Pull-Ups vs Hammer Curls: Battle of the Exercises



Pull-Ups vs Hammer Curls: Battle of the Exercises

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In the ever-advancing world of fitness, the quest for the ultimate exercise is a never-ending battle. Today, we take a closer look at two popular contenders: pull-ups and hammer curls.

Both exercises target the upper body and offer unique benefits, but which one truly reigns supreme?

Join us as we weigh the pros and cons of each exercise, dissecting their effectiveness, muscle engagement, and overall impact on strength and physique. Get ready for a showdown like no other as we delve into the fierce competition between pull-ups and hammer curls.

Benefits of Pull-Ups

Strengthens Upper Body

Pull-ups are one of the most effective exercises for strengthening the muscles of the upper body. By pulling your body weight up towards the bar, you engage and activate a variety of muscles, including the back, arms, and shoulders.

This exercise primarily targets the latissimus dorsi, the largest muscle in the back, which helps to create that wide and V-shaped appearance. The repetitive nature of pull-ups helps to increase muscle endurance, allowing you to perform other upper body exercises more efficiently.

Improves Grip Strength

In addition to developing upper body strength, pull-ups also have the added benefit of improving grip strength. Your grip is essential for many daily activities and sports, and by performing pull-ups regularly, you can significantly enhance this attribute. Holding onto the bar and pulling your body weight requires a strong grip, and over time, as you increase the number of pull-ups you can do, your grip strength will naturally improve.

Targets Multiple Muscles

One of the great advantages of pull-ups is that they target multiple muscle groups simultaneously. The primary muscles worked during a pull-up include the latissimus dorsi, biceps, rhomboids, trapezius, deltoids, and forearms.

The latissimus dorsi, or commonly known as the “lats,” are responsible for the pulling motion in the exercise and play a key role in achieving that desired V-shaped back. Engaging multiple muscles in a single exercise helps to maximize efficiency and time spent in the gym.

Enhances Overall Upper Body Definition

Pull-ups are renowned for their ability to enhance overall upper body definition. As mentioned earlier, this exercise targets various muscle groups in the back, arms, and shoulders, resulting in improved muscular development and tone.

By consistently incorporating pull-ups into your workout routine, you can achieve a defined and sculpted upper body. The increase in muscle mass and decreased body fat percentage that comes with regular pull-up training can give your physique a more aesthetic appearance.

Muscles Targeted in Pull-Ups

Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi, or “lats” for short, is a large muscle located on the sides of the back. It is primarily responsible for the pulling motion during pull-ups and plays a vital role in achieving overall upper body strength and definition. Targeting and strengthening the latissimus dorsi muscles can give your back a broader and more muscular appearance.


Pull-ups also engage the biceps brachii, which are located on the front of the upper arms. These muscles play a crucial role in the pulling motion of the exercise and are responsible for flexion at the elbow joint. Strengthening the biceps not only improves your ability to perform pull-ups but also contributes to the overall aesthetics of your arms.

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The rhomboids are muscles located between the shoulder blades and spine. They are involved in retracting and stabilizing the shoulder blades during pull-ups. Strengthening the rhomboids helps to improve posture and overall upper body stability.


Another muscle targeted during pull-ups is the trapezius, commonly referred to as the traps. This large muscle group extends from the base of the skull to the middle of the back and plays a significant role in shoulder and neck movement. Pull-ups engage the upper portion of the trapezius, helping to develop a strong and well-defined upper back.


The deltoids, or shoulder muscles, also come into play during pull-ups. While the latissimus dorsi is the primary mover, the deltoids assist in the pulling motion and contribute to overall upper body strength and stability. Strong deltoids help to create a well-rounded and muscular appearance in the shoulders.


Lastly, pull-ups engage the muscles of the forearms. Your grip strength is crucial during pull-ups, and the muscles of the forearms play a significant role in maintaining a secure grip on the bar. Strengthening the forearms not only improves your ability to perform pull-ups but also enhances your grip strength for other exercises and daily activities.

Different Variations of Pull-Ups

Wide-Grip Pull-Ups

Wide-grip pull-ups involve grasping the pull-up bar with your hands spaced wider than shoulder-width apart. This variation primarily targets the muscles of the outer back, specifically the latissimus dorsi. Wide-grip pull-ups can be challenging, as they require a broader range of motion and place greater emphasis on the back muscles.

Close-Grip/Palms-Facing Pull-Ups

Close-grip pull-ups, also known as palms-facing pull-ups, involve placing your hands on the pull-up bar with a grip narrower than shoulder-width. This variation shifts the emphasis to the muscles of the inner back, particularly the rhomboids and middle trapezius. Close-grip pull-ups also heavily engage the biceps brachii, making it an effective exercise for targeting both the back and arms.


Chin-ups are quite similar to regular pull-ups, but with one key difference – the hand position. Instead of gripping the bar with your palms facing away from you, chin-ups involve gripping the bar with your palms facing towards you. This hand position primarily targets the biceps, while still engaging the muscles of the back. Chin-ups are a great option for individuals looking to specifically target their biceps and build upper body strength.

Commando Pull-Ups

Commando pull-ups are a unique variation that targets the muscles of the inner and outer back, as well as the biceps. To perform this variation, start by gripping the bar with one hand facing towards you and the other hand facing away from you. As you pull yourself up, alternate which hand is facing which direction. Commando pull-ups provide an excellent challenge for both the muscles of the back and arms.

Technique for Performing Pull-Ups

Grip Position

It is essential to establish the proper grip position before attempting pull-ups. Gripping the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart allows for optimal engagement of the target muscles. Avoid over-gripping and placing excessive strain on the forearms, as this can lead to premature fatigue.

Starting Position

Hang from the pull-up bar with your arms fully extended and your body in a straight line. Ensure that your shoulders are relaxed and not shrugged towards your ears. Engage your core muscles to maintain stability throughout the exercise.

Pulling Motion

Initiate the pulling motion by squeezing your shoulder blades together and driving your elbows downward towards your hips. Focus on engaging the muscles of the back and arms rather than relying solely on momentum. Pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar, or at least until your elbows reach a 90-degree angle.

Breathing Technique

Exhale as you pull yourself up, focusing on blowing out the air during the exertion phase of the exercise. Inhale as you lower yourself back down to the starting position. Maintaining proper breathing techniques throughout the exercise helps to optimize performance and ensure adequate oxygen supply to the working muscles.

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Benefits of Hammer Curls

Builds Bigger Biceps

Hammer curls are a fantastic exercise for building bigger biceps. This exercise targets the brachialis muscle, which lies underneath the biceps brachii. By developing the brachialis, you can create the appearance of fuller and more impressive biceps. Hammer curls also engage the brachioradialis, another muscle in the forearm that contributes to the development of the upper arm.

Targets Forearms

In addition to working the biceps, hammer curls also place a significant emphasis on the muscles of the forearms. The brachioradialis, located along the forearm, is heavily engaged during hammer curls. By strengthening the forearm muscles, you can improve grip strength, which is beneficial for various activities, such as lifting weights, carrying objects, and participating in sports.

Allows for Isolation of Biceps

One of the advantages of hammer curls is the ability to isolate the biceps. While other exercises, like pull-ups, engage multiple muscle groups, hammer curls specifically target the biceps and forearms. This isolation allows for more focused and direct stimulation of the biceps, leading to improved muscle growth and definition.

Improves Wrist Stability

Hammer curls require a neutral wrist position throughout the exercise, which helps to improve wrist stability. By stabilizing the wrists, you reduce the risk of strain or injury while performing other exercises that rely on proper wrist alignment. Strengthening the wrists also has functional benefits in daily activities that require grip strength and wrist stability.

Muscles Targeted in Hammer Curls

Biceps Brachii

The biceps brachii, or commonly known as the biceps, are a prominent muscle group located on the front of the upper arm. They are responsible for elbow flexion and supination of the forearm. Hammer curls target both the short and long heads of the biceps, making it an effective exercise for overall bicep development.


The brachialis lies underneath the biceps brachii and contributes to the appearance of larger and more defined biceps. Hammer curls specifically target this muscle, providing a well-rounded approach to bicep training.


The brachioradialis is a muscle located along the forearm that runs from the upper arm to the wrist. It assists in the movement of both the elbow and wrist joint. Hammer curls heavily engage the brachioradialis, leading to improved forearm strength and development.


As mentioned earlier, hammer curls also target the muscles of the forearms. The muscles of the forearm play a significant role in grip strength and overall upper body stability. Strengthening the forearms not only enhances aesthetic appeal but also contributes to functional strength in various activities.

Different Variations of Hammer Curls

Dumbbell Hammer Curls

Dumbbell hammer curls are the most common and accessible variation of the exercise. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing inwards, parallel to each other. Curl the dumbbells upward using a controlled motion, focusing on squeezing the biceps at the top of the movement. Lower the weights back down in a controlled manner to complete one repetition. Dumbbell hammer curls allow for independent arm movement, helping to address any strength imbalances.

Cable Hammer Curls

Cable hammer curls are an alternative variation that uses a cable machine for resistance. Attach a straight bar or rope handle to the lower pulley of the cable machine. Stand facing the machine and grasp the bar or handle with your palms facing inwards. Curl the bar upward while maintaining a stable core and upper body position. Lower the bar back down to complete one repetition. Cable hammer curls provide a constant tension throughout the entire range of motion, offering a unique stimulus to the biceps and forearms.

Reverse Grip Hammer Curls

Reverse grip hammer curls, also known as reverse curls, involve holding the dumbbells with an overhand grip, palms facing down. This variation puts more emphasis on the brachioradialis and forearm muscles. Reverse grip hammer curls provide a different angle of contraction for the biceps, leading to improved overall bicep development.

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Technique for Performing Hammer Curls

Grip Position

Hold the dumbbells or handle with your palms facing inwards, parallel to each other. Maintain a neutral wrist position throughout the exercise, avoiding excessive wrist flexion or extension. By keeping the wrists aligned, you can maximize bicep and forearm activation while minimizing stress on the joints.

Starting Position

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and core engaged. Hold the dumbbells or handle at arm’s length, allowing them to hang down at your sides. Your elbows should be slightly bent, but not fully extended, to maintain tension in the biceps.

Curling Motion

Initiate the curling motion by flexing at the elbow joint, keeping your upper arms stationary. Focus on squeezing the biceps at the top of the movement, holding the contraction for a brief second before slowly lowering the weights back down to the starting position. Maintain a controlled and deliberate tempo throughout the exercise, avoiding any swinging or momentum.

Breathing Technique

Exhale as you curl the weights upward, focusing on breathing out during the exertion phase of the exercise. Inhale as you lower the weights back down to the starting position. Proper breathing techniques help to optimize performance, maintain stability, and ensure sufficient oxygen supply to the working muscles.

Which Exercise Is Better for Strength

Comparison of Resistance

Pull-ups and hammer curls differ in the type of resistance they provide. Pull-ups use your body weight as resistance, challenging your muscles to lift a significant load. This type of resistance is excellent for building overall upper body strength. On the other hand, hammer curls use external resistance, such as dumbbells or cables, allowing for greater control over the weight being lifted. This controlled resistance is beneficial for targeting specific muscle groups and increasing muscle hypertrophy.

Engagement of Upper Body Muscles

Pull-ups engage multiple muscle groups in the upper body, including the back, arms, and shoulders. The emphasis on the back muscles and the ability to lift your entire body weight makes pull-ups an excellent exercise for overall upper body strength and functional movement.

In comparison, hammer curls primarily target the biceps and forearms, with less engagement of the large back muscles. Hammer curls are effective for isolating and developing the biceps and forearms, but they may not provide the same comprehensive upper body strength benefits as pull-ups.

Potential for Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is a crucial factor in strength training. It involves gradually increasing the demands placed on the muscles over time to stimulate ongoing muscle growth and strength gains.

Pull-ups offer significant potential for progressive overload as you can continuously challenge yourself by increasing the number of repetitions, performing more advanced variations, or adding additional weight through the use of a weight belt or dumbbell. Hammer curls also allow for progressive overload by increasing the weight being lifted, but they are generally limited by the strength of the biceps and forearms.

Effectiveness for Developing Functional Strength

Functional strength refers to the ability to perform everyday activities efficiently and safely. Pull-ups are considered a highly functional exercise as they simulate movements involved in pulling, lifting, and carrying objects. The engagement of multiple muscle groups and the demand placed on the upper body muscles during pull-ups transfer well to real-life situations. Hammer curls, while effective for bicep and forearm development, may not have the same direct carryover to functional movements.


When determining which exercise is better between pull-ups and hammer curls, several factors need to be considered. Personal preference and training goals play a significant role in deciding which exercise to prioritize in your workout routine.

If overall upper body strength and muscle development are your primary goals, pull-ups should be a focal point of your training. Pull-ups engage multiple muscle groups, including the back, arms, and shoulders, providing a comprehensive workout. By incorporating different variations of pull-ups into your routine, you can ensure that all muscles are targeted and developed effectively.

On the other hand, if your goal is to specifically target and develop the biceps and forearms, hammer curls are an excellent choice. Hammer curls isolate these muscles, allowing for focused training and improved muscle definition. Adding variations of hammer curls, such as dumbbell or cable hammer curls, can provide variety and contribute to overall bicep and forearm development.

Ultimately, the best approach may involve incorporating both pull-ups and hammer curls into your training regimen. By combining these exercises, you can achieve a well-rounded upper body workout that targets multiple muscle groups and improves both overall strength and muscle definition. Consult with a qualified fitness professional to create a tailored workout plan that aligns with your specific goals and capabilities.

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