Biceps aren’t called “guns” for nothing. They’re one of the most coveted muscle groups for both men and women. And, while there are tons of different exercises that work the biceps, two of the most popular are hammer curls and bicep curls. So, what’s the difference between these two exercises? Why does it matter? Like with most exercises, knowing the nuances can make a big difference in your results. So, let’s take a closer look at hammer curls vs bicep curls to see the key differences.
Hammer Curls Vs Bicep Curls: What’s The Difference
The main difference between these two exercises is the angle of your wrist. With a biceps curl, your wrists are in a position that puts your biceps at a mechanical disadvantage. In addition, your palms face forward (supinated grip).
This means they have to work harder to lift the weight. This takes the focus off of your biceps and puts it more on the muscles on the top and bottom of your forearm.
On the other hand, with a hammer curl your palms face each other (neutral grip). In addition, your wrists are in a neutral position. This takes the focus off of your biceps and puts it more on your brachioradialis (the muscle that runs from your elbow to your shoulder) and brachialis (the muscle on the inside of your upper arm).
Which one is better? Indeed, both exercises have their place. Let’s review the execution, benefits, and mistakes to avoid while doing each exercise.
What Are Hammer Curls?
Hammer curls are a variation of the traditional bicep curl. Rather than having your palms face forward, as they would in a standard bicep curl, you keep your palms facing your sides throughout the exercise.
This change in grip activates different muscles in your arms, specifically the brachialis, which is a muscle that runs from your elbow to your shoulder.The brachialis is responsible for bringing your arm out to the side, away from your body (1). Strengthening this muscle can help to improve the overall appearance of your arms.
Hammer curls also activate the brachioradialis, which is a muscle that runs from your elbow to your wrist. This muscle is responsible for flexing your forearm.
While standard bicep curls primarily target the biceps brachii, hammer curls place more emphasis on the long head of the biceps brachii, which is the muscle responsible for giving your arms that “peak” look.
How To Perform Hammer Curls
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
- Let your arms hang at your sides, keeping your palms facing your thighs.
- Rotate your wrists so that the dumbbells point forward (rather than sideways).
- Keeping your upper arms stationary, curl the weights up to shoulder level, exhaling as you lift.
- Squeeze your biceps at the top of the curl, and then slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Hammer Curls Benefits
Hammer curls offer a number of benefits, including:
- Improved Muscle Definition: As mentioned above, hammer curls help to improve the definition of the muscles in your arms.
- Greater Overall Strength: Hammer curls not only target the biceps and brachialis, but they also work the brachioradialis. This helps to build greater overall strength in your arms.
- Improved Posture: Stronger biceps and brachialis muscles can help to improve your posture by keeping your shoulders pulled back. This can also help to prevent pain in the neck and shoulders.
- Improved Joint Stability: Stronger biceps and brachialis muscles help to stabilize the joints in your arms. This can help to prevent injuries, particularly in the elbow and shoulder (4).
- Improved Coordination: The hammer curl requires coordination between the muscles in your arms and your hands. This can help to improve your overall coordination and balance.
- Improved Grip Strength: The hammer curl exercise helps to improve grip strength, which can be beneficial for a number of activities, such as lifting weights, rock climbing, and playing tennis.
- Improved Blood Circulation: The hammer curl exercise helps to increase blood circulation throughout your arms. This can help to oxygenate the muscles and reduce pain and stiffness.
- Improved Bone Density: As a weight-bearing exercise, the hammer curl helps to improve bone density. This can help to reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis (2).
Mistakes To Avoid While Doing Hammer Curls
There are a few mistakes that you’ll want to avoid while doing hammer curls, including:
1. Using Momentum
One of the most common mistakes people make while doing hammer curls is using momentum to lift the weights. In simple terms, this means swinging the weights up rather than using your muscles to lift them.
This not only reduces the effectiveness of the exercise, but it can also lead to injuries. If you find yourself using momentum, reduce the weight and focus on using slow, controlled movements.
2. Moving The Upper Arm
Another common mistake is moving the upper arm while performing hammer curls. This takes the focus off of the biceps and brachialis and works the deltoids instead. The deltoids are a much larger muscle group, so this essentially turns the exercise into a shoulder press. To avoid this mistake, keep your upper arms stationary and focus on moving only your forearms.
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3. Ego Lifting
Ego lifting is when you lift a weight that’s too heavy for you to handle. This usually happens when people are trying to impress others or when they’re trying to keep up with someone who’s lifting a heavier weight.
Not only is ego lifting ineffective, but it can also lead to injuries. Be sure to lift a weight that you can handle with proper form.
Note that hammer curls are an isolation exercise, meaning they target a specific muscle group that may not be as large as those targeted by compound exercises. As a result, you shouldn’t expect to use the same weight for hammer curls as you would for exercises like the bench press.
What Are Bicep Curls?
Bicep curls are a weightlifting exercise that targets the biceps muscles. The biceps are located on the front of the upper arm and are responsible for bending the elbow.
Bicep curls can be performed with a variety of equipment, such as dumbbells, barbells, and resistance bands. They can also be performed with no equipment at all, using only the weight of your body.
How To Perform Bicep Curls
There are a few different ways to perform bicep curls, but the most common is with dumbbells. To do this exercise:
- Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forward and your arms extended straight down at your sides.
- Rotate your wrists so that your palms are facing your thighs. This is the starting position.
- From here, curl the weights up toward your shoulders, keeping your upper arms stationary.
- Squeeze your biceps at the top of the curl, then slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Bicep Curls Benefits
Bicep curls offer a number of benefits, including:
- Improved Muscle Definition: One of the most obvious benefits of bicep curls is that they can help to improve muscle definition. As you build muscle, your arms will become more toned and defined.
- Improved Arm Strength: Bicep curls can also help to improve arm strength. This is because the biceps are responsible for bending the elbow. Strengthening them will make it easier to perform activities that require elbow movement, such as opening a door or lifting a heavy object.
- Improved Overall Strength: In addition to improving arm strength, bicep curls can also help to improve overall strength. This is because the biceps are connected to the shoulder and the back. Strengthening them can also help improve strength in those areas.
- Improved Explosive Power: Bicep curls can also help improve explosive power. This is because the biceps are responsible for helping the elbow to extend quickly, so strengthening them can help to improve the speed at which the elbow can extend.
- Improved Body Composition:Bicep curls can also help improve body composition. This is because they can help build muscle and reduce body fat.
- Improved Joint Health: Bicep curls can also help improve joint health. This is because they can help strengthen the muscles and tendons around the elbow, which can help reduce the risk of joint injuries (4).
- Improved Performance In Other Exercises: Bicep curls can also help improve performance in other exercises. This is because they can help build strength in the biceps, which can transfer to other exercises that require elbow movement, such as the bench press.
Mistakes To Avoid While Performing Bicep Curls
There are a few mistakes that people often make while performing bicep curls, which can lead to injuries or decreased results. These mistakes include:
1. Not Protecting Your Back
Bicep curls can put a lot of stress on the lower back, so it’s important to protect it while performing this exercise. To do this, make sure to keep your knees slightly bent and your back straight. This takes the stress off of the lower back and helps prevent injuries.
2. Not Using A Full Range Of Motion
Range of motion refers to the amount of movement that a joint can go through. When performing bicep curls, it’s important to use a full range of motion in order to fully work the biceps. To do this, make sure to curl the weights all the way up to your shoulders and lower them all the way back down to the starting position.
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3. Curling Too Quickly
When performing bicep curls, it’s important to curl the weights slowly and controlled. Curling too quickly can lead to momentum, which takes the focus off of the biceps and puts it on the lower back. Curling too quickly can also lead to joint injuries.
To determine a good pace, think of the muscles you’re trying to work. The biceps are a slow-twitch muscle, meaning they’re designed for endurance rather than speed. Take two seconds to curl the weight up, and four seconds to lower it back down.
4. Using Too Much Weight
Using too much weight is another common mistake people make when performing bicep curls. Using too much weight can lead to poor form, which can lead to injuries. It can also lead to momentum, which takes the focus off of the biceps.
To avoid using too much weight, start with a lighter weight and gradually increase the amount of weight as you get stronger.
Hammer Curls Vs Bicep Curls: Which One Is The Best?
Now that you know the benefits of bicep curls, you might be wondering if they’re better than hammer curls. There’s no easy answer to this question since it depends on your goals.
If your goal is to build bigger biceps, then you might want to go for hammer curls. Hammer curls target multiple muscles in the arms, which can help to build overall size.
If your goal is to perfect your form and ensure that you’re working your biceps properly, then you might want to go for bicep curls. Bicep curls are a great exercise for isolating the biceps and because they’re simpler to perform, they’re often easier to perfect your form on (3).
No matter which exercise you choose, make sure to focus on quality over quantity. This means performing each rep slowly and with control. It also means using a weight that’s challenging, but not so heavy that you can’t maintain good form.
Performing 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps is a good place to start for most people. Remember, the key is to focus on quality over quantity. In addition, you’ll want to rest for 60-90 seconds between sets to allow your muscles time to recover. Alternate workout days with days of rest or other forms of exercise to give your muscles time to grow.
The Bottom Line
In the hammer curls vs bicep curls debate, there’s no clear winner. It really depends on your goals. However, both exercises are great for building strength and size in the arms.
If your goal is to build bigger biceps, then you might want to focus on hammer curls. If your goal is to perfect your form and ensure that you’re working your biceps properly, then you might want to focus on bicep curls.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Brachialis Muscle (2022, nih.gov)
- Exercise for Your Bone Health (2018, nih.gov)
- Effect of the shoulder position on the biceps brachii emg in different dumbbell curls (2009, nih.gov)
- Muscle strength and balance are important for healthy joints (2016, nih.gov)