If you are looking to build a serious set of pipes (biceps and triceps), you need to train them directly. Many misguided souls, however, will train their arms into oblivion, thinking that MORE IS BETTER. This is not the case.
So, how many exercises make an effective workout? And, how should you choose the right amount of sets, reps, and types of exercises?
The number of exercises that make an effective arm workout can range from 1-3 movements per session, with any more than that resulting in excessive fatigue and inconsistent form and technique. It is common that an arm routine consists of 1-3 arm exercises per muscle each workout.
In this article, I’ll discuss a few factors that can influence your training program to help you determine what the most effective arm workout split looks like for you and your goals, and help you answer the question of how many arm exercises make an effective workout. I’ll also give you a sample arm routine as well.
How to Choose the BEST Arm Exercises for Your Workouts?
When determining how many exercises you should include in a single arm workout, you first need to determine how many days per week you’re going to train arms. When we look at arm training, it is suggested that you perform at least 8 total sets (per week) to maintain your arms, with some suggesting 10-15 total sets per week to be the most effective for most people.
With those ranges established, you could break that down however you see fit, performing 3-5 sets per movement and getting adequate volume over the course of the week.
Personally, I suggest you train arms more than one time per week (2-4 times for most people). Training the arms more frequently will also mean you will do LESS each day, often selecting only one arm exercise per muscle if you are training arms directly three or more times per week.
This will allow you to train with higher quality repetitions, offer some more variety, and allow the arms to recover just enough between sessions to maximize muscle growth.
Related Article: Leg and Arm Workout: How To Structure On The Same Day
CHOOSING BICEP MOVEMENTS
When training the biceps, it is best to select 2-3 movements per cycle that vary in angles (for example reclining incline curls, preacher curls, and standing curls). Additionally, playing with wrist supination and pronation can also shift emphasis to various aspects of the biceps and forearms (hammer curls vs supinated curls).
Whatever you do, be sure to add some variety by changing movements every 4-6 weeks, and selecting at least 3 exercises to do throughout that month.
Incline Dumbbell Hammer Curls
Standing Barbell Curl
Related Article: 11 Compound Exercises For Arms (Plus, Sample Workout)
CHOOSING TRICEPS MOVEMENTS
When training triceps, it is important that you train at least 3 different movement patterns to effectively hit all three heads of the triceps.
The first, is the lateral head, which is hit when doing pressing movements, often with heavier or moderately heavy loads (8-12 reps). This can be movements like close grip bench press or dips.
The second, is the long head of the triceps as is targeted when performing movements like overhead tricep extensions, straight bar push down, or skull crushers. Full range of motion is key here to maximally place tension of the triceps.
The third, is the medial head of the triceps, which can be targeted performing movements like the reverse grip pushdown or rope pushdown.
Flat Close Grip Bench Press
Incline Close Grip Bench Press
Seated Overhead Triceps Extension
Incline Bench Kickbacks (lying prone)
Related Article: The Best Bulking Arm Workouts: 13 Must-Do Exercises
More Arm Exercises is NOT Always Better!
It is important to note that while exercise variety can be a great way to stimulate new growth, changing exercises weekly, or every other week can limit your ability to progressively overload a movement (one of the most effective principles of muscle growth).
When training arms (and most muscles) it is important to select a few movements that you will perform throughout the entire training cycle (typically 4-6 weeks), and progress them with increased loads, slower tempos, more reps per set, or a combination of the three.
It is also important to remember that doing more and more sets, reps, and exercises in a given workout (and in turn in a given week), does not equate to muscle growth. Rather, adhering to a set of guidelines and progressing within the total weekly set volumes is key.
So, for example, in week 1-3 you progress from doing 10 sets in week one to 12 sets in week three. In week four, you can think about going back to doing only 10 sets, but increasing the loading to challenge yourself with progressive overloading of the weight, rather than doing 14, 15, or 18 sets of arms in that week (which we know is most likely too much volume for most people).
By experimenting with what volumes, loading, and reps help you feel the muscle working during the set and some soreness afterward are all great indicators of optimal and effective range for your training.
Sample Arm Workout
The below routine is a 2-day plan. If you are also training back, shoulders, and chest, there is a strong chance you will also be hitting the arms indirectly during movements like bench press, flys, rows, and chin ups.
Adding these arm workouts throughout the week will give you just enough training stimulus to see significant results while also allowing for arm recovery and growth (remember, arms need to recover.. maybe not as much as a hard leg day, but growth comes from recovery… not endless training).
Related Article: Outer Bicep Workouts: 5 Exercise Examples
DAY 1 (TRICEPS EMPHASIS)
Close Grip Bench Press: 4 sets of 8-12 reps (use a weight that is near a 12RM for first set, then use that weight for all remaining sets)
Incline Dumbbell Hammer Curls: 4 sets of 8-12 reps (use a weight that is near a 12RM for first set, then use that weight for all remaining sets)
Cable Pushdowns: 4 sets of 8-15 reps (use a weight that is near a 15RM for first set, then use that weight for all remaining sets)
DAY 2 (BICEPS EMPHASIS)
Preacher Curl: 4 sets of 8-15 reps (use a weight that is near a 15RM for first set, then use that weight for all remaining sets)
Incline Bench Dumbbell Skull Crusher: 4 sets of 8-15 reps (use a weight that is near a 15RM for first set, then use that weight for all remaining sets)
Barbell Drag Curl: 4 sets of 8-15 reps (use a weight that is near a 15RM for first set, then use that weight for all remaining sets)
Training arms should be done with the utmost emphasis on feeling “the pump”. If you can achieve a feeling of muscle fullness and direct fatigue, while using fuller ranges of motion, there is a strong chance you will be building muscle.
Be sure to train hard enough to elicit that response, yet not heavy enough that you focus more on moving the weight more than feeling the muscle move the weight… there is a big difference.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.
Mike has published over 500+ articles on premiere online media outlets like BarBend, BreakingMuscle, Men’s Health, and FitBob, covering his expertise of strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, fitness, and sports nutrition. In Mike’s spare time, he enjoys the outdoors, traveling the world, coaching, whiskey and craft beer, and spending time with his family and friends.