Building strong and muscular arms is a notable goal for many fitness goers. In addition to the aesthetic appeal of having strong, chiseled arms, the functional benefit of strong biceps and triceps is also appealing to many athletes and coaches.
However, a lot of people are confused around the rep ranges for training arms.
So what are the rep ranges for arm workouts? The biceps and triceps should be trained using rep ranges between 5-20 reps to best maximize strength, muscle growth, and overall development of the muscles.
In this article, we will explore the various rep ranges for biceps and triceps training so that you can maximize your arm workouts AND minimize injury.
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4 Tips to Maximize Muscle Growth
Below are four must-do training tips to maximize your muscle growth even before you start considering what rep ranges you should use.
1. FULL RANGE OF MOTION
Training in the full range of motion is key for overall muscle growth and development.
When you train in the full range of motion you are able to apply stress across the entire muscle belly, therefore stimulating more muscle fibers and effectively creating micro-trauma throughout a muscle.
This will also aid in overall development of the muscles, improve joint control, and strengthen the connective tissues (tendons and ligaments) to help you continue to train hard and progress your workouts while minimizing injury from restricted movement patterns and too much weight.
2. DEEP MUSCULAR STRETCH UNDER LOAD
The deeper you stretch a muscle belly (eccentric or lengthening phase) the more tension is developed throughout the muscle.
That tension forces a muscle to work harder to overcome the lengthened state it is in, and helps you create more microtrauma and muscle loading (without having to lift too heavy, which could result in the muscles and connective tissues being stressed).
Unlike muscle tissue, connective tissues receive a poor supply of blood flow, so if there is excessive trauma to ligaments and tendons, the recovery time is far greater and often results in missed sessions and injury if prolonged rest is not applied (and if you rest too much, you aren’t training, so make sure to use loads that stress the muscles to a higher degree than the joints).
3. PEAK MUSCULAR CONTRACTIONS
As you finish every repetition, it is important to take a brief second to contract the muscle at its shortest phase, also referred to as peak voluntary muscle contraction.
For example, in a triceps pushdown, making sure to fully extend the elbow and flex the triceps, every rep, can be the difference between so-so triceps and tricep-tenderloins hanging from your shoulder sockets.
4. FOCUS ON THE MUSCLE, NOT THE MOVEMENT
When performing arm exercises, you will often see people doing bicep curls that resemble a bicep curl / shoulder front raise, or triceps pushdowns that look like a whole body pushdown.
Instead of trying to push weights with any means necessary, learn to maximize muscle growth and force the muscles of the arm to do the work rather than allowing the larger muscles of the chest, shoulders, and back to get involved. This is something that takes time and a proper understanding of anatomy (how muscles work, where they attach, and what movements target them best).
Odds are most arm exercises you are thinking about are good ones, however if you are not making a strong connection with the biceps or triceps during them and are feeling other muscles getting involved, there is a strong possibility that you are doing the movements incorrectly.
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Rep Ranges for Arm Strength
Building arm strength does require heavy lifting, however rep ranges tend to still be above 5 reps for most movements. It is generally recommended that you train arms in the 5-10 or 8-12 range for strength, and rarely (if ever) train below 5 reps for single-joint movements like bicep curls, triceps pushdowns, etc
When training biceps for strength, it is important to remember that movements like rows, pull ups, and chin ups stress the biceps to high degrees at heavy loads. When you are performing those movements in the more traditional strength ranges (2-6 reps), you will often apply a good strength stimulus to the biceps as well.
If you are training the biceps directly for strength, it is recommended that you train in the 5-10 rep range, or the 8-10 rep range to minimize overloading the tendons and ligaments of the elbow joint due to the single joint nature of most biceps isolation exercises.
When training the triceps for strength, movements like heavy presses (close grip bench, floor press), dips, and overhead dressing are all great stimulus for triceps growth.
If you are looking to have a more direct approach to triceps strength training, it is generally recommended to train with heavier loads using rep ranges of 5-10 reps. Emphasis should still be placed on a controlled eccentric phase, full range of motion, and controlling the weight with the muscle and minimizing momentum.
Related Article: Leg and Arm Workout: How To Structure On The Same Day
How Heavy Should You Train Arms?
It is important to note that training for arm strength can be very advantageous for strength sports athletes and muscle growth alike.
If at any time, however, you feel the stress being placed on the joint, tendons, or ligaments and not exclusively in the muscle itself, there is a high probability that the weight is too heavy and you are training in a way that can make you more susceptible to injury.
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Rep Ranges for Muscle Hypertrophy and Endurance
Training for muscle hypertrophy and endurance if typically reserved for moderate to high rep ranges to allow for metabolic build-up in the muscle cells and prolonged fatigued. To do this, rep ranges of 12-15 or even 15-25 reps can be done, with time under tension in the 45-90 second range.
For biceps, you can train this range using rep ranges of 12-15 or even 20-30 reps using a load that is challenging. It is important to note that if you are using a load that you can perform more than 25-30 reps with on all sets, you may not be using heavy enough loads to stress the muscle as effectively as you could. I recommend training the 12-15 rep range or 20-30 rep range once or twice a week, focusing on full range of motion and feeling the local muscle fatigue.
The triceps can also be trained for muscle hypertrophy and endurance using similar rep ranges as the biceps (12-15 rep range and 20-30 rep range). Like the biceps, it is important to use loads that are challenging enough and heavy enough to stimulate muscle growth and stress to the triceps, while also allowing for full ranges of motion, proper technique, and full extension of the elbow every rep.
Ready to start lifting? Be sure to read this article “How Many Exercises Make an Effective Arm Workout” to learn more about the concept of QUALITY vs. QUANTITY reps.
Which Rep Ranges Are Best for YOU?
While there is no one answer, it is recommended that every arm program hits all of these rep ranges within a week cycle.
For those looking to “lean out” or increase muscle definition, adding one session of heavy arm training will allow you to maintain or even gain muscle mass and strength function so that the arm muscles themselves can stay muscular.
Conversely, if you are trying to gain arm size and strength, adding one day of high-rep arm training can help restore blood flow, increase muscle growth, and help aid in recovery for further sessions (mainly by increasing local blood flow of nutrients, and clearing out fatigue inducing metabolites).
So, in short.. No matter your goals, you should be training each rep range at least ONCE in a week cycle. If you train more than 2-3 times a week, you can make your last session the rep range that you are more concerned with at the stage in your cycle.
It is recommended that you train heavier (lower rep ranges) earlier in the week to allow your body to be the freshest for those sessions and to minimize injury.
Related Article: Outer Bicep Workouts: 5 Exercise Examples
Sample Arm Workout for Strength and Muscle Hypertrophy
Below is a 3-day arm workout program geared towards increasing strength and muscle growth (size). These workouts should be done in this specific order. Note, that there are only two movements per day, as this program aims to spread out the volume across the entire training week to maximize quality of every set and allow you to still train other movements (like pressing and pulling) with minimal soreness.
DAY 1 – STRENGTH
This is the only true strength day for the biceps and triceps. The rep ranges for this workout is 5-10 reps, with heavy, challenging loads. The emphasis should still be on controlled movements and making sure that the biceps / triceps are doing the work, and not other things. You should be able to reach muscle fatigue of the biceps / triceps following the first 2-3 sets of the exercises. If not, you need to focus on slower eccentric movements, full ranges of motion, and minimizing momentum.
When paired with a sound pressing and pulling program that also includes bench pressing, overhead pressing, and rowing and pulling movements, you should have ample stimulus for strength.
Incline Close Grip Bench Press: 5 sets of 5-10 reps
Perform a 10 rep max set. Then perform 4 more sets to failure with the same weight you used for the 10 rep max. Rest as needed, making sure to rest long enough to give yourself the best change to do at least 5 reps.
Chin Up: 5 sets of 5-10 reps
Same protocol as above.
DAY 2 – MUSCLE HYPERTROPHY
This workout is geared toward muscle hypertrophy and some strength. Rep ranges are slightly higher, however the goal should be on feeling the biceps / triceps fatiguing out. Make sure to use full range of motion and slow eccentrics.
EZ Bar Bicep Curl: 2 sets of 10 reps, then 2-3 more sets to failure
Start by using a weight that is challenging yet still allows you to perform 8 reps with perfect form. Do that for two sets, then perform 2-3 more sets with that same weight, to failure (still use perfect form).
Seated EZ Bar Overhead Triceps Extension: 2 sets of 10 reps, then 2-3 more sets to failure
Same protocol as above.
DAY 3 – MUSCLE ENDURANCE AND HYPERTROPHY
On this third day, you want to perform the movements with higher rep ranges to increase blood flow and maximize the muscular pump. The goal should be on making the muscles become full of blood flow. Use full ranges of motion and controlled tempos.
Standing Dumbbell Twisting Curl: 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps
Choose a weight that allows you to train to complete failure within 12-15 reps.
Cable Pushdown: 3-4 sets of 20-30 reps
Choose a weight that allows you to train to complete failure within 20-30 reps.
Related Article: How To Bulk Up Fast: 10 Tips For Maximizing Muscle Growth
Training the arms for optimal muscle growth, strength, and definition is a multi-pronged approach.
In this approach, it is generally recommended to train a variety of rep ranges (5-10, 8-12, 12-15, and 20-30) throughout the week to maximize strength, muscle hypertrophy, blood flow, and minimize injury,
With the information above (and the sample 3-day arm training program) you should have ample knowledge and direction on how to approach your arm training in a methodical and effective manner.
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.