Why are my biceps taking so long to grow?

Why are my biceps taking so long to grow?

The biceps is often one of the most challenging areas to develop, so of course, the upper arms are one of the focal points for most people.

We all know that muscles do not develop overnight, but it can be very frustrating if you have been following a training regime and do not see progress after a reasonable period of time – or, at least, not as much as you would like.

In this post, we are going to discuss some of the common things that can hold back bicep gains and give you some advice on how to speed things up.

How your training could actually be stopping your biceps from growing

One of the most common problems we see with bicep training is that people overdo it. Believe it or not, twice a week is the sweet spot for training the biceps.

If you are frustrated with a lack of progress in your upper arms, then the natural thing to do is to ramp up the number of sessions you do or lengthen the sessions.

These approaches are understandable, but they are like using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.

One of the most common problems we see with bicep training is that people overdo it. Believe it or not, twice a week is the sweet spot for training the biceps.

Much more than this and your body will not have enough time to recover, which inhibits muscle growth.

Make sure you’re getting enough protein

As with growing any muscle, if you’re biceps aren’t getting bigger, check you hit your protein goals for the day (around 1-2g for every kg of body weight) and to stay properly hydrated.

You should also check in with your weights and consider moving up or incorporating some new techniques to make your existing weights more challenging.

If your biceps are taking a long time to grow, try changing your technique

All bicep exercises basically boil down to one move: a curl.

This means that the variety of exercise you can do is limited, as compared to other areas of the body, so you need to vary your style more so than your moves.

Some examples of bicep exercises include:

  • Standing curl with dumbbells or a barbell
  • Standing reverse curl with dumbbells or a barbell (palms facing downwards)
  • Overhead curl with cables or dumbbells
  • Zottman curl with dumbbells (palms up on the upward move, down on the descent)
  • Bent over row with dumbbells or a barbell
  • Chin-ups

Apart from the fact that all curls are essentially the same action, another limiting factor when training the biceps is the weight.

There is only so much you can do to increase the weight because if it is too challenging then you are not going to be able to finish the set.

Speaking from experience, I’ve grabbed dumbbells that were far too heavy and tried to make my biceps bigger, only to knock my training back when I got an injury.

To overcome this, we recommend progressive overload by using a technique, rather than additional weight, to increase the stress.

Related Guides

6 proven tips to combat stalled growth in your biceps

So what’s the answer when your biceps are refusing to grow? Here are 6 easy changes you can make to your arm workouts that have been shown to increase the size and shape of your upper arms.

#1 – Fractional reps

Biceps - Fractional reps

When performing a standing curl, instead of doing a full descent and a full ascent, break up the descent into fractions.

Imagine that when you are holding the weights up you have a semi-circle running from there down to your thighs. On the first descent, go a quarter of the way down then come back up. On the second, go a third on the way.

On the third, go halfway. On the fourth, go two quarters. And on the final one, go all the way down. Repeat.

#2 – Bicep Arc variation

When performing a standing curl, keep your arms slightly out from your sides to create a long movement to perform your curl.

This will make the weight feel heavier and intensify the benefits of the moves.

Train until you are fatigued, then bring the arms into your sides and train until fatigued again.

#3 – Rest, pause

Instead of performing 3 sets of 15 reps, set a timer for 5 minutes and pick up the heaviest weights you can manage to do 5-6 reps with it.

Perform the reps, then take a rest while continuing to hold them before doing more.

You will not be able to do the full 5-6 reps as time goes on, a successful ‘rest pause’ set ends with you just about able to do 1 rep.

#4 – Slow down your curls

Rushing through your reps turns a hard gym session into a poor quality one. Training is as much about patience and technique as it is about doing a specific number of moves.

If you are zooming through your session, then the chances are you are missing out. In addition to training at a moderate pace, you can really slow things down if you want some extra bang for your buck.

Performing a rep slowly intensifies the stress put on the biceps and encourages greater growth.

#5 – Squeeze and contract your biceps

An easy way to enhance the benefits of each rep is to pause at the top for a second or two and squeeze the bicep. This simple technique can be applied to any of your favourite exercises and it seems like it’s too simple to make a difference.

But get into the habit of squeezing on each rep and you should feel a difference both while you’re working out and the day after.

Track your progress for biceps growth

#6 – Track your progress

One final thing to be mindful of when training the biceps is that progress might not always be visible.

This is why taking regular measurements of your arms can be a good idea, as is keeping a gym diary with your workout stats.

These data points can help you to appreciate anything that the naked eye misses.

Final thoughts: Why your biceps aren’t growing and what do to about it

Hitting a plateaux in any area of your training is normal and if your biceps aren’t popping out like you want them to, the best thing you can do is stop and try something different. With a simple change in how you train your biceps, or any of the tips above, you could start to see them begin to grow again.

Good luck and here’s to bigger arms.

References & Further Reading

Tom Armstrong

Hey! I've been training in all kinds of places, with all kinds of equipment for the best part of 30 years. I love training with my weights at home and writing about new products and training methods online. Well, with a name like Armstrong, I would have to be into training, right?