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How Many Hammer Curls Should I Do For Solid Strength Gains?

Hammer curls are a great exercise for biceps workouts because the exercise changes the grip position from standard biceps curls to target different muscle fibers in your biceps. 

The neutral wrist position for hammer curls also tends to be more comfortable and natural for most lifters, allowing you to lift more weight to maximize your strength gains.

When planning your workouts, you may ask yourself, how many hammer curls should I do to build muscle? How many hammer curls should I do to increase strength?

In this guide, we will discuss how to do hammer curls and determine the number of reps, sets, and weights you should use for hammer curls based on your fitness goals to ultimately answer your question, how many hammer curls should I do in my workouts?

Let’s dive in! 

A person doing hammer curls.

How Do You Do Hammer Curls?

Before we look at how many hammer curl reps and sets you should do based on your fitness level and goals, let’s cover how to perform hammer curls.

There are a couple of types of resistance you can use for hammer curl workouts, such as cable machines, resistance bands, and kettlebells. However, using dumbbells for hammer curls is most common.

Here are the steps for how to perform dumbbell hammer curls:

How To Do Hammer Curls

  1. Stand upright with good posture. Keep your chest up, shoulders down, core muscles and glutes tight, and feet hip-width apart with your toes pointing forward.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down at your sides. Instead of supinating your forearm so that your palms face away from your body as you would with regular biceps curls, keep your arm, wrist, and hand in a neutral position so that your wrist and palm face in towards your thigh on the side of your body. 
  3. Contract your biceps and bend your elbows to curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders, maintaining this neutral wrist position (palms facing toward one another). Keep your wrists rigid so that they remain in line with your forearm rather than dropping down or bending from the weight. Keep your entire lower body and trunk as stationary as possible by isometrically contracting your glutes, quads, abs, and upper back muscles, as you curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders. In other words, don’t rock your hips or arch or sway your back to use momentum and help hoist the dumbbells. You want to be using just your biceps to bend your elbows and curl the weights up.
  4. When your elbows are flexed as much as possible and the dumbbells are up at your shoulders, pause briefly, flexing your biceps muscles.
  5. Slowly lower the weight back down, resisting the pull of gravity so that you are capitalizing on the eccentric portion1Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D. I., Vigotsky, A. D., Franchi, M. V., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Hypertrophic Effects of Concentric vs. Eccentric Muscle Actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research31(9), 2599–2608. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001983 (lengthening) of the exercise.

Try to keep your upper arms and elbows glued closely towards the sides of your ribs and as stationary as possible to isolate the workload onto your biceps.2Brown, J. M., Solomon, C., & Paton, M. (1993). Further evidence of functional differentiation within biceps brachii. Electromyography and Clinical Neurophysiology33(5), 301–309. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8404567/ muscles

A person doing hammer curls.

How Many Hammer Curls Should I Do To See Good Results?

When structuring a strength training workout, the number of reps of an exercise that you do, be it hammer biceps curls or any other movement, is only one part of the programming of the exercise into the workout.

The reps of an exercise refers to the number of repetitions of the exercise you do.

So, one rep of hammer curls involves starting with the weights down at your sides, then curling the weights up, and then lowering the weights back down.

Another component to consider is the number of sets of hammer curls that you will do.

A set of an exercise is the total number of repetitions that are performed back to back without stopping and resting.

Finally, the other key component that significantly impacts how many reps of an exercise you should do is the weight that you are lifting, also known as the load.

Together, the number of reps, sets, and weights that you lift for an exercise multiplied together constitutes the total training volume or training load of that exercise for a workout.

A person doing hammer curls.

How Many Hammer Curls Should I Do Based On My Goals?

There are several factors to consider when deciding how many hammer curls you should do. 

#1: Fitness Level

Beginners should do fewer reps of an exercise than trained athletes to allow the body to get accustomed to the demands of the movement without overdoing it and increasing the risk of injuries.

#2: How Much Weight To Lift

The number of reps of hammer curls that you can and should do in a set or workout overall will be largely dependent on how much weight you are lifting.

Here, it is important to distinguish that the amount of weight that you are lifting for hammer curls refers to the relative load or intensity of the weight you are using for you personally.

With dumbbell hammer curls, using 5-pound dumbbells may be quite difficult for a beginner yet pose very little challenge for an advanced athlete who might be able to lift 25-pound dumbbells reasonably.

A person doing hammer curls.

Therefore, when discussing the relative load to determine how many hammer curls you should do, the weight that you lift is compared to your one-repetition maximum (1RM) for the exercise.

Your 1RM for an exercise is the maximum amount of weight that you can lift with proper form for just one complete repetition of that exercise.

For example, with hammer curls with dumbbells, if you can curl 25-pound dumbbells for one repetition but not more than that, your dumbbell hammer curls 1RM is 25 pounds.

Then, if you are using 20-pound dumbbells for hammer curls, you are lifting 80% of your 1RM.

The strength continuum provides a framework by which the appropriate weight to lift for an exercise can be calculated based on the number of reps that you will do per set.

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association3TRAINING LOAD CHART. (n.d.). https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/61d813865e264c6e852cadfe247eae52/nsca_training_load_chart.pdf (NSCA), the following table shows the percentage of your 1RM you should use for the given number of reps of an exercise:

Maximum Number of RepsPercent of 1RM Load
1100%
295%
393%
490%
587%
685%
783%
880%
977%
1075%
1270%

To interpret this strength continuum for hammer curl workouts, look at the number of hammer curl reps that you want to do and then determine the relative load that you should use in the column next to your desired number of reps.

For example, if you want to do 12 reps of hammer curls, the recommended load is 70% of your 1RM, whereas if you are only doing six hammer curl reps, you should use 85% of your 1RM.

But, this still leaves us wondering—How many hammer curls should I do based on my fitness goals?

A person doing hammer curls.

#3:Your Fitness Goals

Aside from your training level, your primary training goal is the other key factor that will impact how many hammer curls you should do alongside the optimal weight to lift (based on the strength continuum just discussed).

The number of reps of hammer curls (or any weightlifting exercise) you should do is largely dependent on these fitness goals, as each training aim dictates a different generalized approach to programming your workouts.

The following table provides recommendations for how many reps to do and how much weight to lift for different strength training goals based on the average guidelines from the American Council on Exercise 4(ACE)How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/5867/how-many-reps-should-you-be-doing/ and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.5Sands, W., Wurth, J., & Hewit, J. (2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) BASICS OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING MANUAL. https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf 

Training GoalSetsRepsRest PeriodIntensity
General Fitness1-3 12-15 30 to 90 secondsVaries on exercise and ability level
Muscular Endurance3-4 >15 Up to 30 seconds<67% of 1RM
Hypertrophy (building muscle mass)3-6 8-12 30 to 90 seconds67% to 85% of 1RM
Muscular strength4-6 3-62 to 5 minutes>85% of 1RM
Power3-51-52 to 5 minutes85%–100% of 1RM 
A person doing hammer curls.

You can use the strength continuum table to determine how much weight you should be lifting after you determine how many reps of the exercise you should do based on your training goals.

Let’s walk through an example:

How many hammer curls should I do to build muscle?

According to the table above, if you are trying to build muscle, you should do 8 to 12 reps of the exercise.

So, if you want to do 10 reps of hammer curls—which would be right in the middle of the recommended range for hypertrophy (building muscle)—you would then use the first table to see that for 10 reps of an exercise, the optimal load is 75% of your 1RM.

Let’s imagine that your 1RM for dumbbell hammer curls is 20 pounds.

Based on these values, you would do three sets of 10 reps with 15-pound dumbbells.

To learn more about the number of reps and sets you should do to build muscle, check out our guide to hypertrophy reps and sets here.

A person taking a dumbbell from a rack.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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