5 Hammer Curl Variations – Illustrated Guide

The 4 Main Hammer Curl Variations – And How To Do Them Correctly

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Hammer curls, also known as neutral grip dumbbell curls or dumbbell hammer curls, are a strength training exercise that works the bicep muscles. The movement involves holding two dumbbells, with your palms facing each other and keeping your elbows close to your body. Then you simply curl the weight up towards your shoulders, keeping your palms facing inwards at all times.

This exercise is effective at building strength and size of the upper and lower arm muscles. As an isolation exercise, it is great for targeting the bicep muscles in your arms.

There are different variations of hammer curls that use dumbbells, cables or bands. With dumbbells, it is simple to increase or decrease weight to ensure you maintain the correct form during the exercise and can exploit the fullest range of motion. Cables and bands are good alternatives, and they also allow good, controlled motion throughout the exercise. Resistance bands have the added benefit of engaging the core throughout the movements.

Working the biceps, brachialis and brachioradialis, hammer curls are an effective upper body exercise that can help increase strength, power and size in your arms.

What is the difference between bicep curls and hammer curls?

Both bicep curls and hammer curls are popular exercises that work the biceps, although they hit slightly different muscles in the arm. Bicep curls are an isolation exercise that work the bicep brachii muscles. This muscle is responsible for flexing your arm at the elbow joint. Hammer curls also isolate the bicep brachii, but also work the brachioradialis muscle in the forearm.

Diagram showing the bicep curl movement.
Diagram – How to perform bicep curls

Bicep curls are more effective in working the short head of the biceps brachii. This muscle is located on the inside of your upper arm, and is responsible for flexing the elbow joint, working with the bicep as a whole.

Diagram showing the hammer curl movement. A hammer curl is similar to a bicep curl, simply rotating the wrist 90 degrees (neutral grip).
Diagram – How to perform hammer curls

In contrast, hammer curls are more effective in working the long head of the biceps brachii muscle. This muscle is positioned on the lateral (outside) part of the upper arm, and helps with flexion of the elbow joint, the outwards movement of the arm (abduction) and inward rotation of the arm.

Hammer curls are more effective in working the long head because of the neutral grip used in the movement. Because of this, they are a more effective variation of bicep curls if your goal is to develop the peak of your biceps.

Which muscles do hammer curls work?

Hammer curls are an effective exercise that works the biceps brachii muscles in your upper arms. The exercise also works the brachialis (a muscle below the biceps brachii) and brachioradialis (a muscle in the forearm).

The biceps brachii (also known simply as biceps) is a two-headed muscle. The two heads work together to flex the elbow joint in the arm and are also responsible for supination (outwards rotation) of the forearm.

The biceps brachii
The biceps brachii has two heads – the hammer curl works the long head more effectively

The long head of the biceps brachii originates from an area of the shoulder blade called the supraglenoid tubercle and attaches to the radius bone near the elbow joint.

Hammer curls are effective at working the long head of the biceps brachii muscle. Because your palms face inwards throughout the exercise, this variation is more effective than the bicep curl at isolating the long head. And because this head is on the outer part of the bicep, it is a great way to build impressive size in your bicep muscle.

Aside from the biceps, hammer curls also work the brachialis, which is a small muscle beneath the bicep muscles. This makes the curl a great exercise in overall development of your upper arms.

The brachialis is a small muscle beneath the bicep muscles
The brachialis is a small muscle beneath the bicep muscles

Finally, because of the neutral grip, hammer curls are also effective in working the brachioradialis, which is a key muscle in the forearm.

The brachioradialis is a muscle in the forearm
The brachioradialis is a muscle in the forearm

Benefits of hammer curls

The primary benefit of hammer curls, as an isolation exercise, is developing size and strength of the bicep muscles. Because of the isolation, the exercise provides a good working of the biceps and maximizes the amount of tension in the muscle fibers. This results in enhanced growth of the bicep muscles over time.

Hammer curls are also a good exercise in developing grip strength. Because the wrist and forearms work to maintain the neutral grip and stabilize the weight in each hand, performing this curl regularly can help improve grip strength.

Wrist stability is important for many daily activities, including picking up heavy objects and playing sport. You can improve wrist stability by performing exercises like hammer curls, which keep your wrist in a neutral position through the movements.

Finally, hammer curls are an effective way to build stronger biceps. Strong biceps are important as you can reduce strain on other muscles during other movements, like deadlifts, pull ups or rows. Increased bicep strength will allow you to lift heavier weight and improve performance elsewhere in your workout routine.

How to do hammer curls

  1. Stand upright, keeping your legs straight and with a slight bend in your knees. Your feet should be roughly shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep your arms by your side while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your elbows as close to your body as possible.
  3. Turn your palms so that they are facing your thighs.
  4. Slowly curl the dumbbells upwards towards your shoulders, keeping your biceps tense until you reach the end of the movement.
  5. Hold and squeeze the biceps for 1-2 seconds at the top of the movement and then slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for as many reps as required.

Sets and reps

Hammer curls are a great exercise for developing the bicep muscles. The number of sets and reps you should use in this exercise depends on whether your goal is to increase strength, build muscle or improve endurance. To increase strength, aim for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps using a heavier weight. To build muscle, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps is a good starting point, but you should aim to use a lighter weight. And to improve endurance, aim for 2-3 sets of 12-20 reps using a still lighter weight.

It is important to include a rest period between sets to allow your muscles to recover. We recommend resting for 1 to 2 minutes between sets.

When doing hammer curls, it is important to choose a weight that challenges you but allows you to maintain proper form throughout the exercise. If you finding that you are able to complete all sets and reps easily, you may consider increasing the load. On the other hand, if you find yourself getting exhausted after 1 or 2 sets, you may want to lighten the load before continuing. If you are unsure, start with a lighter weight and gradually increase over time.

Beginners may wish to start with 2 sets instead of the recommend 3-4. This will stimulate muscles enough to grow muscle size and strength. To progress, you can either increase the number of sets and reps, or increase the amount of weight being lifted during the exercise.

Are hammer curls a good exercise for beginners?

Hammer curls are a basic and essential exercise at the gym. The curl works the biceps in a simple, but effective way. It is a great exercise to increase muscle mass and also helps with muscular endurance. It is also easy to make the exercise more advanced, by simply increasing the weight to increase the workout intensity.

The hammer curl is also easy to learn, and only requires a set of dumbbells and some basic instruction on proper form to get started. So it is easy for a beginner to include this exercise in their workout routine.

Make sure you use slow and controlled movements when doing hammer curls. Beginners will benefit from more time under tension, as this allows you to work the muscle more effectively. Over time, this exercise will result in increased bicep size.

Hammer Curl Variations

Let’s take a look at four different hammer curl variations and how they are performed effectively, safely, and correctly.

Seated hammer curl variation

The seated hammer curl is a great variation on the standard curl because the seated position helps stabilize your back to prevent you from rocking back and forth to gain momentum.

This means that the biceps and forearms are forced to do all of the work.

  1. Seated hammer curls can be perform using both arms at the same time, or alternately but here we’ll be looking at the double arm method.
  2. Begin by taking a seat on a bench with the incline back support set at around 60 degrees.
  3. Grab a set of relatively light dumbbells, one in each hand, and lower your arms down to your sides so that your elbows are fully extended.
  4. Your palms should be facing your body and your head dead ahead.
  5. Next, curl both dumbbells up to your body but make sure that you keep your palms facing the side of your body.
  6. Curl them upwards until the dumbbells are just slightly lower than your shoulders, squeeze the biceps, and then slowly lower the dumbbells down and repeat for as many reps as required.

Preacher hammer curl variation

Preacher hammer curls are another great bicep exercise that really allows you to isolate the muscle. Here’s what to do:

  1. Grab a dumbbell in one hand and stand upright behind an incline bench set at around 75 degrees.
  2. Extend the arm holding the dumbbell over the bench so that it lies completely flat against it, with the arm pit resting against the top of the bench.
  3. Next, slowly lower the dumbbell downwards until your arm is nearly fully extended.
  4. Once extended, bring the dumbbell back up and hold and squeeze for a second at the top of the movement.
  5. Repeat for as many reps as required, and then do exactly the same thing but using the opposite arm this time.

Incline hammer curl variation

Incline hammer curls target and strengthen the biceps and forearms. Simply sit on an incline bench set to 45 degrees, with your back against the bench. With your arms extended by your side, hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip. Curl the weight up to shoulder level, hold for 1-2 seconds, and slowly return back to the starting position.

Kettlebell hammer curl variation

The kettlebell hammer curl variation is a small twist on the traditional hammer curl, replacing the dumbbells with a kettlebell in each hand. It’s important to start with a lighter weight. Focus on proper form before attempting heavier weights, as incorrect form can lead to injury.

Alternating hammer curls

Unlike traditional hammer curls, alternating hammer curls see you work each arm in turn.

Common mistakes when doing hammer curls

A common mistake when doing hammer curls is using momentum to assist in the exercise. Beginners may make the mistake of using their own bodyweight to help lift the weight. This reduces the effectiveness of the exercise and also increases the risk of workout-related injury.

If you find that you are using momentum to perform the hammer curl, it may be that the weight you are using is too heavy. Using a weight that is too heavy can put strain on muscles and joints, which can lead to injury. Make sure you start with a light enough weight where you can complete full reps without compromising proper form. Once you are comfortable performing the exercise, then increase the weight while maintaining good form.

It is also important to keep your elbows tucked in close to the sides of your body. This ensures that the movements focus on working your biceps and not other muscles like the shoulders.

Focus in on moving only your lower arm, keeping your upper arms stationary.

Another common mistake is allowing your elbows to drift too far forwards. This can cause strain on tendons and muscles in your forearms. Keep your elbows close to your body while curling to avoid this.