In the last article, we talked about the optimal triceps volume, if you haven’t checked it out yet definitely give it a read.
2/3 of our arms are composed of the triceps. So, why would you not want to know everything you need to grow your triceps? 😉
But I know you’re all waiting for this article. Today its time for presumably the most admired “bromuscle”. Obviously, I am talking about quads… Just kidding, of course, its the biceps.
For that reason, we’re going more in-depth about the optimal biceps volume to eliminate all your current excuses and complaints like “my biceps do not grow”, “I am curling so much weight but I still have a small biceps..”.
If you still have questions like what volume actually is, how it affects muscle growth and what you should know about it, check out our complete guide about the optimal volume for hypertrophy.
Alright, what can you expect from this particular article and our series about volume applied to each muscle? Based on Dr Mike Israetel’s knowledge and experience, as well as our own, we want to clarify which volume works best for each muscle.
So, guys, let’s dive into the most famous and beloved muscle of all time.
Have you ever seen guys who look relatively average, just started working out but standing in front of the mirror swinging their reps with 20kg dumbbells? Of course, you do, they’re in every gym.
But does their arms look like properly curling 20kg dumbbells? Most likely not.
So, what is my point that I want to make here?
Biceps training doesn’t really work like that. It is a relatively small muscle that of course can and should be trained heavy, but that’s relative.
Please throw your ego out of the door and only use weights that you can control.
This has some striking benefits. Firstly, doing isolation exercises with heavy weight and a flawed execution can result in injuries.
Secondly, you can use the full range of motion whilst activating way more muscles fibers as with swinging cheat curls. A proper range of motion basically always leads to increased muscle growth.
Thirdly, the biceps is a small muscle. You don’t need tons of isolation work to grow it. Most of the programmes include a lot of heavy back exercises like pull-ups or bent over rows. These already exercise your biceps quite heavily.
If you belong to such persons, don’t worry. It’s good that you’re here now.
In the following, I’ll explain to you everything you should keep in mind when it comes down to the optimal biceps volume.
MV – Maintenance Volume
What does MV mean?
MV stands for maintenance volume and refers to the amount of work that is required to maintain the muscle’s current size.
Why is it important to know your MV?
This is important because if you have to fall back or have to reduce your workouts for a certain reason, you don’t want to lose your hard acquired gains.
Moreover, after works of heavy workouts in between your MAV and MRV or even above your MRV, it is for sure a good thing to lower your volume now and then. This desensitizes your body and enables it to fully recover.
For that reason, it is crucial to know where your MV lies to ensure you don’t lose muscles as well as adhere to the appropriate volume in your “deload phase”.
What’s the MV for the optimal biceps volume?
MV: 0-4-6 sets/week
The maintenance volume here lies between 0-4-6 sets/week.
Now, some of you might be confused. How can 0 sets/week be possible?
People who are more or less intermediate and/or whose training programme includes a lot of pulling exercises don’t need tons of isolation biceps work.
All these pulling movements fatigue and demand the biceps quite heavily.
Accordingly, it is possible that you’re able to maintain your current biceps size without any biceps isolation work.
This is handy if you think about it. Means, you don’t need to spend extra time on that and can focus more intensively on the rest of your workout.
For bodybuilders who already have big biceps and who’re training their biceps with higher volume, it looks different.
The MV for these folks lies somewhere around 4-6 sets/week.
For example, you could do 3 sets of barbell curls on Monday followed by 3 sets of cable curls on Thursday and still maintain your biceps.
MEV – Minimum Effective Volume
What does MEV stand for?
The Minimum Effective Volume which describes the minimum amount of work that is necessary to stimulate muscle growth.
Why is it important to know your MEV?
To put it simply, as well as it is important to know how much volume your biceps need to keep its current size, it is at least of similar importance to know how much volume is required to grow your biceps, isn’t it?
How does the MEV volume could look like?
MEV: 8 sets/week
On average, most folks obtain good growth with around 8 sets/week.
Everything below 8 sets/week possibly does not result in good growth at all.
Therefore I recommend you to stay with at least 8 sets/week.
Again, here applies the same as for the MV value.
If your programme includes a lot of heavy pulling exercises (pull-ups, bent over rows…) you don’t need to do infinite isolation work for your biceps.
Eventually, we can say that the heavier pulling exercises you do, the less additional isolation work is required for your biceps.
MAV – Maximum Adaptive Volume
What does MAV mean?
The Maximum Adaptive Volume gives you a good indication of how much volume is most likely to stimulate the best growth.
Why is it important to know your MAV?
Do you want to train all your time with the least effective volume? Certainly not, who would want that…
For proper muscle growth, we need to put more effort into our workout and increase the volume consistently.
Hence, it is important to know where your MAV lies to maximize your muscle growth.
Where can we set a point of reference for biceps MAV?
MAV: 14-20 sets/week
This is presumably the area where on average most of the growth happens.
Why do I say presumably?
As always, it varies individually. Some may be totally fine with a biceps volume of 14 direct sets/week whereas others even need more than 20 sets/week to stimulate any biceps growth at all.
But on average most folks will get good growth with a volume between 14-20 sets/week. Eventually, you can only figure out where your optimal biceps volume lies by trying different volumes and adjust your programme gradually.
MRV – Maximum Recoverable Volume
What does MRV mean?
The Maximum Recoverable Volume is largely important. It refers to the maximum amount of work your body can actually fully recover.
This means if you overreach your MRV it is likely that your body cannot recover properly. Ultimately, your performance might suffer from that.
Why is it important to know your MRV?
Pretty obviously, nobody wants to take a forced break due to excessive volume.
Therefore, it is essential to know where your MRV lies to keep your body recovered and avoid superfluous breaks.
What is a good volume that is still recoverable?
MRV: 20-26 sets/week
This is the average for most individuals but always remember that there are exceptions.
Maybe you’re an individual who can endure 32 sets/week and still fully recover. On the opposite, you might only be able to handle 15 sets/week and your biceps feels like almost falling off.
Why is there a quite big range between 20-26 sets/week?
The heavier pulling exercises you do the less additional isolation work is necessary to grow your biceps.
Thereout it can be abstracted that the actual volume correlates with your current training programme and the “passive” biceps involvement.
How often should and can I train for the optimal biceps volume?
We can identify a big difference between people whose biceps gets fatigued relatively fast/slow.
The biceps is a relatively small muscle and can sustain a higher frequency with around 3-4 times/week.
Most folks benefit the most from 3-4 biceps workouts/week. You can even increase frequency for biceps volume but in the end, you have to adjust the frequency according to the volume.
A lower volume would mean that you can possibly work with a higher frequency BUT it is not the most productive way to train biceps every day with low volume.
I would recommend working with 3-4 times/week where your biceps get involved.
Furthermore, I can suggest training biceps relatively heavy once and adjust the other two sessions. For example, doing a bit higher volume and lower intensity to make sure that your back workout doesn’t suffer from that.
After we’ve covered which parameter requires which volume and the frequency, the question arises: how hard should we train?
On average 8-15 reps with challenging weight
What does that mean?
Certainly, you can go lower than 8 reps/set but as already mentioned earlier, isolation movements with heavy weights can easily result in injury.
You’re better off leaving the heavy forces to compound exercises (e.g. pull-ups) with 5-8 reps or heavy rows which already demand your biceps vigorous.
Some individuals sustain with 15 reps or even higher, but higher than 15 reps is presumably not the best thing to do. This fatigues the biceps and limits your training even if still you have power left.
That’s why I would recommend staying in between 8-15 reps on average for the optimal biceps volume.
But these aren’t fixed values, you should use them as a starting point from where on you figure out which volume works best for you and adjust it gradually.
Now and then you can try out different rep ranges in your workouts during the mesocycles.
For example, for a certain time you’re training biceps relatively heavy with around 8 reps and after that, in your next cycle, you switch to 12-15 reps. With that tactic, you’ll get the benefits of both ranges and likely stimulate as much growth as possible.
Biceps workout – Exercises
When we’re talking about the optimal biceps volume, we likewise need to take a closer look at biceps workout.
Some classic and most common exercises are:
- Barbell Curls
- Dumbbell Curls
- Cable Curls (variations)
- Machine Curls
One of my favourite exercises for biceps is barbell curls.
Briefly speaking, you can train your biceps heavily with barbell curls. Rep ranges around 8-12 will definitely give you a great pump and stimulate massive growth.
I really like to use barbell curls as a heavy isolation movement and afterwards finish off my biceps workout with a lighter machine or cable curl exercise.
Range of motion
Full range of motion is a really good idea for biceps!
The biceps has a couple of functions. First, they supinate which means turning your wrist with an outside movement. Second, they flex your forearm and lastly they actually flex your shoulders.
On that note, you should at least turn your curls all the way up and down. It is scientifically proven that a full range of motion works really well for biceps.
Therefore, at this point, we can refer back to the point that I made at the beginning of this article.
Keep your ego outside the gym and stop doing cheat curls, use weights that you can control and go with the full range of motion. Your biceps will thank you after!
A good thing to do for biceps workout is to implement some variation for either the rep range or the total volume.
For example, you could vary the rep range in between your mesocycles. First, you start off with relatively heavy reps around 8 and after 4-5 weeks you switch to a higher rep range with 10+ reps.
The other approach could look like this: you adjust your biceps volume to your back volume. This means the heavier pulling exercises and general back workouts you have per week, the less additional isolation work is necessary.
The same principle applies as with the first one. You could start your first mesocycle with a relatively high volume and then switch to a lower volume (increased intensity) in your mesocycle. But again, this needs to be adjusted to your current training programme (especially back workout frequency & intensity).
I can definitely recommend changing some small things now and then to stimulate your biceps with new incentives. Eventually, it’s even more interesting for you to not rigid stick to the same plan the whole time.
Let’s recap what you should keep in mind.
MV: 0-4-6 sets/week
MEV: 8 sets/week
MAV: 14-20 sets/week
MRV: 20-26 sets/week
Frequency: Most people can endure 2-6 workouts/week. This depends on your current training programme plus how fast/slow your biceps get fatigued.
I would not recommend going with 6 times/week of biceps involvement because it seems to be not the best way to achieve biceps growth with such a low volume and high frequency.
Intensity: On average most people get the best results from a rep range between 8-15. Same applies here as for biceps, if your training programme includes a lot of heavy pulling movements, you don’t need to train your biceps very heavy. Therefore, stay between 8-15 reps.
Exercises: The biceps consists of two heads: the long and the short head. If you want to have a fully developed biceps, you need to pay attention to both heads!
Range of motion: Definitely use the full range of motion when it comes to biceps workout. This is a good idea because the biceps has a couple of important functions. It supinates (means turning your wrist with an outside movement), it flexes your forearm and shoulders. Furthermore, science has proven that a full range of motion results in enhanced biceps growth.
Variation: Definitely do some changes every so often. You can either vary your total volume according to your programme or the intensity.
Drop sets: You start with a certain weight (do as many reps as you can) lower the weight about 25% (again, do as many reps as you can) and lower again about 25%. This really results in a crazy pump!
Supersets: One of the most common training techniques. You first start off either with a heavy isolation exercise (e.g. barbell curls) and then instantly followed by another lighter isolation movement (e.g. cable curls). The other way around works as well means starting with the lighter isolation exercise and then going heavier.
Special shout-out to Dr. Mike Israetel, we really value his knowledge and the content that he shares with you guys on his YT channel and his blog.
Definitely check out his video about biceps volume!
I hope this article answers all your questions about the optimal biceps volume. If you still have any further questions, feel free to contact us via our social media channels or just leave a comment below!
So, guys, what was the most interesting thing that you learned with this article? How does your biceps workout look like? I am curious, let us know!