Hammer Curls: Learn Proper Form to Maximize Your Results

A hammer curl is a variation of the biceps curl and targets muscles in the upper and lower arm. While this exercise is almost always performed with a dumbbell, you can do it with cables or bands. Hammer curls are a great addition to your upper-body strength routine.

How to Do Hammer Curls

Stand with your legs straight (but not stiff or locked) and knees aligned under the hips. Your arms are at your side with a dumbbell in each hand, the weights resting next to the outer thigh. Your palms are facing the thighs, thumbs facing forward, and shoulders relaxed.

  1. Bend at the elbow, lifting the lower arms to pull the weights toward the shoulders. Your upper arms are stationary and the wrists are in line with the forearms.
  2. Hold for one second at the top of the movement. Your thumbs will be close to the shoulders and palms facing in, toward the midline of your body.
  3. Lower the weights to return to the starting position.

Benefits of Hammer Curls

Hammer curls work the biceps brachii, considered a “vanity muscle” because it is easily visible on the front of your body.1 People looking to get a muscular appearance often target the biceps for a more athletic look.

Within the body, biceps brachii is an elbow flexor because it is responsible for the bending movement at the elbow joint. It also helps to rotate (supinate) the forearm.2

In everyday movements, strong biceps help you lift and carry heavy objects. These muscles assist with other arm-based movements, like closing a door or pulling objects toward or across your body.

Hammer curls are one way to build stronger biceps muscles and provide greater definition and increased strength.3 Including it in your exercise program may also help increase wrist stability and grip strength.4

Other Variations of Hammer Curls

You can modify hammer curls to better align with your fitness level and goals.

Alternating Hammer Curls

If you try hammer curls and find they’re too challenging to maintain proper form, try alternating. Instead of lifting both arms simultaneously, lift the right arm and lower, then lift the left and lower. Continue to alternate sides.

Incline Hammer Curls

Hammer curls can also be performed using a seated incline bench. The starting position, when seated, serves to minimise shoulder involvement by positioning the arms behind the hips. If not, the same motions are used. Before lowering the weights once more, raise them to your shoulders.

Preacher Hammer Curls

Some exercisers use a preacher bench to perform hammer curls. A preacher bench is an angled, padded armrest that allows you to hold the upper arm in an isolated position so you can lift more weight and better target the biceps.

Adjust the padded armrest so its top is just touching your armpits. Rest your upper arms against the padding, extend your elbows, and hold the weights so your palms face each other. Lift the weights to your shoulders, then lower them back down.

Hammer Curls Power Squat

Make hammer curls more challenging by adding a squat. This helps you work your legs and glutes while also working your arms. After lifting the weights to the shoulders, drop into a squat position. Hold briefly, stand back up, and return the weights to your side.

Hammer Curls: Common Mistakes

Avoid these common errors to keep hammer curls safe while maximizing their effectiveness.

Using Momentum

Using momentum decreases your ability to build strength during hammer curls. Swinging motions may also put you at higher risk for injury because you lose control when momentum takes over.

You can tell if you’re using momentum if you start hammer curls by leaning forward slightly and bringing the weights behind your hips. This body position helps you to wind up for the workload.

Using momentum is often a sign that you are lifting too much weight. If you notice yourself winding up before each repetition, decrease the weight and focus on form.

Curling Too Fast

Hammer curls employ a relatively small range of motion, so it’s easy to rush through this exercise and use quick movements, especially during the lowering phase.

Taking your time on the way up and down allows you to control the movements and focus on form. Slowing your movements also adds more challenge because you must engage your muscles for a longer time.

Floating Elbows

It’s easy to allow the elbows to float away from the body during hammer curls. While this engages other muscles in the lift, such as the deltoids (shoulders), the more you engage other muscles the less you target the biceps.

Keep your elbows in a stable, fixed position and concentrate on moving only the lower arm during hammer curls. If you can’t lift weight without moving your elbow, the weight is too heavy.

Safety and Precautions

While hammer curls are appropriate for most exercisers, those with lower arm injuries (such as carpal tunnel syndrome) may need an alternate exercise or modification.

Tension in the biceps indicates that the movement is working and effectively targeting your upper-arm muscles. However, stop if you feel pain when performing hammer curls.

When first starting, try two sets of 7 to 10 repetitions each. As you get stronger and more flexible, add repetitions first. Then add more weight.

Try Hammer Curls

Incorporate hammer curls and similar moves into one of these popular workouts:

  • Back and Biceps Workout for Strength
  • Beginner Upper Body Workout
  • Upper Body Tri-Set Challenge Workout

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