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Dumbbell hammer curl image

Hammer Curls: Videos & Variations (2020) 

hammer curl image

Searching for an in-depth guide to hammer curls? If so, you’ll be glad to know that OriGym have compiled everything that you need to know in one place, from the hammer curl muscles worked to all of the different variations of the exercise. 

We have even included clear demonstration images and videos, so that you don’t have to worry about proper hammer curl form next time you visit the gym. 

Interested in working within the fitness sector? Take a look at our range of REPs accredited personal trainer courses here, or download our course prospectus before we jump straight in! 

What is a Hammer Curl? 

The bicep hammer curl exercise is a classic weightlifting exercise known for predominantly targeting the long head of the biceps, as well as some of the muscles within the forearms (but more on that later). It differs from the regular bicep curl, as it involves an overhand grip with a pronated wrist, as opposed to an underhand grip.  

When it comes to building muscular hypertrophy and strength, the hammer curl exercise is one of the most popular exercises amongst bodybuilders and regular weightlifters. 

It’s simple to execute, which also means that it’s easy to use progressive overload when performing this exercise. As stated by P.A. Tesch and L. Larsson et al in Muscle Hypertrophy in Bodybuilders, this is how professional bodybuilders build muscle mass: 

Competitive bodybuilding requires repeated activation and overloading of muscles comprising the entire body.

So, if you’re looking for an exercise that will help you to build muscle mass (alongside a good diet of course), we would highly recommend the hammer biceps curl. If you’re in need of some ideas when it comes to the nutrition side of things, be sure to check out OriGym’s personal trainer meal plan for food tips and recommendations.  

Now that we’ve answered the popular question of what is a hammer curl? and talked a little bit about what it can do for your body, it’s time to learn how to perform this exercise! 

Feel free to download our FREE 16 Week Home Strength Training Programme before jumping in.

How to do a Hammer Curl 

Check out the hammer curl video below for an accurate exercise demonstration! 

Set Up: To perform a regular bicep hammer curl, you will need two dumbbells that you’re comfortable with lifting, and a stable surface to stand on. You may find that using a yoga mat or an exercise mat makes it more comfortable for you. 

Starting Position:

Dumbbell hammer curl image

  • Grip one dumbbell in each hand (overhand grip), so that your palms are facing inwards, and carefully lift them so that they are resting beside your thighs 
  • Ensure that you are standing tall with your back straight, your arms extended, and your feet at around hip-width apart
  • Pull your shoulders back and keep your elbows close to your sides 

Execution:

Db hammer curl

  • Keeping your core engaged (since this is a standing hammer curl) and your elbows close to your body, curl the dumbbells upwards in a controlled manner - they should move into a vertical position as you lift them 
  • Pause when your arm reaches a 45-degree angle, and hold this position for two seconds 
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells into the starting position, bending at the elbow and keeping good form 
  • Repeat for your desired number of repetitions! 

Dumbbell Hammer Curl Muscles Worked 

Primary Movers: Biceps

Secondary Muscles: Brachialis, brachioradialis

Like this exercise? 

If so, be sure to check out some of our other exercise guides below: 

Hammer Curl Mistakes to Avoid 

  • Swinging the dumbbells. If the dumbbells that you’re using are too heavy for you, this will likely result in you swinging them throughout the movement. It is not a good idea to use momentum to move the weights, as it takes the tension away from the biceps and places it elsewhere. So, pick a weight that allows you to perform the hammer curl exercise correctly. 
  • Curling too fast. This exercise uses a relatively small range of motion. Therefore, many people perform it too quickly, which in turn means that they are working against less resistance. Go for a set of heavier dumbbells to increase the challenge if you’re finding the exercise too easy, and ensure that you’re moving in a slow and controlled manner. 
  • Floating elbows. It is not uncommon to find that your elbows float out to your sides when performing this exercise, but you should correct this mistake as soon as you notice it. It’s one of the most common hammer curl mistakes, and results in engaging other muscles, which then means that the work is shifted from the biceps. You should keep your elbows locked in at your sides in a stable position at all times, to maintain correct hammer curl form. 

Hammer Curl Benefits

  • One of the main hammer curl benefits is increased bicep strength and size (if you’re training for muscle mass, of course). It primarily targets the long head of the bicep, and works the brachialis and brachioradialis (forearm muscles) as secondary muscles, so if you’re looking for an extremely effective exercise to add to your arm day routine, this is the one. It greatly compliments the regular bicep curl. 
  • Another of the top hammer curl benefits would be the fact that it is highly effective at building wrist stability. Due to the fact that the wrist remains in a neutral position whilst carrying out this movement, the strength of the muscles surrounding it is improved. This can in turn improve grip strength, which is useful if you’re looking to get into olympic weightlifting. We have a guide to olympic weightlifting injuries and how to avoid them, if you happen to be a beginner! 

Hammer Curl Regression & Progression 

In addition to the hammer curl benefits mentioned above, another note to add is that this exercise can easily be made to suit those of all experience levels, whether someone is completely new to exercising or they’re a true pro. 

To make the exercise easier (hammer curl regression):

  • Starting out with a set of lighter dumbbells is the most obvious way of making the hammer curl an easier exercise. There’s no shame in this, as you’ll be able to curl more weight in no time, and training with progressive overload will help you to pack on muscle mass! 
  • Alternatively, you could perform the alternate hammer curl so that you’re only lifting one dumbbell at a time. This will give your biceps extra time to rest between sets, or mean that you’re performing less reps depending on what you’re training for. 

To make the exercise more difficult (hammer curl progression): 

  • Once you’ve become a little too comfortable with the hammer curl and it’s becoming less of a challenge, you should definitely consider upping the weights that you’re lifting. This will make the exercise more difficult for you to push through, and result in improved strength and muscle hypertrophy depending on the programme that you’re following. 
  • If you want to try a hammer curl progression without upping the weight that you’re lifting, you should slow the tempo that you’re using to complete the exercise. This will force your muscles to work harder through each rep, and place additional pressure on them, causing you to find the exercise more challenging and make better gains. 

Hammer Curl Variations 

Alternate Hammer Curl

Set Up: To perform the alternate hammer curl, all that you require is a set of two dumbbells of equal weight. 

Starting Position:

 How to do a proper hammer curl

  • Start by standing with your feet at around shoulder-width apart, and firmly planted on the ground. The dumbbells should be placed on the ground on either side of you. 
  • Your back should be straight, and you shouldn’t be slumping your shoulders or slouching; stand tall with your chest up and your shoulders back. 
  • Ensure that your elbows are tucked in tight at your sides.
  • Carefully grip the dumbbells in an overhand position, and lift them with your arms fully extended until they are resting against your thighs. Your palms should be facing inwards. 

Execution:

Db hammer curl benefits

Db hammer curl image

  • With your core properly engaged, curl the right dumbbell upwards by bending at your elbow (which should be locked into place).  
  • Once your arm is at a 45-degree angle, pause and hold your position for two seconds. You should feel the burn in your biceps. 
  • Lower the dumbbell back into the starting position, using a slower pace than you curled it with. This will maximize the effectiveness of the exercise. 
  • Keeping good form, repeat this movement with the opposite arm, until you’re back in the starting position again. 
  • Carry out your desired number of repetitions! 

Alternate Hammer Curl Muscles Worked 

Primary Movers: Biceps 

Secondary Muscles: Brachialis, brachioradialis

Alternate Hammer Curl Mistakes to Avoid 

  • Curling too fast. It can be tempting to move through this exercise too quickly, especially since you’re curling both weights at the same time and you’re eager to power through each set. However, taking your time will mean that you receive all of the benefits of one of the most popular hammer curl alternatives, and that you avoid unnecessary injury - so be sure to take it slow! 
  • Allowing the elbows to move from your sides. If you fail to keep them anchored to your sides during any phase of the exercise, you’ll miss out on all of the benefits of the exercise. 

Alternate Hammer Curl Benefits

  • In comparison to the regular exercise, the alternate hammer curl benefits the user by allowing them to train both arms at once. It places less strain on the biceps since they have longer to rest between reps, and this is often better for beginners who struggle to make it through 8+ reps at a time with good form. 

Single Arm Cross Body Hammer Curl

Set Up: For single arm cross body hammer curls, you will need a single dumbbell that you feel comfortable training with. If you’re not used to performing hammer curl variations, you might want to use a lighter weight until you’re used to the movement.  

Starting Position:

What does hammer curl work

  • Start by standing with your feet at around hip-width apart.
  • Grip the dumbbell in your right hand in an overhand grip, and carefully lift it so that it rests just in front of your right thigh.
  • Your arm should be fully extended.  
  • Tuck your left hand behind your back, or hold it out for support; whatever feels more comfortable for you.
  • Due to the nature of the movement, you don’t have to entirely anchor your elbow to your side, but ensure that it is in a stable position before you execute the exercise.  

Execution:

Standing hammer curl image

  • Ensure that your core is engaged, and that your back is straight (standing tall should help you to keep good form). 
  • Keeping your right elbow in a stable position, curl the dumbbell up towards your shoulder in a controlled motion, until your arm is at a 45-degree angle. 
  • Hold this position for two seconds. 
  • Slowly bring the dumbbell back towards the starting position, until your arm is once more fully extended.  
  • Repeat! 

Cross Body Hammer Curl Muscles Worked 

Primary Movers: Biceps 

Secondary Muscles: Brachialis, brachioradialis

Cross Body Hammer Curl Mistakes to Avoid 

  • Swinging the dumbbells. While this is a problem with the regular hammer curl, it’s also one of the most common cross body hammer curl mistakes to avoid. You should ensure that your elbow is stable, and that the dumbbells that you’re using aren’t too heavy for you.
  • Moving the elbow. Due to the fact that the elbow isn’t pinned to your side during this exercise, it’s important that you keep it still when you curl the weight. Otherwise, you miss out on the cross body hammer curl benefits and risk injuring yourself. 

Cross Body Hammer Curl Benefits

  • One of the most well-known cross body hammer curl benefits is the fact that for some people, the exercise is great for upping the weight that you train with. It’s a matter of preference, but some people find this to be one of the easiest hammer curl alternatives to use alongside progressive overload. 
  • It’s great for building muscle mass in your upper arms, as well as within your forearms with regular practice. You may find that switching up the variations of this exercise is a good way to train, since your muscles aren’t able to adapt too well to just one version. 

Seated Dumbbell Hammer Curl 

Set Up: The seated dumbbell hammer curl is one of the most popular hammer curl variations, since it’s so easy to incorporate into a gym bench workout routine. All you need to perform it is two dumbbells, and a gym bench. 

Starting Position:

Bicep hammer curl

  • Start the seated dumbbell hammer curl by sitting on a bench, your feet on either side. It should be set in the upright position, with your back against the backrest. 
  • Grip the dumbbells with an overhand grip, and lift them so that they are suspended at your sides - your arms should be fully extended, and your palms should be facing inwards.  
  • You are now ready to begin! 

Execution:

Hammer biceps curl bench

  • Ensure that your back is straight and fully wedged against the backrest. 
  • Lock your elbows into place, ensuring that they will remain in a stable position throughout the exercise. 
  • Carefully curl the dumbbells upwards, in an upright position, until your arms reach a 45-degree angle.
  • Pause in this position for two seconds.
  • Lower the dumbbell back into the starting position, moving slower than you did during the first phase of this hammer curl exercise.
  • Repeat the seated hammer curl for your desired number of repetitions. 

Muscles Worked During this Exercise

Primary Movers: Biceps 

Secondary Muscles: Brachialis, brachioradialis

Common Mistakes to Avoid 

  • Using momentum to lift the dumbbells. This is one of the most common mistakes when it comes to this exercise, and you should do everything in your power to avoid it. Make sure that the weights that you’re lifting are heavy enough to pose a challenge, but not so heavy that you can’t lift them without maintaining good form. 
  • Swinging the dumbbells. This is a common mistake with most incline curls, as they provide the user with a greater range of motion. While this is one of the most talked about benefits of the exercise, it’s also bad for those who lift too heavy, as moving a heavier weight through an increased range of motion is more difficult and leads to swinging. If you find yourself swinging the dumbbells during the lowering phase, use a lighter weight! 

Benefits of this Exercise

  • One of the most talked about benefits of this exercise is the fact that opposed to the regular hammer curl, this exercise provides you with a greater range of motion to work with. This means that the biceps can be stretched even further, and therefore this exercise technically has more potential to promote muscle growth. 
  • The fact that this hammer curl exercise requires you to keep your back pressed against the bench means that it’s much more difficult for you to perform cheat curls. You’re unable to call upon your body to help you through each rep, and you must rely solely on your biceps - which is a great thing when it comes to getting great results! 

Hammer Plate Curl 

Set Up: For the hammer plate curl, you will need a single plate that you’re comfortable with lifting, and one that you’re able to grip properly. 

Starting Position:

Seated dumbbell hammer curl

  • You can do hammer plate curls whilst sitting or standing, but we’ll talk you through the standing version. 
  • Start by standing stall with your feet at around hip-width apart. 
  • Grip the plate with both hands (one on each side), and lift it carefully so that it is resting just below hip-height, and tilted slightly upwards. 
  • Your arms should be fully extended. 

Execution:

plate hammer curl image

  • Make sure that your core is engaged, and that your chest and shoulders are in an upright position. 
  • By bending at the elbows, curl the plate towards your chest in a controlled manner until your arms are at a 45-degree angle. 
  • Be sure to squeeze your biceps at the top of the movement, and hold your position for at least two seconds. 
  • Bring the plate down slowly until you have it back in the starting position. 
  • Repeat! 

Hammer Curl Muscles Worked 

Primary Movers: Biceps

Secondary Muscles: Brachialis, brachioradialis

Hammer Plate Curl Mistakes to Avoid 

  • Rushing through reps. This is a common mistake made during many of the hammer curl variations, as you’ve probably started to notice, but it’s particularly noticeable during hammer plate curls. Plates can be difficult to grip if you’re not used to working with them, and therefore you may need to start with a lighter weight whilst you adjust to them. Rushing through reps is a sign that the plate is too heavy for you! 
  • Losing control of the wrists. Another of the most common hammer plate curl mistakes is losing control of your wrists, particularly during the lowering phase of the exercise. Don’t allow the weight of the plate to control your wrists; keep them slightly flexed and pay attention to them throughout the exercise to ensure that they remain stable.

Hammer Plate Curl Benefits

  • This exercise is one of the best when it comes to maximizing biceps strength and size, especially since plates can be used to overload the muscles more incrementally. This way, you don’t need to worry about overstraining yourself, and you’ll progress quickly (and feel more motivated because of this!). 
  • Since the wrist is flexed slightly when this movement is performed correctly, the strength within the muscles surrounding the wrist can be enhanced with regular practice. Plus, since supporting the plate requires a good grip, another of the hammer plate curl benefits includes the fact that it can work wonders for improving grip strength. 

Standing Dumbbell Hammer Curl and Press

Set Up: For this exercise, you’ll need a set of two dumbbells at the same weight. 

Starting Position: 

Dumbbell hammer curl image

  • Stand tall with your feet at around shoulder-width apart, and the dumbbells placed at either side of you. 
  • Squat down and grip the dumbbells in an overhand grip, your palms facing inwards, and lift them until they are resting against the side of your thighs. 
  • Your shoulders should be back, your arms should be fully extended, and your elbows should be pinned to your sides.  

Execution:

What is a hammer curl exercise

How to do a hammer curl image

  • By bending at the elbows, lift the dumbbells in a slow and steady motion until your arms reach a 45-degree angle - the dumbbells should still be in a vertical position.  
  • Bring your arms up and around so that your shoulder plates are tight, and your arms are ready to press the dumbbells into the overhead position. 
  • Ensure that your core is engaged, and that you keep your head straight and facing forwards (this way, you won’t hyperextend your upper back). 
  • Carefully press the dumbbells upwards until your elbows are locked out overhead, and hold this position for two seconds. 
  • Bring your arms back down into the press position, so that your arms are both at a 45-degree angle. 
  • Slowly lower your arms back around and down until they are back at your sides, at a 45-degree angle. 
  • By bending at the elbows, move your arms back down into the original starting position so that they are fully extended at your sides. 
  • Repeat the entire process for your desired amount of reps! 

Standing Dumbbell Hammer Curl and Press Muscles Worked 

Primary Movers: Biceps, deltoids 

Secondary Muscles: Brachialis, brachioradialis, triceps

Standing Dumbbell Hammer Curl and Press Mistakes to Avoid 

  • Lifting too heavy. Since this is an overhead press, lifting too heavy too soon is incredibly dangerous and you should avoid it at all costs. It’s certainly one of the most common standing dumbbell hammer curl and press mistakes. We would definitely recommend starting with a lighter weight than you usually would if you’re not used to performing overhead presses. 
  • Pressing the dumbbells out in front of your body. If you do this, you will take most of the strain away from your shoulders and place it elsewhere. This could lead to a nasty injury, and will certainly take away the benefits that you would otherwise receive. 

Standing Dumbbell Hammer Curl and Press Benefits

  • This is a well-rounded exercise that targets the biceps, triceps, and the deltoids in just a few simple movements. It’s great for building strength and muscle mass in these areas, and can easily be used with progressive overload once the individual performing the exercise has become accustomed to it. 
  • Another of the greatest benefits of this exercise is the fact that it can easily be performed anywhere, yet it’s a fantastic upper body compound exercise and targets many of the main muscles in the arms. 
  • This exercise can also be counted as a hammer curl progression, as it is slightly more complicated in comparison to the original exercise, and certainly makes it more difficult! 

Cable Rope Hammer Curls 

Set Up: For this exercise, you’ll need access to a cable machine. You should set it to a weight you’re comfortable with lifting. 

Starting Position: 

How to do a proper hammer curl and press image

  • Stand facing the cable machine with your feet at around hip-width apart. 
  • Grip the handles with an overhand grip, with your palms facing inwards. 
  • Have handles suspended just in front of your thighs. 

Execution:

cable hammer curl image

  • Ensure that your back is straight, your core is engaged, your glutes are tight, and your elbows are fixed to your sides 
  • Carefully curl the handles upwards, ensuring that your palms are facing inwards throughout the movement, until your elbows reach a 45-degree angle 
  • Hold this position for two seconds 
  • Slowly return the handles to their original position, keeping your elbows fixed to your sides 
  • Repeat the exercise for your desired amount of reps! 

Cable Rope Hammer Curls Muscles Worked 

Primary Movers: Biceps, deltoids 

Secondary Muscles: Brachialis, brachioradialis, triceps

Cable Rope Hammer Curls Mistakes to Avoid 

  • Lifting too heavy. Since this exercise utilizes a cable machine, it’s easy to accidentally load yourself up with too much weight. In comparison, free weights are harder for your body to control, so the cable machine can make things seem far easier. You should start with a weight that is lighter than those that you’re used to, and work your way up once you’re comfortable working with the cable machine. 
  • Using the wrong stance. It can be tempting to stand with your feet placed together when working with the cable machine, but you must remember to have them placed at around hip-width apart, otherwise you risk injuring yourself. 

Cable Rope Hammer Curl Benefits

  • The cable machine provides the user with constant tension as the cable itself is supporting the weight rather than their body. This makes the cable rope hammer curl exercise interesting to perform in comparison to those that require a dumbbell, as it places more pressure on the muscles and forces them to work harder. 
  • During the second phase of the exercise, the cable aids the user in lowering the weight, which also allows them to obtain maximum contraction of the biceps. It’s technically better for training the biceps in isolation. 
  • It also allows the user to improve their grip strength, as they are required to grip the handles tightly during the exercise. This is one of the best cable rope hammer curl benefits for those that perform (or would like to perform) weightlifting exercises such as deadlifts and squats, etc. as it will aid them in gripping the barbell. 

Conclusion 

Now that you’re clued up on how to do a hammer curl, and you’re also aware of the most popular hammer curl variations, you can add this exercise to your arm day routine with confidence! 

After all, hammer bicep curls will support your arm day routine no matter what your long term goals are, whether you’re training for hypertrophy, strength, or muscular endurance. 

Happen to be interested in pursuing your own career in fitness? If so, be sure to check out our Online Personal Training Course options, or download OriGym’s course prospectus for more information! 

References

  1. Tesch, P.A. and Larsson, L., 1982. Muscle hypertrophy in bodybuilders. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology, 49(3), pp.301-306.

Written by Chloe Twist

Fitness Content Manager, OriGym

Join Chloe on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Chloe graduated with a BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moores University and prior to OriGym worked at J&R Digital Marketing Agency on the Liverpool 'Female Founders' series. Since joining the company, she has become a qualified Personal Trainer and advanced Sports Nutrition Specialist. Chloe’s professional interests intersect content-development and the world of online fitness, especially across social media and YouTube, and Chloe has herself contributed pieces on fitness and weight loss to sites including the Daily Star and The Express. Outside her day-to-day role, Chloe enjoys playing the guitar, gaming and kettlebell training. 

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