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choosing weights dana santas 2
You're not weak. You're just using the wrong weights in the gym
01:49 - Source: CNN

Editor’s note: Dana Santas, known as the “Mobility Maker,” is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and is the author of the book “Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.”

CNN  — 

While there is no magic bullet for gaining strength, variety is key. To that end, although classic bicep curls often take center stage for building arm strength, another arm exercise deserves attention in your workouts: the hammer curl. This powerful movement not only builds impressive arm muscles but also enhances overall body strength, function, stability and resiliency.

Hammer curls are a variation of regular bicep curls. Like their traditional counterpart, one of the primary muscles targeted by hammer curls include the biceps brachii, the muscle best known as “the bicep.” However, hammer curls also emphasize two other arm muscles: the brachialis, a muscle beneath the biceps brachii that helps support the elbow joint, and the brachioradialis, a forearm muscle that enhances grip strength.

Aptly named, hammer curls mimic the action of holding and using a hammer. Unlike regular bicep curls, which use a palms-up grip, hammer curls are performed with a neutral grip with palms facing each other. This simple adjustment shifts the muscle focus for more comprehensive strength development. This variation also decreases wrist and elbow strain, reducing the risk of overuse injuries and making it a safer option for those with joint concerns.

Hammer curls strengthen grip and muscles used to perform daily activities and reduce the risk of injury.

The everyday functional benefits of hammer curls

Despite their somewhat obscure reputation, hammer curls aren’t just for gym enthusiasts. This exercise can benefit anyone wanting to improve their ability to perform the physical tasks of daily living. Here’s a detailed list of benefits:

•   Because the neutral hand position needed to perform hammer curls boosts forearm and grip strength, it also boosts your ability to hold and lift heavier weights to make greater total-body strength gains in other exercises, as well as enhanced performance in other fitness and sport activities.

•   Hammer curls build arm and hand muscles needed for daily activities that require lifting, holding, and carrying, such as caring for children and performing household tasks and yard work.

•   Enhanced grip strength also helps with opening jars, using tools and completing basic household tasks, making hammer curls particularly beneficial for older adults trying to maintain functional independence.

•   The controlled motion and neutral grip of hammer curls help strengthen the muscles and tendons around the elbow and wrist joints, reducing the risk of common injuries associated with weaker muscles and improper lifting techniques.

•   With less wrist rotation than traditional curls, hammer curls minimize the risk of injury, especially for those people with previous wrist or elbow issues.

•   Performing hammer curls correctly involves significant core engagement, which improves balance and overall strength.

• Bonus: For anyone wanting more visibly toned arms, hammer curls build up the brachialis muscle, which underlies the primary biceps brachii muscle and boosts muscle visibility even when your arms are not flexed.

How to perform hammer curls

Editor’s Note: Consult your doctor before trying any new exercise. Stop immediately if you experience pain.

To reap the full benefits of hammer curls, it is crucial to perform them with proper form and an appropriate weight for your fitness level. Use a weight that feels challenging but is light enough that you can comfortably perform at least eight repetitions of the exercise with good form. Be sure to mind the cues for how to breathe as you perform this exercise, exhaling as you lift the weights and inhaling as you lower them. Proper breathing mechanics help maintain and strengthen core stability to ensure correct form.

1. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing inward in a neutral grip. Alternatively, you can be seated as long you can sit forward enough on the seat edge for the dumbbells to hang unobstructed at your sides.

2. Exhale as you slowly curl both dumbbells up toward your shoulders, keeping your elbows close to your torso and your core braced to remain stable. Pause slightly at the top of the movement.

3. Inhale as you lower the dumbbells back to the starting position, maintaining control throughout the descent. Take your time, lowering your arms gradually, as the eccentric (lowering) phase is a crucial part of the exercise.

4. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps with good form.

5. Complete two to three sets of your desired number of repetitions, resting for at least one to two minutes in between sets.

Optional variation: If you feel more comfortable lifting one arm at a time rather than both together, you can alternate right and left repetitions within each set to perform a total of 16 to 24 reps (8 to 12 reps on each arm) per set.

To maintain proper form and decrease risk of injury, avoid these common mistakes:

•       Swinging the dumbbells to use momentum to lift them rather than bracing through your core and relying on your arm strength

•       Losing proper arm position and letting your elbows flare out

•       Using dumbbells that are too heavy or too light

•       Neglecting the eccentric (lowering) phase and dropping the weights too quickly

•       Forgetting to breathe properly and maintain core stability

As you begin feeling stronger in the exercise, you can progress by increasing the weight of your dumbbells or the number of repetitions within the 8 to 12 rep range. You may find that when you initially increase the weight, you need to decrease your reps to maintain good form. That is OK provided you can still perform a minimum of eight reps properly.

Getting the most out of this new exercise

To maximize the benefits of hammer curls, you need to integrate them into your fitness program a couple times per week. Hammer curls fit well into both arm-specific and full-body workout days. They can be alternated with other bicep and tricep exercises for a comprehensive arm workout or included in a circuit that features a mix of upper and lower body exercises.

Remember, hammer curls are more than just an alternative to bicep curls. By incorporating this exercise into your routine, you can significantly enhance not only your arm strength but also your functional abilities essential for daily activities and overall improvement of total-body strength and resiliency for years to come.

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