Arm training, specifically bicep exercises, can be a valuable accessory exercise for strength, power, and fitness athletes. Movements such as hammer curls, barbell curls, and chin ups can offer strength coaches/athletes increases in grip strength, arm hypertrophy, improved pulling capacities, and muscular endurance of the forearms.
In this hammer curl exercise guide, we offer coaches and athletes a full breakdown of why hammer curls are beneficial to their overall performance and injury resilience, specially:
- Hammer Curl Form and Technique
- Benefits of the Hammer Curl
- Muscles Worked by the Hammer Curl
- Who Should Do the Hammer Curl?
- Hammer Curl Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations
- Hammer Curl Variations and Alternatives
- and more…
How to Do a Hammer Curl
Below is a step-by-step guide on how to properly set up and perform the hammer curl, more specifically the standing single arm dumbbell hammer curl (you can do with two dumbbells, seated, standing, on an incline bench, etc).
Step 1: Start by grasping a dumbbell with a neutral grip, standing in an erect posture.
With the wrist stable (not bent or flexed), keep the chest high and shoulders pulled back. The elbow should be lined up directly below the shoulder joint, or slightly in front.
Step 2: With the shoulders set, squeeze the handle and maintain rigidity in the wrist (limit flexion, extension, and/or deviation of the wrist), as the focus should be strictly on elbow flexion.
Be sure to explore the biceps during this movement. To do so, keep the shoulders up and back, and bring the end of the dumbbell upwards in an arcing motion .
Step 3: Lift the dumbbell above parallel, often so that the thumb is at shoulder height, much like it would be if you were hammering a nail.
Note, that lifting the dumbbell too high may minimize maximum biceps engagement, so be sure to focus on the peak muscle contraction at the top of the movement.
Step 4: Once you have reached the top of the hammer curl, flex the biceps and squeeze the handle.
Focus on finding the perfect amount of elbow flexion to elicit the highest amounts of muscle contractions in the biceps/forearms.
Step 5: While keeping the elbow under the shoulder, or slightly in front of the shoulder, return the dumbbell to the initial starting position under a slow and controlled tempo.
Repeat for the remaining repetitions, and switch.
3 Benefits of Hammer Curl
Below are (3) benefits of the hammer curl that coaches and athletes from most strength, power, and fitness sports can expect when implementing hammer curls into a training regimen.
Increased Bicep Strength and Size
The hammer curl can be used in conjunction with bicep curls, chin ups, and other arm exercises to maximize biceps strength and size. The hammer curl places the wrist at a different angle than other movements, adding variety to arm training. Additionally, hammer curls also target the main muscles of the forearm (ones responsible for elbow flexion and grip strength), further enhancing grip performance.
Improved Grip Strength
The hammer curl can be integrated into strength, power, and fitness programs to increase grip strength, forearm hypertrophy, and muscle endurance. This is highly beneficial for lifters looking to pull heavier loads in the deadlift, snatch/clean, and/or seek general performance increases in grip dependent exercises.
The hammer curl is done with the wrist in neutral position, rather than being supinated and/or pronated. By including neutral grip movements into a training program, you can increase stability and strength of the muscles surrounding the wrist, enhancing overall injury resilience of the wrist joint and surrounding tissues.
Muscles Worked – Hammer Curl
The hammer curl targets the biceps and forearms, and is a useful strength and hypertrophy exercise to reinforce a stronger grip for deadlifts, pulling, and other strength/power movements. Below are the three specific muscle groups targeted by hammer curls.
The biceps are responsible for elbow flexion and general pulling strength. As strength, power, and fitness athletes, the biceps are often trained during more complex lifts (such as deadlifts, cleans, pull ups, tire flips, heavy carries, etc). Increasing biceps strength and size, as well as overall development can improve not only the aesthetics of this muscle group, but also help minimize strain on the elbow and surrounding tissues during times of heavy training or overuse.
This upper arm muscle is responsible for elbow flexion and grip and forearm strength. Increasing this muscle’s ability to pronate, supinate, and contract can improve grip performance in heavy lifts, prolong grip time to fatigue, and help to support greater wrist and elbow stability.
This forearm muscle is responsible for assisting the brachialis in elbow flexion, and is responsible for supination and pronation of the forearm. Developing this muscle (in addition to the brachialis) can improve grip strength and often enhance wrist stability and health.
Who Should Do the Hammer Curl?
Below are some reasons why strength, power, and fitness athletes can benefit from performing the hammer curl.
Strength and Power Athletes
Bicep tears are no joke, and while there are many factors that contribute to a bicep tear, lack of biceps and grip strength may be one of them (here’s some other ways you can prevent a bicep tear). In addition to general biceps strength and resilience, increasing biceps and forearm strength can improve grip strength, endurance, and performance for movements like deadlifts, cleans, snatches, carries, etc. In addition, the hammer curl can be done to increase wrist stability to further enhance injure resilience.
Functional Fitness Athlete
In an earlier article I made a case as to why biceps training can be functional, suggesting that hammer curls offer athletes increased pulling performance, grip strength, and improve wrist and elbow stability. If you are an athlete who struggles with upper body strength, grip performance during workouts, or simply not stoked about your arm aesthetics, try adding some hammer curls into you accessory training.
General Fitness and Movement
The hammer curl is a single-joint movement that can be done to increase biceps and forearm strength, hypertrophy, and grip development. While most general fitness goals should be focusing on more compound exercises (such as the hammer curl alternatives below), the hammer curl can be integrated to increase biceps strength and hypertrophy and address any weaknesses in the grip and/or wrists that may be limiting a lifter from performing more complex movements (such as heavy or high repetition deadlifts, pull ups, carries, etc).
How to Program the Hammer Curl
Below are three primary training goals and programming recommendations when utilizing the hammer curl into specific programs. Note, that these are general guidelines, and by no means should be used as the only way to program hammer curls.
General Strength– Reps and Sets
For general strength building sets, athletes can perform lower repetition ranges for more sets.
- 4-6 sets of 5-8 repetitions, resting 2 minutes between sets
Muscle Hypertrophy – Reps and Sets
For increased muscular size and hypertrophy, the below repetitions can be used to increase muscular loading volume.
- 4-6 sets of 8-12 repetitions, resting 60-90 seconds between, with heavy to moderate loads
Muscle Endurance – Reps and Sets
Some lifters may want to train greater muscle endurance (for sport), in which higher repetition ranges and/or shorter rest periods are recommended.
- 2-3 sets of 12+ repetitions, resting 60-90 seconds between (this is highly sport specific)
Hammer Curl Variations
Below are three (3) hammer curl variations that can be used by coaches and athletes to keep training varied and progressive.
Hammer Curl 21s
21s are a repetition scheme that splits the full range of motion movement into two halves (the top half and the bottom half). In doing this, you are able to increase muscle damage, isolate sticking points, and develop weaker areas. Simply perform seven partial repetitions of the hammer curl (top half of the moment), followed by seven partial repetitions of the hammer curl (bottom half of the moment), directly followed by seven full range of motion repetitions of the hammer curl; for a total of 21 repetitions per set (14 partial reps and 7 full reps).
Incline Hammer Curl
The incline hammer curl can be done with an adjustable bench so that the lifter is placed at a slight recline (about 30-45 degrees from upright). In doing this, you are able to minimize shoulder involvement and keep tension on the biceps at the end ranges of motion; furthering isolation of the biceps.
Preacher Hammer Curl
The preacher hammer curl take the standing or incline versions of the hammer curl to the next level as it helps to stabilize the lifter and minimize shoulder involvement in the curl. Like the preacher curl set up, the lifter must place themselves in the seat so that the shoulder is fixed and not able to assist in swinging the load upwards or creating momentum to overcome a heavy load.
Hammer Curl Alternatives
Below are four (4) hammer curl alternatives coaches and athletes can use to increase hypertrophy, general strength and muscle endurance.
The rope/towel curl can be done with cables (rope) or with a kettlebell, so that a towel is looped through the handle. By using a towel for this exercise, you increase grip strength demands, can position the wrist in a more neutral position when compared to other curls, and increase overall upper body and grip strength.
Towel Pull Up
The towel pull up is similar to the rope/towel curl, in that the lifter grasps the ends of a towel (that is draped over a pull up bar) and performs pull ups. In doing this, the grip is highly challenged, the hands are in a more neutral position, and the hands are narrower than the shoulders; all of which will target the forearms and biceps.
Close Grip Pull Up
The close grip pull up will shift emphasis from the back muscles to the forearms and biceps. By placing the hands within shoulder width, some lifter may experience discomfort, so if this is the case you can limit range of motion or opt for one of the other alternatives on this list.
Dumbbell Hang Clean
The dumbbell hang clean is a functional fitness/CrossFit movement that is nearly identical to the hammer curl; with the exception being that the athlete uses momentum and the hips to clean the load up to the shoulder. The flip side is that while the movement is less targeting on the biceps and forearms (due to increase momentum), the athlete can often perform the movement with heavy loads and in higher volumes, therefore increasing overall arm and fitness training benefits.
Featured Image: Mike Dewar