Arm Exercise: The Hammer Curl

Personal Trainer Malta the biceps muscle, What is it for?

This exercise focuses on one of the most sought after muscles: the biceps. There are not that many ways to train this muscle as the biceps’ task is quite simple. The bicep itself helps the back muscles to pull things towards you, for example in an isolated movement we use them to pick lighter objects up and place them on a table, desk or work surface. From the diagram you can see that it is the muscle positioned on the front of our upper arm highlighted in red in Fig.1. The bicep’s main job is to bend your lower arm up at your elbow. It is also used to aid the movement of bringing your arm straight up at the shoulder joint and last but not least to supinate your lower arm, which means with your elbow at 90 degrees and your palm facing down it helps turn your palm to face upwards. If you try this you should be able to see the bicep shorten.

And why do it?

The hammer curl trains the bicep in much the same way as the standard bicep curl. However it never allows the bicep to complete a full contraction as your hand never fully supinates. It is constantly facing in towards your body. What is the point of doing it then? That is a great question and I am glad you asked. At the uppermost part of the movement it does not contract as much as the standard bicep curl, however at the start of the movement when your arm is at about 20 degrees the bicep is far less contracted than the standard curl. That means that you are training the muscle through a slightly different range which is very good for developing a more complete bicep muscle.


For this exercise you can use the old tin can or bag of sugar (unopened, so you don’t spill it – .). If that would not push you enough then you need some good old dumbbells. Make sure you choose a weight that you can complete perfect technique with and not one that is too heavy for you and will result in you cheating. The best way to avoid this is to use a mirror and stand sideways to it so that you can notice any problems.


The technique for the Hammer Curl is going to be almost identical as the bicep curl with one major difference. The difference being that through the whole movement you must hold your hand so that the palm is facing in towards your body, as though you are holding a hammer (not just a clever name then! – .)

So with your weights in your hands and your palms facing in you are almost ready to start, but before we do you must be aware of what not to do. The body loves to cheat and it will do this by engaging other muscles to aid the movement. The first are the shoulders which start to shrug if the weight is too heavy and the second is the lower back which will swing backwards to aid the weights up.

Make sure you avoid these movements:

Shoulder Shrug: The shoulder rises up to aid the movement

The Body Swing: The whole upper body swings backwards to will the weights up.

If you don’t do this exercise with perfect technique you will not train the muscles fully and therefore will not get the most from your biceps as other muscles will be being trained at the same time. More importantly the muscles that are trying to help are too small and weak for this exercise and so serious injury is a real concern. Be careful!

And Now for the Perfect Technique…

Now you know what not to do we shall get into what you should be doing. Before commencing the exercise you should draw your stomach in by sucking your tummy button in (like you’re at the beach – .). This helps activate your core which will help you keep good technique throughout and protect any possible injuries (to learn more about your core and its importance please click here). Now you are ready to get those weights moving.

Get in Front of the Mirror

Stand in front of the mirror with weights in your hands and your palms turned in towards your body. This is the start position. Now bring your hand up and towards your body, bending your arm at the elbow. Make sure in the mirror that your shoulder doesn’t rise up and that your body doesn’t swing to will the weight up. It is just the arm that should be moving in this exercise and more accurately the lower arm. The upper arm may move slightly forwards but keep this movement as small as possible – ideally there should be none. The movement itself should be slow and controlled taking about 2 seconds to get it to the top.

Slow, Controlled and No Cheating!

When at the top the only way is down, but keep this slow and controlled as well, again it should take 2 seconds on the way back down to the starting position. There you have it, you have completed one repetition. It is tempting on the way down to allow the shoulder to come in to help, don’t let it! It is also tempting to stop short of the original start position on the way down before beginning the second repetition (leaving your elbow slightly bent). This is the body cheating as it knows it will be easier to complete by performing shorter movements. Again, don’t let this happen and make sure your arm returns to the start position and is completely straight. Finally remember to breathe throughout the movement in a slow controlled manner.

The Diagram

Personal Trainer Malta the Hammer Curl exercise

The first diagram (fig.2) is the starting position and from this you should be able to see that the body is in a natural upright position, the arm relaxed and to the side and the palm is facing inwards.

The second diagram (fig.3) shows the end of the movement and shows that the weight is at the top but the shoulders have not been raised and the body has not swung back. Yes it is an easy movement as long as you avoid the bad techniques.

The Do’s

Complete the movement slowly
Keep your palms facing in towards your body
Breathe in a slow controlled manner
Keep your body upright
Pick a weight that pushes you but still allows you to keep a good technique
Keep your stomach muscles drawn in and firm
Always return to the exact start position
The Don’ts

Don’t swing the shoulders
Don’t shrug your shoulders
Don’t swing your body
Don’t lean backwards
Don’t hold your breath
Don’t pick a weight that is too heavy
Don’t curl your wrists
In your Program

The Hammer Curl is a good exercise to add to your workout. There are many ways that it can be added and many different combinations of sets and repetitions to achieve different goals. Make sure that the Hammer Curl comes towards the end of your workout if you are doing a full body workout. As a rule the larger muscles should come before the smaller muscles (there are exceptions but I will cover that another time). For example, legs come before chest and back, and these should come before shoulders. Shoulders come before arms, which in turn come before abs. If you follow this rule you should always have enough energy for the bigger muscles.

And a Warning…

Bicep exercises are one of the safest exercises that are out there as long as you don’t pick a weight that is too heavy. By picking that heavy weight you are exercising other muscles as well as the biceps, which means the emphasis is taken off the bicep and the results will be less effective than if you chose a weight where you can keep a perfect technique.

Good luck and as always any questions please send them through.