How to Do Hammer Curls & What Do Hammer Curls Work (2024)

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Ask any guy about his favorite bicep exercises and he’ll most likely mention hammer curls. This classic variation of the bicep curl engages the brachialis, a muscle that flexes the elbow joint. The brachialis contributes to upper arm thickness to a greater extent than the biceps.

Despite their popularity, hammer curls are rarely performed with the correct technique. Common mistakes, like gripping the dumbbells in the middle or using momentum to move the weight, can hamper your form and lead to injuries.

How to Do Hammer Curls & What Do Hammer Curls Work (1)

Today we’ll show you how to do hammer curls with perfect form, whether you’re using dumbbells, cables, or resistance bands.

That’s right — dumbbells are not your only option. If you’re working out at home, you can use elastic bands to perform this movement.

Our team will also share some tips on how to target your biceps from new angles and what mistakes to avoid when doing a hammer curl. Like with most things, it’s all in the details.

Build Massive Arms with the Hammer Curl

The fastest way to add size to your arms is to work the brachialis. This muscle is largely covered by the biceps brachii and originates in the humerus. As the primary flexor of the elbow joint, it plays a key role in arm movement.

Due to its large cross-sectional area, the brachialis is stronger than the biceps brachii and other surrounding muscles. Generally, it’s more active during isometric movements. The larger this muscle, the more it will push up the biceps when you flex your arm.

Repetitive forceful contractions can injure the brachialis and the tendons around it. Golfer’s elbow, tennis elbow, and other overuse injuries are common and can cause debilitating pain. That’s why it’s important to do hammer curls — and bicep curls in general — with correct form.

The hammer curl is one of the best arm exercises for the brachialis. During this exercise, the brachialis acts as a synergist, allowing you to curl the weight up toward the shoulder.

The primary muscle worked is the brachioradialis, but your biceps, delts, traps, and other smaller muscles come into play too.

The brachioradialis contributes to elbow flexion and forearm supination and pronation. It also keeps your elbow stable during rapid flexion and extension, such as when you’re doing hammer curls.

How to Do Hammer Curls & What Do Hammer Curls Work (2)

Traditional bicep curls hit these muscles too, but the underhand grip allows your brachialis to share the load with the biceps brachii.

Hammer curls, on the other hand, require turning your forearm inward. As a result, this movement targets the brachialis more effectively.

That’s not the only benefit of doing hammer curls, though. Over time, this isolation movement may help improve grip strength and wrist stability.

Ready to give it a try? Below you’ll find the exact steps to perform hammer curls like a pro.

How to Perform Standing Hammer Curls

How to Do Hammer Curls & What Do Hammer Curls Work (3)

Let’s start with the standing hammer curl, which can be performed with one arm at a time or both arms simultaneously.

  1. Stand up straight, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your arms extended by your sides, with the palms facing in.
  2. Hold the dumbbells closer to the top end rather than gripping them in the middle. This will take some of the pressure off your wrist so that you can better isolate the biceps.
  3. Keeping your elbows tucked, curl the weight up as far as possible with a slow and controlled motion. Keep your shoulders relaxed and avoiding swinging your arms or hips.
  4. Pause at the top of the movement and squeeze your biceps. At this point, your thumb should be close to your shoulders.
  5. Lower the weight back in a controlled manner and repeat with the other arm.
  6. Perform up to 15 reps with each arm.

If you have lower back pain, consider doing this exercise from a seated position.

Set up an adjustable bench at 90 degrees. Keep your back against it throughout the movement and follow the steps listed above.

The advantage of performing this exercise from a seated position is that it takes the pressure off your back and prevents you from swinging your torso and hips.

We have dozens of videos on our blog, so check them out to learn proper technique. Start with a lighter weight that allows you to perform about 12 reps with correct form. Consider asking a gym instructor for feedback before you increase the load.

Avoid These Common Mistakes

Now let’s go over the most common mistakes to avoid when doing a hammer curl. The following rules apply to all variations of the hammer curl, whether you’re using cables, dumbbells, or resistance bands.

First thing first, your upper body should stay still throughout the movement. Make sure you’re not swaying your torso from side to side — that’s cheating. If that sounds like you, then switch to a lighter weight.

Refrain from swinging the dumbbell or twisting your wrist. These mistakes not only affect your ability to build size and strength but may also put you at risk for injury.

How to Do Hammer Curls & What Do Hammer Curls Work (4)

Moving too fast is just as bad as it reduces the time under tension, limiting your ability to grow. The concentric (shortening) phase should take about two seconds. Squeeze your muscles at the top of the movement for one second or so and then drop the weight back slowly.

Another common mistake is not getting a full range of movement (ROM). Curl the weight up until your forearm is vertical. If you do it right, you should feel a stretch in your biceps.

While it’s important to achieve full ROM, you should not move the dumbbell past the tension point. Doing so will allow your bicep and forearm to rest, making the exercise less effective.

Also, keep your elbows in a fixed position at all times. You should only use your lower arm to move the weight.

As you already know, the bicep comes into play when you’re training back and other large muscle groups. Therefore, you don’t have to do curls every day or every other day to build bigger arms. This is a relatively small muscle, so it only requires one or two workouts per week.

Hammer Curl Variations

How to Do Hammer Curls & What Do Hammer Curls Work (5)

While this exercise is usually performed with dumbbells, you may also cables, bands, or kettlebells. Here are some popular variations you may want to try:

  • Cross-body hammer curls
  • Swiss bar hammer curls
  • Incline seated hammer curls
  • Preacher hammer curls
  • Cable hammer curls
  • Kettlebell hammer curl
  • Hammer curls with resistance bands

Changing how you perform this movement — or any exercise for that matter — is the best way to avoid strength plateaus. Plus, you’ll hit your muscles from different angles and get a more intense workout.

Kettlebells hammer curls, for instance, are more challenging compared to the dumbbell version and may help improve shoulder stability. Incline seated curls, on the other hand, allow you to better isolate the brachialis and the long head of the biceps.

Below we’ll show you how to perform some of the best hammer curl variations to get the most out of your training session.

Cross-Body Hammer Curls

Like the traditional hammer curl, this movement targets the brachialis, brachioradialis, and biceps. It also helps increase forearm thickness and strength.

How to Do Hammer Curls & What Do Hammer Curls Work (6)

Depending on what equipment you have available, you can use either the cable machine or dumbbells. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in.
  2. Curl the dumbbell in your right arm across the body toward your left shoulder.
  3. Pause at the top of the movement. Hold the contraction for about two seconds.
  4. Bring the weight down with a slow, controlled motion and repeat with your left arm.

If you’re using a cable machine, set up the pulley close to the floor and attach a handle. Position yourself next to the pulley and perform the movement with one arm as described above. Repeat on the opposite side.

Both versions work the same muscles as the standard hammer curl, but they put more emphasis on the brachialis and the long head of the biceps.

Banded Hammer Curls

Resistance bands are extremely versatile, allowing you to work your muscles from different angles. Compact and lightweight, they’re ideal for bodyweight workouts.

With resistance bands, you can quickly switch from one exercise to another. For example, you can perform a band squat followed by hammer curls. That’s great for full-body circuits or even HIIT.

How to Do Hammer Curls & What Do Hammer Curls Work (7)

Despite their small size, these accessories can be a viable option to dumbbells and gym machines. They’re particularly effective for upper body exercises, like unilateral rows and lateral pull-downs, reports a 2017 study published in the European Journal of Sport Science.

Here’s how to do a hammer curl with resistance bands or cables:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Place the bands under the arches of your feet.
  3. Grasp the ends of the band in each hand, with your palms facing your thighs. Keep your arms close to your body.
  4. Bend your elbows and bring the band up to your shoulders without moving the upper arms. Make sure your palms are facing each other throughout the movement.
  5. Lower your forearms back and repeat.

Kettlebell Hammer Curls

This hammer curl variation engages the biceps, brachialis, and forearms, as well as the smaller muscles in your hands and wrist. With regular practice, it can increase forearm and grip strength while adding size to your upper arms.

How to Do Hammer Curls & What Do Hammer Curls Work (8)

When using kettlebells for hammer curls, your arms are under constant tension throughout the movement. This translates into bigger gains in less time.

Follow these instructions to perform kettlebell hammer curls the right way:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a kettlebell in each hand.
  2. Bend your elbows and lift the kettlebells to your shoulders without flexing your wrist. Keep your upper arms and elbows tight to your body.
  3. Lower the weight back in a controlled manner and repeat. Perform this exercise with one arm at a time or both arms simultaneously.

Choose a kettlebell that’s about half of the weight you’d normally use for hammer curls. One that’s too heavy can lead to wrist injuries and make it harder to maintain good form. Keep your wrists locked when you move the weight.

Looking for other kettlebell exercises? We’ve got you covered! See our guide to the best kettlebell workouts for full-body gains.

Get the Most Out of Your Bicep Workouts

Hammer curls are a staple in any bodybuilder’s routine. Whether you’re using dumbbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands, this bicep curl variation can take your gains to a whole new level. The key is to use proper lifting form.

What makes this exercise so effective is that it targets more than just the biceps.

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If you really want to get the most of hammer curl workouts, consider using our Vintage Brawn protein powder. It delivers 100 calories and 24 grams of protein per serving. Plus, it provides 34% of the daily recommended calcium intake and contains no GMOs, gluten, or artificial colors

As discussed earlier, it also targets the brachialis and forearms, as well as the muscles around your wrist, allowing for better gains and increased grip strength. On top of that, it’s a great choice for drop sets and pyramid sets.

For best results, perform hammer curls as part of a well-rounded workout that also includes these bicep exercises. Aim for 10 to 15 reps per set and alternate between kettlebells, dumbbells, and cables to keep your muscles guessing.

What’s your take on hammer curls? Are any alternatives you’d recommend? Drop a few lines below and share your experience!

Disclaimer: None of the individuals and/or companies mentioned necessarily endorse Old School Labs or COSIDLA Inc. products or the contents of this article. Any programs provided for illustration purposes only. Always consult with your personal trainer, nutritionist and physician before changing or starting any new exercise, nutrition, or supplementation program.

How to Do Hammer Curls & What Do Hammer Curls Work (2024)


What do hammer curls work? ›

Hammer curls target the long head of the bicep as well as the brachialis (another muscle in the upper arm) and the brachioradialis (one of the key forearm muscles). The hammer curl is a relatively simple exercise that beginners can quickly master.

What muscles does hammer curl to press work? ›

The hammer curl to press is a multi-joint, upper-body exercise that increases strength and size in the biceps, triceps, and shoulders.

What muscles do curls work on? ›

Curls work the biceps muscles at the front of the upper arm and the muscles of the lower arm—the brachialis and brachioradialis. 1 You use these muscles anytime you pick something up, which is common throughout daily life.

Which bicep curl is most effective? ›

Concentration curls

Arguably the most efficient exercise in yielding maximum bicep growth, a recent study by the American Council on Exercise found that the seated concentration curl yielded 97% bicep activity in contrast to EZ-bar curls (wide grip 75%; narrow grip, 71%), incline curls (70%), and preacher curls (69%).

What is the best position for hammer curls? ›

The hammer curl is done with the wrist in a neutral position (palms facing each other), rather than being supinated (palms facing your face) and/or pronated (palms facing the floor).

Are there different ways to do hammer curls? ›

You can keep working your way up to heavier dumbbells once you have built up enough strength and mastered the proper form. Another option is to do hammer curls by alternating one arm at a time instead of moving both at once. It might take a little longer to do the exercise this way, but that is not always a bad thing.

How many hammer curls should a beginner do? ›

Squeeze your biceps to lift your weights to your shoulders. Keep your shoulders down and back. Slowly lower your weights back down to your sides. Repeat for two or three sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Do hammer curls work shoulders? ›

Kettlebell Hammer Curls

Again, perform these in the same way you would a standard, hammer curl, but, as Buckton says, by using a kettlebell you'll increase the strength of the muscles and improve your grip strength. It's also a great variation for improving your shoulder stability.

Do hammer curls work biceps or triceps? ›

The Bicep Hammer Curl works the biceps and triceps muscles. The biceps are a muscle group with two heads, but the triceps are made up of three muscles: the upper, middle, and lower portions of the muscle. It also works the forearms and grip. Overall, it requires a greater sum total of muscle groups to work together.

Do hammer curls work forearms or biceps more? ›

Hammer curls are more effective for building forearm, wrist, and grip strength, while also hitting more of the biceps long head.

How many reps of hammer curls should I do? ›

Recommendation: If you are new to hammer curls, choose a light weight to begin and complete 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps. If you want to lift for strength, grab a pair of heavier dumbbells and stick to the 6-8 rep range for 3-4 sets.

Should you lift heavy for hammer curls? ›

They enable you to lift heavier weights than reverse curls, making it easier to push your body to its limits. Hammer curls strength training requires performing 3–5 sets of 3–5 reps. For best results, these reps should be performed with bigger weights.

Is it better to do hammer curls one at a time? ›

The alternating hammer curl does exactly the same movement. However, you should lift one dumbbell at a time, instead of both arms raising the weights together. This variation allows you to focus on your form in each arm and find out if there are any weaknesses.

How long does it take to see results from curls? ›

Take your time, and you'll likely see real results after eight to 12 weeks. Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."

What happens if you do curls everyday? ›

Doing bicep curls every day will increase the exposure to stimuli that will promote muscular growth. While the biceps are a smaller muscle group, this allows for faster recovery times between each session to allow for greater total volume throughout a given week.

Do curls help you get abs? ›

This exercise focuses on the biceps. Although the target is primarily arms in this exercise, it is also great for lower back, anterior deltoids, abs, and obliques.

Is it better to lift heavy or light for biceps? ›

“But to build bigger biceps and triceps you have to focus on perfect form, moving through a full range of motion and, crucially, never lifting too heavy. The key to adding arm size is to getting a good pump through lifting lighter for longer – and executing every rep as perfectly as possible.”

Is it better to do bicep curls fast or slow? ›

If you're looking to build muscle quickly, whether you've been training for years or are just starting out, then doing slower reps is the way to go. Workouts with slower reps cause your muscles to experience more time under tension, much more than with faster reps.

Do you do hammer curls sitting down? ›

About this exercise

Sit on a chair or bench and hold two dumbbells down by your side. Keep your palms facing inwards and upper arms still, and flex your elbows to bring the dumbbells to shoulder height. Lower them back down and repeat.

Do hammer curls work both bicep heads? ›

Much like the fittingly named bicep curl, the hammer curl targets the two headed muscle group that is the biceps brachii, increasing its size and definition while providing slow but clinically significant strength developments in the muscle.

What's the difference between bicep curls and hammer curls? ›

A bicep curl is a type of isolated exercise that exclusively targets the biceps brachii. Hammer curls lead to greater muscle growth because they work multiple muscle groups. Doing both bicep curls and hammer curls can help you maximize your muscle gains.

Are hammer curls better than bicep curls? ›

In the matchup against bicep curls vs. hammer curls, the latter is the clear winner for getting bigger muscles faster. Hammer curls work more muscle groups and work the biceps in ways that regular bicep curls do not.

Are hammer curls stronger than bicep curls? ›

You are typically stronger performing hammer curls compared to bicep curls because the brachioradialis is in a better position to assist the biceps brachii with lifting the weight. Hammer curls are a simple movement, so they are quite easy to learn.

Is hammer curls vs bicep curls? ›

The hammer curl will work more muscle groups and work the biceps in ways that regular bicep curls do not. You can even increase the stretch issue by doing the exercise on an incline bench. You'll be able to handle more weight with hammer curls, target more muscle groups at once and get a great stretch!

Do hammer curls make your arms bigger? ›

The dumbbell hammer curl is the go-to exercise to get bigger arms. Find out why it is beneficial to incorporate it into your training routine. If you want bigger arms, chances are you will have to do some dumbbell hammer curl. This easy and simple exercise can be performed by anyone and benefit everyone.

How do you target all heads of biceps? ›

So in order to best train your biceps you want to choose exercises that will allow growth in both heads as well as the brachialis.
  1. Exercise 1: Chin-Ups (Heavy Exercise to Stimulate Type II Fibers)
  2. Exercise 2: Incline Dumbbell Curls (Emphasizes Long Head)
  3. Exercise 3: Concentration Curls (Emphasizes Short Head)
Jan 10, 2018

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