Hammer Curls vs. Reverse Curls: Which Is Better?

April 26, 2023

Maximizing biceps development requires more than biceps curls. You hit different parts of the arm based on your hand position. So, what’s the difference between the hammer curl and reverse curl?

Hammer curls emphasize the biceps brachii and brachioradialis, while reverse curls focus on the brachioradialis and brachialis. Use both exercises for complete biceps development.

But how do you know which you should use?

What Is The Hammer Curl?

The hammer curl is a bicep curl with a neutral or semi-pronated grip. This position is having your palms facing each other. The hammer curl is your strongest bicep curl exercise because of the strong brachialis muscle. That doesn’t mean the hammer curl doesn’t hit the biceps brachii.

The neutral position increases activation of the short head of the biceps [3]. Here’s how to do it:

  • Standing with dumbbells by your side and palms facing your body, curl the dumbbells while maintaining your shoulder position.
  • Squeeze your biceps in the shortened position and slowly return to the starting position.

What Is The Reverse Curl?

Reverse curls target the brachioradialis and the brachialis, a smaller muscle situated between the biceps and triceps. This exercise is performed with an overhand grip (palms facing down), which shifts the emphasis from the biceps to the forearm and the brachialis muscle. Here’s how to do it:

  • Hold a barbell or a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip (palms facing down) and your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Start with your arms fully extended and the barbell or dumbbells at thigh level.
  • Slowly curl the weight upward, keeping your wrists straight and maintaining the overhand grip. Focus on contracting the forearm and brachialis muscles.
  • Continue lifting the weight until your forearms are close to vertical, making sure not to swing the weight or use momentum.
  • Pause at the top of the movement for a brief moment, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position in a controlled manner.

Hammer Curl vs. Reverse Curl: What’s The Difference?


The hammer and bicep curl denotes the hand position when performing the curl. The hammer curl uses a neutral grip (semi-pronated), while the reverse curl uses an overhand grip (pronated).

The hammer curl can be performed using a short bar with neutral handles, dumbbells, or rope cable attachment.

The reverse curl can be performed with anything that allows a pronated hand position, such as the barbell, EZ bar, dumbbells, and cable attachments. The shoulder position is less important because the reverse curl isn’t typically used to build the biceps.

A slight forward lean can help the exercise feel smoother than remaining upright with your shoulders back. With the hammer curl, it’s advantageous to maintain an upright posture to target your biceps brachii.

Muscles Worked

The hammer and reverse curl are used to target different muscles of the biceps. Here is basic biceps anatomy to help you understand this.

Biceps Anatomy

The biceps brachii are made of two muscle heads:

  • Short head
  • Long head

Both heads originate at the shoulder and insert on the radius bone in the outer forearm [1]. The primary function of the biceps is to flex the elbow and supinate the forearm.

They also help flex the shoulder. The biceps brachii elicit the greatest muscle activation when the forearm is supinated but are also worked with neutral and pronated grips to a lesser extent.

But the brachialis muscle is the strongest elbow flexor and is targeted with a neutral hand position [4]. It originates on the bottom of the upper arm and inserts on the ulnar bone in the inner forearm. Its primary function is elbow flexion [2].

The brachioradialis contributes to elbow flexion and pronates and supinates the forearm. The most significant activation occurs when performing curls with a pronated hand position [3].

Therefore, the hammer curl primarily targets the brachialis and biceps brachii muscles, while the reverse curl targets the brachioradialis.

Weight Used

You can handle much heavier loads with the hammer curl than with the reverse curl. The brachialis muscle is your strongest elbow flexor. It’s also why neutral grip chin-ups feel easier than pronated grip pull-ups.

Weight used typically follows this order from heaviest to lightest: hammer curls > biceps curls > reverse curls.

Are Hammer Curls Better Than Reverse Curls?

If you were to only choose between the two curl variations to get bigger biceps, the hammer curl will get you better results.

It targets the biceps brachii significantly while training the deeper brachialis muscle. While the reverse curl hits the same muscle, it doesn’t hit them to the same degree. You’ll feel your forearm take most of the stress, which is what is intended.

If your forearms lag behind your biceps, reverse curls will be better.

Do You Need To Do Both Hammer Curls And Reverse Curls?

Including hammer curls and reverse curls in your routine can offer several benefits. Still, it is not strictly necessary to do both exercises. It ultimately depends on your goals and preferences. The benefits of including both hammer curls and reverse curls in your routine include:

  • Comprehensive arm development: By incorporating both exercises, you target different muscle groups in your arms, leading to more balanced and complete development. Hammer curls target the biceps brachii and the brachioradialis, while reverse curls focus on the brachioradialis and the brachialis.
  • Grip strength and forearm development: Both exercises contribute to grip strength and forearm muscle development. Including hammer and reverse curls in your routine ensures you target all aspects of grip strength and forearm muscles.
  • Variety: Incorporating various exercises in your workout routine helps to prevent boredom and maintain motivation. By alternating between hammer curls and reverse curls, you can add variety to your arm workouts and challenge your muscles in different ways.

However, depending on your specific goals, you may choose to focus on one exercise over the other. For example, if your primary goal is to develop your biceps, you might prioritize hammer curls, as they engage both heads of the biceps brachii.

On the other hand, if your goal is to build forearm strength and size, reverse curls may be more beneficial.

Hammer Curl vs. Reverse Curl: When Should You Do Each?

For overall biceps growth, use the hammer curl. To target the top of your forearms, use the reverse curl. It’s that simple. However, you can and should use both in your routine if your goals are to blow up your arms.

If you’re doing them within the same session, I prefer doing the hammer curl first since that is the exercise that can handle the heaviest loading. Follow with reverse curls, and you’ve hit the entire group of biceps muscles.


Hammer curls and reverse curls are effective exercises targeting different muscles within the arm. While neither can be considered strictly “better” than the other, their unique benefits make them valuable additions to building your biceps and forearms.

Use them within the same session or on different days to target different parts of your biceps and forearms.


1. Tiwana, M. S., Charlick, M., & Varacallo, M. (2018). Anatomy, shoulder and upper limb, biceps muscle.

2. Plantz, M. A., Bordoni, B. (2022). Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Brachialis Muscle.

3. Kleiber, T., Kunz, L., & Disselhorst-Klug, C. (2015). Muscular coordination of biceps brachii and brachioradialis in elbow flexion with respect to hand position. Frontiers in physiology, 6, 215.

4. NAITO, A., YAJIMA, M., FUKAMACHI, H., USHIKOSHI, K., SUN, Y. J., & SHIMIZU, Y. (1995). Electromyographic (EMG) study of the elbow flexors during supination and pronation of the forearm. The Tohoku Journal of experimental medicine175(4), 285-288.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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