Training the arms for optimal muscle growth is not a matter of how many days you train them, but rather, how much volume (too much, too little, just right) you are training over time (in this case, a week). Determining the frequency of arm workouts (how many arm workouts per week) really comes down to the amount of work sets you are performing pre workout and what the total work sets per week comes out to be.
So, how often should you train your arms if you are looking for optimal muscle growth? You can train arms between 2-6 times per week. The more frequently you train arms, the less you should do per day. If you train arms twice per week, you’ll do 2-3 exercises per session with 3-4 total sets. If you train arms 6 days per week, you’ll do one exercise per muscle group per day, with only 2 sets per workout.
They key with determining your arm training frequency depends on a variety of factors, all of which are discussed below. I will also give you exact volume recommendations.
Are Your Arm Workouts Effective?
What makes an effective arm workout? Is it soreness? Is it a ton of workout volume? Or is it as simple as, do you feel your arms working, and are they growing in size?
Put simply, exercises, sets, reps, training frequency and weight are all various tools we can use and manipulate to bring about certain stressors. Effective arm workouts included maximizing the muscular pump of the biceps and triceps, some residual soreness afterwards (DOMs), and overall growth.
While there is no set definition of an effective workout, it’s important to remember that doing more reps and sets is not always the answer to arm growth, nor is lifting heavy. The key to arm growth is to strike a balance between overall training stress and recovery. Too much training volume and not enough recovery can diminish growth, just like not enough training stress can as well.
What Is Arm Training?
Arm training is any training that is dedicated to increasing the strength, size, and performance of the arm muscles. The arm muscles are primarily made up of the biceps, triceps, and forearms (grip).
Related Article: Leg and Arm Workout: How To Structure On The Same Day
What Muscles Make Up the Arm?
The arm consists of numerous muscle groups, however the three main muscle groups that most people refer to are the triceps, biceps, and forearms.
The triceps is made up of three muscluar heads; (lateral head, long head, and medial head). Each head of the muscle is targeted by various movements, making it vital to understand how various exercise and angles can place more emphasis on the development of a particle ahead of the triceps muscle. Learn more about triceps anatomy and exercise selection!
The biceps, like the triceps, have multiple muscular heads that are targeted by various exercises and movements. The bicep is made up of the long head and short head. Similar to optimal triceps training, a sound biceps training program should include movements that target both the long and short heads of the biceps. Learn more about biceps anatomy and exercise selection!
The forearm is made up of 20 muscles, which can be categorized by flexors, extensors compartments, with sub-divisions of superficial and deep compartments. In short, the forearms can be train using flexion and extension, gripping movements, and simply holding loads and are often stressed doing other movements (rows, curls, pull ups, deadlifts, etc). That said, specific training exercise can be done to further improve grip strength and overall forearm development. Learn more about forearm anatomy and exercise selection!
How Heavy Should You Train The Arms?
Arm hypertrophy is dependent on various factors, however loading, while one of them, is not always indicative of an effective stimulus for arm growth. Below are a few factors to consider when training arms and determining if your workouts are setting you up for optimal biceps, triceps, and forearms hypertrophy.
Overall training volume is key, with most recommendations suggesting 12-16 total work sets per week for intermediate lifters. Performing as little as 6-8 sets per week can also suffice for some lifters who are performing a lot of pressing, as the triceps are also responsible for this movement.
Loading used for training the triceps can be done in the light (20-30) , moderate (10-20), and heavy rep ranges (5-10), however it is suggested that a mixture of the three are used throughout a training program, starting with heavier lifts first if multiple rep ranges are used in one day.
The key focus, however, should be on maximizing range of motion when training the triceps.
Often, individuals will sacrifice a deep muscular strength and high amounts of tension on the muscle for fast-paced, partial range of motion reps. This may be due to using too much weight, or simply not understanding movmnt technique.
Nonetheless, a full range of motion is key, with complete extension of the elbow and an intense isometric contraction at the top of the movement is highly effective at increase triceps growth. If you are not feeling the local fatigue within the muscle, you are most likely going too fast, too heavy, or not using a full range of motion.
Related Article: Muscle Memory For Bodybuilding: What Is It? How Does It Work?
Recommendations suggesting 12-20 total work sets per week for intermediate lifters. Performing as little as 6-8 sets per week can also suffice for some lifters who are performing a lot of pulling, as the biceps are also responsible for this movement.
Loading used for training the biceps can vary, with the exception of heavy weights (less than 8 reps) as this can increase injury. It is suggested that a mixture of the moderate (8-15) and higher rep (20-30) are used throughout a training program.
Similar to the triceps, the key with biceps training for maximizing muscle growth is maximizing the range of motion and tension placed on the muscle. Often, individuals will sacrifice a deep muscular strength and high amounts of tension on the muscle for fast-paced, partial range of motion reps. It is key that the muscular fatigue occurs within the biceps. If you are not feeling the local fatigue within the muscle, you are most likely going too fast, too heavy, or not using a full range of motion.
Related Article: How Many Exercises Make An Effective Arm Workout?
5 Important Considerations When Training Arms
Below are five important factors to consider when looking to optimize your arm training routine.
WEEKLY TRAINING VOLUME
As discussed above, adhering to training volume guidelines is key when determining the effectiveness of your workouts. Training too little will result in little growth, justlike training too often (as your arms cannot rebuild and recover). Odds are if you are reading this you are not happy with your arm growth, so start by determining your overall training volume per week (work sets per week) nd adjust your plan as needed.
Recovery is essential for muscle growth.
Somewhere along the way people told themselves, “MORE IS BETTER”.
This could not be further from the truth when it comes to muscle growth and recovery. Be sure that you are maximizing your recovery and staying within optimal weekly training volume (work sets per week). If you are correctly prescribing training volume and are not seeing growth, keep reading.
The Fitbod app recommends precise training loads, sets, and reps based on logged workout history. The Fitbod algorithm also recognizes how hard a muscle group has trained and will program the right exercises based on your optimal levels of recovery.
FULL RANGE OF MOTION
Look in any gym and you will see people performing curls and triceps pushdowns.
Despite the widespread popularity of arm training, many gym goers still fall short of filling out their shirt sleeves or having lean, sculpted arms. One cause of this is the lack of full range of motion training.
Performing movements like curls and triceps pushdown (as well as all other exercise) to the fullest range of motion creates a deep muscular stretch on the muscle that stimulates high amounts of stress.
It is this stress that is responsible for muscle growth.
Lack of performing movements in the full range of motion can often minimize your abilities to maximize growth.
And remember, using less weight to allow
for a fuller range of motion is key, not lifting heavy!
Related Article: How To Hook Grip
TENSION IS KEY
Tension is key to muscular growth.
Performing movements with erratic speeds, lack of control, and minimal abilities to feel the biceps and triceps contracting and extending under load can all limit overall muscle stress.
When performing movements, opt to perform them in slow and controlled motions, focusing on feeling the muscle stretch and contract under loads throughout the full range of motion.
Related Article: How To Get Rid of Skinny Arms (Complete Guide)
VARY MOVEMENTS TO MAXIMIZE GROWTH
As discussed above, understanding triceps, biceps, and forearms anatomy is key for exercise selection. Performing the same movements and same angles can result in overuse injury and limited growth. Be sure to review the above sections and links to learn more about how various exercises target various aspects of the muscle.
Related Article: Outer Bicep Workouts: 5 Exercise Examples
Sample Arm Workouts
WORKOUT #1: BEGINNER ARM WORKOUT ROUTINE
3 Exercise Circuit – 3 Rounds
Dumbbell Bicep Curl: 3 sets of 11 reps
Dumbbell Kickbacks: 3 sets of 5 reps
Hammer Curls: 3 sets of 13 reps
3 Exercise Circuit – 3 Rounds
Seated Tricep Press: 3 sets of 12 reps
Concentration Curl: 3 sets of 9 reps
Single Arm Dumbbell Tricep Extension: 3 sets of 11 reps
3 Exercise Circuit – 3 Rounds
Biceps Curl To Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 7 reps
Zottman Curl: 3 sets of 9 reps
Hindu Push Up: 3 sets of 8 reps
WORKOUT #2: INTERMEDIATE/ADVANCED ROUTINE
3 Exercise Circuit – 3 Rounds
Incline Dumbbell Curl: 3 sets of 10 reps
Seated Tricep Press: 3 sets of 10 reps
Reverse Barbell Curl: 3 sets of 10 reps
3 Exercise Circuit – 4 Rounds
Bench Dip: 4 sets of 6 reps
Dumbbell Skullcrusher: 4 sets of 9 reps
Concentration Curl: 4 sets of 11 reps
3 Exercise Circuit – 2 Rounds
Palms-Down Barbell Wrist Curl: 2 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curl: 2 sets of 13 reps
Close-Grip Bench Press: 2 sets of 12 reps
Building bigger, stronger arms is not as simple as doing more sets of using heavier weights. Understand the factors behind muscle growth and how they relate to an individualized approach to arm training is key for all lifters, at any level. Use the above information to arm yourself with the best knowledge to attack arm training effectively to optimize growth!
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.