What Are the Benefits of Hammer Curls?

| by Truth Seeker |

The four main benefits of hammer curls are:

Brachialis focus. The brachialis is one of the most underappreciated muscles in the arm even though it’s the primary and the strongest elbow flexor. Yet many people do not even know that it exists because it’s flat and resides deeper than the biceps.

The brachialis works during every curl variation, but its involvement increases when that of the biceps is reduced. Therefore, the brachialis works harder during neutral grip curls (hammers) and reverse curls.

Hammer curls are better brachialis constructors than reverse curls because the wrist is in a very strong position allowing the lifter to move heavier weights.

Conversely, reverse curls leave you at the mercy of the wrist extensors which will always be significantly weaker than the wrist flexors.

The brachialis is an important muscle for overall arm development; it increases both the thickness and the width of the arm since its wedged between the biceps and the triceps.

Brachioradialis focus. The brachioradialis is also an elbow flexor inserting lower on the radial bone (forearm). When developed this muscle adds significant thickness to the forearm. Regular curls do not work it nearly as hard as the hammer variations because its market share in the exercise is reduced in favor of the biceps.

Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels

Complete forearm focus. When you are doing biceps curls, the wrist flexors work hard, but the extensors are taking a break. Conversely, when you do reverse curls, the extensors and the brachioradialis receive greater stimulation than the wrist flexors.

Hammer curls generate a more evenly distributed stress on the forearm because all muscles of the forearm have to work hard to keep the wrist in a neutral position.

Lower stress on the biceps tendons. Regular biceps curls are done with a supinated grip (palms facing forward) and put more stress on the biceps tendon. Normally, that’s not a problem, but if the area is irritated, you could use the hammer curl to take off some of the strain.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I do cross-body hammer curls or regular hammer curls perpendicular to the body?

The mission of the hammer curl is to hit the brachialis and the brachioradialis. Since those muscles do not cross the shoulder (unlike the biceps), the added rotation doesn’t have a great impact on the targeted muscle groups.

The objective of cross-body hammers (diagonal hammer curls ) is to maximize the involvement of the long biceps head. However, it’s questionable whether that’s happening to a worthwhile extent.

In practice, you wouldn’t notice a difference in terms of development regardless of which variation you choose – cross-body or regular. It really doesn’t matter anywhere else other than in sensational articles written by roided brahs.

Are hammer curls better than biceps curls?

This isn’t one of the cases when you have to pick one over the other as those movements serve two different purposes. Hammers thicken the brachialis and the brachioradialis whereas biceps curls increase the stress on the biceps.

Could I replace biceps curls with hammer curls?

Strictly speaking, skipping supinated curl exercises i.e. biceps curls could hurt your biceps development. It’s better to do both if you want to optimally strengthen the arm flexors.

But if you can’t do biceps curls due to an injury of some sort, put them on the bench until you’re healthy.

If you can only do hammer curls, that’s fine. They are not an isolation exercise for the brachialis and the brachioradialis. According to Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000, the biceps are very involved in hammer curls.

Where is my brachialis? I can’t see it?

The brachialis requires really low body fat to become visible. But if you get a pump with hammer curls and then flex your arm, you’ll see a bulge coming from the elbow and going towards the corridor between the biceps and triceps. The more developed the muscle becomes, the easier it will be to spot it.

Hammer Curls = Available Everywhere

Another positive characteristic of the hammer curl is the opportunity to do the movement with minimal equipment. You don’t even need dumbbells. You can just fill a backpack with books, push a rope or a towel through the handle, and do hammer curls this way. This variation increases the demand on the forearm and the grip even more.

I’ve been doing hammer curls by looping an old shirt through my homemade T-handle/loading pin/Hungarian core blaster. This device can accommodate more weight than I’ll ever lift with that exercise.

ghetto hammer curls

If you want to turn the hammer curl into an even more intense grip exercise you can try the so-called plier lift – this is an old-school way to strengthen your grip by using a set of pliers to hold on to a strap or a belt attached to a weight.

The video below illustrates the movement:

How Can I Implement Hammer Curls in My Routine?

The default method is to do them as a supplementary exercise for the arm flexors after biceps focused work.

Example routine (arms, lats and chest focus)

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Chin-ups – 5xF* High bar squats – 2×5, 2×8 Deadlifts – 1×8
Dips – 5xF Chin-ups – 5xF Incline press – 3×8-12
Hanging leg raises – 3×10 Dip – 5xF Chin-ups – 5xF
Biceps curls – 3×6-12 Hanging leg raises – 3×10 Leg curls – 2×8
Hammer curls – 3×6-12 Biceps curls – 3×6-12 Biceps curls – 3×6-12
Triceps extensions – 3×6-12 Hammer curls – 3×6-12 Hammer curls – 3×6-12
Triceps extensions – 3×6-12 Triceps extensions – 3×6-12

*5xF stands for 5 sets to failure but without form breakdown.

The routine above is upper body focused and hits the arms three times a week. Hammer curls are done right after biceps curls.

If you don’t want to do more than one curling variation per session, you could drop the hammer curls on Day 1 and 3 and the biceps curls on Day 2.

The weekly direct arm flexor work will look like that – biceps curls – hammer curls – biceps curls

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Chin-ups – 5xF* High bar squats – 2×5, 2×8 Deadlifts – 1×8
Dips – 5xF Chin-ups – 5xF Incline press – 3×8-12
Hanging leg raises – 3×10 Dip – 5xF Chin-ups – 5xF
Biceps curls – 3×6-12 Hanging leg raises – 3×10 Leg curls – 2×8
Triceps extensions – 3×6-12 Hammer curls – 3×6-12 Biceps curls – 3×6-12
Triceps extensions – 3×6-12 Triceps extensions – 3×6-12

 

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18 comments

  1. Brett

    If you do barbell rows, dumbbell rows, close-grip neutral pull-ups is that enough for complete brachialis development?

    I’m kind of over adding more exercises to my routine. Too much diversification can be a hamper of focus.

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      You probably don’t need them.

  2. Alex

    Will the incline press be enough for the shoulders and delts? Also what’s a good home gym alternative for leg curls? Much appreciated!

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      It’s enough for the front delts. Back work will take care of the rear. The mid could benefit from dedicated work.

      You can do hamstring curls with elastic bands.

  3. Andy

    Truth Seeker, my arm is 13.5 inches. Do you think I can get them to 14?

    1. lemmings

      Train them hard for a while and see if it makes a difference. Don’t obssess over arm size though, your life will be no different when your arms are half an inch bigger.

    2. Sam

      Andy, I estimate your right arm to be 14 inches. Do with your left arm for a while what you normally do with your right arm … 😄😉

      Tip: eat a lot of oysters!

      1. Andy

        Can I get 15 inches if my wrists are 15 cm?

    3. Truth Seeker Post author

      I don’t know. Train your arms hard for six months 2-4 times a week and see what happens.

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      One arm pull-ups are not a good biceps exercises. They are more of a stunt than anything else.

  4. Andy

    Truth Seeker, when I started lifting I bulk up yo 180 lbs and then dropped to 140 lbs. What could be my body fat at 140 lbs? My height is 5’10”

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      You use the military method to measure your body fat. It’s not the most accurate, but it’s sufficient for general purposes.

      1. Andy

        It says that i Have 6%. Wtf? My waist is 28 inches and neck 14 inches.

  5. twp

    How do you measure the progressive overload progress in this program?

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      Once you reach 12-15 pull-ups in a row + 15-20 dips in a row, you add weight to them.

      As to the other exercises, when you can do the higher rep ranges, you add a little weight and drop the reps again.

  6. Clip

    How can you keep writing about working out? Aren’t you bored of writing about how to get big biceps yet? Past a certain age or level of intellectual maturity/development it’s just not interesting or important. Just workout and be done with it. Thought you were smarter than that.

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