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A lot of guys are obsessed with big biceps like women are obsessed with Avocado toast.
But what exactly is considered “big” when it comes to biceps?
Bodybuilding legend, Arnold Schwarzenegger claimed to sport 22.8-inch arms post-workout, but I’ll bet most guys in your local gym aren’t coming close to that number.
Furthermore, how the heck do you BUILD big biceps?
If it’s questions like these that keep you up at night, don’t worry. You’re about to find out the reasonable standard for “big” biceps (and how you can get them).
What are Considered “Big Biceps”?
For an average guy, the biceps will measure somewhere in the region of about 13 inches. For a Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competitor, you are looking at 21 inch biceps and up.
Of course, the overwhelming majority of us will never reach Olympia levels of biceps gains (and probably don’t want to).
So, what should the average guy in the gym be aiming for when it comes to their upper arm measurements?
Across the general population, somebody with 15-inch biceps will be considered to have big arms.
At around 15 inches, you can wear a small tee and stretch the sleeves to the breaking point. DO NOT be that guy!
Your goal is to pack on some real size to the point where you don’t need the illusions of a child’s wardrobe. The 16-17 inch mark is where you’ll really turn some heads.
Above 17 inches is where things get seriously girthy. 18-inch arms have always been a magical figure for guys in any gym.
18-inch arms are a huge goal for a natural lifter who wishes to remain relatively lean and require a mixture of consistently excellent training, nutrition, sleep, and genetics.
In reality, anything around 16 inches at a bodyweight below 15% is considered “big,” and you’ll look like you lift. We always want bigger, so this article will give you some tips for truly busting out of those sleeves.
Related: Can You Get 20-Inch Arms Naturally? (The Truth)
Can Anybody Build Big Biceps?
In the world of strength training and bodybuilding, genetics play a massive role. Unfortunately, not everybody will be capable of holding the amount of muscle required for their arms to be 18 inches.
For example, if you’re naturally-flexed arm is about 10 inches, you may never make it 🙁
The good news is that you can build big, better-looking arms than you’re currently equipped with, so that should be your goal and motivation.
The even better news is that some people won’t even need to build big arms for them to look huge. Thanks to genetics again, people’s biceps are inserted along the upper arm at different points.
If you’re one lucky motherfucker, you will have biceps that connect to the forearm muscles closer to the elbow and I hate you for it.
Having such godly low insertion points produces a bicep with a longer, larger muscle belly that will appear much bigger than others who have worked that ass off for years to build decent-sized arms that still don’t fill their sleeves (not that I’m bitter about it).
In addition, guys at lower body fat levels can also appear to have bigger biceps because the muscle belly itself is much more visible.
As you can see, there is more to the equation than simple measurement, so don’t get too hung up on that stuff.
Your main goal should be to put a plan in place to improve what you currently have. Keep improving over time and your girl will be struggling to wrap her hands around your (arm)girth in no time.
Related: How Long Does it Take Biceps to Grow an Inch? (Strategies)
Building Big Biceps – Biceps Anatomy and Function
Before you head to the gym and start banging away endless sets of curls, it will pay dividends to learn a little about what the muscles you’re trying to build are used for. Don’t worry, this ain’t a biology lesson, and I’ll keep it brief.
As the name suggests, the biceps are composed of two muscle bellies – a long head and a short head. On a lean individual, you can see the separation between the two heads.
The bicep’s primary functions are to flex the arm at the elbow and supinate the forearm, which means rotating the forearm from a palm-down position to a palm-up position.
Aside from flexion and supination of the arm, the biceps is also weakly involved in inflection at the front of the shoulder, which means it helps to bring your arm straight out in front of you like you would for a front raise exercise.
Even though shoulder flexion won’t be used as a primary movement for building your biceps, it is helpful to know this function because it means the shoulder must be extended if you want to get a full stretch on your biceps muscle.
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How Often Should You Train Your Biceps?
The typical way of bodybuilding dictates that each muscle be trained once per week. During this weekly session, the target muscle group is usually pounded into oblivion until it can no longer function again until it’s time to train it again.
This approach to training has been proven sub-optimal, especially for lifters who aren’t boosting recovery factors with anabolics.
Studies like this one from Dr. Brad Schoenfeld strongly suggest that better gains are seen by dividing your overall training volume into 2-3 smaller sessions.
The basis behind performing more regular sessions is to take advantage of muscle protein synthesis more often to build more muscle. In simple terms, muscle protein synthesis is the process during which your muscles are repairing after a workout and rebuilding.
With adequate rest and nutrition, your muscles will repair themselves to be bigger and stronger.
The repair process (muscle protein synthesis) is stimulated by training and usually lasts 48-72 hours. This means you will only be building muscle after a workout for a maximum of 72 hours.
With correct training loads, you can train your muscles again after 48-72 hours and re-stimulate the growth process instead of waiting an entire week between sessions. The key term there is “correct training loads.”
You need to train enough to stimulate muscle protein synthesis for a couple of days but not train to the point of being too sore to train the same muscles again after that period.
As time goes on, it will take more and more work to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and growth but, in the beginner to intermediate days, around 15 hard sets for each muscle group is a good place to start.
Note that this is 15 total sets throughout the week for each muscle, so that could be three training sessions of 5 sets each.
You should also be mindful of exercises where your target muscles are secondary movers. For example, a set of bent-over rows recruits the biceps so that set counts towards your total weekly volume.
You can tweak your total workloads based on your results. If you don’t see the growth, you can add more as long as you are sure your nutrition and recovery are on point.
This means eating in a caloric surplus and supplementing with creatine and/or whey protein for an extra growth boost.
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If you find that you’re still too sore from training when your next session rolls around, it is probably time to reduce the total workload or pace your sessions further apart.
Exercises for Building Big Biceps
Compound movements that use multiple muscle groups should form the basis of any bodybuilding program since they allow you to move more weight and recruit more total muscle mass.
Here are the best compound movements for a building biceps:
- Bent Over Rows
- Cable Rows
- Dumbbell Rows
On top of your compound movements, it is a good idea to add some direct biceps work. Direct biceps work will be less taxing for your body so that you can accumulate some extra volume with less fatigue.
A combination of these biceps exercises will allow you to train both heads of your biceps from different angles:
- Barbell or dumbbell curls
- Hammer curls
- Incline curls (great for putting your shoulder into extension and getting a full stretch)
As you can see, there is no need to overcomplicate things. Plug these exercises into a program that has you training your biceps for 15 hard sets across 2-3 weekly sessions, and you have the foundation of a solid bicep routine.
Rep ranges aren’t as set in stone as many people seem to think, and you should probably use a range of rep ranges since you can and will build muscle in all ranges.
Personally, I like to stick mainly in the 10-15 rep range for muscle hypertrophy since that range seems to provide an ideal combination of stimulus, time efficiency, and recoverable fatigue.
Girthy Guns in a Nutshell
So, here’s the TLDR version of building mesmerizing arm girth:
- Train the arms 2-3 times each week
- Start with 15 hard sets of 8-15 reps for your biceps throughout the week
- Build the foundation of your program from compound movements
- Use isolation exercises like curls to bring your total sets up to around 15
- Aim to progress from week to week and month to month (more weight, more sets, more reps etc.)
- Eat enough calories to gain size and rest adequately
- Don’t stop until your large tees are one flex away from disintegrating, incredible hulk-style.