Hammer curls vs bicep curls: Where’s the difference?

Who doesn’t want to get huge arms? Let’s face the facts: if there is one muscle that is never undertrained in the gyms around the world, it’s the bicep. Given that the muscles of your upper arm (there is more to them than the two headed monster we all crave so much) are relatively small and limited in functions, there are only so many ways you can hit them (spoiler alert: you end up curling either way).

Two most popular exercises are by far bicep curl (supinated grip curl, or a regular bicep curl) and hammer dumbbell curl. Today, we will dig deep and see what might be the difference between hammer curls and bicep curls, and is one better than the other.

Differences between the two – are there even any?

If you want the short answer – yes there are, but not too many and definitely not any profound ones. There are three main muscles that flex the elbow: biceps brachii, brachialis and brachioradialis. Their main function is to get your forearm closer to your shoulder. As we know, elbow is a hinge joint and it moves only in one plane, so any type of curl will work all three of these muscles. I wouldn’t really say that either one of these two curls has any specific downsides in itself, so you really can’t go wrong whichever one you choose.

However, there are some nuances that set them apart. Hammer curls don’t include supination and hit brachialis a bit more directly than other types of curls due to the neutral grip. That muscle is not too big or important when it comes to looks (depending on your arms, it might help you give them a wider, 3D look together with the short head of the triceps to some extent), but it does play a big role as a synergist muscle for most of the rowing and pulling exercises.

On the other hand, bicep curls work this muscle as well, while also hitting biceps brachii in all its functions and supinator muscle (in your forearm) as a bonus.

To be quite honest, these differences are too minute to make any significant difference for beginner, intermediate or even advanced lifters. But there are some benefits to both variations, which I think are worth mentioning.

Hammer curl’s benefits

Hammer curls get a bad rep because many people tend to do them cross-body with weights way too big for them to handle. What you end up with then is a sorry excuse for a half-curl-half-shrug that is getting you nowhere fast.

On the flip side, if you do them properly, and leave your ego at the gym door where it belongs, you can reap some new gains easily. Even though we can’t hammer curl 150lbs, we can definitely lift heavier weights than when doing regular curls. That way, we can focus on the eccentric portion of the lift, and introduce a new stimulus to the muscles that are really difficult to surprise. That’s why hammer curls are an extremely valuable exercise for anyone dealing with plateaus.

Bicep curl benefits

Of course there are benefits to this lift also, even if we have to dial down the weight a little bit (and make our gym instagram pics a bit less impressive). You can curl by both using a barbell and also different dumbbell types. So why do I love this variation?

When you do dumbbell curls, you can generate the best mind-muscle connection, period. You have the best control over all of the functions (flexing the elbow, supinating the forearm and even flexing the shoulder) and you can dictate the intensity of the contraction throughout the entire range of motion. It’s impossible to achieve that on any other type of curl. Also, an added bonus, available dumbbells are much easier to find in most gyms (please, please, don’t curl in the squat rack) than barbells.

On the other hand, if you curl with a barbell, you can lift more weight compared to curling two dumbbells simultaneously, which means greater hormone response, and better core activation as it now has to stabilize that much more weight.

Pitfalls of Bicep training

Before we wrap things up, I want to give you some additional advice regarding the biceps training and training your arms in general. As we have already established, these may matter more than choosing the perfect curl. So what should you be on a lookout for when training arms?

  • First up, don’t use momentum to swing the weights up. You are robbing yourself of gains for the sake of your ego, and that just doesn’t make any sense.
  • Remember that there is another side of your arm, which actually has more to do with how thick and big your arms look.
  • Don’t hit your biceps more than twice a week, and don’t go too crazy on the volume either. They are relatively small muscles and they are not meant to take that much load.
  • Don’t curl what you can’t handle. Again, leave your ego at the door. Otherwise you might end up hurting your forearms as they try to help out their upper-arm counterparts curl the weight to the top. Tennis does sound like fun – tennis elbow much less so.

Summary

As you can see, there is obviously no clear winner in today’s battle if we can even call it that. Bicep curls allow you to achieve an amazing mind-muscle connection and overall upper arm development. Hammer curls strengthen an often overlooked muscle and help you break plateaus by loading more weight than you usually use and then focusing on the negative portion of the lift where the most micro damage occurs.

Bicep curls and Hammer curls are not each other’s enemy, in fact, they go really well together. You can do them both, by all means, on separate workouts, or on the same day, depending on your programing. So, try to include both of these in your routines, vary your workouts, give your muscles enough time to rest, and of course, give it your best every time you hit the weights.

About the Author Dumbbellsgeek

Hey! My name is Paul Sheldon. I live in Nashville, TN and I love all things related to sports. Naturally I love workking out and I do it every day. If you want to talk feel freee to hit me a message or if you happen to be in Nashville we can get a coffee, I know a great place. Peace!