Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls

You’re no doubt familiar with traditional bicep curls. It’s a staple of any arm workout. But you may not be as familiar with hammer curls.

So what exactly are hammer curls? How do they change the muscles worked during a curl exercise? And how should you incorporate them in your routine?

In this article, I break down hammer curls vs bicep curls and explain the differences. Then show you several ways to incorporate both types of curls in your workouts.

Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls Cover

Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls: What’s The Difference?

Both of these exercises involve curling a weight upwards using your biceps. The difference has to do with your hand position. Specifically, something called supination and pronation.

When you perform an exercise with your palms facing up, that’s called supination. And when you perform an exercise with your palms facing down, that’s called pronation.

Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls Supination and Pronation

Standard bicep curls are performed with the hands supinated, or palms (mostly) facing up. In contrast, reverse curls would be an example of an exercise performed with hands pronated, or palms facing down.

With hammer curls your hand is somewhere in between supination and pronation – this is called a neutral grip. Your palms face inward through the whole range of motion and the dumbbell looks like the head of a swinging hammer.

When performing hammer curls vs bicep curls, you might notice that you feel the contraction in different parts of your arm. That’s because hand position is one factor that determines which muscles get worked during an exercise.

Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls Muscles Worked

First, it’s important to understand that the “bi” in bicep means there are two muscle heads on the front of your arm. The short head is the inner part and the long head is the outer part.

Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls Muscles Worked

Figure 1: Anatomy of the bicep muscle

The more supinated your hand, the more you work the inner head. Whereas the more pronated your hand, the more you work the outer head and upper forearm.

With this in mind, hammer curls work both heads to some extent. Although they’re better suited to targeting the outer bicep, which can give your arms more height or “peak” when flexed.

7 Exercises To Build Your Outer Biceps

Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls - Hammer Curl

Figure 2: Hammer curls work more of the outer bicep and upper forearm

While standard bicep curls also work both heads to some extent, they’re better suited to targeting the inner bicep. This is what builds your bicep thickness or the appearance of width when viewed from the front.

Another important part about hand position is how far apart they are. The closer your grip, the more outer bicep you work. Where a wider grip works more inner bicep.

Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls - Supinated Curl

Figure 3: Standard bicep curls work more of the inner bicep

Which Is Better?

When it comes to overall bicep development, traditional bicep curls are still king. The supinated hand position puts way more of the load directly on the bicep with less help from surrounding muscles like the forearms.

However, hammer curls are great for hitting the outer arm and upper forearm that don’t get worked as much during regular curls. It’s also a useful variation when you’re looking to create a more noticeable bicep peak.

For this reason, I recommend using a supinated grip more often than not during your bicep workouts. But throw in a hammer curl variation every few exercises to round out your arms. 

Hammer Curl Variations

There are several different ways you can incorporate hammer curls. So you can find a way to do this exercise with whatever equipment you have available.

Standing Hammer Curls

Standing dumbbell hammer curls are probably the most common variation of this exercise. And it’s the one illustrated in Figure 2 above.

For this variation, you’ll start with a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended at your sides, and palms facing in. Keeping your elbow tight to your side, flex your arm to pull the weight up towards your shoulder. Lower the weight and repeat with the other arm.

With dumbbells, you have the option to perform this exercise in an alternating fashion, one arm at a time. This helps you focus on muscle contraction and is useful as you learn the movement. But you can also perform hammer curls with both arms at the same time.

Seated Hammer Curls

Seated hammer curls are identical to standing hammer curls, except you perform the exercise while sitting on a bench. In the seated position, you reduce momentum from the rest of your body, which puts more of the load on the bicep.

Another variation of seated hammer curls involves leaning back on an incline bench. This eliminates momentum altogether and isolates the biceps. The angle also puts more load on the biceps in the stretched position.

Exercise demonstrated by Nutritioneering athlete and Owner of Flight Physiques, Dylan Kosek.

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Tricep Bar Hammer Curls

A tricep bar is a special kind of barbell with parallel handles in the middle. Some gyms have these bars, but if you’ve never seen one there’s a picture below.

While it’s commonly used for tricep extensions or skull crushers, it can also be used for hammer curls. Simply grab the inner handles and curl the bar like normal.

Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls - Hammer Curl Bar

Rope Cable Hammer Curls

Lastly, are cable hammer curls. This variation uses the rope attachment on a cable apparatus. Start by adjusting the pulley to the lowest position. Then grab the rope, palms facing in, and perform the curl movement.

Bicep Curl Variations

As with hammer curls, there are several different variations of bicep curls.

Standing Barbell Bicep Curls

Usually, this is the exercise people picture when they think of curls because it’s one of the classic arm-building movements. It involves grasping a bar with an underhand grip as shown in Figure 3.

You start with your arms straight and the bar in front of your hips. Then you curl the weight up towards your chest before lowering it back to the starting position.

EZ Bar Bicep Curls

Another variation similar to barbell curls uses an EZ curl bar. This bar is a bit shorter than a standard barbell and has some subtle bends in it to make it easy to grip.

While the slight bend doesn’t really change the muscles worked, it does make it a little easier on your wrists. And the bar allows for a narrow grip or a wide grip. So you can shift the load from inner bicep to outer bicep.

Dumbbell Bicep Curls

Dumbbell bicep curls are similar to hammer curls except for your hand position. Start with a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended at your sides, and palms facing in. Keeping your elbow tight to your side, flex your arm to pull the weight up towards your shoulder.

While you curl the weight up, rotate your wrist outward so your palm faces up at the top of the movement. Then lower the weight and repeat with the other arm. Alternatively, you can keep your palms up for the entire range of motion.

As with hammer curls, you have the option to perform this exercise in an alternating fashion, one arm at a time. Or you can do both arms simultaneously.

Cable Bicep Curls

For this variation, you’ll want the pulley at the lowest position. There are various bar attachments you can use for this exercise that change the supination as well as the spacing of your hands.

Some common attachments are the straight bar, EZ bar, V bar, or wide bar. Any of these will work, but keep in mind the narrower you go, the more outer bicep you work. And the wider you go, the more inner bicep you work.

Preacher Bicep Curls

The preacher curl bench has a seat and an angeled pad to support your arms as you curl. The pad essentially eliminates all other body movement and isolates the biceps.

You can use any kind of bar or dumbbell for preacher curls. Many gyms also have preacher curl machines, which offer the same isolation but more even resistance throughout the range of motion.

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Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls Key Takeaways

  • Hammer curls are performed with a neutral grip, palms facing in
  • They work more outer bicep and upper forearm
  • Hammer curls develop size and peak when the bicep is flexed
  • Standard bicep curls are performed with a supinated grip, palms facing up
  • They work more inner bicep
  • Standard bicep curls develop overall size and thickness

Conclusion

Now you know the difference between hammer curls vs bicep curls. And you have several variations of each that you can incorporate in your bicep workout routine.

Keep in mind that regular bicep curl variations are still the best exercises for overall arm development. But hammer curls are a useful tool for your exercise toolbox that you can pull out when you want to hit your arms from a different angle.

With this information, you can blast your biceps in your next workout. Below are some more exercise-related articles that I think you’ll find beneficial.

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