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Hammer Curls Vs. Biceps Curls — Which is Better for Building Bigger Arms?


It’s go-time for your upper body. You’re ready to hit your biceps with enough chin-ups and curls to get the best pump you can. But once you pick up the dumbbells, you pause and contemplate: hammer curls versus biceps curls. Which is going to give you the most effective arm gains?

There’s a reason that the dumbbell biceps curl has been a staple go-to for gymgoers for decades. It’s easy to grab a pair of dumbbells, take them anywhere in the gym (but not the squat rack, please), and get a good pump going.

Credit: MDV Edwards / Shutterstock

But if you’ve been steadily curling for a while, you may consider switching it up with hammer curls. Simply changing to a neutral grip alters the mechanics, muscles worked, and potential outcome of your curls. Here, you’ll learn all about which lift you should choose, and when.

Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

Table of Contents

Key Differences
Key Similarities 
Muscles Worked
When to Do Hammer Curls
When to Do Biceps Curls
How to Do Hammer Curls
How to Do Biceps Curls
Benefits of Hammer Curls
Cons of Hammer Curls
Benefits of Biceps Curls
Cons of Biceps Curls

Key Differences 

If you use them correctly, both types of curls can help you forge bigger arms. But they’re not exactly the same thing. Changing your grip makes a big difference in emphasis, and therefore in what kinds of results you’re likely to see.

Hammer curls use a neutral grip with your palms facing each other. Biceps curls use a supinated grip with your palms facing up. 
Because of the grip, hammer curls work your forearms and outer biceps muscles (long head). Although your forearms also contribute, biceps curls isolate your inner biceps muscles (short head) more effectively.
Since hammer curls require more extensive buy-in from your forearms, they can give your overall arms a thicker appearance. Biceps curls dramatically emphasize your biceps for that rounded biceps look when you flex.
The neutral grip of the hammer curl allows more of a “rest” at the bottom of each rep. On the other hand, the palms-up position of a biceps curl puts more tension on the biceps at the bottom of each rep.
Because of this brief rest, the emphasis on a larger amount of muscle mass, and the neutral grip, many lifters can heft bigger dumbbells with hammer curls than biceps curls.

[Related: The 20 Best Biceps Exercises for Greater Growth]

Key Similarities 

Changing the grip doesn’t change everything about these lifts. Both are still tremendous accessory exercises that can help bring your biceps to the next level.

The hammer and biceps curls both increase strength and stimulate hypertrophy in your biceps.
Both exercises work your pulling muscles, which can carry over to your other lifts.
Hammer curls and biceps curls are some of the best grip strengtheners that focus on your biceps.
Both moves help to stabilize your wrists.

Muscles Worked

Both exercises work your biceps brachii muscles. Your biceps brachii consist of a long head and a short head. (1)

Hammer curls work your biceps brachii and emphasize the long head. They also work your brachialis and brachioradialis muscles. Your brachialis is on your outer upper arm and is your strongest elbow flexor — it’s responsible for bending your arm at your elbow. (2

Your brachioradialis is located on your outer forearm. You might associate this one with oft-sought-after forearm thickness. It plays a big role in flexing your forearm and elbow — so it’s not just about aesthetics. (3)

Credit: Just dance / Shutterstock

[Read More: 12 Best Supplements for Muscle Growth of 2023]

For their part, biceps curls specifically work your biceps brachii and focus more on the short head. These muscles work to flex and supinate your forearm. (1

Your biceps brachii also assist in shoulder stability. Biceps curls can strengthen and grow your inner upper arms — think, being able to keep steady at the bottom of a chin-up. Although your brachialis assists in flexing your elbows, it is not targeted as much as it is in hammer curls.

When to Do Hammer Curls

Deciding when to do each type of curl comes down to what you’re trying to get out of your training. Here are a few situations when hammer curls may be the better choice.

You Want Overall Thicker Arms

Athletes in pursuit of bigger arms need to break out the hammer. Since hammer curls work the muscles on the lateral part of your upper and lower arms, this lift can give your arms an overall thicker, wider, and larger appearance.

Vary Your Biceps Training 

Adding variety to your training program is one way of applying the principles of progressive overload. Performing variations on exercises you’ve been doing for a while can help you break through strength training plateaus, target different muscles, and prevent overuse or injury.

Credit: MDV Edwards / Shutterstock

[Read More: The 15 Best Triceps Exercises for More Mass and a Bigger Bench Press]

If you’ve been doing classic biceps curls and want to try a variation, try swapping in hammer curls during your next training block. 

Recovering From Injury

Biceps curls can be tough on your shoulders and wrists when you go heavy. Switching your grip in hammer curls can spare your shoulders some extra strain while recruiting more muscles to assist your curls.

And if you’re already recovering from wrist, elbow, or shoulder injuries, the neutral grip in hammer curls may be more comfortable than the supinated grip in biceps curls. That’s because it changes the position of your shoulders.

With clearance from a medical professional, you may want to restart your journey with hammer curls. Still, you’ll have to go a little lighter to rebuild your strength.

When to Do Biceps Curls

Biceps curls have been popular for decades for a reason. Here are a few times they might be the optimal choice.

You Want Rounder Biceps

If the upper part of your T-shirt is your biggest concern, standard biceps curls are a solid choice. Biceps curls isolate, target, and build up that classically round peak of your inner biceps. 

In addition to dumbbells, you can do biceps curls with a barbell or curl bar. That means you can go a lot heavier with them, potentially increasing your hypertrophy potential.

Improve Your Pull-Up and Chin-Up

If you’re aiming to get your first pull-up or increase your training volume, biceps curls help you purely strengthen your biceps. So if you’re trying to master your first pull-up, biceps curls can be a big help.

[Read More: The One-Month-Long Beginner Pull-Up Program]

Of course, you’ll also have to seriously work on strengthening your back — but you also want your biceps to come in clutch and help you out. 

Biceps curls target your biceps to flex your elbows which is one of the joint actions in a pull-up. With biceps curls, you’ll repeat this movement pattern and get your body ready to fully extend your arms under pressure.

You Need Accessibility

Biceps curls are an accessible exercise for older folks, beginners, or anyone returning to exercising after a period of inactivity. You can do them while seated and start with very light dumbbells. 

Hammer curls can also be accessible for this reason. But biceps curls are more of an isolation exercise that doesn’t require as much grip strength or use of other muscles.

[Read More: Bodybuilding For Beginners — Your Ultimate Guide for Getting Started in the Gym]

It’s also not just about beginners. Advanced lifters navigating a crowded gym or working out from home can grab dumbbells and grow their arms without much fuss.

How to Do Hammer Curls

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to do your hammer curls with good form to avoid or train through injury and get the most out of your work.

Inhale to brace your body. On an exhale, curl your weights toward your shoulders by bending your elbows and maintaining a neutral grip.
Squeeze your biceps and hold for a moment at the top. 
Slowly lower down and focus on eccentric arm training by controlling the lowering portion. You’ll be lengthening of your biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis. 
Maintain core tension throughout the lift. Try to use control and not momentum. Repeat for your desired number of reps and sets.

What You Need

You will only need yourself and a pair of weights. Dumbbells are generally the most accessible way to perform hammer curls. But you can also use resistance bands, kettlebells, or a cable machine.

Setting Up

Grab your weights. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms fully straight by your sides. Hold your weights with a neutral grip and palms facing each other. Stand with your hips tucked, glutes squeezed, and abs engaged. Keep your shoulders depressed, spine neutral, and chest up.

How to Do Biceps Curls

Follow these steps to hit your biceps curls with good form.

Inhale to brace and then exhale as you curl your weights up towards your shoulders, flexing at your elbows and keeping your palms face up. Keep your wrists neutral throughout the movement. 
Squeeze your biceps at the top and hold.
Lower your weights slowly and feel the stretch through your biceps as you straighten your arms. Keep your wrists neutral and don’t let your weights pull them into extension.
Keep your shoulders depressed, wrists neutral, and core engaged. Move with control and try not to be led by momentum. Repeat for your desired set and rep range for your goal.

What You Need

You just need yourself and a pair of weights for hammer curls. Use dumbbells, kettlebells, or a cable machine. You can also do barbell curls or do the move with an EZ bar.

Setting Up

Choose your equipment and grab it. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms fully straight and keep them close to your body.

Credit: MDV Edwards / Shutterstock

Hold your weights with your palms facing up. Stand in a line of tension with your hips gently tucked. Squeeze your glutes and engage your core. Depress your shoulders, maintain a neutral spine, and keep your chest slightly up.

Benefits of Hammer Curls 

Some of the best biceps exercises have an extra-special oomph for other muscle groups. The hammer curl is one of these, as it packs an extra wallop for your forearms. Here’s how these neutral-grip curls can help you out.

Builds Brachialis and Brachioradialis 

Hammer curls uniquely target your outer arm muscles on your upper and lower arm. This is beneficial for aesthetic goals as it can help give your arms a larger, thicker, and wider appearance. This also gives you a more balanced look when you are growing your arms than solely targeting your inner biceps.

Potential to Lift Heavier

Hammer curls and biceps curls are both single-joint exercises, but hammer curls recruit more muscles to perform the joint action. If you use dumbbells in both hammer curls and biceps curls, you may be able to lift a bit heavier over time with hammer curls. That’s because your outer arm muscles are assisting in the lift. 

Credit: BLACKDAY / Shutterstock

[Read More: How to Deadlift 500 Pounds (and More)]

Hefting more weight can lead to the potential to build muscle and strength in your program over time.

Increase Functional Grip Strength 

Hammer curls can build more functional grip strength than biceps curls. Because you’re using a neutral grip, the movement pattern is similar to grabbing, lifting, and carrying objects like heavy groceries.

Having strong forearm muscles can carry over to activities of everyday life, as well as other sports, athletic activities, and heavy lifts.

Cons of Hammer Curls 

Though it can be a functional exercise with aesthetic benefits and the potential to grow, it can be really tough for some folks to start. 

Tough on Grip

On the flip side of hammer curls being great to improve your grip strength, they also require a lot of grip strength to be able to do them properly in the first place. If your forearm muscles haven’t been worked much before, your grip may give out even before your biceps do. 

You may want to start with a pair of lighter dumbbells than you expect. But with patience and consistency, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of grip strength

Won’t Grow Round Biceps Alone

Hammer curls target your outer arms, which will indeed help round off your biceps. But they’re not enough on your own. Hammer curls don’t emphasize and tax your inner biceps as much as biceps curls. You’ll need to combine these with other movements to stimulate maximum growth.

[Read More: The 11 Best Supplements for Bodybuilding (2023 Update)]

If you only have time for one isolation exercise and your goal is big, rounded, inner biceps, you might want to opt for biceps curls.

Limited Equipment

Due to the nature of a neutral grip, you can’t really do hammer curls with a barbell. You can grab a multi-grip camber bar if your gym has one, but many do not. So, you might be limited to dumbbells. If you prefer curling with a barbell, you’ll likely have to stick with the supinated biceps curls. 

This may limit your progression in hammer curls, but there are other ways to progress exercises besides continually adding load. You can try tempo training with hammer curls to emphasize the eccentric portion and get a greater stretch.

Benefits of Biceps Curls

Biceps curls are pretty straightforward — they increase the size and strength of your biceps. This can be beneficial for physique and aesthetic goals as well as the overall strength, health, and stability of your upper arms and nearby joints. 

Aesthetic Gains

Your inner biceps can be some of the most pronounced areas of your arms. With biceps curls, you’ll isolate your biceps muscles to elevate your flexing that much closer to Arnold’s.

Whether you’re a competitive bodybuilder or a weekend warrior who wants to bulge out your sleeves, biceps curls are an effective choice.

Even Out Imbalances

If you have imbalances in muscle size or strength in your biceps, you can perform unilateral training with biceps curls to help even them out. Fixing your imbalances can be beneficial for aesthetic reasons and can carry over to other lifts. If you are learning to do pull-ups and you notice one side giving out first, the weaker biceps on one side could be the culprit.

Credit: MDV Edwards / Shutterstock

[Read More: What Is Unilateral Training and Does it Really Fix Imbalances?]

Even if you curl both arms at the same time, opting for dumbbells over a barbell can help you notice and address imbalances.

Increase Shoulder Stability 

Building and strengthening your biceps may increase your shoulder stability. Your biceps brachii are connected to your scapula and originate above your glenohumeral (shoulder) joint. (1) This means that they assist your rotator cuffs in stabilizing your shoulders.

Strengthening your biceps can help them do their job to protect your shoulders. This can help increase resilience against injury and bolster your overhead press and other lifts that require good shoulder stability.

Cons of Biceps Curls

There are some potential drawbacks to biceps curls. If all you do is curl, curl, curl (no matter what), you may be at risk of overuse injuries. Here are a few things to look out for when making your exercise choices.

Isolation Exercise 

Biceps curls are a single-joint, isolation exercise. While they have their benefits, there are some drawbacks of performing isolation exercises — especially if you think that’s all you need to do to build powerful arms.

[Read More: Compound Exercises Explained: How to Make Big Gains With Big Lifts]

Biceps curls only work your biceps. If you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of time to train, you’ll benefit more from doing compound exercises that will still work your biceps like pull-ups and chin-ups, reverse-grip bent-over rows, and all manner of dumbbell rows and lat pulldowns. You’ll get the benefits of strengthening your biceps while working other muscle groups at the same time.

May Strain Shoulders

It’s easy to overdo biceps curls — they’re often the first thing you see in the gym, after all. But curling too often might leave you exposed to straining your shoulders and your biceps. 

If you go too heavy, use momentum instead of control, or don’t engage your core, it’s easy to yank instead of lift. And all that unintentional tugging can expose you to stress you’re not trying to create.

Less Functional Carryover 

Bending and straightening your arms while holding something heavy with a supinated grip isn’t a functional movement. It’s not bad to do something in the gym that isn’t “functional.” 

But if you are looking to improve the activities in your daily life, hammer curls may have some more carryover, since the neutral grip in the hammer curl makes it closer to an everyday movement.

Hammer Time

When you’re on a mission to get bigger and stronger arms, you’re likely to grab some dumbbells and go for biceps curls. But you may also start experimenting with a neutral grip, too.

In the realm of hammer curls versus biceps curls, there’s no one winner. The former taxes your forearms and allows you to generally lift heavier, while the latter focuses everything you’ve got on those biceps. Both curl variations can improve your pulling strength for bigger, badder lifts — so whichever you choose, get curling. 

FAQs on Hammer Curls Vs. Biceps Curls

Still got questions? Of course you do. Your biceps are serious business. Here are our answers.

Are hammer curls or biceps curls better for growing your biceps?

Both of these moves play a powerful role in building strong, round biceps. The biceps curl might have an edge because it focuses on the inner biceps, which is important for that rounded look.

On the flip side, the neutral grip of hammer curls generally allows you to lift more weight. This can lead to more hypertrophy over time. Ultimately, it’s your choice — but performing both types of curls in your training blocks will likely benefit you most.

Can you do both hammer curls and biceps curls?

Sure! You can absolutely include both exercises in your training program. Hammer curls will focus on your outer arms and biceps curls will target your inner arms. Both are biceps-building powerhouses, and your overall gains will thank you.

Will hammer curls and biceps curls help me progress in other exercises?

In a word: yes. Both exercises can help you increase your pulling strength in exercises like pull-ups, pulldowns, and rows. Of course, for these compound movements, there’s no replacing a strong back.

But if your biceps are failing before you get the chance to really tax your bigger back muscles, stronger biceps are the answer you’re looking for.


Tiwana MS, Charlick M, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Biceps Muscle. [Updated 2022 Aug 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. 
Plantz MA, Bordoni B. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Brachialis Muscle. [Updated 2023 Feb 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. 
Lung BE, Ekblad J, Bisogno M. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Forearm Brachioradialis Muscle. [Updated 2022 Jul 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-.

Featured Image: MDV Edwards / Shutterstock

The post Hammer Curls Vs. Biceps Curls — Which is Better for Building Bigger Arms? appeared first on BarBend.

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