Hammer Curl Variations: Faster Route to Better Biceps

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: December 28, 2023
FACT CHECKED by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
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The hammer curl variation generates a forceful pump in your biceps and forearms, resulting in greater gains faster than regular bicep curls.

However, you need to perform variations to ensure you hit all the two heads of the biceps.

As a certified fitness trainer, I've tried several hammer curl variations. I also consulted other fitness experts to get their expertise.

Today, I'll explain all the muscles worked, and common mistakes to avoid when performing hammer curl variations.

Quick Summary

  • To enhance bicep growth and forearm strength, incorporate hammer curl variations such as preacher, incline, kettlebell, cable rope, Swiss bar, cross-body, and alternating hammer curls into your workout routine.
  • Adding more hammer curl variants to your routine may help you overcome plateaus while challenging your muscles in new directions.
  • According to a study in the National Library of Medicine, the biceps brachii, targeted by hammer curls, is known as a "vanity muscle" due to its visibility from the front of the body.
  • In my opinion, the diversity of hammer curl variations is key to avoiding workout monotony and continuously challenging the muscles for better growth and strength.

The Best Hammer Curl Variations

Person doing a hammer curl

Preacher Hammer Curl

Preacher hammer curls have been a game-changer for me, focusing the effort right on the biceps.

I found this variation produces a fixed range of motion for the hammer curl, enabling a more targeted contraction on the biceps.

How to perform:

  1. Choose your intended weight from the rack and sit erect with the chest flat on the preacher bench.
  2. Maintain a neutral (palms facing up) hold with your upper arm pushed onto the pad.
  3. Take a deep breath and carefully drop the dumbbell away from the shoulder.
  4. Curl the load back to the beginning position after the bicep has been completely stretched.
  5. Repeat for reps on both sides.

Incline Hammer Curl

Person doing an incline hammer curl

One of my clients, who initially struggled with bicep definition, saw significant improvement after incorporating this variation into their routine.

Perform this hammer curl variation by leaning against a 45-degree incline bench.

How to perform:

  1. Set up the incline hammer curl bench by inclining it 30-45 degrees and placing a pair of dumbbells at the end. The lesser the gradient, the more difficult the workout; therefore, 30 degrees is suggested.
  2. Sit on the bench, grab the dumbbells, and lie on the cushioning with your back flat.
  3. You should use a neutral grip on the dumbbells, hands facing your body.
  4. Take up the slack in the arms by bending them slightly since this will strain your biceps. This is the exercise's beginning position.
  5. Curl the weights up as far as possible while keeping your elbows fixed.
  6. At the apex of the exercise, squeeze the biceps and then slowly drop the weights down to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for reps.

"Using an incline bench instead of standing straight stimulates the muscles in your arm to do a wider movement, which improves the range of motion in the elbow joint."

- Ebenezer Samuel, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

Kettlebell Hammer Curl

The kettlebell hammer curls are an overlooked workout for strengthening the brachialis, bicep, and forearm muscles.

From my own workouts, I've discovered that kettlebell hammer curls are fantastic for strengthening the brachialis, biceps, and forearms.

The drill depends on your forearms' radial deviation power to keep the wrists straight.

How to perform:

  1. Hold a pair of kettlebells while seated or standing. Turn your hands inside, palms facing in, with your arms down by the sides, for a neutral grip.
  2. Set the wrists and take a firm hold on the kettlebell. Brace your core and pull the shoulders downward and back.
  3. Bend the elbows and curl the kettlebells until your forearms are parallel to the ground without engaging your legs or back. Straighten your wrists.
  4. Slowly return the kettlebells to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for reps.

Related: Best Kettlebells for Home Gyms

Cable Hammer Curl

Person doing a hammer curl with a cable

The cable rope hammer curls is a classic arm-focused workout that uses a rope handle tied to a weight stack by a cable.

I found that the constant tension provided by the cable significantly improved my muscle endurance and strength. It's a go-to recommendation for my clients who want to add variety to their arm workouts.

How to perform:

  1. Connect the rope attachment to a low pulley.
  2. Stand about 12 inches from the machine.
  3. Grab the rope using a neutral grip (palms-in), and stand straight, keeping your back arch and torso steady.
  4. Place your elbows at your sides and maintain them motionless during the exercise. Only your forearms should move; the upper arms should remain stationary. This is where you will begin.
  5. Pull your hands up as you exhale, using your biceps until your biceps contact your forearms. Keep your elbows in and the upper arms motionless.
  6. After a one-second contraction in which you squeeze the bicep, slowly begin to return the weight to its starting position.
  7. Repeat for reps.

Related Articles:

Swiss Bar Hammer Curls

Using a Swiss bar transformed my hammer curls into a more balanced bilateral workout.

This enables you to lift more weight and increase your strength and hypertrophy gains.

How to perform:

  1. Stand tall with good posture.
  2. Grasp the Swiss bar with both hands facing each other and shoulder-width apart.
  3. Curl the Swiss barbell to your shoulders, keeping your wrists neutral.
  4. Slowly lower the Swiss bar back down to the starting position with control.
  5. Repeat for reps.

Cross Body Hammer Curl

Person doing a cross body hammer curl

Cross-body hammer curls really helped me isolate and sculpt my upper arms.

How to perform:

  1. Hold a dumbbell on each hand with a neutral grip and stand erect with your hands at your sides, palms facing inwards.
  2. Exhale and bring one dumbbell towards the opposite shoulder while maintaining your upper arm at your side while keeping a neutral grip. Lifting the dumbbell with your legs or back is not recommended.
  3. Continue until the arm is fully flexed and you can no longer curl the dumbbell any farther.
  4. Inhale and return to the beginning position by lowering the dumbbell.
  5. Repeat the movement by switching sides.

"Cross-body hammer curls, in which the arm is turned in, hit the long biceps head harder than regular hammer curls."

- Christian Finn, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist 

Alternating Hammer Curl

The alternating hammer curl workout isolates the biceps and builds bigger arms by hammering (up and down).

How to perform:

  1. Stand feet shoulder-width apart, your knees slightly bent, and your abs taut.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells and stretch the arms to your sides, palms facing in.
  3. Lift the left arm in an arc movement towards the left shoulder, isolating the bicep and squeezing the muscle while keeping your elbows locked at your sides.
  4. Hold until a count of three and then return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat with the right arm for as many sets and repetitions as you desire.

Muscles Worked by Hammer Curls and Variations

Person doing a hammer curl

The hammer curl and variations work the biceps brachii. According to a study in the National Library of Medicine, this muscle is known as a "vanity muscle" since it can be seen from the front of the body [1].

The biceps brachii is an elbow flexor; the muscle is responsible for bending at the elbow joint. According to a PubMed study, it's also beneficial to supinate (rotate) the forearm [2].

Strong biceps aid in lifting and carrying large things in everyday activities.

These muscles also help other arm-based actions, like shutting a door or moving stuff toward or across your body.

The hammer curl and variants are great for developing stronger biceps muscles resulting in higher definition and strength [3].

Incorporating them into your training routine may enhance wrist stability and grip strength [4].

Benefits of Hammer Curls and Variations

Person doing a hammer curl

There are various advantages to performing hammer curls and the hammer curl variations daily.

They target your biceps and other muscles, making them the ideal workout if you're bored with common curls and desire additional growth.

Give them a go, stay the course, and incorporate these best post-workout supplements for faster recovery.

Grip Strength

Hammer curls and variants improve grip strength.

They increase your grip strength by engaging the brachioradialis muscle in the forearm.

Good grip strength is among the most effective ways to manage compound workouts like deadlifts, pull-ups, and bench presses.

Multiple Muscles

Person doing a hammer curl

From my experience, switching up hammer curl variations noticeably boosted my arm strength and definition.

Hammer curls and their variations are great for exercising each muscle group in the arm, including a small benefit for the triceps.

The traditional bicep curl focuses on the short head of the biceps brachii.

In contrast, the hammer curl and variations provide a complete arm workout for muscle growth by working the brachialis (elbow flexor muscles) and the long head of the biceps brachii.

Improved Mobility

Hammer curls and their variations are beneficial workouts that mimic natural movement patterns.

The pulling action used in these exercises can assist in making some of your routine activities simpler and more accessible.

Rehabilitation Benefits

For athletes recovering from upper arm or elbow injuries, hammer curls can be an effective exercise during the rehabilitation process.

Their ability to strengthen the muscles around the elbow joint without imposing undue stress makes them ideal for gradual rehabilitation programs.

Tips for safe execution during rehabilitation:

  • Start with a light weight to assess comfort and pain-free range of motion.
  • Maintain a slow and controlled motion to avoid sudden jerks.
  • Ensure the wrist remains neutral throughout the exercise.
  • Gradually increase weight only when comfortable and pain-free.

Hammer Curls for Sports Training

Hammer curls are particularly beneficial in sports that require strong forearms and grip strength.

These athletes can benefit from performing hammer curls:

  • Baseball players: Need strong forearms for effective ball control and power. Hammer curls help in developing these muscles, leading to improved pitching and batting performance.
  • Rock climbers: Hammer curls strengthen the brachioradialis muscle, which is vital for a strong and enduring grip, essential for climbers.
  • Arm wrestlers: Regularly performing hammer curls can build the necessary muscle endurance and power needed in competitive arm wrestling.

Common Mistakes in Doing the Hammer Curl Variations

Person doing a hammer curl

These are the common mistakes in performing the hammer curl variations:

  • Using Momentum Rather Than Muscle: Using the body's momentum to accomplish the exercise is common when you employ too much weight. You must maintain muscular tension and employ moderate, controlled motions to sustain that tension and create progress.
  • Using Excessive Weight: Lifters looking to bulk may go toward bigger weights, but this mistake may result in injury and, in many cases, the first mistake.
  • Curling Too Fast: The hammer curl and variants have a limited range of motion. As a result, it's tempting to speed through these workouts and employ fast motions, particularly during the lowering portion. Taking your time up and down helps you regulate your emotions and concentrate on form.
  • Floating Elbows: It's simple to let the elbows float from the torso during the curl. While this works other muscle groups in the lift, like the shoulders (deltoids), the more other muscles you engage, the less the biceps are targeted. Keep your elbows in a solid, fixed posture. 


Do Hammer Curls Work All Heads?

Yes, hammer curls work all heads. Hammer curls engage the long head of the bicep, the brachialis (another upper arm muscle), and the brachioradialis (an essential forearm muscle).

Are 3 Sets of Hammer Curls Good?

Yes, 3 sets of hammer curls are good. Hammer curls conditioning necessitates 3-5 sets of 3-5 repetitions. These repetitions should be done with heavier weights for the best benefits. Hammer curls will still train the upper forearm but will primarily assist you in improving bicep strength.

Do Hammer Curls Build Big Arms?

Yes, hammer curls build big arms. Hammer curls are a popular workout because, when performed correctly, they enhance bicep growth and strength, improve wrist stability, and build muscular endurance.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519538/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26300781/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30013836/
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318093279_
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About The Author

Senior Coach
Tyler Sellers is a trained athlete and author with contributions to publications like Men’s Health, The Healthy, Fox Business, NerdWallet, Weight Watchers, and MSN. His unique approach extends beyond physical techniques, emphasizing the significance of mental techniques like the flow state and mind-muscle connection.
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Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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