Hammer Curls vs Reverse Curls: ULTIMATE Guide

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If you’re looking to hit a few curl variations in your workouts then it makes sense to consider hammer and reverse curls. Both of these variants offer something different to regular, bicep-dominant curl variations such as concentration or preacher curls while simultaneously being less fatiguing. This makes them awesome for cycling in with your existing arm work without adding too much extra time or stress to your workouts. Here’s what you need to know:

Hammer curls vs reverse curls: ULTIMATE guide

At a glance…

  • Both hammer and reverse curls are excellent exercises for arm growth
  • Reverse curls are more focused on the forearm and lower upper-arm area
  • Hammer curls are similar, but with the focus skewed more towards the upper arm
  • If I could only pick one? It would be the hammer curl every time
  • Reverse curls are NOT ideal for building a peaky bicep

Hammer vs Reverse Curls: Same, but different…

Surely all bicep curls are basically the same? Well it’s not quite that simple. Particularly when comparing a reverse curl, done with an overhand grip, to other variants.

At a high level a pronated grip (palms facing downwards) moves the emphasis DOWN your arm in to the forearm while a supinated grip (palms facing up) moves it UP in to the bicep. What does this mean for you? Well lets find out…

What is a reverse curl best for?

Reverse curls use an overhand grip on the barbell but follows a similar motion to a traditional bicep curl of being an elbow-dominant move. An overhand grip makes this movement far easier on your elbows and wrists as they are in more natural positions than in a typical barbell curl and in doing so brings the forearm in to play more so than in regular curling.

The trade off is that the reverse curl does not work the bicep muscle anywhere as well as hammer curls (or most other supinated barbell curl variations) so if you are looking for an awesome bicep peak then you should try another variation.

What the reverse curl does exceptionally well is build an excellent forearm / upper arm connection through working the brachioradialis muscle – this is the one that you can feel running from your elbow roughly across towards your inner wrist. As a secondary mover it hits your upper arm via the brachialis. This muscle sits ‘under’ the bicep nearer the elbow and, when appropriately pumped or trained, it adds real thickness and bulk to the lower part of the bicep by filling it out from underneath.

The third mover is – of course – the bicep. As you move your elbow through the full range of motion this brings a degree of bicep in to play, albeit as noted the reverse grip focuses on these other muscles.

Are reverse bicep curls better?

Reverse curls are better for forearm development compared to other bicep curl variations. This is because by taking the overhand grip we remove a lot of tension from the bicep. Conversely they are therefore worse for upper arm growth.

What is a hammer curl best for?

Hammer curls move the focus a step further up the arm compared to a reverse curl by hitting the brachialis muscle which is most prominent at the elbow-end of the forearm. This adds thickness and ‘swole’ to the arm BUT generates less of a peak-y look compared to a bicep focused exercise such as a concentration curl. The second and third movers are the brachioradialis, as focused on by the reverse grip curl, and the bicep (specifically the long head of the bicep).

So it’s an excellent move to build bigger arms, but is LESS focused on the bicep… That makes hammer curl an fantastic variant to work in with regular bicep curls to build a well rounded arm as it is fairly easy to drop or superset with regular curls given their subtly different focus. I am currently working incline hammer and incline bicep curls a few times a week doing supersets and find it really condenses a lot of arm work in to a relatively small period of time which works well for my schedule.

Are hammer curls better than barbell curls?

While both are curls they are very different in their targeted muscles and therefore results. Hammer curls lend themselves to a bulkier, thicker arm aesthetic compared to a more peaky, bicep dominant one. 

I think both have their place and personally greatly value BOTH movements. But what if I could only do one? Then it would be the barbell curl to really hit that bicep as I feel the forearm training is easier to replicate with other moves (e.g. a combination of pull-ups and wrist curls.)

What is the difference between curls and hammer curls?

A hammer curl uses a neutral grip – that is palms facing inwards towards you body. This de-loads the bicep somewhat compared to a conventional barbell curl which uses a palms upwards grip. The benefit of this is deliberately targeting different parts of your arm for growth, or working around any pain or injuries.

Conclusion

Overall when deciding between hammer curls vs reverse curls most people would be better suited to hammer curling which engages more upper arm compared to a reverse grip variation which is more forearm focused. Of course if you are trying to work around an injury or simply WANT that forearm pump then reverse curls are likely better for you. Both are excellent moves so you can’t go too far wrong with either.

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