Become Pain Free Now

Hammer Curls vs. Bicep Curls – What is the Best Way to Build Biceps?


You want some more thickness in your bicep and forearm to fill out that t-shirt a bit more. You’re ready to jump into action and you want some impressive results.

That means it’s time to rework your fitness plan to get bigger and better biceps. But what’s the best way to build up your arms?

If you’ve heard the hammer curls vs. bicep curls debate, you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to put it to rest once and for all.

In this article, we’re going to explain the difference between hammer curls vs. bicep curls and tell you the best way to build your biceps.


Hammer Curls vs. Bicep Curls: What’s the Difference?

Both hammer curls and bicep curls isolate the biceps brachii muscle (biceps), which is a large muscle in the front of the upper arm. The bicep muscle has two heads that adhere to the scapula and connect with a common insertion point.

The bicep’s basic function is moving your arms forward, upward, and to the sides.

The bicep stabilizes the shoulder when carrying objects or supporting weight. It also assists with pulling and curling motions.

Both hammer curls and bicep curls focus almost exclusively on working the bicep. They are single-joint, isolation movements that efficiently work the bicep in curling motions.

So what’s the difference?

While very slight variations of each other, hammer curls and bicep curls work the bicep at slightly different angles, building strength in different parts of the bicep.


What Are Hammer Curls?

Despite popular belief, hammer curls and bicep curls are not completely distinct exercises. In fact, the hammer curl is simply a variation of the regular bicep curl.

Hammer curls target the long head of the bicep as well as the brachialis (another muscle in the upper arm) and the brachioradialis (one of the key forearm muscles).

The hammer curl is a relatively simple exercise that beginners can quickly master.

Essential tips for safely and correctly completing hammer curls:

  • Stand up straight with one dumbbell in each hand
  • Rotate each wrist so that one end of the dumbbell points forward (instead of towards your body)
  • Curl the weight forward and upward while squeezing the biceps until your forearm is vertical
  • Hold for 1-2 seconds before slowly lowering the weight back to the starting position
  • KEY TIP: Keep your upper arm still during the whole range of movement. If your upper arm moves then the exercise works the deltoids instead of the biceps

What Muscles Do Hammer Curls Work?

Remember, hammer curls are isolation movements, which means that hammer curls target just the bicep muscle.

Of the two bicep heads, hammer curls target the long one.

While the inclusion of the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles for the hammer curl is necessary, nearly all the emphasis in this isolation movement will be in the bicep.

Hammer Curls Benefits

Hammer curls are an extremely popular exercise because, when the movement is done correctly, it:

  • Increases bicep size and strength
  • Improves wrist stability
  • Boosts muscle endurance
  • Strengthens grip


What Are Bicep Curls?

Similarly to hammer curls, bicep curls are an isolation movement exercise designed to build the bicep muscle.

The bicep curl can be performed with:

  • Dumbbells
  • Kettlebells
  • Barbells, or 
  • Cable machines

Essential tips to safely and correctly perform bicep curls:

  • Stand up straight with one dumbbell in each hand
  • Pin your elbows to your sides and curl the weight upward while squeezing the biceps until your forearm is vertical 
  • Hold for 1-2 seconds before slowly lowering the weight back to the starting position
  • KEY TIP: Keep your knees slightly bent to protect your lower back

What Muscles Do Bicep Curls Work?

The primary outcome difference between hammer curls vs. bicep curls is the placement of muscle growth.

While hammer curls activate mostly the long head of the bicep, a traditional bicep curl activates the shorter head of the bicep.

The shorter bicep head is what produces more of the muscle peak you might be looking for when trying to fill out those t-shirts.

Benefits Of Bicep Curls

Bicep curls share the same benefits of hammer curls since they are variations of each other.

The bicep muscle works in tandem with lats, traps, deltoids, and triceps in shoulder and elbow functions.

The biggest benefit of bicep curls is that this exercise is easy to learn and perform. There are quite a few variations to try, including hammer curls, that can allow you to hone both the long and short heads of the bicep.

Functional Training vs. Traditional Strength Training

Traditional strength training is often associated with the use of weights in anaerobic activity. The bodybuilding industry has had a major impact on traditional strength training

Functional strength training focuses on using the whole body — at least multiple muscles — and emphasizes core strength and stability.


What is Traditional Training?

Traditional strength training exercises are designed to increase muscle strength and endurance.

Some of the primary goals for strength training include:

  • Strength training for increased physical attractiveness
  • Strength training for increased general physical health
  • Strength training for rehabilitation or to address an impairment
  • Strength training for increased sports performance
  • Strength training for the pleasure of the activity

However, there are some limitations to the traditional training we have to mention.

Traditional training exercises often fail to produce their lofty goals because they:

  • Restrict the range of motion
  • Shorten and tighten muscle tissues
  • Aren’t related to movements performed in everyday life
  • Can lead to muscular imbalances
  • Typically doesn’t develop important stabilizer muscles

What is Functional Training?

Functional training is considered “training that attempts to mimic the specific physiological demands of real-life activities.”

Essentially, functional training focuses on using the body the way it was designed to be used.

Functional training focuses largely on muscles in the abdomen and lower back, strengthening the core to perform daily activities safely.

If you’re interested in functional fitness, contact In Motion O.C. for a free consultation.

Why is Functional Training the Better Option?

Using hammer curls and bicep curls focus on isolating a set of muscles that don’t normally work in isolation.

The bicep does a lot of heavy lifting when picking up or carrying a heavy item, but it also functions as a stabilizing muscle between the shoulder and forearm.

With this in mind, when do you think you last used your biceps during everyday activities?

It might have been:

  • Carrying groceries up the stairs to your apartment
  • Holding your nephew in your arms for a big bear hug
  • Carrying your dog back to the car after she got an ant bite on her paw
  • Raising your hand in class 
  • Replacing a book on a high shelf

With the help of functional training to strengthen groups of muscles or the whole body, you can gain the functional strength to perform these activities without fear of straining a muscle or causing injury.

Functional training’s main goal is to prepare your muscles (including your biceps) to successfully take part in everyday tasks and activities.

That is also what makes functional training suitable for people of all ages and all fitness levels.

Do you need more reasons to try functional training? Then here are two more:

Reason #1: Increases Coordination and Agility

Most people are not professional athletes. But we could all benefit from having better agility and coordination.

Functional fitness exercises train your muscles and joints to work together.

This, in turn, helps improve basic movement patterns, translating into increased coordination and agility.

We don’t want you to be the guy with impressive biceps who can’t perform a squat. That’s why we promote functional fitness.

Reason #2: Improves Balance

Working on multiple muscle groups at once increases your core stability, which better supports your body when you perform physical tasks.

Functional strength training uses compound movements that improve balance.

This benefit is significant for everyone, but it is especially important for older adults. Better balance reduces the risk of falls.


Alternatives to Bicep and Hammer Curls

With the hammer curls vs. bicep curls finally put to rest, what are some other options to help work on your biceps?

We can’t show a full plan because everyone’s body is different. At In Motion O.C., we truly believe in creating a plan for each client.

However, here are two functional examples of alternatives to bicep and hammer curls.

Alternative #1: Dumbbell Iron Cross

This functional training exercise does amazingly well with hamstrings, upper legs, shoulders, glutes, and biceps.

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand in a low squat with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms held out in front of you with palms facing in.
  2. Standing upright, move your arms out to your sides to form a T or cross position.
  3. Hold this position for a few seconds then return back to the starting position.

Alternative #2: Legless Rope Climbs

If your gym has a rope for climbing then we’re happy to tell you it’s time to tackle it.

Pulling yourself up and down the rope without using a leg wrapping technique utilizes your entire body, especially your biceps.

You’ll build bigger biceps, increase your bent arm pulling strength, and challenge yourself in new ways.

There are also different levels working your way up to a legless rope climb to work up to actually transporting yourself up and down.


Who Is In Motion O.C.?

In Motion O.C. is the physical therapy clinic ranked number one in the United States on both Yelp and Google ratings.

Our desire to help with fitness has grown out of our love of physical therapy. Helping people is what we do.

What Makes In Motion O.C. Different?

In Motion O.C.’s mission is “to bring hope, healing, confidence, and joy to others.”

In Motion O.C. connects patients with both physical therapists and fitness trainers to ensure optimal client health.

Our Physical Therapists and Postural Specialists work together to design fitness programs that are both effective and safe.

We are the place where people actually lose weight, become toned, improve their posture, and feel and look good.

How Can In Motion O.C. Help You?

If you want to build your biceps and strengthen your core, the fitness coaches at In Motion O.C. can help.

We design functional fitness programs that include the same muscles as bicep and hammer curls but will strengthen you more efficiently and effectively.

Whether you’re moving past physical therapy or simply interested in gaining muscle and strength, our Fitness Coaching will be a great step for you.

Contact us to schedule your free consultation.

In Motion O.C.