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Barbell hammer curl advantages and disadvantages

Learn how ditching the dumbbells could help you to gain bicep and brachioradialis strength faster.
Written By  Liam Brown
Last Updated on 12th June 2021
A man performing a barbell hammer curl

The biceps brachii muscle responds exceptionally well to the barbell hammer curl because the exercise enables you to overload your arms with heavier weights than the traditional dumbbell hammer curl.

So if you're seeking the fastest possible gains in muscle size and strength, barbell hammer curls—a great variation of traditional barbell curls—are one of the most effective exercises for helping you reach your goals.

Related Exercise: Hammer curl press

Barbell hammer curl exercise details

  • Main Muscles: Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis
  • Secondary Muscles: Forearm extensors, forearm flexors
  • Exercise Type: Strength
  • Exercise Mechanics: Isolation
  • Difficulty Level: Beginner
  • Equipment Needed: Weight plates, tricep bar

How to perform barbell hammer curls

  1. Load some weights onto a triceps bar and then hold the parallel handles.
  2. Stand up with the bar resting on your thighs, and then curl it toward your shoulders.
  3. Squeeze your biceps and forearms at the top of the rep.
  4. Lower the bar under control (really let your biceps stretch under the load) until your elbows are locked out.
  5. Repeat for 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps.

Barbell hammer curl advantages

The barbell hammer curl is far less popular than the dumbbell variation. But this lack of popularity doesn't discount the effectiveness of this mass building bicep, brachialis, and brachioradialis exercise. They're a great size-gaining addition to any barbell bicep workout.

Promotes faster strength gains

A man performing hammer barbell curls

It's tough to gain strength on dumbbell exercises because the weight jumps tend to be 5lbs per side at a minimum. This is particularly problematic for isolation exercises like hammer curls because a 5lb increase represents a much larger percentage increase than it does on something like a bench press, for example.

Barbell hammer curls, on the other hand, are highly conducive to strength (and thereby muscle) gain because you can use convenient microplates to increase the resistance in much more manageable increments. As such, you can gain strength at a faster rate a breakthrough plateaus more effectively by making the barbell hammer curl your primary brachioradialis builder.

Simple to perform

A man doing barbell hammer curls

While the seated dumbbell hammer curl is certainly no Rubix cube in terms of difficulty, the barbell hammer curl is even easier to execute because you only need to focus on lifting one piece of equipment.

Research also indicates that simple exercises can sometimes even lead to faster muscle growth and strength development because the learning process is shorter. [1] As such, you can more easily focus on increasing the weight rather than having to spend extra time learning how to perform the exercise correctly.

Ideal for supersets

A man doing a hammer barbell curl superset

Since you're going to be using a triceps bar for the hammer barbell curl, it's an ideal exercise to pair with tricep extensions. This superset will not only save you time in the gym, but it'll also result in a better muscle pump because now both sides of your arm will be getting engorged with blood. [2]

You can also do spider curls with a barbell if you want an exercise that trains your biceps in their shortened muscle position, which in turn will maximize the pump.

Barbell hammer curl disadvantages

As good as barbell hammer curls are for building the biceps and brachioradialis, they do come with some drawbacks that you need to take into account before deciding whether or not the exercise is right for you.

Increased chance of developing muscle imbalances

A pair of flexed biceps

Barbells are well-known for building mass. But they're also notorious for creating muscle imbalances or worsening existing ones. And while a strong mind-muscle connection in both of your arms can negate some of the side effects, good technique alone doesn't provide complete protection against uneven muscular development.

You can sidestep this problem by performing decline hammer curls or some other kind of unilateral exercise in addition to the barbell hammer curl. This way, you can enjoy the mass-building benefits of barbells while keeping muscle imbalances to a bare minimum with dumbbells.

Not possible to perform in all gyms

A curl back rack containing various barbells

Some gyms, especially smaller fitness facilities with limited equipment, simply don't have tricep bars of any kind. And since bringing your own bar to the gym may naturally result in suspicions of theft when you take it back with you, you either need to change gyms or train at home if you want to do barbell hammer curls properly.

Yet, if you're particularly fond of your current gym or don't fancy paying for a special bar, then there is one alternative that you can try. And it doesn't involve doing preacher curls with a straight bar or changing the target muscles one bit.

Barbell hammer curl variations

A man performing hammer curls with a barbell

Not many lifters realize this, but you can actually do a hammer curl with a barbell. The trick is to use a small fixed barbell or something similar so that it doesn't hit the floor when you curl and reduce your range of motion (the seated barbell biceps curl does this too because it doesn't provide a proper muscle stretch).

For the best results, it's recommended to perform this variation while standing on a step-up platform so that you can get a full range of motion.

It might seem like a strange exercise, and it certainly is to a degree. But just remember that a barbell is essentially one really long dumbbell. In other words, it's a simply a weight of different shape, and as such, it can build the same amount of muscle when you lift it with good form.

See Also: Plate hammer curl

Should you do the hammer barbell curl?

If you have access to the necessary equipment, then doing the barbell hammer curl for your biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis is a great idea. The movement naturally lends itself to heavy weight and low reps because you can easily microload it with fractional plates, which makes it much more manageable to gain strength frequently.

Yet, due to the versatility of the exercise, you can also perform high reps and use it as a finishing move to flush your arms with blood after a hard and heavy workout.

For maximum gym efficiency, you can also pair the hammer barbell curl with a tricep extension of your choice. This way, you'll get an even greater muscle pump because you'll be working all the muscles in your upper arm.

References

  1. Mannarino, P., Matta, T., Lima, J., Simão, R., & Freitas de Salles, B. (2019). Single-Joint Exercise Results in Higher Hypertrophy of Elbow Flexors Than Multijoint Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Publish Ahead of Print. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000003234
  2. Kelleher, A. R., Hackney, K. J., Fairchild, T. J., Keslacy, S., & Ploutz-Snyder, L. L. (2010). The Metabolic Costs of Reciprocal Supersets vs. Traditional Resistance Exercise in Young Recreationally Active Adults. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(4), 1043–1051. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181d3e993
Liam Brown
Liam Brown has been coaching clients as a personal trainer for more than 12 years. Raised by his athlete mother and physiotherapist father, he understands the critical importance of learning the proper technique for both avoiding injury and building muscle.
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