Dumbbell Hammer Curl

The dumbbell hammer curl is the perfect exercise for isolating the biceps and creating well-defined arms. While many seek to improve bicep strength and size for aesthetic reasons, working out this muscle also has functional advantages. 

For instance, the biceps balance out the triceps and aid in pulling and lifting movements. They can also help prevent injuries, ensuring you can continue toward your goals.

So, let’s explore the hammer curl in more detail. Below, we describe how to do it, expert tips, muscles worked, programming, and who should perform this exercise.

How To Do

  1. Begin by standing tall with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides, and palms facing toward your body.
  3. Keeping your upper arms stationary and close to your torso, curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders by bending your elbows.
  4. As you curl the weight up, keep your palms facing each other.
  5. Continue curling until the dumbbells reach shoulder level.
  6. Pause briefly at the top of the movement.
  7. Then, slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position by extending your arms and maintaining that hammer grip.

Tips From Expert

  • Don’t use momentum It can be tempting to use the momentum of the previous rep or swing your arms. However, we want the entire movement to be slow and controlled. This ensures you’re engaging the biceps to the best of your ability.
  • Engage your core — This will help you maintain an upright position. It will also help protect your spine and back.
  • Keep your elbows close to your body — Only your forearms should move. Your upper arm should remain stationary throughout the exercise.

Optimal Sets and Reps

Depending on your goals, your sets and reps may vary. Use the table below as a guide for achieving your dumbbell hammer curl goals.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 3–4 4–6
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–12
Endurance Training 3–4 15+
Power Training 3–5 3–5

How to Put in Your Workout Split

The dumbbell hammer curl is a variation of the traditional bicep curl. It allows for better targeting of the brachialis muscle, which is deeper than the biceps. This means you can include both exercises in your programming to achieve strong arms.

This exercise can be incorporated in many different ways, from helping you bounce back after injury to gaining overall upper-body strength. Here are a few options to try:

  • Arm — Include this exercise on any basic arm day. Opt for hammer curls, bicep curls, tricep pushdowns, and tricep extensions for a balanced approach.
  • Push-Pull – If you break your workouts down into push, pull, and legs, the hammer curls fit seamlessly into the pull day. Perform it alongside deadlifts, rows, lat pulldowns, and other arm curls.
  • Circuit Training – For those with endurance goals, hammer curls may be a great addition to interval or circuit training.
  • Full-Body – Hammer curls are also an excellent option for full-body days. They can be performed alongside squats, bench presses, rows, and more.

Hammer curls can also be programmed as part of supersets. Supersets are where you alternate between opposing muscle groups, perfoming one after the other.

For example, you could alternate between performing hammer curls and tricep pushdowns to save time. This can also be another great option for boosting overall endurance. 

If you’re interested in increasing arm strength, consider performing hammer curls at the beginning of your workout. In contrast, if you’re goal is hypertrophy, add these curls to the middle or end of your program after compound movements.

Primary Muscle Groups

Biceps Long Head

Most outside part of your bicep.The front of your upper arm.

Brachialis

Muscle which starts at the middle of your upper arm and connects just below the elbow.

Brachioradialis

Muscle located between outside portion of your forearm from the elbow to the wrist.

Brachioradialis

The brachioradialis is a long, thin muscle located on the top of the forearm. It extends from the lower two-thirds of the humerus upper arm bone to the radius or forearm bone. This upper arm muscle is responsible for bending and rotating the forearm.

Due to the neutral arm position during the hammer curl, this exercise primarily engages the brachioradialis. During this exercise, this muscle works to flex the arm at the elbow.

Biceps Long Head

The hammer curl also primarily targets the long head of the biceps brachii. The long head of the biceps is the outer portion of the muscle that originates from the scapula, or shoulder blade.

As the prime mover of elbow flexion, it’s no surprise that the biceps assist in this movement. They also provide stabilization for the shoulder joint. 

Yet, it’s worth noting that to target this muscle more effectively, incline curls or preacher curls may be more worthwhile. However, having a well-rounded program that targets muscles in different ways is critical for overall muscular balance.

Brachialis

The brachialis is a deep muscle located underneath the biceps brachii. The neutral grip allows the brachialis to be engaged more during elbow flexion which can lead to increased muscle growth.

This, in turn, can create a more balanced appearance in the upper arm. It may also contribute to improved grip strength and support of the biceps during heavy pulling movements.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Biceps Short Head

Most inside portion of the biceps. Located at the front of your upper arm closest to your chest.

Wrist Extensors

Muscles that make up the back portion of your lower arm, between your elbow and wrist.

Biceps Short Head

The hammer curl also engages the short head of the biceps, yet less so than the long head. The biceps short head makes up the inner portion of the biceps brachii muscle. 

It assists with elbow flexion, especially beyond 90 degrees. However, since the palms are turned inward during the hammer curl, other exercises target the biceps short head more effectively. For example, a regular bicep curl or inclined curl will help directly engage this muscle.

Wrist Extensors

Surprisingly, hammer curls also efficiently engage the wrist extensors. This group of muscles is found on the backside of the forearm and works to extend the wrist and fingers.

So, where do these muscles come into play during the hammer curl? Primarily, these muscles act as stabilizers of the wrist. As the weight comes up, these muscles contract and prevent the wrist from flexing.

This isometric contraction can further contribute to improved grip strength over time. As a result, it can help progress exercises limited by grip strength, such as the deadlift or bent-over row.

Equipment

Dumbbells

Dumbbells

You can use these for a wide range of unilateral and bilateral exercises. Avoid using momentum to lift. Ensure a secure grip to prevent drops.

Who Should Do?

Bodybuilders

Bodybuilders strive for strength and hypertrophy during their workouts, and the hammer curl perfectly fits this description. The hammer curl targets the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles, which contribute to arm thickness and definition. It also builds stability for other upper body exercises, like the regular bicep curl and bench press.

The hammer curl can also help progress grip strength. For instance, the deadlift, bent-over row, and pull-up exercises all require adequate grip strength to add weight and improve.

In other words, the hammer curl is the perfect addition to a bodybuilder’s upper body or pull-day routine.

Powerlifters

Powerlifters generally focus on three main movements: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. All other accessory movements aim to improve these. 

The bench press, in particular, engages the bicep muscles. Since the hammer curls also engage this muscle to a certain extent, they can be great accessory movements. 

However, it’s important to program these movements after your main compound lifts. This helps avoid fatigue and ensures you have enough gas in your tank to drive these weights up. Consider adding hammer curls alongside regular bicep curls and other more isolated upper-body movements.

Athletes Or Gym-Goers With Reduced Grip Strength

Surprisingly, grip strength is a major predictor of longevity and health status. For fitness enthusiasts, as previously mentioned, grip strength also may impact your ability to perform other exercises. 

Focusing on exercises that help, such as the hammer curl, can effectively improve grip strength. In turn, this may enhance overall body strength and health.

Who Should Not Do?

Individuals With Elbow Or Wrist Injuries

Elbow or wrist injuries can be easily aggravated by repetitive movements. This is especially true with conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, which commonly occur due to overuse. And this means hammer curls probably aren’t the best exercise option right now.

Individuals with elbow and wrist injuries often need to rest the affected area. After sufficient recovery, your healthcare practitioners will give you the go-ahead to exercise and recommend the best types of exercise.

Beginners

If you have limited strength training experience, it’s probably better to stick to the basics before adding hammer curls. Building up proper strength with light weights can help you lay the foundations first. 

For example, using machines and resistance bands can help gain some strength before opting for dumbbells. Alternatively, starting with bicep curls is also a great option. Once you gain some basic strength, you can then progress your program to include hammer curls and other isolation exercises.

Benefits Of The Dumbbell Hammer Curl

Greater Definition And Increased Strength

The hammer curl primarily targets the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles. When increased in size and strength, these muscles can help effectively define and thicken the upper arm.

Yet, it’s important to consider progressive overload every step of the way. If your goal is to increase arm size and strength, you’ll want to add weight as tolerated. This allows for the adaptions necessary to progress in the gym and toward your goals.

Improved Grip Strength

Since hammer curls engage the wrist extensors for stabilization, this exercise, as mentioned, contributes to better grip strength. And this doesn’t just help progress other exercises in the gym. 

It can also improve overall function, allowing you to perform your daily activities with greater ease. For example, this benefit can make carrying heavy grocery bags easier. It can help with opening jars. It can further aid with other recreational activities, such as rock climbing or tennis.

Enhanced Mobility 

The hammer curl requires the full range of motion of the elbow joint. This can promote improved flexibility and reduce tightness or stiffness in these areas. 

Additionally, it improves the stability of the shoulder and wrist, contributing to greater mobility of these joints as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are hammer curls as good as bicep curls?

Hammer curls target the deeper muscles in the upper arm more effectively than bicep curls. For advanced lifters, this can be beneficial for a balanced and well-rounded routine.

What is a good weight for hammer curls?

This depends on your fitness level. For beginners, starting with a range between 10 to 20 pounds is likely suitable. However, it may vary.

Why are hammer curls so hard?

Hammer curls might feel more difficult because they are engaging the deeper muscles in the upper arm. It may also feel challenging if you’re trying to lift a heavier weight. Thus, it’s recommended to start light and build from there.

Are hammer curls better sitting or standing?

Hammer curls may be easier to perform standing to avoid any interference with a bench. This also engages your postural and core stabilizers, which can be a bonus.

Resources

  1. Coratella, G., Tornatore, G., Longo, S., Toninelli, N., Padovan, R., Esposito, F. and Emiliano Cè (2023). Biceps Brachii and Brachioradialis Excitation in Biceps Curl Exercise: Different Handgrips, Different Synergy. Sports, [online] 11(3), pp.64–64. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/sports11030064.
  2. ‌Plantz, M.A. and Bordoni, B. (2023). Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Brachialis Muscle. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551630/.
  3. ‌Jarrett, C.D., Weir, D.M., Stuffmann, E.S., Jain, S., Mark Carl Miller and Schmidt, C.C. (2012). Anatomic and biomechanical analysis of the short and long head components of the distal biceps tendon. Journal of shoulder and elbow surgery, [online] 21(7), pp.942–948. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jse.2011.04.030.
  4. ‌Zhen Gang Xiao and Menon, C. (2018). Does force myography recorded at the wrist correlate to resistance load levels during bicep curls? [online] ResearchGate. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329271685_Does_force_myography_recorded_at_the_wrist_correlate_to_resistance_load_levels_during_bicep_curls.
  5. ‌Solstad, T.E., Andersen, V., Shaw, M., Hoel, E.M., Vonheim, A. and Saeterbakken, A.H. (2020). A Comparison of Muscle Activation between Barbell Bench Press and Dumbbell Flyes in Resistance-Trained Males. Journal of sports science & medicine, [online] 19(4), pp.645–651. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7675616/.
  6. ‌Bohannon, R.W. (2019). Grip Strength: An Indispensable Biomarker For Older Adults. Clinical interventions in aging, [online] Volume 14, pp.1681–1691. doi:https://doi.org/10.2147/cia.s194543.
  7. ‌Mdpi.com. (2024). Journal of Clinical Medicine. [online] Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/journal/jcm/special_issues/carpal_tunnel_syndrome.
  8. ‌Plotkin, D., Coleman, M., Derrick Van Every, Maldonado, J., Oberlin, D., Israetel, M., Feather, J., Alto, A., Vigotsky, A.D. and Schoenfeld, B.J. (2022). Progressive overload without progressing load? The effects of load or repetition progression on muscular adaptations. PeerJ, [online] 10, pp.e14142–e14142. doi:https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.14142.