Why Do Biceps Take So Long to Grow? (5 Top Tips)

Biceps are probably one of the most frustrating muscle groups going.

We’d all love a great set of guns.

They just look fantastic and make us feel awesome

However, no matter how often or hard you train them, biceps just seem to take forever to grow.

So, what’s the deal here?

Why Do Biceps Take So Long to Grow?

There is a tendency to overtrain the biceps. You will hit the biceps during most pulling exercises, such as rows, pull ups, chin ups, etc. When you add further specialized bicep exercises, the muscles simply aren’t receiving sufficient time to rest and recover. Often, cutting back on volume and frequency can stimulate new growth in the biceps.

1. You’re Overtraining Your Biceps

A Man Doing Bicep Curls With an EZ Bar

This probably sounds counterintuitive.

You want your biceps to grow, so you train them more frequently, right?

I’m afraid not.

The biceps are definitely one of the muscle groups that typically get trained too much.

And this “overtraining” is simply hammering any chances of growth.

The biceps, along with the chest, are typically the “show muscles”.

These are the muscles that we can see in the mirror.

Plus, there’s nothing that says “Hench” more than a set of bulging biceps (or a rippling set of pecs for that matter).

However, it’s important to note that the biceps are an extremely small group of muscles.

In fact, they’re not even the biggest muscle group in the upper arms.

The triceps actually take up twice as much room on the upper arms than the biceps.

Quick Tip: If you want big arms, train the triceps more than the biceps.

Additionally, with pretty much every pulling exercise you perform for your lats and upper back, the biceps are getting stimulated.

If the truth be told, I have come across many people who have a seriously impressive set of guns, and yet they never directly train the biceps.

These people are constantly doing row variations, pull ups, pull downs, chin ups, etc. and yet their biceps seem to swell.

Admittedly, we aren’t all born with such great genetics, so for most of us we will require some form of bicep specialization training.

However, initially I advise you to take a step back and really look at your training.

If you’re performing “pull” exercises a couple of times a week, and then adding specific bicep exercises another day, you could be hindering your chances for growth.

Sometimes, less is more.

Plus, we should all know by now that growth doesn’t occur in the gym.

You are basically breaking the muscles down, creating tiny microscopic tears in the muscles whenever you train.

It’s when you rest and recover that these tears “heal” and it’s during this recuperation period that the biceps grow.

So, ask yourself – are you allowing your biceps adequate recovery in order to grow?

What Makes Muscles Grow?

2. You Need Technique Variety

I’m sure you’re aware that progressive overload is the name of the game when it comes to making your muscles bigger.

The easiest way to achieve this is to add weight to an exercise.

However, once again we have to look at how small the biceps are in comparison to other muscles.

If you’re being completely honest with yourself, how much weight have you actually added to your bicep curls in the last year?

During the same period of time it’s not unheard-of to add 20, 30, or even 40kg to your bench, squat, or deadlift.

With that being said, during the same period of time you’ll be hard-pushed to have added more than 5kg to your bicep curl.

This is why I typically view “progressive overload” with bicep work a little differently.

Firstly, there may be a wide variety of bicep-specific exercises, but if you think about it they ALL require you to do the same thing.

You are basically performing a curl.

This can be achieved with a barbell EZ bar, dumbbells, cables, bands, etc.

You can even give them different names, e.g. concentration, preacher, hammer, reverse, alternating, incline, etc.

But, at the end of the day, these are ALL curls.

Unfortunately, working the biceps is typically controlled by the elbow joint.

And the elbow doesn’t really allow you much manoeuvrability.

If we take the shoulder joint as an opposing example:

You can move it in a multitude of directions, plus there is a shoulder socket, which allows the shoulder joint to move in a circular direction.

Just try doing that with the elbow joint!

So, for me, using technique variety far outweighs traditional progressive overload when it comes to the biceps.

Dumbbell Bicep Curls

Let’s take a look at dumbbell biceps curls.

You’ll typically pick a weight and aim for a few sets of 8-12 reps to stimulate muscle growth.

Once you hit 12 reps you’ll then increase the weight.

You’ll return to doing 8 reps, and increase reps as often as possible.

Once again, when you hit 12 reps you’ll increase the weight.

But, in all honesty, how long will it take you to increase reps and weight and how long can you keep this type of progression going?

For me, an easier way would be to carry on doing dumbbell bicep curls, but alter techniques every few weeks.

The simplest example of this would be to do lots of partial reps with the same weight.

I pick a weight I know I can comfortably do 15 reps with.

Then I curl the weight up, lower about a quarter of the way, and then curl up again.

Then I lower the weight to half-way and curl up again.

Finally, I lower the weight to three-quarters of the way down before curling up again and lowering completely to the bottom.

That’s 1 rep.

Try doing 8 reps like that.

What you’ll achieve here is increased time-under-tension, plus you are stimulating the biceps in a completely new way.

This will lead to increased “break down” and eventual growth of the bicep.

I think Jeff Cavaliere does a fantastic job here of explaining both overtraining and technique variety in the following video.

3. You’re Ignoring The Rest of Your Body

I read something many years ago about bicep size and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Basically, to add an inch to your biceps you will need to increase your body weight by approximately 10lbs.

So, you can do all the bicep curls and other bicep-related exercises you like.

But, if you’re not gaining any weight you’ll find it difficult to add any appreciable size to your guns.

Granted, the increased bicep work may make them look far more toned, but it won’t do a lot for size.

Funnily enough, bodybuilder Lee Hayward states that the first exercises on his list for bigger biceps are squats, chin ups, and dips.

Of course, none of these are traditional biceps exercises, but they are among the best exercises to stimulate growth in the entire body.

This approach may sound a little strange at first.

But, when you consider that you need to get bigger in general for even the smallest gains in bicep size, it makes a lot of sense.

So, if you find that you’re ignoring the big compound exercises to concentrate on your biceps then you’re making a huge mistake.

4. You’re Not Eating Enough

This ties in with what I’ve just said.

Exercise alone won’t make you bigger.

We now know that we need to add approximately 10lbs in body weight for an extra inch of bicep size.

And of course the best way to achieve this is with proper nutrition (in addition to your training).

Once again, you can perform high volumes of compound exercises.

You can throw a lot of bicep work into the mix.

But, if you’re not fuelling your workouts, your recovery, and your body through adequate nutrition, you’re simply not going to get any bigger.

Now, rather than me going into the ins-and-outs of nutrition, I think Dr. Mike does a fantastic job of explaining everything you need to know.

Take 9 minutes out of your day and I guarantee this will change the way you look at food and fuelling your body.

5. You’re Spending Too Much Time on Bicep Specialization Training

4 Exercise Biceps Fix

I guess I’ve already covered much of what I want to say here.

Firstly, I’ll agree that if you want to bring up a certain body part, then yes you should have some specific focus on it.

This is typically done by completing some form of specialization training.

So, in addition to your “normal” workouts, you’ll generally have a day or two a week when you specifically focus on one body part.

In this case, the biceps.

However, as I’ve said, part of the growth process is rest and recuperation.

The muscles need time to recover fully, which will then literally help them to grow.

I feel far too many of us spend too much time on specialization training and this simply isn’t giving the muscles time to recover and grow.

I’ve want to introduce you to bodybuilder Lee Hayward’s ideas about bicep training.

Lee actually has a three-pronged attack to grow the biceps.

This is three completely different training protocols, performed one after the other.

So, you train a certain way for a few weeks.

You then switch this up for a few weeks for another style of training

Finally you end the overall training cycle with yet another workout protocol.

Out of these three different training protocols only one specifically focuses on actual bicep training.

It sounds completely counterproductive, but it works.

To discover more about Lee’s form of specilization training, check out what I have to say about his Blast Your Biceps training system.

Final Thoughts

So, hopefully you now have a better idea about why biceps take so long to grow.

In truth, this is generally down to simply overtraining them.

You’re not allowing the muscles to fully recover, and therefore impacting on their potential to grow.

Plus, rather than continually adding weight to a variety of biceps curls, you go try using a number of different techniques.

Finally, in order for your biceps to grow, your whole body needs to grow.

So, you will need to concentrate on the big compound exercises, as well as your nutrition.

I’ve mentioned Lee Hayward a couple of times here today.

And Lee has created what many consider to be the “authority” program on getting huge biceps.

Another bicep-related question that is probably on your mind, which you can learn more about now is how long it takes for biceps to grow an inch.

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