges to optimize your arm training.

Next, I’ll explain how you can lift both more weight AND more reps to optimize your arm workout program.

How To Effectively Train For Huge Arms

It is recommended to combine high and low rep training to increase arm size. This can be achieved by cycling between 12-15 reps and 8-10 reps per set. Each cycle should last between 2 to 4 weeks. It is also important to apply progressive overload by increasing weight regularly.

This is known as periodization. Here’s what it would look like:

  • Choose a suitable weight that challenges you for 8 reps. For most people, this equates to around 80% of your 1 rep max for that exercise.
  • Reps should be increased on your next workout every time you can successfuly complete your current sets with good form. Do this until you can do 15 repeptitons per set. At this point, it’s time to add more weight and drop back down to 8 reps per set.
  • Weight should be increased by 2.5-5lbs whenever you can complete 15 reps per set at your current weight with good form.

Now rinse and repeat.

Doing this will present your arms with all 3 hypertrophy stimuli- mechanical tension, time under tension, and metabolic stress.

Result?

Size AND strength gains.

Note- higher reps do not mean lifting lightweight. It just means you should lift a lighter weight than you would at lower reps. The weight still needs to be challenging enough to induce fatigue in your biceps/triceps.

You may also be interested in my other post to find out if it’s better to lift heavy or light weights for biceps.

Choosing Suitable Dumbbells Is Important For Success

The best dumbbells to build larger arms should include a selection of light and heavy weights. This can take the form of a fixed-weight dumbbell set with all the individual weight increments. An alternative is to use adjustable dumbbells which contain multiple weight settings in a single unit.

Any decent gym will have all the fixed-weight dumbbells you’d need to build bigger arms.

Simply switch between the different weights as required.

But if you’re training at home, I highly recommend investing in a pair of adjustable dumbbells (you can find my dumbbell recommendations to build bigger arms here).

These aren’t as durable as the fixed-weight dumbbells you’d find in a commercial gym, but you can’t beat their value for money and overall convenience.

The best dumbbells for arm workouts have heavy and light weights like the Powerblock Elites.

I use the Powerblock Elites (you can find the cheapest price here).

The weight change mechanism on these dumbbells isn’t the fastest. But they have a 50lb max capacity (heavy) for low rep training and a 2.5lb min capacity (light) for high rep training, as well as small 2.5lb increments in between.

The small weight increments are essential.

They allow you to overload regularly by small amounts which will benefit in growing your arms slowly but steadily.

Those on a budget can consider these Yes4all spinlock dumbbells instead.

They’re much cheaper and max out at a similar weight as the Powerblocks, but the weight increments are quite big.

You can also train the arms with a barbell and plates. This option allows you to load up on lots of weight. But dumbbells give you a greater range of motion which is better for isolating your triceps and biceps.

Additionally, most people can’t afford the space or money for a home barbell.

You can check out my other post for more details on choosing the right weight for dumbbell arm workouts (men and women)

Recommended Products Recap

Conclusion

I’ve explained whether you should lift more weight or do more reps for bigger arms.

As a beginner, you can get by adding more weight to keep your arms challenged.

But by the 6-12 month mark, you should ideally be including both high-rep/heavy-weight AND low-rep/heavy-weight training in your arm program.

This gives your biceps and triceps a well-rounded selection of stimuli to adapt to.

Will you be increasing weight or reps in your next arm workout?

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!

Peace Out,

Kal

(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)

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