Hammer curls are a well-known arms exercise that are commonly performed by gym-goers with various fitness goals.
Drag curls are less known and are performed less often than other bicep curl variations.
But does that mean drag curls aren’t an effective exercise? Or is it just that fewer people know about them?
In this article, we look at both hammer curls and drag curls to see if one is more effective than the other.
We do this by comparing various aspects of the exercise in order to help you decide which exercise is better for you.
What’s The Difference Between Hammer Curls And Drag Curls?
The biggest difference between hammer curls and drag curls is that you perform hammer curls with dumbbells, whereas you perform drag curls with a barbell.
Hammer curls require you to “lift” the weight of the dumbbells, but drag curls use more of a “dragging” motion to move the weight up your body.
Which Is Best For Building Biceps?
Drag curls are better than hammer curls for building biceps.
That doesn’t mean that hammer curls won’t help you build strong muscular biceps though. It simply means that drag curls more optimally target the biceps.
Another aspect of drag curls which makes them such a good exercise for your biceps is that your front deltoids (shoulders) don’t need to activate as they do in hammer curls.
If your hammer curl technique is incorrect, your deltoids can work more than expected.
As drag curls reduce the risk of other muscles engaging, they’re a great exercise for building your biceps.
Which Is Best For Building Forearms?
While drag curls might put a lot of emphasis on your biceps – hammer curls are likely going to be better at building your forearms.
The grip used in hammer curls (palms facing your body) means you have to have a good amount of grip strength to maintain the position throughout the exercise.
This neutral wrist position requires your forearms to activate on a greater level.
Hammer curls definitely build biceps too but when it comes to hammer curls and drag curls, hammer curls will be better for building your forearms.
Hammer curls are a pretty simple exercise.
You don’t need any complex movements as everything happens from the flexion of your elbow.
Even beginners can quickly pick up the technique, so there are definitely more difficult exercises out there.
You’ll probably find you can lift more weight during hammer curls than you can when performing standard bicep curls.
This is due to more muscle activation and a more comfortable wrist position.
Drag curls are a fairly difficult exercise to master.
The difficulty doesn’t just come in the technique either. Your biceps do a lot of work during the movement, making drag curls particularly challenging.
When it comes to difficulty level, drag curls are harder than hammer curls.
Your biceps need to do more work with less help from other muscle groups and the technique is generally harder to get right too.
Ease of Access
All you need is a suitable set of dumbbells to add hammer curls to your training routine.
This makes them an extremely accessible exercise.
If you work out in a gym, then there’ll likely be a whole range of dumbbells that you can use for hammer curls.
If you train at home, then you can easily add hammer curls to your program given you have at least one set of dumbbells.
Drag curls require a barbell to perform effectively.
In a gym environment, there tend to be fewer barbells available at any one time.
This can make adding drag curls to your program a bit of a challenge (particularly if you go to a busy gym).
Training at home makes drag curls easier to add to your arm session providing you have a barbell and suitable weight plates.
As far as accessibility goes – hammer curls are slightly more accessible than drag curls.
The main reason for this is that there’s usually greater variety (and quantity) of dumbbells available whether you’re training at home or in a gym.
While drag curls only require a barbell and some weight plates, these restrict increases in weight quicker than hammer curls. As unless the correct plates are available when you need them, it can be challenging to continually progress your drag curls.
There’s a great deal of variability that’s possible when performing hammer curls.
Doing seated hammer curls, using a cable rope or kettlebells instead of dumbbells, and cross-body hammer curls are just some of the variations you can do.
Each variation will work the same muscle groups as standard hammer curls, but they can make certain muscles work a bit harder and feel more benefit from the exercise.
A great variation of drag curls is the holding drag curl.
This involves holding the movement at the highest point for a second or two, before lowering the weight back to its starting position.
Other variations of drag curl include using dumbbells or kettlebells instead of a barbell.
This needs to be done carefully though as it’s very easy to change from a dragging motion to a lifting motion when using these variations.
Drag curls are mainly focused on your biceps, so any adaptation you make to the exercise needs to be carefully considered to make sure the emphasis isn’t being moved elsewhere.
Hammer curls offer more variability than drag curls.
While there are variations of drag curls that you can perform, it’s easier to change the focus of the exercise in a negative way.
Hammer Curls vs Drag Curls: Which Is Better?
Ultimately, deciding whether hammer curls or drag curls are better will come down to your experience, your goals, and your personal preferences.
If you want an exercise that works your biceps and your forearms, is easily accessible, and has a good amount of variation available – hammer curls will likely be better for you.
However, if you want an exercise that puts more emphasis on your biceps and is a more complex movement – drag curls are a good choice.
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.