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 traditional barbell curls.
(“Biceps size” is typically used interchangeably with “upper arm size.”)
In reality, building fuller, larger biceps is a team effort featuring all muscles in the upper arm:
- Biceps brachii (short & long heads): 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.
- 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 upper arm 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. (Adding mass 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 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, adding an inch to your 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.
True gains require repeated microtears and trauma to the biceps and triceps. The body then repairs these torn fibers 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 upper arms.
Any disruptions in training could steer that timeline off-course.
The human body builds 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 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.
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 training experience:
|Training (Proper Experience)||Muscle Added Per Month||Time to Increase Biceps Size By an Inch|
|1 Year||1.5–2 pounds||5–7 months|
|2 Years||1 pound||10 months|
|3 Years||0.5 pounds||20 months|
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 Upper 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 exercises like:
- Biceps brachii: Dumbbell 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, curls and dips aren’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 built for lean mass. 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:
|Nutrient||How Much Do You Need Per Day?|
|Calories||TDEE + 10–20%|
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.
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source for powering through workouts.
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.
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Follow the Training Principles for Pure Mass
Compound 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 (biceps and triceps-specific exercises) are best for forging massive and aesthetic upper arms. Follow these training principles for larger biceps and triceps:
- 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 or bad form, and 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 hypertrophy “sweet spot.” That means, for a set of 10 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 biceps and triceps exercises.
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 session.
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 the muscles 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 — choose a better selection of exercises, train for size, practice slow and controlled reps, and fuel your body for gains.
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.
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). 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.
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