In my years of coaching and personally chasing bigger and stronger arms as a powerlifter, I've utilized both the standard bicep curl and the hammer curl in my training. Both exercises are performed using dumbbells and share the goal of improving arm strength and size, but they are not identical twins in the world of strength training and bodybuilding.
So, let’s compare hammer curls vs bicep curls: Hammer curls and bicep curls differ in grip and muscle emphasis. Hammer curls use a neutral grip, palms facing each other, to engage the biceps and the muscles of the upper arm and forearm. Bicep curls are performed with an underhand (supinated) grip, focusing more intensively on the biceps brachii.
In our discussion today, we'll dive deeper to compare and contrast these two exercises to help you decide which is the best fit for your personal fitness goals.
Don't skip the detailed sections on the benefits and drawbacks of each, as well as a direct comparison of which one might be the right choice for you!
Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls: 5 Similarities
As I think about these two bicep exercises, 5 similarities come to mind:
Both are Isolation Exercises
Hammer curls and standard bicep curls are both isolation exercises. This means they primarily focus on a single muscle group, in this case, the biceps.
However, they also engage several other muscles in a less significant way. Both target different parts of the bicep, brachialis, and brachioradialis. They also involve the muscles of the forearm, wrist, and shoulder to some extent.
Both Exercises Use Dumbbells
One of the obvious similarities between the two types of curls is the use of dumbbells as the main equipment. Dumbbells allow for a great deal of flexibility in weight and intensity of the exercises. They also enable you to exercise one arm at a time or both arms together, providing versatility in your workout routine. This means you can adjust your workout to your current strength and fitness level, and it can be easily adapted as you progress and needs.
Both Exercises Can Be Performed Standing or Seated
Both hammer curls and standard bicep curls can be performed standing or seated. This allows you to incorporate these exercises into various workout routines and conditions. Standing curls engage more stabilizing muscles, thus offering a more holistic exercise, while seated curls enable you to isolate the bicep muscle more effectively.
Both Have Similar Form and Movement
Both exercises involve a similar movement: the flexing of the elbow to lift the weight toward the shoulder. Despite the difference in grip, the fundamental movement pattern remains the same. If you learn the correct form for one, you can easily transfer that knowledge to the other.
Both Are Effective for Building Arm Strength and Size
Last but not least, both hammer curls and standard bicep curls are highly effective for building arm strength and increasing muscle size. They're staples in many bodybuilding and strength training routines for this reason. Working different parts of the biceps and engaging the forearms and shoulders contribute to well-rounded arm development. They can provide a comprehensive strength training routine for the upper body when used in conjunction.
Is it okay to do bicep curls every day? Read our full article to answer this important question.
Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls: 5 Differences
For each similarity, I notice there are just as many differences between hammer curls and bicep curls:
The primary difference between standard bicep curls and hammer curls is the grip.
In standard bicep curls, the dumbbells are held with an underhand grip (palms facing up), primarily targeting the biceps brachii.
In contrast, in hammer curls, the dumbbells are held in a neutral grip (palms facing each other), emphasizing the brachialis and the brachioradialis, a forearm muscle. This difference in grip slightly changes the exercise's focus and helps develop these extra muscle groups.
Activation of the Brachialis and Brachioradialis
While both exercises engage the biceps brachii, hammer curls emphasize the brachialis and the brachioradialis more. The brachialis is located underneath the biceps brachii and contributes significantly to upper arm thickness.
Meanwhile, the brachioradialis, a forearm muscle, is also targeted more by hammer curls than standard bicep curls.
The Range of Motion
The range of motion varies slightly between these two exercises. Standard bicep curls allow for a full range of motion as you can completely contract and extend your bicep muscle. With hammer curls, the range of motion can feel a bit limited because the arms stay perpendicular to the body throughout the movement. This change in motion affects how the muscles are worked and the strength gains you'll achieve.
Muscle Imbalance Correction
Hammer curls can help correct muscle imbalances between the biceps and triceps. The neutral grip used in hammer curls engages the brachialis, which is often underworked compared to the biceps brachii. By targeting the brachialis, hammer curls can help achieve a better balance between the arm muscles, promoting more balanced muscle growth and reducing the risk of injury.
Risk of Wrist Strain
Finally, there is a difference in wrist strain between the two exercises. The neutral grip used in hammer curls can be easier on the wrists than the supinated (palms-up) grip used in standard bicep curls. Therefore, hammer curls may be safer if you have any wrist discomfort or are prone to wrist injuries. It's always important to consider your personal health and comfort when choosing between different exercises.
Another option to improve your arm strength is the preacher curl. Read our full article for more details on this exercise and the best preacher curl alternatives.
Hammer Curls: How They Work, Benefits, Drawbacks, Muscles Worked
Now, after the quick comparison, let’s dive into the details of each exercise, starting with a full profile of the hammer curls.
How Do Hammer Curls Work?
Hammer curls are a variation of the standard bicep curl, and they get their name from the grip and motion used, which is similar to swinging a hammer. This particular exercise is a great way to target different muscles in your upper arms and improve strength and size.
To do the hammer curl:
- Start by standing up straight with a dumbbell in each hand, arms fully extended, and palms facing your torso.
- Keep your upper arms stationary, exhale and curl the weights while contracting your biceps.
- Continue to raise the weights until your biceps are fully contracted and the dumbbells are at shoulder level.
- Hold the contracted position briefly as you squeeze your biceps.
- Slowly begin to lower the dumbbells back to the original position. This is generally considered one repetition.
Remember, the key is to maintain the same ‘hammer' (neutral) grip throughout the exercise.
Focusing on the controlled movement is important – the lowering phase is just as important as the lifting phase in strength training exercises.
Hammer curls can be integrated into many types of workout routines. They are commonly included in upper-body workouts, arm-focused days, or a comprehensive strength training routine. These versatile exercises pair well with many other dumbbell exercises and can be done virtually anywhere you can access dumbbells – at the gym, at home, or even on the go.
Given their effectiveness in targeting the biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis, hammer curls are often used to increase arm size, enhance muscle definition, and improve grip strength. Or athletes who require strong forearms and upper arm muscles for their sports, like powerlifters or rock climbers, will especially benefit from them.
Hammer Curls Benefits
Enhanced Bicep and Forearm Development
Hammer curls target the biceps brachii, brachialis, and the brachioradialis, which is a muscle of the forearm. By focusing on these muscle groups, this exercise promotes well-rounded arm development. With consistent training, you can achieve noticeable muscle growth and increased strength in both your biceps and forearms.
Improved Grip Strength
The neutral grip used in hammer curls not only stimulates different muscles but it also aids in enhancing your grip strength. This can be highly beneficial for improving performance in sports and activities that require a strong grip, like rock climbing, martial arts, or even certain positions in football.
Balanced Muscle Growth
Hammer curls help ensure balanced muscle growth in the arms. By targeting the often neglected brachialis muscle, located underneath the biceps brachii, hammer curls can help create a more balanced and proportioned look in the upper arms. This is aesthetically pleasing and contributes to overall arm strength and function.
Lower Risk of Wrist Strain
Unlike standard bicep curls, hammer curls are performed with a neutral wrist position. This can reduce strain on the wrists, making the exercise safer for those with wrist issues or those prone to wrist injuries. It allows you to continue training your biceps and forearms without putting undue pressure on your wrists.
Versatility in Training
Finally, hammer curls provide versatility in your training. They can be performed standing or seated, with one arm or both, and they can be easily integrated into various workout routines. Flexibility makes them useful in any strength training or bodybuilding program.
Hammer Curls Drawbacks
Limited Range of Motion
While hammer curls are excellent for muscle development, they offer a slightly limited range of motion compared to other curls. The nature of the grip and position may restrict the degree of extension and contraction of the bicep muscle, potentially reducing the overall effectiveness of the exercise.
Potential for Incorrect Form
Like many strength training exercises, hammer curls can be done incorrectly if proper form is not followed. Incorrect form, such as using too much weight, not fully extending the arm, or using the back or shoulders to lift the weights, can diminish the effectiveness of the exercise and increase the risk of injury.
Overemphasis on Biceps
Though they do target the brachialis and brachioradialis, hammer curls, like standard bicep curls, primarily engage the biceps. Suppose you're aiming for a comprehensive upper body workout. In that case, balancing these exercises with others that target the triceps, deltoids, and other arm and shoulder muscles is crucial to prevent imbalances.
Unlike bodyweight exercises that can be done almost anywhere, hammer curls require access to dumbbells or similar weights. This might be a limitation for those who don't have access to gym equipment or prefer to do their workouts at home without weights.
Risk of Overtraining
Lastly, like any exercise, there's a risk of overtraining with hammer curls. Working your biceps several times a week and neglecting other muscle groups or not allowing for adequate recovery could lead to muscle fatigue, slower progress, and a higher risk of injury. As with any exercise, following a balanced workout plan and giving your muscles time to rest and recover is essential.
Muscles Worked With The Hammer Curls
The biceps brachii, often simply referred to as the biceps, is the primary muscle worked by hammer curls. This muscle is located on the upper arm and is responsible for elbow flexion, forearm supination, and to some degree, shoulder elevation.
The brachialis muscle is a lesser-known muscle located underneath the biceps brachii. While it's smaller than the biceps, it's an important contributor to arm strength and thickness. With their neutral grip, Hammer curls are particularly effective at targeting the brachialis.
The brachioradialis is a muscle of the forearm. Hammer curls target this muscle more than traditional curls do because of the neutral grip, which aligns with the orientation of the brachioradialis. Strengthening this muscle can contribute to overall forearm strength and a better grip.
While they're not the primary focus, the anterior (front) deltoid muscles are also involved in hammer curls. Located at the front of the shoulder, these muscles help stabilize the arm during the curling motion, making hammer curls a good complement to shoulder workouts.
The wrist flexors, located in the forearm, are also worked during hammer curls. They stabilize the wrist during the exercise and help control the motion of the dumbbells. This engagement contributes to improved grip strength and wrist stability.
Bicep Curls: How They Work, Benefits, Drawbacks, Muscles Worked
Now for bicep curls and a deep dive on them!
How Do Bicep Curls Work?
Bicep curls are popular strength training exercises that primarily target the biceps brachii. This exercise is commonly a staple in enhancing arm size and strength.
How to do bicep curls:
- Start by standing upright with a dumbbell in each hand, your arms fully extended, and palms facing forward. This is your initial position.
- Keep your upper arms stationary and curl the weights while contracting your biceps as you breathe out.
- Continue the upward movement until your biceps are fully contracted, and the dumbbells are at shoulder height.
- Hold this peak contraction momentarily while you squeeze your biceps. Note that your palms should maintain the ‘supinated' grip (facing upward) throughout the exercise.
- Next, as you breathe in, gradually lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. This completes one repetition.
Make sure you maintain a controlled movement – the eccentric or lowering phase is as important as the lifting phase for muscle development.
Bicep curls can be incorporated into numerous workout routines. They're a staple in arm training days, upper body workouts, or a comprehensive strength training routine. The exercise is especially valuable for those aiming to build bicep size, boost arm strength, or enhance muscle definition.
Can you get more benefits from bicep curls standing or sitting? Read our full article to answer that question.
Bicep Curls Benefits
Concentrated Bicep Engagement
Bicep curls primarily focus on the biceps brachii, which is ideal for individuals aiming for pronounced and well-defined biceps. Regularly performing this exercise can significantly enhance the size and strength of your biceps, contributing to improved upper body power and a visually appealing arm curvature.
Improved Forearm Strength
While the biceps are the main target, the motion of curling the weight up also works the muscles in the forearm, aiding in improved forearm strength. This strength benefits various tasks and sports requiring a strong grip or wrist action.
Versatility and Adaptability
Bicep curls offer a high degree of versatility. They can be done while standing or seated and with either a barbell or dumbbells. This adaptability allows you to add variety to your workouts, which can help keep you motivated and avoid workout plateaus.
Straightforward and Accessible
Bicep curls are a relatively simple exercise, making them accessible even for beginners. The movement is easy to understand and doesn't require complex coordination or balance, making it an excellent starting point for anyone new to strength training.
Is it better to do bicep curls one at a time? Read our full article to get the most from your curls.
Bicep Curls Drawbacks
Risk of Improper Form
One of the potential drawbacks of bicep curls is the risk of performing the exercise with improper form. This can include swinging the weights, not fully extending the arms, or using the shoulders or back to lift the weight. All of these can lead to reduced effectiveness and increased risk of injury.
Possible Overemphasis on Biceps
Like with any exercise, keeping a balanced workout routine is essential. While bicep curls effectively target the biceps, they could lead to an overemphasis on this muscle group if other parts of the body are neglected during workouts. Balance is crucial for optimal body composition and functionality.
Can Be Tough on the Wrists
Bicep curls require a supinated (palms-up) grip, which can put a strain on the wrists, particularly if heavy weights are used. Individuals with existing wrist conditions or those prone to wrist injuries should be cautious when incorporating this exercise into their workout routine.
Like hammer curls, bicep curls require dumbbells or a barbell, which may not always be readily available for those who prefer home workouts without much equipment.
Muscles Worked With The Bicep Curls
The biceps brachii are the primary muscle group targeted during bicep curls. These muscles, located in the upper arm, are responsible for the flexing and twisting of the forearm. By consistently performing bicep curls, you can significantly enhance the size, strength, and definition of your biceps brachii.
Although not the primary focus of the exercise, the brachialis, located beneath the biceps brachii, is also worked during bicep curls. Working this muscle can contribute to overall arm size and strength and supports the function of the biceps brachii.
While it's more targeted in hammer curls, the brachioradialis muscle in the forearm also gets some engagement during bicep curls. Although less than that of the biceps and brachialis, this engagement contributes to forearm strength and definition.
The wrist flexors in the forearm play a supporting role during bicep curls. They help stabilize the wrist during the exercise and control the movement of the dumbbell, thus aiding in overall forearm and wrist strength.
Lastly, the anterior (front) deltoid muscles are involved as stabilizers during bicep curls. They help keep the arm stationary during the exercise, providing stability and support. This makes bicep curls a useful complement to shoulder workouts.
Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls: Which Should You Choose?
Are hammer curls better than bicep curls? While both bicep exercises offer significant benefits, hammer curls would be the slightly better choice if your primary goal is to build overall arm strength and size. This is primarily due to the neutral grip used in hammer curls, which activates a larger group of muscles, including the biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis.
However, the decision between the two ultimately depends on your specific fitness goals, physical limitations, and personal preferences.
Which Is Better for Building Biceps?
While hammer curls target a wider range of muscles, traditional bicep curls are more effective for isolated bicep development. The supinated grip (palms up) used in bicep curls emphasize the biceps brachii, leading to potentially more significant growth and definition in this specific muscle group. If your primary goal is to maximize the size and appearance of your biceps, bicep curls may be your optimal choice.
Who Hammer Curls Are Best For?
Hammer curls are excellent for developing comprehensive upper arm and forearm strength and size. They’re especially useful for athletes or individuals whose sports or activities require robust grip strength and forearm power, such as rock climbers or martial artists. Additionally, due to the neutral wrist position, hammer curls can be an ideal alternative for those with wrist issues who may find the supinated grip of the traditional bicep curl uncomfortable or risky.
Who Bicep Curls Are Best For?
Bicep curls are most beneficial for individuals focused on enhancing the size and definition of the biceps brachii. Bodybuilders or those aiming for an aesthetic appearance often incorporate bicep curls into their routine to maximize the ‘peak' of the bicep. Additionally, since the movement of bicep curls is relatively straightforward, they're a suitable choice for beginners who are just starting their strength training journey and want to develop basic lifting techniques and bicep strength.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Weights Should I Use for Bicep and Hammer Curls?
As a guideline, choose a weight that allows you to perform 8-12 reps with good form. Consider increasing the weight if you can easily perform more than 12 reps. The ideal weight for bicep and hammer curls varies depending on your fitness level, strength, and goals.
How Often Should I Perform The Hammer and Bicep Curls?
A common approach is to perform these exercises 2-3 times a week as part of an upper-body or arm-focused workout. Always ensure that you allow your muscles adequate rest and recovery time between workouts.
Can I Perform Both Hammer and Bicep Curls in One Workout?
Yes, you can include bicep and hammer curls in a single workout. This can help ensure balanced muscle development, as each exercise targets slightly different muscles.
How Should I Incorporate The Hammer and Bicep Curls Into My Workout Routine?
Both exercises are typically included in an upper-body or arm-specific workout. You could also perform one variation during one upper body workout and the other during a later workout in the same week.
Can I Do The Hammer and Bicep Curls at Home?
Yes, as long as you have access to a set of dumbbells or resistance bands, you can perform both bicep and hammer curls at home.
Are There Any Alternatives To The Hammer and Bicep Curls if I Don't Have Dumbbells?
You can use resistance bands to perform similar movements if you don't have dumbbells. Other alternatives might include kettlebells or household items like filled water bottles or canned goods.
What Are Some Common Mistakes to Avoid in the Hammer and Bicep Curls?
Common mistakes include using too much weight and swinging the body to lift it, not fully extending the arm in the downward phase of the curl, and moving the elbows or shoulders instead of keeping them stationary. Always prioritize form over weight to avoid injuries and maximize effectiveness.
When it comes to strength training and bodybuilding, hammer curls and bicep curls are both invaluable exercises that contribute significantly to upper arm development. While they are similar in many ways, there are subtle differences between hammer curls and regular curls, including the muscles they target and the benefits they offer.
Hammer curls, with their neutral grip, are excellent for comprehensive arm development, targeting the biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis for a complete upper arm and forearm workout. They can also be useful for powerlifters looking to improve deadlift grip.
Bicep curls, with their supinated grip, focus more on the biceps brachii, making them an ideal choice for those aiming to accentuate the size and curvature of the biceps.
When choosing hammer curls vs bicep curls, your selection will depend on your individual fitness goals, limitations, and preferences. Incorporating both into your routine could provide a balanced approach to arm development, maximizing strength, size, and overall functionality. As with any exercise, proper form, consistency, and a balanced routine are key to effective and safe workouts.
About The Author
Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.