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The Ultimate Guide to Hammer Curls: Benefits, How to Do, Variations

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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What are some exercises to blow up your forearms and biceps? The first thing you always think of is a hammer curl. However, hammer curls keep on popping up in lists of the most overrated exercises; and that’s ridiculous because they’re phenomenal. 

In this article, we are going to tell you what hammer curls are. Also, we are going to help you better understand how to do hammer curls. Let’s get started.

A muscular man performing hammer curls at the gym
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What Are Hammer Curls?

The hammer curl is an awesome exercise for all parts of the arm – the upper arm, forearm, and hand because it targets the brachioradialis and biceps as well as the brachialis muscle.

There are different variations of the hammer curl. This upper arm exercise can be performed sitting or standing. You can do this single-joint movement with both arms at the same time. Also, you can perform the exercise when the elbow is directed to the side. In this position, the biceps will work more. 

What Do Hammer Curls Work: Hammer Curls Muscles Worked

What do hammer curls work? Hammer curls have traditionally been used for the brachialis and brachioradialis because we use a neutral grip. It takes some of the stress off your bicep and puts it on your brachialis. But make no mistake about it! It still works your biceps. Don’t let anybody tell you that hammer curls don’t work your bicep muscles.

The brachialis is a muscle that we cannot see. It is located under the biceps. With the help of hammer curls, we are able to increase our brachialis which makes our biceps look bigger. Here is a medical illustration of brachialis.

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By the way, we can perform this exercise with more weight than the biceps curl because the hammer curl targets more muscles than the biceps curl.

Benefits of Hammer Curls

1. Increases Arm Strength and Size

The bicep is obviously important to develop the front arm but the brachialis gives you the three-dimensional effect. 

The hammer curl is an excellent movement for arm development as a bigger brachialis actually creates more space between the biceps and triceps leading to a bigger fuller arm development as a whole. In other words, when the brachialis muscle is developed, it actually helps to peak the bicep or push it up higher making it look like a mountain.

Nothing compares to the hammer curl for working that muscle group and then on top of that it still works your forearms and biceps well. 

This exercise doesn’t work the biceps the best on their own but it works them well. The hammer curls are great for hitting the outside head of the biceps giving you that complete upper arm development.

2. Strengthens Grip and Boosts Wrist Stability

As your grip fatigues, the forearm tension and mind-muscle connection increase. And if your goal is not just massive biceps but wrist stability and strong grip as well, you might want to incorporate this exercise into your arm workout routine. 

3. Low Impact Exercise

This exercise is easy on your joints and bicep tendons. If you’re working around an injury or even if you need to warm up, this is a very high stimulus and low fatigue movement that you can pretty much throw anywhere on your training program.

A man feeling the benefits of hammer curls in his body while exercising
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4. It Builds Strong Forearms

More isolated forearm movements like wrist curls are great to target the forearm muscles without the assistance of the biceps and triceps. While these effective exercises are limited to the load that you can handle, something like a hammer curl variation can easily be progressively overload over time. 

When comparing a hammer curl to a wrist curl, a hammer curl variation is like a larger compound lift for the forearms and it should not be overlooked. Although a hammer curl is still an isolation exercise as only one joint is being worked.

Which Is the Better Exercise: Hammer Curls or Normal Biceps Curls?

These two exercises are the exact same movement with the single difference being the orientation of the forearm in hand. 

In a hammer curl, your hands are in a neutral grip meaning your palms are facing your body. This position heavily disadvantages the biceps meaning the brachialis muscle that lies directly underneath them does the majority of the work. 

Switching from a hammer curl to a typical biceps curl nearly doubles the activation of both heads of the biceps. As for a typical biceps curl, your hands are supinating meaning they’re facing upwards. This heavily advantages the biceps more than the brachialis. If you’d watched the activity of your biceps on the electromyogram, you’d see that just supinating your hand activates them.

Supinated curls also seem to slightly better target the third primary elbow flexor the brachioradialis muscle situated in the forearm. Therefore, supinated curls may possibly help you get better results. However, this doesn’t invalidate the effectiveness of the hammer curls.

Who Should Do the Hammer Curl?

If you want to build massive biceps and strong forearms, you definitely should add hammer curls to your arm workouts. Also, if you have any elbow or wrist issues, it’s definitely going to be a helpful exercise for you.

How to Do Hammer Curls

Here is how to do hammer curls with dumbbells.

What you’re going to do is stand with your feet either together or just about shoulder length apart. Keep a slight bend in your knees, maintain a neutral spine, and make sure your wrists are straight. 

image 1
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© Aliaksandr Makatserchyk

Grab more in the middle or closer to the top of the dumbbell. And then what you have to do is make sure that your elbows are slightly in front of your hips when performing this exercise. That’s going to help you keep your bicep engaged during the whole set. 

You’re going to raise the dumbbells up. Come just past 90 degrees and then bring the weights back down. Your elbow is staying in front of your hips the whole time to keep your bicep engaged. You are maintaining a slight bend in your elbow the whole exercise. Breathe out on the way up; that’s when you’re exerting the force.

For the proper form, straighten your back and shoulders. Raise your arms slowly without using momentum. Also, lower dumbbells slowly so that your muscles perform more static movement which also helps to build muscles. 

Keep the elbow down, keep the shoulder down, and put it all in the elbow – that’s how you get the best benefit out of this movement.

Hammer Curl Variations

In terms of variations that you can use, there are a few that we recommend you incorporate into your workout routine.

1. Regular Standing Hammer Curls

If you take one step further and make it so the exercise doesn’t require as much core control for stability, you’ll be able to add another 5-10 pounds to your reps. But if you want to take the most advantage of the hammer curls, you should be performing this movement seated.

Performing the hammer curls standing is harder, but not harder for the biceps. It’s harder on your core. So, if you aim for fat loss, you can do them standing with both arms at the same time. But for muscle gain, you should be seated and alternating your reps to get the most out of this exercise.

2. Seated Hammer Curls at the Same Time

Don’t think that the cross-body hammer curl is always your best step. Standard seated hammer curl at the same time is also great. 

Remember it helps to target that deep underlying brachialis muscle. That’s going to add thickness to your biceps and help push the bicep value further making a bigger arm. But also it’s going to work the brachioradialis more when you bring the arm from the body versus the cross-body hammer curl.

3. Alternate Dumbbell Hammer Curls

Unlike the hammer curls at the same time, their benefit is that you can place a bit more overload because you’re using one arm at a time. So, if the purpose when building muscles is overloading, you are going to curl one arm at a time.

On a traditional hammer curl at the same time, you do not want to pause at the bottom between reps. But on this movement, by alternating each arm when you curl you’re actually extending the set length forcing the forearms to grip the weights even longer every single rep.

Alternate dumbbell hammer curls are an excellent movement for the brachioradialis muscle. That brachioradialis is critical for forearm size. It’s a muscle that’s in the thumb side of the forearm. So, if you want to target your forearms, perform the standard hammer curls.

4. Cross-Body Hammer Curls

What is the difference between the standard hammer curl and the cross-body hammer curl?

The standard hammer curl has done two arms at a time. You also can do the alternating version. With a standard hammer curl, you start with the dumbbells in a neutral position and they stay that way the entire way. You bring the dumbbells in front of the body up to the shoulder and back down.

The cross-body hammer curl has the same concept but you’re going to curl the way to cross your body. So, instead of bringing the dumbbell out in front of the body, you’re going to keep it close to your torso. You want to bring it up towards the opposite side shoulder and then back down alternating arms with each rep. 

It Places Focus on the Long Head of the Biceps

The main benefit here is the position of the arm. By turning the arm in, it helps to focus more on the long head of the biceps. Remember the hammer curl not only hits that deep brachialis muscle but as research shows, it also helps to target that outer head of the biceps.

So, with that neutral grip on the hammer curls, you’re going to cross the body. Your arm is turned in. It’s an ideal long-head biceps exercise. The long head makes up the majority of your bicep peak. So, this exercise can help build a more impressive biceps peak.

5. Concentration Hammer Curls

The concentration hammer curl is an excellent exercise for your arms. It specifically works your forearm and the outer head of your bicep. Here is how to properly perform the seated dumbbell hammer curl to work your muscles. 

You want to pick a seat that’s about knee height. Use your empty hand to base on your knee for your posture. Sitting at the end of a bench, you are going to grab the dumbbell and place the elbow on the inside of the thigh. You are going to hold the dumbbell in that hammer grip.

You are going to squeeze up to the top slowly and under control and back down to full stretch. Fully extend your arm at the bottom and curl it up towards your chest. Lower your working arm so that the elbow is just under the leg. Make sure that you have a slight lean on that working shoulder so that there’s always tension on the bicep. 

This exercise does not need to be performed with a lot of weight. It’s better to squeeze and move the dumbbell slowly and under full control.

6. Preacher Hammer Curls

The next one is hammer curls on a preacher curl machine. The stability of the preacher bench allows you to keep a better peak contraction. 

The preacher version of the hammer curl can be executed with a single or double-arm approach. The simultaneous technique is a better way to go if you are trying to superset another exercise with this one as you will not have to perform a two-part set as you would with a single-arm approach.

Perform these hammer curls just as you would the standing ones. Gripping the dumbbell so that your thumbs are pointed up. Making sure to only bend at the elbow keeping the wrist locked and in a straight position throughout the range of the movement. Squeeze your biceps really hard. Don’t just move the weight. Then come down and get a good stretch.

7. Tricep Bar Hammer Curls 

A tricep bar is a great tool not only for tricep but bicep training along with forearm training as well. The main benefit of this bar is that you’re able to do a lot of neutral grip work and it’s very easy on the elbows and wrist.

If you grab the tricep bar a little wider, you’re going to get a little more brachialis and a short head of the biceps. If you come in, you’ll get a little bit more biceps, but you still get a lot of brachialis because your grip is still neutral. It’s a phenomenal bar to do curls.

8. Cable Hammer Curls

The reason why you should do this exercise is that the cable allows you to keep constant tension on the bicep and allows you to focus on squeezing the muscle and getting perfect form. In this exercise, you have a better mind-muscle connection and obviously, it’s constant tension so it’s going to load the muscles pretty quickly.

You can either grab the cable without an attachment or just tie a rope into a knot so you have a single handle to grab onto. What you’re going to do is set that cable as low as it can go. Make sure that the biceps are stretched and then just do a regular hammer curl.

With a fully flexed tricep at the bottom of the movement, keep your elbows in front of your hips as you curl up. And then flex your biceps as hard as you can at the top of the movement.

9. Incline Hammer Curl

The incline hammer curls are one of the best exercises for targeting the arm muscles because they make you contract them while they’re in a stretched position. So, here is how to properly perform the incline dumbbell hammer curl.

You are going to sit back on an incline bench of about 60 to 70 degrees. Dumbbells are hanging all the way down to the sides. Your palms are facing in and they will remain in throughout the movement. 

Squeeze the dumbbell to the top putting a lot of pressure on the brachialis muscle which lies underneath the bicep and actually helps to push the bicep up further creating a peak effect. This exercise also works the forearms and adds thickness to this area. 

Make sure you are doing the movements slowly and strictly under control. There’s no swaying of the elbows. Also, make sure to squeeze hard to the top and stretch fully at the bottom. 

A common mistake is excessive movement of the upper arm and elbow shifting tension away from the arm muscles to the front of the shoulders. Instead, keep the upper arm relatively still to maximize muscle activation.

Hammer Curl Alternatives

1. Dumbbell Bicep Curl

You can use bicep curl variations as an alternative to hammer curls. The first benefit of regular bicep curls is the shoulder flexion. One of the bicep functions is the shoulder function. The second benefit is a deep stretch you get at the very bottom of the rep. 

You are going to do the seated on a slight incline bicep curls. Sit down on the bench, hold the dumbbells at your side, and bring it up. You’re going to raise your elbows forward a little bit at the top. 

Make sure you finish the movement by flexing your shoulders at the top and slowly control the weight down. Keep your wrist locked in position not supinating pronating along the way.

Do 3-4 working sets with one or two warm-ups at the beginning depending on your goal. Aim for anything between 10 and 15 reps because you are in a deep stretch.

2. Seated Barbell or EZ Bar Curl

An EZ bar is easy on your wrists. What you’re going to do is sit on a bench and hold the weight just before your knees. Then curl the weight up and control it down. 

You’re getting a little bit of shoulder flexion for that final little tight contraction of your biceps because it’s a little bit less range of motion. Do this at the end of your workout because you’ve already had the big stretch movement which was the first exercise that was explained.

One of the key benefits of sitting down and lowering the bar down to your knees is that you stop any momentum and you got to do strict form. You want to stop right before you touch your leg and then control the way back up.

You want to focus on the negative of that rep, control the way down, and then drive it back up. Also, focus on squeezing your ring finger.

Perform 3 working sets and 8-10 reps for this exercise. It’s a compound exercise and it’s a good way to deplete the muscle at the end of the workout.

3. Straight Bar Cable Bicep Curl

Curls in the cable machine keep constant tension on the bicep at every range of motion. The cable is constantly pulling down and your biceps are constantly fighting it so it’s good for your pump. You can put this in your workouts either mid or towards the end because you can do any kind of drop sets and do a bunch of different variations. 

You’re going to put the straight bar as low as you possibly can. Then curl up, squeezing your pinkies and getting a tight squeeze at the top.

Our Tip

You want to think about squeezing your ring finger or your pinky finger on both hands. What that does is focus you on your wrist out and get a tighter contraction of your bicep at the top. You can apply this trick to any bicep exercise.

Another trick you can add to these when you get to the end of your set and you start to get fatigued and you’re failing is you can take a step forward and perform curls. Also, you can keep the bar close to your body and almost drive your elbow backward.

Do three working sets. Try to focus on mind-muscle connection because biceps are not a huge muscle so just focus on a tight contraction and getting a good pump.

4. Rope Pull Ups 

Pull-ups or chin-ups are great exercises for improving upper-body strength. But to do them on a rope attachment is even more challenging because your forearms and your grip strength are really challenged. A 2-inch in diameter rope is thicker than the other one and it’s much harder to hold onto.

So, if you are finding that your forearms are fatiguing, this can be a great exercise to help assist that. Or if you’re looking to up your strength in, for example, your deadlifts, there’s nothing better than working on the forearms to improve that grip strength.

Use the plastic end caps on the end to protect your hands. But it also gives you that option that if you want a little bit more of a challenge, it’s quite slippery on those plastic end caps.

What you do is throw the rope over a chin-up bar. The best way to get started is to find a grip even though it is quite challenging on the 2-inch diameter rope. Once you’re comfortable there, then you can pull yourself up. The first thing you’ll notice is that even just hanging on you feel like your forearms are burning.

5. Dumbbell Hang Clean

With a hip-width stance, grip the center of the dumbbells. Dip slightly, then extend the hips and legs rapidly. Hips should be higher than your knee but lower than your shoulders. As you bring the dumbbell up, shrug the dumbbell, then pull. Make sure you maintain a lumbar curve.

Common mistakes:

  1. Having your feet too narrow with the dumbbell placed in front of you. This results in a longer movement. This also causes the back to round putting it in a compromised position;
  2. Pulling from the floor rather than finishing the deadlift and then pulling;
  3. Instead of shrugging, curling the dumbbell up.

Our tips:

  1. Feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width;
  2. Dumbbells start in between legs;
  3. Finish with one head of the dumbbell on your shoulders and your elbow pointing forward.

6. Dumbbell Drag Curl

Keeping the dumbbells in a neutral position you are going to pull your elbows back and your hands up right underneath your chest. Drag the weight up your body. Then back down and exhale. 

Technically you’re not doing hammer curls anymore. You’re doing a drag curl with a neutral grip. There are two ways to do it.

The first way is that the dumbbell is right by your side and you’re pulling straight up or you keep it out in front of your knee and you’re pulling back at a 45-degree angle. You’re going to have a better connection than just a traditional hammer curl.

Another variation you can try is to tuck your elbows into your stomach and get your entire body involved. You’re going to lean back during the negative. And as you contract up, you’re going to lean forward and make those biceps work even harder. 

The biggest issue with regular hammer curls is the initial part of the contraction. There’s a small range of motion where you can connect with those biceps and then you can lose it in your shoulder. 

With these variations, we pin that shoulder in place and make that bicep bear the entire weight during that eccentric part of the movement. And you contract up and lean forward to make that contraction more intense.

Common Mistakes

1. Too Much Weight

First and foremost, the main thing that we can see when we go to the gym is people throw around too much weight. You use a weight that’s challenging for the rep range that you’re working at. But rep quality going out the window turns this into a completely different exercise. 

2. Grip Positioning

One of the common mistakes people make is with their grip. If you’re holding at the top of your dumbbells, you have natural support and you don’t need to have as much grip because you have gravity working for you.

To engage more of your forearm and your bicep, hold the middle or bottom of the dumbbell so that you have to grip that tight. Also, it adds that extra level of challenge.

However, if you want to use as much weight as possible and maximize this isolation movement, don’t grip your dumbbells in the middle. In that case, you want to be focusing on curling the dumbbell up but you are wasting much energy on grip strength. 

Instead, we recommend you grab the dumbbell handle as high as you can so that the dumbbell itself can rest on your hands. This allows using heavier weights.

3. Replacing Biceps Exercises With Hammer Curls

The most common mistake is thinking that the hammer curl is a biceps-focused movement. Flexing the elbow joint, you involve the biceps. But the hammer curl mainly targets the brachioradialis and brachialis muscles. Developing these two is important to have big arms.

The brachialis lies in the middle of your upper arm. It can help your bicep muscles look bigger if it is developed properly. Make sure you don’t replace a biceps exercise with a hammer curl when you’re training. Do both of them.

A woman holding dumbbells the wrong way for hammer curls
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4. Hyperextension

You never want to hyperextend your arm. If you’re hyperextending your arm, you’re putting all that tension in your elbow that could cause pain especially as the weights get heavier. And don’t just drop the weights. That is a huge mistake.

5. You Don’t Control Negatives

The next most common mistake people make ties in well with the first one and it’s not controlling negatives. If you do exercises without a mind-muscle connection, you won’t be able to squeeze your muscles for growth. 

To build your muscles, you need to overload. But overloading with the weight you can’t control is a way to risk injury. Make sure you work the muscles you’re targeting with a mind-muscle connection.

6. Hooking

The hammer curls are one of the biceps exercises most people not only use incorrectly to build big biceps but have a bad form with. Another common mistake you want to avoid is hooking. This is going to bring in your shoulder. It’s not going to work. You’re going to be recruiting the wrong muscles.

How to Add Hammer Curls to Your Workout Routine

You can choose and incorporate three hammer curls variations in one workout. That could be your entire forearm bicep workout. So, give those a shot. 

Do 4-5 sets, 8-15 reps, once or twice a week. You can put this exercise on a pressing day with your triceps exercises. You can also put this on a dedicated arm day. Lastly, you can put them on a pull day.

If you are an experienced athlete and want to take full advantage of this movement, we would first recommend performing 6-8 sets of a standard biceps curl like a barbell curl or an inclined dumbbell curl. And then finish the workout with 6-8 sets of the seated alternating dumbbell hammer curl.

A man making the most of his hammer curls workout
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How to Get the Most Out of Your Hammer Curls: Our Tips

1. Try Different Variations

There are two different ways to go about it. You can either go single arm or dual arm. Play around to see what feels the best. You also can implement the cross-body variation. This is an excellent way to get extra attention to the biceps and maximize the curl. So, we recommend you try both.

2. Keep Hands in Front of You

You want your arms a little bit in front, not behind. If they’re behind, it restricts your range of motion. But if they’re too far forward, you are going to get in a lot of your shoulders. So, you want to keep them a little bit in front, nice and static. Squeezing tight all the way to the top you’re going to come up. Squeeze that bicep the best you can. Control negative coming down.

3. Use Fat Grip

Another thing you can try is if you need to keep your forearm engaged in the movement because you find that your wrist can’t stay stacked, you can use fat grip. That’s going to force you to do that.

4. Try the Suicide Grip

If you want to take the hammer curl a step further and get even more development out of this exercise, you’ll want to perform this movement with a thumbless grip by moving the thumb on the outside of the dumbbell on the same side as your knuckles. You’ll now be forced to grip the dumbbell harder creating more tension and mind-muscle connection to the forearms. 

You want to make sure to squeeze the handles as hard as you possibly can even more at the top of the movement and even if you think you’re resting at the bottom of each rep.

A stong man performing hammer curls properly
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What Are Hammer Curls: FAQs

Which is better: hammer curls or bicep curls?

Traditional dumbbell bicep curls primarily work the biceps and forearms to a lesser degree. Hammer curls performed with the palms turned in are traditionally an exercise that usually targets the brachialis muscle that sits beneath the biceps. We recommend implementing both hammer curls and traditional dumbbell curls into your workout routine.

What muscles do hammer curls work?

Hammer curls are a great way to train your arms. This exercise is aimed at working the biceps brachii, brachioradialis, and brachialis muscles. These muscles are responsible for bending the elbow. 
The hammer curl is not a bicep-specific movement but more like a brachialis building exercise. However, this movement still hits the biceps hard. It’s just a different angle to attack those muscles.
The hammer curl is awesome because you have your hands in a neutral grip versus an open supinated grip as you would with a normal bicep curl. The benefit here is you’re going to get a lot more forearm work and you’re going to work inside of your biceps.


Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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