If your goal is to train your biceps for maximum growth or gain some serious upper body muscle mass, incorporating targeted arm workouts is a must. However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
Training your arms to build mass and definition is a balancing act. Here’s what you need to know about arm workouts and how often you should train your arms.
- What to Know About Arm Workouts
- How Many Times Should I Train Arms a Week?
- Tips for Training Arms
- Training to Reach Your Arm Workout Goals
What to Know About Arm Workouts
Arm workouts are either targeted isolation exercises or secondary movers in a compound exercise. For example, compare a bench press to concentration curls. Depending on your set-up, the primary mover while doing a bench press will be your back muscles or chest muscles with triceps playing a secondary support role. When you do a concentration curl, you’re targeting the biceps as the primary mover.
How does this consideration impact the frequency of your arm workouts?
Depending on your goals, you may be able to schedule multiple arm workouts per week by blending targeted and compound movements. Conversely, you may have to scale back to prevent burn out.
Here’s how to figure out the frequency that works for you.
How Many Times Should I Train Arms a Week?
The main considerations to keep in mind when planning your arm workout routine include your schedule, recovery, and goals.
If you’re a bodybuilder who breaks up your training regimen by overall muscle group, you could have a dedicated arm day that targets the triceps, biceps, and forearms.
If you’re a powerlifter who breaks up your training by the big lifts, you might work arm day into bench press day or have a targeted accessory day to help build muscle definition.
The way you break up your workouts how often you should work out your arms.
Training Arms Twice a Week
Where your arms are a relatively small muscle group, it’s not necessary to limit yourself to one arm workout per week. This limitation is more for larger, compound movements that tax your system, like heavy deadlifts.
Training arms twice a week is a reasonable amount for most lifters. This frequency gives you the option to incorporate adequate recovery without detracting from compound movements. In essence, you could do a targeted bicep and tricep workout and bench press two days later without a problem.
If you choose to train arms twice a week, give yourself 36-48 hours between workouts to repair the tissues you worked previously. This training gap should apply even if you’re using isolation exercises that target different parts of your arm.
The biceps and triceps have an antagonistic relationship, using each other as a secondary mover during targeted exercises. Unless your form is perfect every time, you may compensate and strain the secondary muscle by overtraining.
Working Out Arms Every Other Day
If your main goal is to gain lean muscle mass on your arms, it’s reasonable to train your arms every other day. With this approach, you’re getting more than 24 hours of rest and regeneration time. You can also vary your isolation exercises to hit the various heads of your biceps, triceps, forearms, and shoulders.
While this is a reasonable split for bodybuilders, it’s not viable for powerlifters because of the exhausting nature of compound lifts. You’ll also need to pay attention to your body and scale back if you notice targeted pain, failing form, or other compensations.
Is it Bad to Work Out Arms Every Day?
It’s not good to work out your arms every day for a variety of reasons. If you overtrain and don’t allow the muscle to repair between sessions, you’ll run into the Law of Diminishing— the point at which more work equals less reward.
If you don’t give your arms time to recover between sessions, you’ll put yourself at a higher risk for injury. Injuries caused by overtraining the arms can include damaged tendons, rotator cuff injuries, strains, and tears. As a result, you could end up with asymmetrical biceps or be unable to train for weeks— which is far worse than having to take a couple of rest days.
Inadequate rest also leads to compensations during a movement. For example, during a hammer curl, you could use a swinging motion or shift the onus of the lift to your traps. When your body compensates, you aren’t effectively targeting the area you want to train, meaning you’re working harder for less.
Tips for Training Arms
Now that you know some of the pros and cons of scaling your arm workouts, you can put together a split that helps you reach your goals.
When determining what arm workout frequency is right for you, keep the following tips in mind.
Focus on Total Volume
Your volume is the total amount of weight lifted during a training session or over the course of a week. To build muscle mass, you need to incorporate progressive overload into your training— i.e., increasing your weekly volume by adding more sets or reps, and weight.
Calculate your volume by multiplying your sets x reps x weight. If you’re doing 3 sets x 12 reps x 35lb bicep curls, you’re curling 1260lbs total volume. By adding another set the next week, your math changes to 4 sets x 12 reps x 35lbs = 1680lbs.
By adding volume, you’re increasing the load on your muscles, thus making them work harder and get stronger over time.
Isolation Exercises vs. Compound Exercises
When outlining your training, consider both isolation and compound exercises. For powerlifters, using both types of exercises is inevitable when also trying to build arm definition.
When outlining training that incorporates both compound and isolation exercises, put the compound movements— bench press and military press, for example— first. This allows you to maintain proper form as you’re fresh at the beginning of your workout. As the smaller muscle groups are less likely to be exhausted after these movements, you can still get an effective targeted arm workout.
Range of Motion and Mobility
While there’s some evidence that intentionally reducing your range of motion can help with muscle growth, the general consensus is that using your full range of motion is most effective. However, if you don’t incorporate mobility work into your training, you’ll lose your range of motion as your muscles and tendons tighten.
If you plan to train arms multiple times per week, consider swapping out one session with dedicated mobility work. Training your range of motion is especially vital for arm workouts, as compensations often hit the sensitive shoulder joint.
Training to Reach Your Arm Workout Goals
The number of reps scheduled into your programming isn’t an arbitrary number; they train your muscles in different ways depending on the amount.
Before you decide that the reason you aren’t getting the arms you want is because of your training frequency, consider revisiting your rep structure. When programming reps, the main targets include muscular endurance, strength, hypertrophy, and power.
Muscular endurance is different from muscular strength. Whereas muscular strength focuses on how much you can lift, endurance measures how long you can keep up. Many strength athletes will tell you that doing ten back squats at a lighter weight is often a lot more challenging than doing five heavier back squats. That’s muscular endurance in a nutshell.
Muscular endurance in the arms and upper body isn’t usually a goal for powerlifters or bodybuilders. However, it’s important for cross-training athletes like swimmers and runners.
To train for muscular endurance, repeat an exercise for 12-15 reps at under 70% of your 1RM.
Building strength is a common goal for lifters of all types in the gym. In workout programming, muscular strength is defined as the ability to generate force during an exercise. When strength training your arms, the focus is more on what they can do rather than how they look.
To train for muscular strength, repeat an exercise for 4-6 reps at 85% or more of your 1RM.
Hypertrophy is the most common goal for targeted workouts, as this form of training is the most effective for building muscle size and definition. Hypertrophy is often used in combination with strength training, either focused on accessory exercises or in set mesocycles (focused training that lasts 4-8 weeks).
To train for hypertrophy, repeat 8-12 reps at 70%-85% of your 1RM.
Finally, training for power is uncommon in isolated arm workouts but may come into play with compound movements like the bench press and overhead press. Power is measured by the maximum force you can produce in a specific measure of time. I.e., your 1RM.
To train for power, repeat 1-3 reps at 80% or more than your 1RM.
While you shouldn’t train arms every day, it’s reasonable to complete targeted arm workouts twice a week or every other day. Keep your overall goals in mind when planning arm workouts and incorporate ample time for recovery and mobility training.
By incorporating isolation and compound arm exercises multiple times per week, you can build massive, powerful biceps, triceps, forearms, and shoulders.