The Ideal Set and Rep Scheme to Build Bigger Biceps — and the Best Exercises to Try

Building bigger arms with biceps workouts for mass has more than just aesthetic benefits.
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Not only are toned biceps a sign of strength, but they look pretty excellent in a tank top, too.

The biceps are one of two primary muscle groups in your arms: the biceps brachii, which act on both the elbow and shoulder joints, and the triceps, the muscles on the backs of your arms, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

The main functions of the biceps are to flex the arm, or bend the elbow so that the forearm moves closer to the body, and supinate — outwardly rotate — the forearm, Amanda Asaro, instructor at Barry's Bootcamp in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

The Benefits of Strong Biceps

Having strong biceps will offer more than just aesthetic benefits; there are a slew of activities that demand biceps strength, including any pulling movements like grabbing or lifting bags from the floor, opening doors and hoisting yourself up toward a pull-up bar.

"Strong biceps also help to prevent conditions such as bicipital tendonitis of the shoulder or elbow tendonitis, as well as other tears or ruptures," Asaro says.

FYI, bicipital tendonitis occurs when there's inflammation from micro tears in the long head of the biceps tendon, according to the Mayo Clinic. Elbow tendonitis happens when the tendons in the elbow are overloaded by repetitive movements of the wrists and arms. By having rock-solid biceps, you can prevent muscle imbalances and shoulder instability that usually accompany biceps tendonitis.

Research suggests that building stronger biceps as part of a broader muscle-building routine can also benefit other aspects of your health. Strength training for at least one hour per week was linked to a reduced risk for heart disease and death from any cause in a March 2019 study in Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, for example.

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How to Build a Biceps Workout for Mass

To get bigger arms, you're going to need to gain muscle mass. This process, called hypertrophy, is best achieved with a specific rep and set scheme in your arm workouts.

The ACE recommends 6 to 12 reps per set at 67 to 85 percent of your one-rep max, which is the heaviest weight you can lift at once for any given exercise. (The closer you get to 85 percent of your one-rep max, the fewer reps you'll do.) Aim for 3 to 4 sets at this weight if your goal is to see a difference in the size of your biceps, according to the ACE.

For example, if you can do one heavy biceps curl at 50 pounds, you'd use a 35-pound weight for 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps of curls.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to how frequently you should train your biceps, says Dan Castillo, founding trainer at Grit Boxing and certified nutrition coach.

"Since the biceps are a smaller muscle group, especially when compared to the triceps, it's recommended that you don't train them every day," Castillo says. "In fact, you are already training them whenever you grab dumbbells, a barbell, etc. and bend your arms, so it's crucial to be mindful not to overtrain them," he says.

That's why he recommends training your biceps twice a week and filling your other workouts with moves for complementary muscles that aid in biceps function, like triceps exercises.

Overtraining, or working the same muscles too hard too often, can lead to overuse injuries, according to a December 2018 review in the Journal of Orthopedic Surgery and Research. To stay safe, the ACE recommends taking at least one full rest day in between sessions where you'll train the same muscles.

"When your body recovers and you get adequate sleep, you'll be able to see the gains," Castillo says. "Working out the biceps involves constantly gripping a dumbbell, barbell, bar or pulley, so you should be sure to massage the forearms, wrists, shoulders and the actual biceps itself for optimal recovery," he says.

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5 of the Best Biceps Exercises

There are loads of different exercises you can do to build the biceps. A July 2014 study from the ACE revealed that some of the best exercises for your biceps involve lifting or curling weights up toward your shoulder. Here are the best exercises for building bigger biceps.

Move 1: Alternating Dumbbell Curl

Move 1: Alternating Dumbbell Curl
Image Credit: Dan Castillo
Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Start standing with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Brace your core and on an exhale, curl the right dumbbell up to your shoulder, keeping the elbow close to your side.
  3. Lower the dumbbell back down to your side with control.
  4. Repeat the motion with the left dumbbell, bringing the weight up to your shoulder, elbow tucked.
  5. Lower down to the starting position with control.
  6. Alternate left and right with each curl.

Move 2: Hammer Curl

Move 2: Hammer Curl
Image Credit: Dan Castillo
Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, core braced.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in, arms at your sides.
  3. Keeping your elbows close to your sides, curl your hands up to shoulder height.
  4. Slowly lower the weights down with control.

Move 3: Chin-Up

Move 3: Chin-Up
Image Credit: Dan Castillo
Activity Body-Weight Workout
  1. Start hanging from a chin-up bar by gripping the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart or slightly wider and palms facing you. Your feet should be off the ground and your elbows should be straight.
  2. Engaging your biceps and back, pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar.
  3. Slowly lower yourself back down to a hang, elbows straight.

Move 4: Banded Biceps Curl

Move 4: Banded Biceps Curl
Image Credit: Dan Castillo
Activity Resistance Band Workout
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart on top of a resistance band, holding a handle with each hand, palms facing you, arms at your sides and a slight bend in your knees.
  2. Roll your shoulders back and down to keep your chest up and core tight.
  3. Working against the resistance of the band, lift both handles up to your shoulders while keeping your elbows close to your sides.
  4. Lower the handles back down to your sides with control.

Move 5: Concentration Curl

Move 5: Concentration Curl
Image Credit: Dan Castillo
Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Sit on one end of a workout bench or a chair holding a dumbbell with one hand. Rest your elbow against your inner thigh, legs spread apart and the dumbbell between your legs, elbow straight. You can rest your other hand on top of the opposite thigh.
  2. Lean forward and slowly curl the dumbbell up to your shoulder. As you curl the dumbbell up, keep your thumb pointing outward.
  3. Lower the dumbbell back down with control until your arm is completely extended.

More Biceps Workouts for Bigger Arms

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