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Hammer Curl (Dumbbell) – How to Instructions, Proper Exercise Form and Tips

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What is a Dumbbell Hammer Curl?

Dumbbell hammer curls are an effective and beginner-friendly exercise that builds up your biceps and forearms simultaneously. Unlike traditional curls that include wrist rotations, your hands remain neutral (facing in) during a hammer curl. Doing so allows you to use slightly more weight, emphasize the brachioradialis muscle, and improve your wrist stability.

Hammer curls are also beneficial for your daily life, since they strengthen your biceps, forearms, and grip, making you more functional and better able to handle everyday tasks. For example, a pair of solid biceps makes lifting various objects easier. Similarly, a firm grip improves your gym training and makes it easier to carry weights.

Hammer curls are an isolation exercise, and the goal is to lift moderate amounts of weight for 12 or more repetitions. We recommend including the movement later in your workout.

How to do a Dumbbell Hammer Curls

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells that allow you to do at least ten smooth repetitions.
  2. Stand tall, bring your chest out, direct your gaze forward, and position both dumbbells to your sides. Your arms should be straight, and your palms should face your thighs.
  3. Take a breath and initiate the hammer curl by engaging your biceps while keeping your elbows in a stationary plane.
  4. Curl the dumbbells until your wrists are slightly more elevated than your elbows. Hold the contraction for a moment and exhale.
  5. Lower both dumbbells simultaneously until your elbows are straight.
  6. Take another breath and repeat.

What muscles does the dumbbell hammer curl activate?

The primary muscles that work during hammer curls are the biceps, which cover the front side of the upper arms and produce elbow flexion (1). Our biceps also produce wrist supination (rotation), which doesn’t occur during hammer curls. Because of that, a traditional curl emphasizes the biceps slightly better than hammer curls do.

Unlike traditional curls, hammer curls emphasize another muscle group: the brachioradialis. The muscle covers the top inner side of our forearms and assists the biceps with elbow flexion (2).

The third muscle group that works during a hammer curl is the brachialis, which lies underneath the biceps (3). Despite laying deeper than the bicep, developing the brachialis contributes to overall arm size and aesthetics.

Tips on Proper Form when Preforming a Dumbbell Hammer Curl 

Performing hammer curls with proper technique is vital for effective muscle activation, growth, and injury prevention. While simple, the hammer curl can be challenging to master, and every trainee should approach the exercise with respect.

The most important tip to consider for a proper hammer curl is to pick the appropriate load. You should be able to do at least 12 smooth repetitions with a full range of motion. On that note, training with a full range of motion is also crucial. You should curl the dumbbells until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows, hold for a moment, and extend your arms fully. In doing so, you stretch and shorten the involved muscles effectively, causing them to grow.

The third essential element is keeping your elbows steady and by your sides during a hammer curl. Doing so allows you to maintain tension on the correct muscles, forcing them to grow and strengthen.

The final form tip relates to the mind-muscle connection. While it can be tempting to move the weight from point A to B, you should engage your biceps and feel them working during each repetition.

Variations and Modifications of the Hammer Curl with a Dumbbell

1. Cable Rope Hammer Curl

Cable rope hammer curls are an effective variation that works your biceps and forearms. Using a cable is beneficial because it offers constant tension, forcing your muscles to work extra hard during each repetition.

2. Incline Hammer Curl

Incline hammer curls are a variation you perform on an incline bench. The objective is to adjust the bench incline to 65 or 70 degrees (nearly upright) and sit down with your arms hanging. Sitting on the incline bench, places your arms slightly behind your body, stretching the bicep and possibly leading to a more potent growth stimulus.

3. Seated Hammer Curl

Doing hammer curls from a seated position is an effective way to improve your technique, pick the appropriate load, and get more out of the exercise. Sitting prevents you from using as much momentum or body swinging to bring the dumbbells from point A to B. As a result, the correct muscles work harder, leading to better progress.

Mistakes to Avoid

One of the most common hammer curl mistakes is using too much weight. As a result, you shorten the range of motion and use momentum to complete each repetition. Doing so isn’t beneficial because it prevents your biceps and forearms from doing all the work. The best way to avoid the mistake is to pick weights you can lift for at least 12 to 15 repetitions.

The second common mistake with hammer curls is swinging your body back and forth. Similar to using momentum, excessive body motions might help you lift more weight, but you won’t keep the tension on the correct muscles. Avoid the mistake by doing each repetition smoothly and with reasonable control.

The third mistake with hammer curls is allowing your elbows to travel back and forth with each repetition. Instead of keeping them by your sides, your elbows move in the direction of the weight, preventing you from fully contracting your biceps or extending your elbows. Avoid the mistake by anchoring your elbows to your sides and keeping them in a steady position until you finish. If you can’t keep your elbows stable, you’re likely lifting too much weight.

Similar Exercises to the Hammer Curl with a Dumbbell

Pinwheel Curl (Dumbbell)

Man pinwheel curl dumbell

Pinwheel curls are an effective variation of the hammer curl. Instead of curling the dumbbells forward, you point your hands in, lifting the dumbbells in front of your torso. The exercise is identical to hammer curls, but you can keep the dumbbells closer to your body and lift slightly more weight.

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

man bicep curl dumbbell

Dumbbell bicep curls are the most popular alternative to hammer curls. Both exercises train the same muscles but in slightly different ways. For example, hammer curls offer more balanced bicep and forearm development. In contrast, dumbbell curls allow you to emphasize the biceps better (4).

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