Reverse Curls Vs. Hammer Curls [Total Exercise Comparison]

When you compare reverse curls against hammer curls you will find that hammer curls are better for targeting the biceps. This means you’ll get larger, stronger biceps from doing hammer curls instead of reverse curls. However, reverse curls are much better at building forearm size and strength. The reverse grip that gives reverse curls their name causes your grip to work throughout each rep. Reverse curls are also more effective at activating the brachioradialis muscle in the forearm due to the palms-down grip. In addition, reverse curls have a lower injury risk because they are typically performed with lower weight than hammer curls.

Healthy Man Working Out Biceps – Dumbbell Concentration Curls

What Muscles Do Reverse Curls Work?

Reverse curls work the biceps, like all curl variations. However, the reverse—or supinated—grip causes your forearms to work much harder than during other curl variations. Because your palms face the floor during reverse curls, your grip is responsible for holding the weight at all times. This engages forearm muscles throughout the exercise.

  • Reverse curls work both the biceps, as all curl variations do.
  • Due to the supinated grip, reverse curls also target the forearm muscles involved in grip, supination, and flexion.
  • Reverse curls are best thought of as a hybrid biceps and forearm exercise.

The brachioradialis is a common muscle referenced during bicep exercise discussions. This muscle starts at the elbow and comes halfway down your forearm. It is responsible for elbow flexion. It is worked during all types of curls, but the supinated grip of reverse curls helps to target this muscle specifically. So, think of reverse curls as a combo bicep and forearm exercise.

Which Muscles Do Hammer Curls Work?

Hammer curls focus primarily on the biceps. Although hammer curls do work the forearms to a degree, they do not target forearm muscles as much as they target the biceps. 

  • The long and short biceps heads are the primary target hammer curls.
  • Although forearm muscles are used during hammer curls, the biceps do most of the work.

Don’t worry, you will still work the brachioradialis during hammer curls, but your biceps are more responsible for the workload when you are curling with a pronated grip (palms up) or neutral grip (palms facing inward). So, hammer curls are best thought of as a bicep exercise that engages the forearms only as secondary muscles.

Reverse Curls or Hammer Curls? Head-To-Head Comparison

There are so many variations of bicep curls that it can be hard to choose one to focus on. Which will build bigger upper arms? Which will help increase your grip strength? Comparing hammer curls and reverse curls is great because you will see that each exercise excels where the other falls short. Let’s dive in to see the benefits and drawbacks of these two exercises.

Reverse Curls vs. Hammer Curls: Which Builds Bigger Biceps?

Hammer curls will help you build bicep mass more effectively than reverse curls. Building muscle mass requires overloading your muscles with heavy weight for 3–5 sets of 8–12 reps. Hammer curls allow you to do much heavier weight than reverse curls, which means your biceps are more easily overloaded. This encourages an increase in bicep size.

  • Hammer curls are more effective for increasing bicep mass than reverse curls.
  • The heavier weights associated with hammer curls allow you to overload your biceps and stimulate muscle growth.
  • Curling with a neutral grip ensures the biceps are the primary targeted muscle during hammer curls.

The neutral grip of hammer curls decreases the focus on grip strength during curls. It also takes the toll of lifting off the brachioradialis and forearm muscles. Instead, the focus is on the biceps. Reverse curls don’t work your biceps as intensely as hammer curls. So, use hammer curls if you want bigger biceps.

Reverse Curls vs. Hammer Curls for Forearms

If you want to build bigger forearms with bicep curls, reverse curls are the best exercise for the job. For starters, curling with a supinated grip (palms down) forces your grip to work. As you go through the curl motion, the only thing stopping the bar from dropping to the floor is your grip. The more your grip works, the more your forearm muscles are being engaged. So, reverse curls will contribute to stronger, larger forearms.

  • Reverse curls target forearm muscles much more than hammer curls.
  • Curling with a reverse grip causes your grip to work hard to control the bar during curls.
  • The supinated grip of reverse curls transfers more workload to the brachioradialis muscle in the upper forearm.
  • The reverse curl reduces work for the biceps but increases work for the forearms.

In addition to the sheer force of gravity that forces your grip to work, reverse curls also move the focus from the biceps to the brachioradialis. When you are curling with your palms facing down, your brachioradialis is far more responsible for elbow flexion (bending your elbow) than in other positions. While a regular curl or hammer curl uses the biceps for elbow flexion, the reverse curl moves the brunt of this work to the smaller brachioradialis muscle in the forearm. This is why you will use a lighter weight for reverse curls. It’s also why they are far more beneficial for your forearms than hammer curls.

Reverse Curls vs. Hammer Curls for Strength

If you are looking for a curl exercise to increase your overall strength, choose hammer curls instead of reverse curls. The heavier weight you can lift with hammer curls make it easier to push your body to its limits. Remember, training for strength requires you to perform 3–5 sets of 3–5 reps. These reps are performed at high weight. Since you can naturally lift more with hammer curls than reverse curls, you’ll get more strength benefits from hammer curls, specifically in the biceps.

  • Hammer curls are better for strength training than reverse curls.
  • You can lift heavier weights with hammer curls than reverse curls, which is perfect for a strength training regimen.
  • Hammer curls for strength will still work your forearms, but they will primarily help increase bicep strength.

At heavy weights, hammer curls will also provide a workout for the forearm muscles and brachioradialis. You may not build quite as much forearm strength with hammer curls, but these muscles won’t be entirely ignored. Provided you use the proper form, you’ll see the largest strength gains with hammer curls, not reverse curls. 

Reverse Curls vs. Hammer Curls: Which is Safer?

The reverse curl is perhaps the best curl to perform if you wish to avoid injury. Hammer curls will help you lift more weight, but this will place more stress on your elbow joint. In comparison, the reverse curl uses lighter weight, which reduces the risk of injury to elbow tendons. If you are experiencing elbow pain when you do a hammer curl or regular curl, try out reverse curls.

Reverse curls have a lower injury risk due to the lower weight used for the exercise.
If you have elbow pain from heavier curl variations, try performing reverse curls with an EZ Curl bar.
Hammer curls are still safe when performed correctly—there’s no need to avoid them entirely.

Hammer curls are not inherently dangerous, however. They are a safe variation of dumbbell curls. Just make sure to slowly increase the weight you use as you build your strength. This will prevent injury. Additionally, reverse curls do not completely eliminate the risk of injury. One of the best ways to prevent elbow pain during curls is to use an EZ Curl Bar or a Super Curl Bar. Use one whenever you do reverse curls, if possible.

What’s Better? Reverse Curls Vs. Hammer Curls

If you’re doing curls in order to build your biceps, hammer curls outperform reverse curls every time. However, if you want to focus on your forearms, reverse curls are the best curls you can do. Here’s a quick breakdown of both exercises:

  • Hammer curls provide better focus on your biceps muscles.
  • Reverse curls do a better job engaging the brachioradialis and other forearm muscles.
  • Hammer curls are better suited for building both arm mass and strength.
  • Reverse curls are less likely to cause injury.

If you want to build your upper arms, do hammer curls. Reverse curls are a great way to mix up your gym routine, but they are best used if you are trying to improve your forearm size and grip strength. If you want a stronger grip for deadlifts and pull-ups, add reverse curls to your routine. Hammer curls still remain our favorite for bigger, stronger biceps though.

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