It takes more than a can of spinach to build a buff pair of biceps. Gaining biceps muscle requires repetition, determination, consistency and, of course, time. Studies and experts recommend getting in about two to three arm workouts per week for the best results.
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You should work out your biceps two to three times a week, following a strength-training schedule and gradually working your way up to a greater number of sets and repetitions.
The Importance of Strengthening Muscles
First, you may be wondering about the benefits of strengthening exercises, or resistance training, particularly when it comes to the biceps. According to the National Health Service of the United Kingdom and the Better Health Channel of Victoria, Australia, resistance training is important for a number of reasons, such as:
- Strengthens bones.
- Helps you sustain a healthy weight (an increase in metabolism helps you burn more calories).
- Aids with daily movement.
- Lowers the risk of injury.
- Could increase self-esteem and improve your sense of well-being.
- Helps manage pain.
- Helps manage chronic conditions (strength training can help lessen the symptoms of certain conditions, such as arthritis, back pain, obesity, depression and diabetes).
Want to truly glean the benefits of strengthening exercises? NHS recommends doing each exercise to the point of failure — where you find it too difficult to finish another repetition (eight to 12 repetitions make up a set). This recommendation can apply to any number of biceps exercises, including curls, chin-ups and rows.
Read more: How to Get Started With Weightlifting
Building Up to Muscle Gain
The Better Health Channel suggests gradually working your way up to more resistance training sets. Beginners should work on muscle strengthening two to three times per week and should begin with one set of biceps exercises, such as biceps curls. The set could include as few as eight repetitions done no more than twice per week.
Over time, you can begin to increase your arm workouts to two to three sets made up of eight to 12 repetitions. As soon as you're able to complete 12 repetitions per workout, you can begin to progress in your resistance training regimen.
To properly execute resistance training exercises, such as biceps curls, and avoid injury, Better Health Channel recommends warming up before you do any strengthening exercises. In other words, safely building muscle requires more than just the exercise itself. You can warm up your body by starting with non-strenuous aerobic activity, as well as stretching.
Reaching Past the Plateau
According to the Better Health Channel, resistance training beginners experience a quickened increase in strength followed by a plateau. How do you reach past that plateau to achieve a hefty set of biceps?
The answer, in part, depends on the frequency of your workouts, particularly how much you increase the amount of time you put into your biceps exercises. Increasing your workouts to 10 to 15 minutes and increasing the frequency of workouts can push you past the strength plateau.
Frequency of Arm Workouts
Although the Better Health Channel recommends beginning with one set of repetitions per week for resistance training beginners, the goal would be to ultimately land at two to three periods of exercise every week. According to one November 2016 study in Sports Medicine, resistance training just once a week won't have the same effect on muscle growth.
The study found that training twice a week promoted "superior hypertrophic outcomes to once a week." In other words: Strength training twice a week stimulated more muscle growth than just working out once a week for the same amount of time. Whether it's better to train muscles three times a week as opposed to two has yet to be determined.
MedlinePlus advises doing strengthening exercises twice per week. Strength activities that involve the biceps include biceps curls using weights or resistance bands, chin-ups and rowing exercises. Children and teens should get at least three days a week of bone-strengthening activity.
For the best benefits, you can pair strength-training exercises with 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity every week. You can also combine the two: moderate intensity along with vigorous intensity.
Read more: How to Get Defined Biceps
How Much Is Too Much?
That's right — there's such a thing as working out your muscles too much. The suggested number of strength-training sessions is no more than three times per week. Mayo Clinic suggests "listening to your body." If a strength-training exercise is causing discomfort, it's best to stop that exercise. Think about lowering the amount of weight you're using or trying the exercise again in a few days.
Besides, there's no need to work on strengthening the biceps more than 20 to 30 minutes per workout session. According to Mayo Clinic, you don't need to spend several hours a day lifting weights to benefit from resistance training.
Moreover, giving your body a rest is just as important as working your muscles. Better Health Channel advises giving your muscles at least 48 hours of rest. Not allowing that rest time in between could stymie muscle growth. Your muscles need that time to grow and repair.
Intensity and Repetitions
It should be noted that even though frequency is an important factor in promoting muscle growth, the intensity and number of repetitions play an equally essential role. Whether you're working out your arms three times a week or just once, you'll want to make sure you're getting the most out of each set.
The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI) delineates the three components of muscle-strengthening activity:
- Intensity: The amount of weight each person can lift. Weights will differ depending on your strength. Make sure you use weights that are challenging, but not too challenging.
- Frequency: How often a person does strength-training exercises. Training arms twice a week will differ from training arms once a week, and so on. SCAI recommends training the muscles two times a week.
- Reps: The number of times a person lifts a weight. To build muscle mass, do fewer repetitions with heavier weights. In general, you should lift eight to 15 repetitions per set.
Other factors to keep in mind, according to the Better Health Channel, are the number of sets, the amount of rest between sets — remember, you should be getting at least 48 hours of rest — and the exercises rendered. Varying your strength-training program will help you sustain any muscle gains made throughout your exercise regimen.
- Better Health Channel: "Resistance Training Benefits"
- National Health Service: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Older Adults"
- Springer: Sports Medicine: "Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- MedlinePlus: "How Much Exercise Do I Need?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier"
- Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions: "Getting FITT With Strength (or Resistance) Training"