Today, you can get takeout delivered in less than an hour and most TV shows last about 20 minutes: Instant gratification is probably part of your daily routine in some way, shape or form. But when it comes to building muscle, instant gratification isn't part of the equation.
How long it takes for your biceps to grow and strengthen depends on a variety of factors, including age, hormones, genetic predisposition, amount and frequency of training, levels of stress, the food you consume and more. There's no "secret to big arms," but there are steps you can take to speed up your progress.
How Long Does It Take for Your Biceps to Grow?
Unfortunately, there's no cut and dry answer to this question. The rate of muscle growth varies from person to person, according to Carolina Araujo, CPT, a New York–based strength coach.
"Your muscle growth depends on countless factors, including your training routine, your nutrition and your sleep, including so many others," she says. "And two people could do the exact same workouts, eat the same foods and get the same sleep and still see different results because of their genetics."
Because it's so person-specific, there's limited research on how long it takes for muscles (including biceps) to grow. But a December 2019 study in Environmental Research and Public Health suggests you probably won't see much muscle growth before 6 weeks of consistent training. Although newbies may see noticeable growth early on, this is probably just the result of standard muscle damage and swelling that happens with new exercise.
Other sources, like the American Council on Exercise (ACE), suggest that growth in the early stages of strength training may be construed as muscle gain, but it takes time for the body to develop new muscle tissue. It's only after an average of three to six months that you experience hypertrophy or a gain in muscle mass. Bottom line: There's no clear timeline.
Your starting point plays a big role, too, Araujo says. Experienced weight lifters have more difficulty growing larger muscles, whereas new gym-goers see progress pretty quickly. But you'll get the fastest biceps growth if you take advantage of all the factors you can control.
How Long Does It Take for Biceps to Grow?
Unfortunately, there's no clear answer. While some sources say it can take as little as six weeks to see muscle growth, others suggest you can expect to see progress from 3 to 6 months. But generally, if you think you see your biceps getting bigger after only a few weeks, that's probably the result of swelling and muscle damage due to new exercise.
Factors That Influence Muscle Growth
Your rate of muscle development is affected by factors you can and cannot control, according to the ACE. You can't control your genetics, hormones and age, and they affect the speed at which your muscles grow. But luckily, there are plenty of controllable variables that can also help increase muscle size. These include:
- Training load, duration, frequency and history
- Level of hydration
Certain individuals possess a genetic predisposition to large muscles, while others do not.
There are several genetic factors that affect muscle growth variation from person to person. Satellite cells are responsible for helping rebuild and repair muscles, according to a September 2016 study in the Cell Journal. So, people with larger amounts of satellite cells already in their body may be able to grow and repair muscle more quickly.
Someone with a genetic predisposition along with a large percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers — fibers that respond most easily to muscle growth — may gain muscle at a faster rate, too, as these fibers are best for power-driven movements, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). But over time, the rate of growth will decrease.
Muscle Memory and Strength Building
Good news for former athletes: it's easier to rebuild old muscle than to gain new muscle. This occurs due to a phenomenon called muscle memory.
When you build muscle, the number of muscle fiber nuclei (aka myonuclei) increases, according to the NASM. And while taking a long exercise break can cause muscle loss, you don't necessarily lose the myonuclei you've built up. As a result, rebuilding new muscle is easier.
Stress and Protein
The rate at which you gain muscle may also be linked to levels of stress. A July 2014 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that people with more stress recovered at a slower rate after training compared with those with lower stress levels.
Studies also point to the role of diet in muscle growth. A diet high in lean protein best promotes muscle growth, according to one July 2015 study in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism. The study found that consuming 25 to 35 grams of high-quality protein during each meal fosters muscle health.
How to Build Your Biceps
In order for muscles (like your biceps) to grow, you need a consistent strength training regimen. To get the most out of your biceps workouts and gain muscle at a steady rate, give yourself rest before training the same muscle group. Also, switch up your routine every so often to give your muscles new stimulus, Araujo recommends.
A November 2016 study published in Sports Medicine found that strength training twice a week promotes superior muscle growth compared to training once a week for the same amount of time. That's to say that spreading out strength-building exercises may be more beneficial than lumping them into one workout.
From there, tailor your arm exercises to target your biceps. During your next arm workout, give these moves a try.
Biceps Exercises to Try
Alternating Biceps Curl
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand.
- With a flat back, elbows pinned to your sides, curl the right dumbbell up to your shoulder.
- Lower the weight back to your sides with control, keeping the elbows locked at your ribs.
- Curl the left dumbbell to your shoulder.
- Lower the weight back with control.
- Continue alternating, keeping your elbows close to your ribs.
Dumbbell Hammer Curl
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, core braced.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, holding the weights with a neutral grip, palms facing your body.
- Keeping your elbows pinned to your sides, curl the weights up to shoulder height.
- Then, slowly lower the weights back down with control.
Reverse Grip Curl
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and brace your core.
- With your arms at your sides, hold a pair of dumbbells in a reverse grip, palms facing behind you.
- Keeping your elbows pinned to your sides and shoulders back, curl the weights up toward your shoulders.
- Lower the weights back down to the starting position with control.
The Secret to Big Arms
The secret to big arms is that there is no secret — just patience, determination, certain lifestyle choices and a bit of genetic luck. There are factors, such as age and hormones, that are out of your control. Likewise, you can't control your number of satellite cells nor can you control which muscles are more likely to respond to muscle memory.
What you can control are the number of sets and reps you do and the number of times you work out your arms per week. Practicing a strength-training regimen on a regular basis, eating enough protein and diminishing stress should set the foundation for stronger and bigger arms.
- Environmental Research and Public Health: "Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods"
- ACE: "How Muscle Grows"
- NASM: "Fast-Twitch vs. Slow-Twitch Muscle Fibers + Training Tips"
- NASM: "Everything You Need to Know About Muscle Memory"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Chronic Psychological Stress Impairs Recovery of Muscular Function and Somatic Sensations Over a 96-Hour Period"
- Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism: "Protein: A Nutrient in Focus"
- Sports Medicine: "Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- ACE: "A Girls Guide To Gaining Muscle: Weight Training"
- Cell Journal: "Satellite Cells Contribution to Exercise Mediated Muscle Hypertrophy and Repair"