Last updated on February 7th, 2023 at 11:17 am
So, you want to know whether you should train biceps to failure?
I guess most of us typically train to within 1-2 reps of failure on most working sets.
You know for a fact that with certain exercises going all the way until you can no longer lift the weight can cause extreme fatigue.
Then again, there’s also the potential for injury.
It is absolutely fine to train biceps to failure. As the biceps are a relatively small muscle, training to failure won’t place a great deal of stress on the Central Nervous System. You could take every set you perform to failure, although a great way to use “failure training” is to take the last working set of each exercise you perform to failure.
The Biceps Are a Small Muscle Group
When it comes to training to failure, there are two different types you should be aware of.
Firstly, there is technical failure, which means that you are no longer able to perform the exercise with great form.
Then there is absolute failure, which is where you simply can’t physically shift the weight anymore, even when using momentum or poor form.
Granted, there is a place for both types of failure, but for me, I prefer to focus on technical failure.
Simply put, if I’m going to train to failure then I want to do so with perfect form.
Now, when it comes to training to failure you do need to be wary of what this is doing to your Central Nervous System.
As an example, deadlifts are one of the most demanding exercises on the nervous system.
Therefore, training deadlifts to failure could potentially wipe you out for a few days.
In effect, you are working many of the major muscle groups at the same time, so this will take up a huge amount of energy.
That being said, when it comes to training biceps, you’ll typically do so with an isolation exercise like curls.
Furthermore, the biceps are a relatively small muscle group, so training to failure certainly won’t have such an impact as doing the same with deadlifts,
For this simple fact, it is perfectly feasible to train biceps to failure without it affecting your recovery or future workouts.
How Should You Train Biceps to Failure?
There are various ways in which you can train a muscle group to failure.
Some of these methods are better suited to different muscle groups.
However, as I’ve mentioned, the biceps are a very small muscle group, so you can actually use any or all of the following methods.
Every Set to Failure
Firstly, you can simply take every set you perform to failure.
So, in effect, you choose a specific weight for an exercise like barbell bicep curls, and then perform as many reps as possible.
You’ll typically train biceps in the hypertrophy rep range, e.g. 6-12 reps, so realistically you should be using approximately 65-85% of your one-rep max.
Furthermore, as you’re training for hypertrophy you should keep your rest periods to around 60-90 seconds.
However, what you’ll find by using this method of training to failure is that it’s likely that your reps will decrease with each subsequent set.
Therefore, you’ll want to ensure that your final set of training to failure should be at least 6 reps.
Final Set to Failure
This is definitely my preferred method of training biceps to failure.
Basically, your bicep workout consists of say 3-4 exercises.
You then perform a few warm up sets to start your workout.
And then you’re straight into your working sets.
So, as an example, let’s say you start off with barbell biceps curls.
- Warm-Up Set 1 – 30lbs x 6 reps
- Warm-Up Set 2 – 45lbs x 6 reps
- Working Set 1 – 70lbs x 10 reps
- Working Set 2 – 70lbs x 8 reps
- Working Set 3 – 70lbs to failure
You’ll generally want to use a weight with your working sets that gets to within 1-2 reps of failure.
Once again, keep your rest periods to 60-90 seconds.
Then, for your final set, you go to full technical failure.
If you’ve chosen the weight correctly you’ll barely hit 8 reps on your final “to failure” set.
However, if you make it past 12 reps on your final set, you have probably started off with too light a weight.
You then repeat the same process with the other 2-3 bicep exercises you’re going to perform.
Bicep Training With Pyramids
Another great training protocol, especially for hypertrophy, is pyramids.
Plus, you also have the added bonus of reverse pyramids.
A pyramid typically refers to the number of reps you’re performing, which decreases with each subsequent.
And at the same time as your reps decrease, the weight you’re lifting should increase.
So, whereas in the previous example of last set failure the weight remained the same, this isn’t the case with pyramids.
So, your set of barbell bicep curls may look something like this:
- Warm-Up Set 1 – 30lbs x 6 reps
- Warm-Up Set 2 – 45lbs x 6 reps
- Working Set 1 – 55lbs x 12 reps
- Working Set 2 – 60lbs x 10 reps
- Working Set 3 – 65lbs x 8 reps
- Working Set 4 – 70lbs to failure
As you can see with a pyramid workout you’re getting in a lot more overall volume.
This of course is perfect for building muscle, although due to fatigue you may not be getting in as many reps of your final set to failure.
100s Bicep Training
Another method of bicep training I love is 100s.
Basically, you pick one bicep exercise and choose a weight that is around your 10-12 rep max.
Your aim is to perform 100 reps in as quick a time as possible.
Now admittedly, there are a few different ways to perform this workout.
One of the most common being is usually performed with a much lighter weight, and as a burn-out set.
However, the way I perform 100s makes it my entire bicep workout.
The reason for this is that I prefer to use a heavier weight and go to failure with every single set.
There are no specified rest periods, you just perform the exercise to failure, rest, repeat, and carry on until you hit 100 reps.
One Set Bicep Training
The final failure training method is the one set protocol.
This is also referred to as an “all-out set”.
So, in effect, you put all your effort into just one set of a particular exercise.
This would involve an initial couple of light warm-up sets, simply to practice the movement.
You then pick a weight that you would typically be able to perform 8-12 reps with, and then you just go for it.
As you’re only performing one set for a particular body part, such as your biceps, you give this one set everything you’ve got.
You may actually find that you go beyond your “max lift” for that particular weight.
Plus, you can also incorporate breathing rest periods, i.e. you’re still holding the weight, but simply take a few deep breaths between reps.
You;ll often find that the one set to failure training protocol can produce some fantastic muscular gains.
And this comes about for the simple fact that you end up pushing yourself much harder than you normally would.
The one set to failure training method was popularised by bodybuilding great Dorian Yates.
Quick Bicep Training Tip
Just a quick note, when you train a number of bicep exercises per workout you should ensure that there’s plenty of variation.
Look, we all know that bicep training predominantly focuses on curls.
However, performing exactly the same movement pattern on different equipment doesn’t really count as “variety”.
What I mean by this is that performing barbell bicep curls, followed by dumbbell bicep curls, followed by cable bicep curls doesn’t provide much variety.
That being said, you can certainly change things up using these same 3 exercises.
This could mean that you alter your grip width with each exercise.
Then again, you can also change the actual grip, e.g supinated, hammer, reverse, etc.
However, if you can change the movement pattern ever so slightly, this will make for a better workout.
- Barbell Bicep Curls
- Dumbbell Hammers Curls
- EZ Preacher Curls
Should You Always Train Your Biceps to Failure?
In one simple word, NO.
Training to failure has been proven time-and-time again to be the greatest way to train for hypertrophy.
Basically, training to failure causes extreme muscle damage, but muscle protein synthesis is typically higher.
This simply means that you will break down and damage the muscle fibres, as is normal with high-intensity training.
However, the rate at which nutrients are passed to your “damaged” muscles is faster.
That being said, when you do train to failure it will generally take longer to recover.
Essentially, if you’re training biceps more than once a week, it may not be advisable to train all sessions to failure.
In fact, let’s say you train biceps twice a week, I would want the first bicep workout to be “normal”, and then train to failure on the second workout.
This way one workout won’t affect the other.
One more thing to consider is when you’re training your back.
Obviously, when you perform exercises like rows, pull ups, pulldowns, etc. your biceps are worked very hard as a secondary muscle group.
In fact, it’s not unheard-of to really feel your biceps after an intense back workout.
So, this is something else you’ll need to figure in when training biceps to failure.
Realistically, you should perform your back workout earlier in the week.
However, if you’re training biceps to failure I would suggest that you require at least 48 hours without bicep stimulation.
I would even avoid tricep stipulation, as this can have an impact.
Therefore, you’re pretty much left with legs or a day of rest in-between your back and bicep workout.
That being said, if you choose to train biceps to failure first during the week, this could mean that you require at least 72 hours before you can hit a decent back workout.
So, there’s lots to consider in your overall training week if you wish to train biceps to failure.
Key Learning Points
- As the biceps are a small muscle group it’s fine to train them to failure.
- Pushing your biceps training hard will have less impact on your Central Nervous System.
- Your biceps recover quicker from failure training than larger muscle groups.
- You can train to technical failure or absolute failure, but it’s preferable to train to technical failure, as your form won’t suffer.
- You can train every set to failure, final set to failure, pyramids, reverse pyramids, 100s, one sole set to failure.
- It’s not advisable to train to failure every single time you exercise.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.