Hammer Curls 101

Hammer Curls 101

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Do you include hammer curls in your workouts? You should. Do you even know the benefits and types of hammer curls? We do and we’re explaining it all right here for you.

Hammer curls are one of the best exercises to perform if you want significant muscle gains. There’s no doubt about it! However, the truth is that this exercise is becoming forgotten and not used nearly as much as the biceps curl with a supinated grip. If you want serious strength and muscle increases, then you definitely need to start varying your training program.

Believe it or not, there are actually plenty of hammer curl variations that most people never even learn about. We aim to change all of that for your big arms workout. 

How? 

We’ll do so by looking at the benefits of the hammer curl and then covering the various methods of performing them.

How The Hammer Curl Benefits You

Hammer curls mainly target the long head of the biceps. This is the upper arm muscle that has two muscle heads located on the front of your arm. The triceps is on the backside of the arm and is used as the secondary muscle to perform curl based movements. Curls are considered pulling exercises. That’s why they complement some of the best back workouts pretty well.

The hammer curl also hits the brachialis muscle as a primary source. This is the muscle that’s actually located beneath the biceps. This means that you are getting essentially a massive arm pump while performing hammer curls.

How is this different from the biceps curl we see often these days?

A supinated grip helps squeeze the biceps muscle and is what helps create that baseball effect when flexing. However, this is not the best movement for strength increases, and size actually doesn’t come either. Instead, this can be thought of as purely a cosmetic like exercise since it is more for definition.

This isn’t to say it does not help with biceps training. It only means that it’s simply not as good as the hammer curl in all of its variations. It’s also worth noting that hammer curls use less wrist action and more forearm contractions than the conventional biceps curl.

You will benefit much more from this version since your wrists are neglected allowing more biceps usage in all forms of the hammer curl. Then, if you want to target your forearms more, you simply start at a 90-degree angle with the dumbbells, and then only curl until you hit the 45-degree angle.

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Different Variations Of The Hammer Curl

As mentioned, there’s more than one variation to this exercise. Basically, the variations depend on arm movement, isolation, and even equipment. Hammer curls are performed with a neutral grip. That’s when your palms face towards your body under most circumstances.

Cross Body Hammer Curls

Cross body hammer curls are the only ones that are performed without a neutral grip the whole course of movement. This variation is used to get a nice squeeze against the brachialis and biceps but is also performed this way for those experiencing shoulder pains.

You perform this exercise by first grabbing a dumbbell in each hand and gripping them at your sides. Then, contract one arm’s biceps as you bend at the elbow tracing the dumbbell up the front of your body to the opposite shoulder. Your elbow should remain in place and not move – only bend. Lower the dumbbell tracing the same path down and stop with the dumbbells at your side. Repeat with opposite arm.

Alternating and Double Hammer Curls

Alternating and double hammer curls is the regular variation that you may have seen. This is when you keep your shoulders and elbows pointed forward and maintain them in this way. The point to this variation is simply to hit the brachialis and biceps long head with more emphasis than any other arm muscles.

Take a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your palms facing in. Contract your biceps and bend at the elbows to bring one or both dumbbells curling up. The head of the dumbbell should come close to your shoulder. Trace the dumbbell back down and repeat. Alternate arms if you only used one.

Swiss Bar Hammer Curls

The Swiss bar is a neat piece of equipment that is rectangular in shape. With that said, at the ends, they bend in to form an area for weight plates like a barbell. In the center are bars for neutral grip and possibly other angles as well. It’s an awesome device for hammer curls!

Place weights at the ends of the bar and secure them with bar clamps. Squat to grasp the neutral grip handles. Some Swiss bars have wide and close grip handle selections. You can choose either one. Stand with the bar in front of your body and curl the weight keeping your elbows against your sides. Slowly lower the weight and repeat.

Preacher Hammer Curls

The preacher curl is one of the best methods for isolating your biceps. Performing this in the hammer curl variant is even better. The intention for this type of hammer curl is mass and strength. Using significant enough resistance where you can only do 8 to 10 reps for each set is advised. Why? That way you can promote growth!

You need the isolation bench to place your arms on. This could be the standing or seated version. Grab the dumbbells in each hand and place the back of your upper arms against the isolation pad. Lower the dumbbells and contract your biceps to prevent your hands from going beyond the pad at the downward position. Curl the weight and repeat.

Incline Seated Hammer

This is another great variation to every now and then add to your training program. The only issue with it is the inclined slant plus shoulders hanging off the bench could cause shoulder injury. That’s why you definitely want to hold off on the heavy reps until you get used to the range of motion and shoulder placement.

Research has shown that the different angles you position your body in could provide different and sometimes better results. For the biceps long head, the incline slant is perfect for creating that nice stretch.

Grab the dumbbells and take a seat resting your shoulders against the pad. Hold the dumbbells at your side and keep your elbows in. Contract your biceps to pull the dumbbells up and bring the head of the weight towards your shoulder. Trace the weight back down and repeat.

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Hammer Curls Work Great For Compound And Supersets

The best mix you can do with hammer curls is back pulling exercises followed right away by a hammer curl variation. Of course, this is called a superset. Then there is performing a biceps curls followed by this exercise as well. This is called a compound set.

A superset is when you target two muscle groups that generally work together. When you perform exercises such as seated rows, you feel your biceps being used significantly. So adding in a set of hammer curls immediately following the first exercise doubles the training intensity and boosts biceps gains.

Then we have the compound set of two exercises targeting the same primary muscle region. Performing barbell biceps curls and then following that up with alternating hammer curls definitely allows muscles to grow far better with all the time under tension. Both types of sets performed with moderate weight definitely get you bigger.

How To Improve Your Hammer Curl Experience

Next, let’s cover some tips that will ensure you perform your hammer curls properly and with enough resistance. The experience you want from your hammer curls is one where your forearms are stiff, wrists tight and biceps growing. These are easily done through proper form. You may also want to get some equipment.

First, if you are throwing your shoulder or upper body back when doing them, then you need to lower the resistance. Choose a dumbbell that challenges your body, but also one you can handle.

Why? 

Throwing your body into the movement takes away from your biceps, forearms, and brachialis.

Consider wearing a weight belt to help support your abs muscles in contracting to keep your body erect and in position. No cheat reps!

The next area of focus would be your wrists and specifically if they are tilting during the curls. Your wrists should be stiff causing the dumbbell to be perfectly settled in the palms of your hands. Two things could cause this to happen: A weak grip or weak wrist. Either one can be corrected through strengthening techniques or the use of wrist wraps.

Wraps are placed right below the meaty portion of your palms and at the start of your wrist. They are used to keep your wrists stiff under pressure and prevent bending or tilting. That is why they are pretty much essential for those wanting to move heavier dumbbells.

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Here Are Two Hammer Curl Workouts Programs To Incorporate 

Since you now know all about hammer curls and what exercises revolve around this type of pulling movement, let’s discuss workouts. What follows are two exercise programs that can be performed in the same week or used from time to time. The first one focuses on a back and biceps workout. The second one is used to target your arm muscles as a whole.

Any reps you see labeled fewer than eight are to be done with heavy resistance. Anything from 8 to 12 reps is to be done with moderate resistance and above this is light resistance. Perform each exercise with proper execution to get the best results and prevent injuries.

Workout 1: Back and Biceps

Exercise Sets Reps

Deadlift x5 x4-6

Bent Over Row x5 x4-6

 

Superset:

Lateral Pulldown x5 x10-12

Alternating Hammer Curl x5 x10-12

 

Reverse Flye x5 x10-12

 

Workout 2: Arms

Exercise Sets Reps

Close Hand Bench Press x5 x5-6

Overhead Dumbbell Extension x5 x5-6

 

Compound Set:

Barbell Curl x5 x10-12

Incline Hammer Curl x5 x10-12

Cable Triceps Pulldown x5 x10-12

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Conclusion

One thing’s for sure: You now have plenty of knowledge on one of the best arm based exercises to perform. Don’t forget that if somebody sees you performing it and asks what muscles it targets, the correct answer is the biceps, forearms, and brachialis.

Spread the word and get more hammers curling!

As mentioned the best way to use hammer curls is with at least moderate resistance, but you will come to find that you can lift slightly more than conventional curls. Your forearms and biceps will definitely appreciate the extra resistance.

The two workouts provided basically take away the excuse anybody can make saying they do not know how to incorporate hammer curls into their routine. Hammer curls should be essential for anybody looking to improve upper arm appearance, strength, and even grip.

Finally, remember to do some static stretches following intense workouts. This especially applies to those workouts that target smaller muscles such as your biceps and triceps. Static stretches are the kind that you hold the stretch for 30 to 40 seconds before releasing.

The best one for your biceps is when you place your palm down onto a surface below shoulder height. You then lean into it and allow the stretch to pull the biceps muscle causing it to lengthen. This is going to improve recovery and help calm down any muscle spasms that may occur.

Keep in mind that workouts that target your biceps at intense levels may cause them to lockout. This could possibly prevent the movement of the long head for brief periods. Be sure that you do proper stretches and keep those biceps moving.

Stronger arms are within reach!

By Brian Pankau, CPT

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