The biceps are one of the most coveted muscle groups. Strong biceps are the instant indicator that you workout and have developed your physique. Any strength training/bodybuilding program worth its salt will have some devotion to bicep training.
The question is, what are the top bicep exercises that lead to gains in strength and hypertrophy? Bicep curls are the classic go-to exercise, but are they best?
This article will look at hammer curls vs bicep curls to see which exercise will give you the most bang for your buck.
What Are The Differences?
The difference in grips for hammer curls vs bicep curls comes down to the hand positioning. A simple change in grip creates a significant change in the exercise, and muscles worked.
Both grips work in a lever-action and with a bicep curl, your hands are in the supinated position aka palms facing upward.
In a hammer curl, the palms face inward and you hold the dumbbell vertically as if you were to use it as a hammer.
The bicep curl grip allows for a greater range of motion to engage the long head of the bicep better, but the hammer curl gip can build a wider range of arm strength.
Hammer Curl Muscles Worked
- Biceps brachii (long head and Short head)
Hammer curls still function as a bicep exercise, but the muscle emphasis does change. Hammer curls target the long head of the bicep and the brachioradialis which is part of the muscle that makes up the forearm.
Hammer curls are also very effective at targeting the brachialis which is the muscle that sits under the biceps. The brachialis can help to make the bicep appear larger.
Besides these muscles, hammer curls also work stabiliser muscles through the wrist and forearm, and can also partially recruit the deltoids as they are used to help keep arm position stable. Grip strength is also used during a hammer curl.
Bicep Curl Muscles Worked
The bicep curl also targets the long and short head of the biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis. A bicep curl doesn’t target the brachioradialis as well as a hammer curl, but there is still some recruitment.
Bicep curls also work the forearm flexors and extenders. There is still some shoulder usage as the brachialis attaches to your shoulder blade resulting in some deltoid recruitment.
Benefits of Hammer Curls
Hammer curls are a great exercise to strengthen and grow the bicep and forearms muscles.
They are also very effective at developing wrist strength. And one of the most notable benefits of hammer curls is how they improve your grip strength which has positive benefits for other lifts such as deadlifts, pull-ups, and barbell rows.
Benefits of Bicep Curls
Bicep curls are one of the best exercises for strengthening and targeting the biceps. Strong biceps help assist you in other pulling exercises such as barbell rows, and chin-ups.
They also help you gain forearm and wrist strength which is helpful for other compound movements.
How To Do Hammer Curls
- Stand up straight, or sit in a seat with your back flat against the back
- Grasp dumbbells with your hands turned in toward your body
- Keep your elbows stationary and keep them close to your body
- Start with dumbbells hanging at arm’s length, exhale, and then bend your elbows pulling the dumbbells up until they get close to shoulder height, but don’t touch the shoulders
- Pause for a second squeezing the bicep, and lower back under control to the starting position
- These can be done one arm at a time or simultaneously together
How To Do Bicep Curls
- Start in a standing or sitting position with your back straight
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms hanging at your sides
- Keep your elbows tight to your sides and your palms facing upward
- Exhale and curl the weights up to shoulder level while squeezing your bicep
- Pause at the top, then lower back under control
- Can also be done one at a time or simultaneously
Hammer Curl Variations
The hand position needs to be the same, but there are several variations you can perform with hammer curls.
One effective way is doing them on an incline position on a bench. This will put even more emphasis on the biceps and brachioradialis. You often will need to lighten the weight in this position.
Other options include cross-body hammer curls where you will bring the dumbbell across your body getting it close to your opposite pectoral muscle. This also creates better bicep recruitment and allows for a greater contraction at the top of the movement.
You can perform hammer curls while using a tricep push-down rope but attaching it to a low-pulley. This will also allow for a greater contraction at the top of the movement.
Bicep Curl Variations
There are endless amounts of bicep curl variations to create a changing stimulus for the muscle tissue, and variation is key to gains in strength and hypertrophy.
You can also perform these using an incline bench. Remember to keep the elbows pinned close to the body and use a lighter weight than you normally would as this angle targets the biceps even better than traditional curls.
You can change up the rotation of the dumbbell by starting with your palms facing your sides at the bottom of the movement and twisting your palm towards as you reach closer to the shoulder area.
You can do one arm bicep curls by using a preacher bench to get a better eccentric stretch on the biceps. There is always the option of switching between dumbbells and barbells.
With a barbell, you can get a better distribution of resistance across both arms and this might be a better option for those with muscle imbalance or weakness.
Concentration curls are another great option. This involves sitting on a bench with feet flat on the floor. Start by placing the back of your right arm against your right thigh.
Your left arm will be placed on your left leg for stability and you start with your arms and dumbbell at a hanging position and curl it up towards your shoulder making sure to squeeze at the top. These are done with one arm at a time.
Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls: The Verdict
The bicep curl may be the classic of all weight lifting exercises If you were to go up to an average person and give them a dumbbell, the odds are they would do some form of curling motion with it.
We often associate strength and muscle with big biceps and they are one of the most coveted body parts. This makes bicep curls a very effective, and worthwhile exercise.
Hammer curls, however, are a great way to provide a different stimulus and form of resistance to the bicep and its surrounding muscles. The hammer curl may be a superior choice because of its ability to recruit more muscle through the arm while providing benefits towards other lifts.
Not necessarily. Hammer curls put your biceps into a different position and the extra recruitment of the forearm and brachioradialis can make this exercise a little more difficult. One advantage with hammer curls is you tend to be able to lift more than you would with a bicep curl so it can provide more resistance to the muscle.
The biceps are levers so they work best when they can follow their designed range of motion. This would make the standard bicep curl the most effective as it’s properly engaging the muscle. The secret is to not lift too heavy as this can throw off form and muscle recruitment. Lighter weight is better, and the focus needs to be on the squeeze and contraction of the muscle while being able to control it through the eccentric phase, and the entire range of motion.
The hammer curl may be one of the best exercises to build and strengthen the forearms. This is because of the hand position which distributes the weight more into the forearm area compared to a traditional curl.
You are training your arms whenever you do push or pull exercises as pulling recruits the biceps while pushing movements engage the triceps. But research shows that there may be some benefit to training the muscle twice a week, so besides a pulling/back day, you can also pair the biceps with triceps for an arm only session.