The Dumbbell Hammer Curl 101 | Form, Variations, & Alternatives!

By
Mike Kenler
November 10, 2020

Dumbbell Hammer Curls

The hammer curl is one of the best variations of the standard bicep curl. However, this is not a true bicep exercise, as it mainly targets your brachialis muscle in your upper arm. 

If you want to improve your arm size, strength, and aesthetics, the hammer curl is for you! 

Muscles Worked by Dumbbell Hammer Curls

Primary Muscle Groups:

Hammer curls primarily work your brachialis. This upper arm muscle aids in elbow flexion and lies beneath the biceps brachii. Training the brachialis can add serious mass to your upper arms.

Hammer curls also primarily target your brachioradialis, which is the strongest muscle in your forearm.  The main functions of the brachioradialis are forearm flexion, supination and pronation. 

Secondary Muscle Groups:

Hammer curls secondarily target your biceps brachii. Of course, this is still a curling exercise, which means the biceps will be involved in the motion.

The dumbbell hammer curl also works your abs and back muscles, as they activate to stabilize your body during the curling motion.

Dumbbell Hammer Curl Benefits

1. Strength and Size Gains

The hammer curl is a premier upper arm exercise. While this exercise specifically activates your brachialis muscle, it also engages your biceps.

The dumbbell hammer curl increases hypertrophy in both of these muscles. Growing the upper arm muscles isn’t just for show — it will actually improve your performance in other exercises at the gym such as the barbell row and the lat pulldown

2. Forearm Activation

The hammer curl delivers the benefits of two exercises in one, as it works the brachialis and the forearms simultaneously. 

The neutral grip of the dumbbell hammer curl forces your forearm muscles to activate and support your wrists throughout the motion. This can increase your grip strength and help you lift more in other exercises.

3. Improved Aesthetics

Let’s face it — nearly everyone wants to have better looking arms. Depending on your goals, you can use the hammer curls to develop bigger, more toned, or more defined arms.

This exercise is simple to learn and can help you improve the appearance of your arms in no time. 

How to Do Dumbbell Hammer Curls 

Equipment:

For this exercise, you will need a pair of dumbbells.

Setup:

a) Grab a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing each other.

b) Assume a sturdy standing position with your back straight. 

Action:

a) Engage your core and contract your brachialis to curl the dumbbells upwards. 

b) Squeeze your brachialis hard at the top of the rep and slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position.

c) Repeat this motion for your desired number of reps. 

Recommendation:

If you are new to hammer curls, choose a light weight to begin and complete 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps. If you want to lift for strength, grab a pair of heavier dumbbells and stick to the 6-8 rep range for 3-4 sets. 

Dumbbell Hammer Curl Mistakes

1. Rounding the Back

Many weightlifters tend to round their back when doing hammer curls. 

This rounded back position compromises the safety of your spine and can easily lead to injury.

Instead, make sure your back is straight and engaged in order to challenge yourself in the safest way possible. 

2. Using Momentum

Far too often, I see people swinging their arms and using momentum to lift the dumbbells up during the hammer curls. Usually, this happens because they try to lift too much weight.

The fix is simple: choose a lighter weight and focus on perfecting your form. Being mindful while lifting lighter weight will actually increase your gains and reduce your chances of injury!

3. Rushing the Motion

Another common mistake made during the dumbbell hammer curl is rushing. 

In other words, people explode through the curl and then let the dumbbells fall quickly to the bottom. This mistake is stealing major gains that can be made during the eccentric portion of the exercise motion.

Instead of rushing through the motion, curl the dumbbells in a slow, controlled fashion. Not only is this safer, but it will increase your time under tension and maximize the benefits of the hammer curl.

Dumbbell Hammer Curl Variations

1. 1-Arm Kettlebell Hammer Curl

The hammer curl can also be performed unilaterally. Grab a kettlebell with a neutral grip and perform the curl with the same form as the dumbbell hammer curl. 

Repeat and feel free to switch arms!

2. Resistance Band Hammer Curl

The banded hammer curl can provide the advantage of increasing resistance as you curl upwards. 

Begin by grabbing the band itself with both hands and your palms facing each other. Then, complete the hammer curl slowly and mindfully with the same form as the dumbbell hammer curl. Repeat!

3. 1-Arm Push Hammer Curl

No equipment? No problem! You can still make gains with this bodyweight hammer curl variation.

Assume a standing position with your feet roughly shoulder width apart. Keep your right arm by your side and your palm facing directly to the left.

With your left hand, press down hard on your right forearm to create resistance. Then, curl your right hand upwards.

Repeat this motion for your desired number of reps and be sure to switch arms.

Dumbbell Hammer Curl Alternatives

If you enjoyed the hammer curl, check out these alternative exercises to improve your arm training:

1. Zottman Curl

Grab a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing forward. Assume a standing position with your feet roughly hip width apart. 

Keeping your back straight, contract your biceps to curl the dumbbells upwards. Squeeze your biceps hard at the top and twist your hands so that your palms face downwards.

Slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position and twist your hands so that your palms are facing forward again.

Repeat this motion for your desired number of reps.

2. Reverse Straight Curl 

Assume a standing position with your feet close together and your back straight. 

Hold the dumbbells together with your palms facing down. Contract your biceps to bend your arms and curl the dumbbells upwards.

Squeeze your biceps hard at the top of the rep and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat!

3. Barbell Drag Curl

To begin, stand in a comfortable position in front of your weighted barbell. Grab the barbell with a double underhand (supinated) grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

Bring your elbows and shoulders back slightly as you curl the barbell upwards. It should feel like you are "dragging" the barbell up your body.

Squeeze your biceps hard at the top and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for your desired number of reps.

 

Looking for an Intense Bicep Workout?

Follow along to this 5-minute dumbbell bicep workout!

Thank you for being a part of the Anabolic Aliens community. Always feel free to reach out with any questions, comments, or concerns at kenler@anabolicaliens.com.

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Mike Kenler
Director of Writing | Certified in Plant Based Nutrition at T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

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