Hammer Curls

Every so often you may hear mention of an exercise called hammer curls. While it’s one of the less popular biceps exercises, hammer curls have their place in bodybuilding workouts. It also has a purpose for those who have wrist, hand or elbow injuries.

What Are Hammer Curls

The hammer curl is a two-arm dumbbell curl performed with your palms facing each other. In a basic dumbbell curl your palms face up. Or, they rotate from a palms-facing position at the bottom of the movement to a palms-up position at the top. The wrist rotation is called supination. The palms-facing, thumbs-up position is called either semisupination or semipronation. It goes by both names due to the neutral wrist position when your palms face each other. This relatively neutral position is precisely what makes the exercise advantageous for some trainees.

Hammer Curls And Wrist Pain

Nearly everyone suffers various injuries in life. They may be training related, work related, or sports related. Also, they may be due to long-term wear and tear on the joints. Such problems can occur in the wrist as well as in any other joint. This can make it virtually impossible to perform a standard barbell curl due to wrist pain.

Hammer Curls And TFCC

One relatively common wrist injury is a tear in the triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC). If you extend your hand in front of you with your palm down, the TFCC is located on the outer region of the wrist, near the bony prominence. As suggested by its name, the TFCC is made of ligaments and a cartilaginous structure. Unusual torque or stress, either chronic or acute, can wear down the cartilage and produce a tear.

For example, a trainee who was experiencing significant wrist pain and clicking after he performed curls with a Trap Bar and with his wrists tilted downward recently came to our office. The tilt is called ulnar deviation. Performing curls with a Trap Bar and the wrists positioned that way caused a tear in his TFCC. Unfortunately, he required arthroscopic surgery to resolve the injury.

Even more common than TFCC tears are sprains and strains of the wrist. A sprain is an overstretch and/or tear of ligaments that attach bone to bone. A strain is an overstretch and/or tear of tendons that attach muscle to bone. The wrist is made up of eight small bones known as carpal bones that are positioned in two rows. The eight bones are connected to each other and to the two forearm bones, the ulna and radius, as well as to the five long bones of the hand, the metacarpals. Tendons and muscles run throughout the wrist and hand, and there are many combinations of sprains and strains that can occur there.

Sports that can easily lead to wrist and hand sprains include hockey, football and the martial arts, particularly jujitsu, which is enjoying peak popularity today thanks to the Grace and Machado families. In addition, healed fractures of forearm and wrist bones can make it very difficult to get into the proper position for a barbell curl due to pain or loss of range of motion.

Substitute Barbell Curls With Hammer Curls

One of the first variations that trainees make in their workouts is to substitute dumbbells for barbells on certain lifts. Wrist pain can even prevent you from performing the standard dumbbell curl either with your palms up for the entire rep or with your hand rotating from a neutral position to a supinated position.

Hammer Curls – What’s In A Name?

Why are they called hammer curls? Simple. You hold the dumbbells the way you would hold a hammer. One difference is that your wrist remains straight throughout the rep. Do not tilt your wrist either upward or downward, which would be radial deviation and ulnar deviation, respectively. If you do tilt your wrists down and up during hammer curls, you may injure them, as described above.

The hammer curl can be a blessing for anyone who suffers from wrist pain and who thought he or she would have to stop doing curls. Even so, the emphasis is different from what you get with a standard dumbbell curl. The standard curl develops the biceps brachii; the brachialis, or lower biceps. This is located underneath the biceps near the elbow; and the brachioradialis, as well as the wrist flexor muscles.

Muscles Worked

Hammer curls significantly targets the brachioradialis. This muscle is the largest muscle of the forearm. If you extend your forearm out in front of you with your palm down, the brachioradialis is the muscle located on the top inner area. Its function is to bend, or flex, the elbow and to turn the wrist to a neutral position. This is a palms facing each other poisition.The brachioradialis is a semi-supinator and semi-pronator performs the first half of both movements but does not complete either. (You can develop the brachioradialis by doing back exercises such as pullups and rows.)

You perform hammer curls by curling two dumbbells at the same time. Be careful not to arch your back too much. That can cause a chronic ache in your lower back. Also it can actually cause a lower-back injury. Try to maintain good posture when you do hammer curls. You can help protect your back by keeping your abdominal muscles tight during the exercise.

Advanced Lifters

Are you’re an advanced recreational trainee or a competitive bodybuilder and you don’t have a wrist, elbow or hand injury that you’re working around, hammer curls will add development to your forearms due to their more direct effect on the brachioradialis. Other weight-training athletes have turned to this exercise as well.

A few years ago Superheavyweight World Powerlifting champion Bill Kazmaier, who also won the World’s Strongest Man contest several times, used hammer curls regularly. Kaz was a trim 325 pounds. H could perform lifts of 661 pounds on the bench press with a relatively close grip, 885 pounds on the dead-lift and 920 pounds on the squat. He felt that the brachioradialis development he got from doing hammer curls helped him in the bottom position of the bench press.

There are many doctors and therapists who will argue against that idea; however, we don’t know if the brachioradialis development really did help or if Kaz was simply a great bench presser who happened to perform hammer curls. Either way, he had tremendous brachioradialis development and was a very impressive-looking individual.

Add Them To Your Program Today

If you’ve found that the hammer curl works well in your program, whether or not you have an injury, please don’t rush in and add set after set. You can overdo anything. The brachioradialis has a long tendon that goes from the area where the bulk of the muscle stops all the way to the wrist. Overuse of it can produce tendinitis in the area and will require time off from any exercise that produces pain.

Adding Them To Your Workout

If you’ve never performed hammer curls, add one to two sets to your workouts for one month. After that you can add another one or two sets over the next month. It’s important to use good rep performance when doing these. As noted, maintain good form. Lift the dumbbells explosively but under control. Next, lower slowly to take advantage of the negative phase of the exercise.

If you use intensity techniques, rest pause works well here. You can do 2-3 rest pauses for a really intense set. I wouldn’t use more than 1-2 intensity techniques. You have to consider what else you’re doing for your biceps. They’re ultimately a small muscle. It won’t take much to overtrain them. 


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