Professional athletes, fitness enthusiasts and starry-eyed teenagers all aspire for strong arms and vein-popping biceps. Even the local gym in your neighbourhood will have patrons jostling for dumbbells and barbells to get an additional set of bicep curls in.

(Also read: Build bigger biceps with EZ bar preacher curls)

There has been an age-old debate as to which arm exercise, however, is the best for building biceps quickly and effectively. It usually comes down to a choice between bicep curls and hammer curls, the latter having gained a reputation as a powerful alternative to the more conventional form of exercise, targeted at building bigger and stronger upper arms.

Numerous TV commercials, movies as well as posters plastered across billboards often display men and women flaunting their ripped and toned arms, accentuated by the body-hugging or sleeveless t-shirts and tops. Even Popeye, the skinny 90-year-old comic book favourite, has his arms magically transformed after consuming a can of spinach.

Among the variety of exercises meant for building biceps, hammer curls remain one of the most popular alternatives because of its neutral grip (palms facing each other) and being more focussed towards beefing up the upper arm muscles.

  1. Hammer curl variations
  2. Benefits of hammer curl exercise
  3. Doing the hammer curl the correct way
  4. Precautions before doing hammer curls
  5. Takeaways of hammer curl exercise

Hammer curls are not only performed in the traditional way of either standing up or seated, but many modifications of the exercise have also been introduced by fitness practitioners. Here are some examples:

  • Incline seated hammer curls
  • Preacher hammer curls
  • Cross-body hammer curls
  • Swinging hammer curls
  • Swiss bar hammer curls
  • Cable rope hammer curls
  • Kettlebell hammer curls
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Any weight-lifting exercise that requires the external weight to be “pulled” towards your body requires the use of your upper arm muscles. The hammer curl is one of the popular ones at that, with the following benefits:

  • Works towards building up the bicep muscles, the large muscles in the upper arm.
  • Builds forearm muscles and strengthens the wrists.
  • It keeps the wrists neutral, thereby reducing the stress on them as compared to bicep curls.
  • Improves your grip because of the neutral position, which allows you to pick up heavier weights as compared to conventional bicep curls.

Maintaining the right posture while performing with the correct technique is essential to reap the maximum rewards out of an exercise, and minimise the risk of injury.

Muscles worked: Even though the hammer curl is an isolated exercise targeted at building up your biceps, it also has positive effects on the growth of forearm muscles and in stabilising the wrists.

Experience level: Beginner

Equipment needed: A pair of dumbbells

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 10-15 reps each

How to do it:

  • Hold the dumbbells in each hand with your palms facing each other.
  • Lift both hands together, keeping the shoulders and elbows locked in the same position.
  • Aim to finish with one end of the dumbbell pointing towards your chest.
  • Slowly bring both arms down to the original position. This is one rep.

Tip: While lifting your arms up, do not swing the weight back to gain additional leverage. For maximum benefits, only lift your forearms from the elbow hinge; the upper arm should remain locked under the shoulders.

Any exercise that employs the use of external weights must be performed with caution. If the weights are too heavy for the individual, one tends to strain their necks, back or shoulders towards the opposite side of the lifting arm to counterbalance. This is not only a ‘cheat’ method to perform the exercise, but it also negates the overall gains along with putting extra pressure on parts of the body you don’t need to train in that exercise.

It’s always a good idea to begin with lighter weights, master the movement and lifting technique, and then move up to the weights you want to lift so that they compliment your strength levels.

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The hammer curl is a great exercise to train your arms towards building stronger and bigger biceps. It is also a nice alternative to the conventional bicep curl and an exercise that naturally improves your lifting technique. If you’re new to exercising, always seek the help of trainers available at the gym to teach you the correct form and technique before doing the exercise yourself.


  1. Hiscock D. et al. Muscle activation, blood lactate, and perceived exertion responses to changing resistance training programming variables. European journal of sport science. 2015 Aug; 16:1-9.
  2. Fink J. et al. Effects of rest intervals and training loads on metabolic stress and muscle hypertrophy. Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging. 2018 Mar;38(2):261-268.
  3. Kostek MT. and Knortz K. The Bicep Curl and the Reverse Bicep Curl. National Strength Coaches Association Journal. 1980 Dec; 2(6):55.
  4. Antonio J et al. The Effefts of Tibulus Terrestris on Body Composition and Exercise Performance in Resistance-Trained Males. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2000;10:208-215.
  5. Zhen G and Menon C. Does force myography recorded at the wrist correlate to resistance load levels during bicep curls? Journal of Biomechanics. 2019 Jan; 83:310-314.
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