You know what they say, “size matters.”
There’s no rush quite like wrapping that measuring tape around your biceps and seeing even ⅛ or ¼-inch of pure growth.
But how long does it take those mini-pythons or bazookas-in-training to grow a full inch?
Believe me, it seems like it takes forever…
Read on to learn about the journey ahead, including tips for maximizing upper arm growth!
Understanding the Biceps
When we talk about adding inches to the biceps, we’re talking about much more than just the biceps brachii muscle — the muscle pumped with the traditional barbell curl.
(“Biceps size” is typically used interchangeably with “upper arm size.”)
In reality, building fuller, bigger muscles is a team effort featuring all muscles in the upper arm:
- Biceps brachii (short head & long head): The biceps muscle is the anterior (frontal) link between the elbow and shoulder joints, the prime mover when bringing the forearm up and toward the body and the reason for the cannonball when flexing. This is the main muscle you’ll be targeting in a typical biceps workout.
- Brachialis: The brachialis follows the biceps muscle and sits underneath it, adding height to the biceps by creating distance between the triceps and biceps and width to the sides of the arm, yielding a larger bi/tri appearance.
- Brachioradialis: The brachioradialis is the forearm muscle that bulges just below the elbow joint, responsible for flexing the elbows and adding overall arm size. (Building muscle here doesn’t technically add inches to your biceps, but it’ll create a more aesthetic slope between your biceps and forearms.)
- Triceps brachii (lateral, medial, & long heads): The triceps brachii is the three-headed posterior (rear) muscle that runs opposite the biceps brachii, makes up ⅔ of the upper arm mass, and bulges in a horseshoe-shape when flexed.
To measure your “biceps,” wrap a measuring tape around the thickest and highest point of your upper arm while flexing.
Do Biceps Grow Fast?
The biceps don’t necessarily grow faster or slower than other muscles in the body. While some men consider their biceps to be “stubborn,” others can build muscle easily and have no trouble adding an inch in a month.
In general, the rate of biceps growth depends on:
What does that mean for those lagging biceps? If your siblings or parents build mass with seemingly little effort, genetics might just be on your side and building 17-inch biceps could be a cakewalk.
For those with more fast-twitch muscle fibers (power-related) or the ACTN3 gene, building inch-bigger biceps could take a mere 1–2 months.
The biceps and triceps feel and look much larger immediately after a workout. However, the temporary post-workout “pump” is nothing more than the muscles swelling with body fluid.
To gain muscle, you need repeated microscopic trauma to the biceps and triceps. The body then repairs these torn muscle fibers after your workout by fusing them together, recovering stronger and larger.
Unfortunately, visible hypertrophy (or muscle growth) doesn’t happen overnight. It could take 4–12 weeks of strategic and consistent training to see noticeable growth in your arms.
Any disruptions in strength training could steer that timeline off-course.
The human body will gain muscle most efficiently when it’s in a caloric surplus — or taking in more calories than it’s burning each day.
Adding size to your upper arms means fueling the body with the calories it needs to build muscle and enough quality protein to repair the muscles post-workout.
The opposite also holds true. Depriving your muscles of the protein and calories it needs could put your body in a catabolic state, where it breaks down muscle to fuel the body.
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How Long Does It Take to Add an Inch?
All factors considered, adding an inch to your biceps measurement could take as little as a week (rarely), although 2–5 months is a more realistic prediction.
So if you have dreams of building 19 inch arms fast, think again.
In fact, a 2005 study of 585 participants analyzed how the biceps brachii muscles respond to 12 weeks of progressive resistance training.
By the end of the study, participants added between -.04 and 13.6 centimeters to their biceps’ cross-sectional area (CSA).
Of course, cross-sectional area and circumference aren’t the same. However, a potential 59% CSA growth in 12 weeks (while others lost size) proves that the biceps are unpredictable.
But, if you ask Arnold or Vince Sant (from V Shred fame), they’ll tell you that adding an inch to the biceps requires an extra ten pounds of muscle.
Combining this theory with Lyle McDonald’s model for muscular potential, here’s how long it could take to add an inch to your biceps based on your strength training experience:
This applies to muscle gain per month, not general weight gain. It’s also not an exact science. Some guys can add an inch to their biceps in 2–3 months with the right diet and routine.
How To Add an Inch to Your Biceps
There’s no single gym exercise that’ll add an inch to your biceps or cut the 2–5-month process in half. If you want to turn those pistols into military-grade rocket launchers, you need to:
Target Each Arm Muscle Directly
Training each muscle in the upper arm directly is the best way to add height, width, and overall inches to your biceps, with movements like:
- Biceps brachii: Dumbbell biceps curls, cable curls, barbell curls, or the incline dumbbell curl to better isolate your biceps muscles and improve range of motion
- Brachialis (for height and width): Neutral grip exercises, such as cable rows, hammer curls, and Zottman curls
- Brachioradialis: Hammer curls and reverse curls
- Triceps brachii (medial head): Close-grip and arms-down exercises, like cable pushdowns and diamond push-ups
- Triceps brachii (long head): Above-the-head or arm-extension exercises, such as kickbacks and dumbbell extensions
- Triceps brachii (lateral head): Pushdown exercises, like straight-bar pushdowns and skull-crushers
In other words, adding curls and dips to your workout isn’t enough to pack on inches, sculpt more aesthetic upper arms, and maximize your biceps potential.
Create a Caloric Surplus (With LOTS of Protein)
Convincing your biceps and triceps to grow relies heavily on consuming a diet designed to build lean body mass and fuel growing muscles. We thought: who better to look to than natural bodybuilders bulking in the off-season?
According to a 2019 review, bodybuilders maximizing their lean mass and gaining 0.25–0.5% of their body weight each week excel most with this nutritional profile:
While protein and calories are arguably most important for muscle growth, all three macronutrients — protein, carbs, and fats — are equally as important when size is the goal.
Protein is responsible for not only keeping muscle around but also repairing them after each workout. Try to consume high quality protein, like meats, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, and eggs.
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source for powering through workouts. Prioritize unrefined carbohydrates, like whole grains, oats, brown rice, and quinoa.
Studies also show that low-fat diets can lower testosterone levels, which could stall muscle gains. Meanwhile, diets high in fat will add pounds to your weigh-in, just not in a good way. Stick to unsaturated fats when you can, such as monounsaturated options like olive oil, peanut butter, seeds, nuts, and avocados.
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Follow the Training Principles for Pure Mass
Compound strength building exercises — like pull-ups and bench presses — can add mass to minor muscle groups like the triceps and biceps.
In fact, research from 2015 revealed that, compared to bicep curls, lat pulldowns were also extremely effective at thickening the elbow flexors (5.83% vs. 6.10%, respectively).
However, isolation (triceps and biceps exercises) are best for forging massive and aesthetic upper arms. Follow these training principles for to gain muscle in your bis and tris:
- Frequency: At least twice per week (2016 study)
- Sets per week: 10–20 total, ideally divided between 2+ workouts (2017 review)
- Reps per set: 6–12 per set (2019 review)
- %1RM (intensity): 65–85% (NSCA)
- Rest between sets: 30–60 seconds (2009 review)
Hypertrophy tends to be a numbers game, but don’t let your ego get in the way of steady progress. Avoid cheat reps, bad form, and training with excessively heavy weight. And don’t forget to increase the weight when you max out rep goals.
Maximize Time Under Tension (TUT) & Range of Motion
Time under tension (or TUT) describes how many seconds your muscles are under stress during the three phases of a lift — the lowering, the pause, and the raising.
Fitness experts consider 50–70 seconds per set as the “sweet spot” for building muscle. That means, for a set of ten reps of dumbbell hammer curls, each complete rep should last 5–7 seconds.
(For example, using a 3:0:2 tempo when cranking out French presses.)
Another way to add a touch of efficiency to upper arm hypertrophy is to maximize the range of motion during each biceps and triceps exercise.
Exercises like the incline dumbbell curl create a longer distance for the weight to travel from the starting position (hanging at your side) to the top of the lift (the armpit).
The close-grip bench press can maximize your triceps range of motion throughout the lift. An incline dumbbell curl & close-grip bench press superset can kick off a successful arm workout.
The biggest mistake when chasing arm size is blaming the stalled gains on too few sets or reps, workouts that are too short, using too light a weight, or training too infrequently.
Traveling the “more is better” route could actually stall or reverse your biceps gains.
The key to thicker biceps and triceps is training smarter. That means choosing a better selection of exercises, training for size, lifting heavy weight, practicing slow and controlled reps, and fueling your body for bigger arms.
Remember that your biceps and triceps also double as synergists (or assist muscles) during upper-body compound movements, like rows and bench presses.
So don’t train chest/back and arms on back-to-back days, and factor in the role these muscles play in other exercises before adding yet another arm day to your routine.
Your muscles need proper rest between workouts to ensure they repair the microscopic trauma and heal bigger.
How Long Does it Take Biceps to Grow an Inch?
The biceps could take anywhere from a week to five months to grow an inch (average). And depending on your starting point, it could take months or years to reach a goal of 16-inch biceps.
Yet, with the right diet, training schedule, and supplements, an inch of growth could take 2–3 months.
If your gains are slowing, take a closer look at your routine, compare it to the tips above, and make any changes you see fit. And, remember: don’t overdo it.
How Can I Get Big Biceps Fast FAQs
Are biceps hard to grow?
Your biceps aren’t known to be easier or harder to grow than any other muscle group, but that doesn’t stop many people from complaining of “stubborn biceps.” If you’re truly having problems growing your biceps, you should investigate your diet, training, exercise choice, and maybe your genetics.
How can I get big arms fast?
Sadly, there’s no safe and legal way to build big biceps fast. With the best diet and training program, a beginner can expect to gain 1.5-2 pounds of lean body mass in the biceps after 5-7 months. Meanwhile, intermediates and experts can add 0.5-1 pound in 10-20 months.
How quickly do biceps grow?
The muscles in your biceps will grow almost as fast as every other muscle group in the body. But the true pace of your bicep growth will be determined by many factors, like your diet, training (i.e., volume, sets, weight, exercise choice), age, gender, genetics.
How long does it take to gain 2 inches on your arms?
The time it will take to add 2 inches to your arms varies from person to person. Newbies will gain muscle in a shorter time compared to people with more training experience. By our estimates, it can take anywhere from 3-6 months to gain an extra 2 inches on your arms.