Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls

Muscles Worked & Differences Explained by Certified Trainer

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: January 6, 2023

You’ve been using curl exercises to train your biceps. But you might not get the results you could if you’re unfamiliar with the subtle differences between different bicep curl exercises.

In this article, I break down hammer curls vs bicep curls and explain the differences. Then show you several ways to incorporate both curls into your workouts so you can maximize bicep gains.

Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls Cover

Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls Body Mechanics

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 rotate your palms up, that’s called supination. And when you rotate your palms down, that’s called pronation.

Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls Supination and Pronation

You perform standard bicep curls with your hands supinated or palms (mostly) facing up. In contrast, reverse curls are an example of an exercise performed with hands pronated or palms facing down.

With hammer curls, your hand is between supination and pronation, also 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 essential to understand that the “bi” in the word bicep indicates two muscle heads on the front of your arm. The short head is the inner part, and the long head is the outer part.

In addition, there is a third muscle on the outer part of your arm. The brachialis muscle also flexes your arm from certain angles and hand positions.

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, brachialis, and upper forearm.

With this in mind, hammer curls work both heads to some extent. However, 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 vs Bicep Curl Variations

Next, let’s look at some specific exercises you can use for either hammer curls or bicep curls. I’ve included 5 exercise variations for each so you can find something that works with your gym setup or change-up exercises each week.

Hammer Curl Variations

Using different body positions and equipment, you can incorporate hammer curls in several ways. Here are some examples.

1. 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 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 helpful as you learn the movement. But you can also perform hammer curls with both arms simultaneously.

2. Cross Body Hammer Curls

The cross-body hammer curl is another standing variation where you curl the dumbbell across the front of your body with a neutral grip. This arm angle helps to accentuate the outer bicep, brachialis, and forearm involvement.

For this exercise, you must alternate arms, or the dumbbells will hit in the middle. You can switch arms with each rep, but I like to do all my reps with one arm before switching to the other.

Cross Body Hammer Curl vs Bicep Curl

3. 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 is the incline hammer curl, which involves leaning back on an incline bench set at 45-75 degrees. This angle placed your upper arms behind your body and puts more load on the outer biceps.

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4. Tricep Bar Hammer Curls

A tricep bar is a unique 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. Grab the inner handles and curl the bar like normal.

Tricep Bar Hammer Curl

5. 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.

Rope Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls

Bicep Curl Variations

As with hammer curls, there are several different variations of bicep curls. Here are a few examples using different equipment and body positions.

1. 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 below.

You start with straight arms 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.

Related: Curl Bar Weight by Type & Brand

Barbell Bicep Curl vs Hammer Curl

2. 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 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 the inner bicep to the outer bicep.

3. Dumbbell Bicep Curls

Dumbbell bicep curls are similar to hammer curls except for your hand position. Start with a dumbbell in each hand and arms at your sides. Then, keeping your elbow tight to your side, flex your arm to pull the weight 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, as shown below.

Dumbbell Bicep Curl vs Hammer Curl

4. 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.

5. 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 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.

The image below shows an EZ bar preacher curl performed with a wider grip. This hand position and arm angle is ideal for targeting the short head of the bicep.

Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls Preacher

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Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls Key Takeaways

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

Remember that regular bicep curl variations are still the best exercises for overall arm development. But hammer curls are a valuable tool for your exercise toolbox that you can use to hit your arms from a different angle.

  • 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

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

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By |January 6, 2023|Workouts|0 Comments
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