The Pros and Cons of Including Hammer Curls in Your Workout

Cathe Friedrich doing dumbbell hammer curls

If you’re trying to strengthen or define your biceps, you probably include biceps curls in your strength-training routine. No wonder! Few exercises target these muscles that flex your arms as well as the venerable curl. In fact, curls are an isolation exercise that specifically targets the biceps muscles. The biceps are made up of two heads, a larger one and a smaller one, and curls target both. However, you’ll get the most benefit from this exercise if you also add variations on the standard curl to your strength-training routine. One variation to include is the hammer curl, so named because it looks like you’re wielding a hammer when you do this movement.

Why are strong biceps so important? They’re a muscle that pulls, supinates, and flexes at the elbow, movements that you do every day. When you pick up a heavy weight and carry it, your biceps also contract to help stabilize the weight, so you won’t drop it on your foot or otherwise injure yourself. So, strong biceps add stability to your upper body when you carry something heavy.

Variations on Biceps Curls

One way to do curls is to hold your wrists in a pronated position, with your palms facing down, also known as a reverse curl. You can also do a supinated curl where your palm faces up toward the ceiling. This is the most common type of curl that people do regularly. Another approach is to use a neutral palm position, where your palms face each other, a variation known as the hammer curl. Pronated biceps curls are the most challenging type of curl since they place your wrist in a less natural position. Each of these wrist positions has certain benefits and drawbacks, but for many people, the hammer curl feels the most natural, making it an excellent exercise for beginners.

Here are some benefits you’ll get when you do hammer curls using a neutral grip and some limitations of this approach to curling.

The Pros of Hammer Curls

Hammer curls are the best curl variation for boosting grip strength because the neutral hand grip activates your wrist flexors more than pronated and supinated curls. Hammer curls are also better for boosting forearm strength. When you improve wrist and forearm strength, it leads to a better grip and that can enhance your performance with other lifts. That can lead to greater strength gains, as many people are limited by having a weak grip. Most people also find that it’s easier to control the curl movement with hammer curls relative to curling in a pronated or supinated grip since it’s a more natural position.

The Limitations of Hammer Curls

One limitation of hammer curls is you’re restricted to dumbbells since you can’t use a barbell. It’s one variation that you must do using dumbbells. However, it’s easy to get into a bad habit of using momentum with hammer curls and not get the most out of the exercise. Curb that tendency! Slow down the tempo and make sure you’re using a full range-of-motion with each repetition. You’re also more likely to lean forward and arch your back when you use momentum and that can lead to a back injury. Also, if you catch yourself swinging the weights and using momentum, you may be working with a resistance that’s not challenging enough. As with all exercises, you gain strength by using progressive overload.

Vary the Type of Biceps Curls You Do

Once you’ve mastered hammer curls, include them in your routine, but don’t forget about other variations on the curl. When you work your biceps at different angles and with varying grips, you’ll give your “guns” more of a stimulus to grow. Be aware of the many variations you can choose from. Others to consider are Zottman curls, preacher curls, concentration curls, and decline dumbbell curls.

Beyond the hammer curl make sure that concentration curls are on your agenda. A study carried out by the American Council on Exercise found that concentration curls top the list of best biceps exercises based on EMG data. EMG measures muscle activation with each biceps curl variation.

You can also vary the stimulus you place on the biceps by alternating between barbells, the EZ bar, kettlebells, or resistance bands. You can also vary the tempo and even include a pause at the midpoint where you hold the curl isometrically for a few seconds.

Although you can’t do hammer curls with a barbell or an EZ bar, it’s still worthwhile to include the EZ bar in your biceps routine when you do other biceps variations. One study found that curling with the EZ bar was most effective for activating the biceps and the brachioradialis relative to barbells and dumbbells. Dumbbell curls were the least effective of the three, based on EMG activity.

Make sure you’re not sacrificing form to use more weight. People tend to lift heavy and use momentum when they curl. Make sure you’re curling through the full range-of-motion of the exercise. No bouncing or cheating!

The Bottom Line

Vary the type of biceps curls you do to better boost biceps growth, but don’t forget about the hammer curl. It’s a curl variation that offers substantial benefits but some limitations. You can do unilateral hammer curls too, where you isolate one arm at a time and also do the exercise standing or sitting. If your goal is to get stronger, more defined biceps, hammer curls is an exercise you want in your routine but keep your approach to training your biceps varied so your muscles don’t adapt and stop making gains. That’s true of all exercises you do!



  • com. “Brachialis”
  • American Council on Exercise. “Hammer Curl”
  • 2018 Jul 13;6:e5165. doi: 10.7717/peerj.5165. eCollection 2018.
  • 2018; 6: e5165.Published online 2018 Jul 13. doi: 10.7717/peerj.5165.
  • PeerJ 6(7):e5165 · July 2018
  • American Council on Exercise. “ACE Study Reveals Best Biceps Exercises”


Related Articles By Cathe:

Dumbbells vs. Barbell for Biceps Curls: What Are the Benefits of Each?

Why You Should Vary Your Hand and Arm Position When You Do Bicep Curls

Break Out of a Biceps Curls Rut & Get More Shapely Arms with These Exercises

If You Aren’t Doing This Variation on Biceps Curls, You’re Missing Out on Gains

Biceps Curls: Do You Get Better Muscle Activation with the EZ Curl Bar or a Straight Bar?

Blast Those Biceps: Beyond the Basic Biceps Curls

What’s the Best Tempo for Working Your Biceps Muscles?

6 Tips for Building Beautiful Biceps

What Are the Most Effective Biceps Exercises?

Break Out of a Biceps Curls Rut & Get More Shapely Arms with These Exercises

Strength Training: What Is an Eccentric Contraction?

6 Powerful Ways to Get More Benefits from Biceps Curls


Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs:

STS Strength 90 Day Workout Program
All of Cathe’s Strength & Toning Workout DVDs
Total Body Workouts
Upper Body Workouts

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