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Pull-Ups vs Hammer Curls: Which Exercise Is Better?

Pull-ups and hammer curls are very different exercises but both have a place in an effective training program.

If you have limited time to work out though, you might only want to perform the very best exercises. If that’s the case, you might be trying to decide which exercise is better – pull-ups or hammer curls.

In this article, we compare the muscles worked, the difficulty level, and the variability of these two popular exercises.

Muscles Worked


The primary muscles being worked during pull-ups are your back muscles (predominantly your lats – latissimus dorsi). 

Your lats aren’t the only muscles that need to activate during pull-ups though. In fact, pull-ups are a compound exercise that requires several muscles to activate to perform correctly.

Other muscles that come into play during pull-ups are:

  • Teres Major (upper arm muscle)
  • Trapezius (traps)
  • Pectoralis Major (chest muscle)
  • Rhomboids
  • Deltoids (shoulders)
  • Biceps
  • Upper Back
  • Forearms
  • Abdominals

You can see from this list that pull-ups are an incredibly effective exercise at working several parts of your body in one go.

Hammer Curls

Hammer curls work much fewer muscles than pull-ups but are still a very effective exercise for building size and strength in your arms.

Predominantly, hammer curls work your biceps. However, they also require activation from your brachialis (upper arm muscle), and your brachioradialis (one of the forearm muscles).

The Verdict

When it comes to muscles worked in these two exercises, pull-ups certainly recruit more muscle groups into the movement.

This can make a big difference in you are looking to work lots of muscles in a short period of time.

If you are looking to isolate your arm muscles more in the hope of building some muscular biceps, then hammer curls are for you.

However, when it comes to the sheer number of muscles being activated in the movement – pull-ups are a clear winner here.

Difficulty Level


Pull-ups are a very hard exercise.

The movement requires a lot of upper body strength to enable you to lift your entire body weight up with no assistance.

Without a good amount of strength in your arms, shoulders, and back – pull-ups are extremely difficult to perform.

Hammer Curls

Hammer curls are a relatively easy exercise to perform (as long as you select the appropriate weight to lift).

The entire movement comes from flexing your elbow so it does not require too much exertion or effort to make the movement happen.

The Verdict

Both hammer curls and pull-ups have relatively simple techniques.

In terms of the amount of strength, power, and overall fitness needed to perform each one though, pull-ups are a much harder exercise than hammer curls.

More muscles are needed, more strength is needed, and they will likely be far too challenging for a beginner to attempt.

Ease of Access


At first glance, pull-ups require very little setup and equipment. 

However, if you wanted to work out at home, you will need to purchase a pull-up bar and have somewhere suitable at your home to set it up. 

This can be challenging for some people depending on the space they have available. While you could perform pull-ups on things other than a proper pull-up bar, it’s always safer to use equipment that has been designed for the purpose. 

Hammer Curls

To do hammer curls, all you need is a set of dumbbells.

While these will still need to be purchased if you want to train at home, they are much easier to store and have almost no setup required in order to use them effectively.

Providing you have dumbbells of appropriate weight, you can very easily do hammer curls at home without any issues.

The Verdict

Hammer curls offer more ease of access than pull-ups.

This is mainly due to the portability of dumbbells compared to a pull-up bar. 

Even if you are working out in a gym, there will likely only be a small number of pull-up bars to use, whereas there will be a lot of dumbbells that can be used for hammer curls.

Whether you train at home or in a gym, hammer curls have better ease of access.



While standard pull-ups are a great exercise in their own right, being able to perform variations can help target other muscle groups even more effectively.

Even small variations in the movement can have very beneficial results. Changing your grip to a wider grip (or narrower) can activate different muscles and make the exercise easier or harder depending on what you need it to be.

You are somewhat limited in pull-up variations by your current strength and fitness level as you will need to be able to lift your body weight up using just your upper body, but there are still several variants you can try.

Hammer Curls

There is quite a substantial range of variations of hammer curls that can help build your upper arm muscles.

Variations such as cross-body hammer curls, preacher hammer curls, seated hammer curls, and cable rope hammer curls are just a few of them you can incorporate into your training.

As you can alter the weight being lifted by switching to different dumbbells (or other equipment altogether such as kettlebells), hammer curls have a huge level of variability.

The Verdict

When it comes to variability, hammer curls are a clear winner.

While there are variations of pull-ups you can do, needing the ability to lift or support your body weight does limit the number of variations you can try.

Do Hammer Curls Help With Pull-Ups?

Hammer curls can certainly help with pull-ups as they increase the strength in your arms.

To do pull-ups effectively, you will need a good level of upper body strength. Exercises like hammer curls are great for this so can definitely help improve your pull-ups.

Do Pull-Ups Help With Hammer Curls?

Pull-ups, if done correctly, will greatly improve your overall fitness, muscle strength, and muscle endurance.

All of these play a part in your ability to perform other exercises such as hammer curls.

Pull-Ups vs Hammer Curls: Which Is Better?

Deciding which exercise is better for you will depend a great deal on your fitness goals.

If you want to work as many muscle groups as possible with each exercise or you prefer exercises with a higher difficulty level, then pull-ups will probably be better for you.

If you prefer exercises that focus on specific areas of your body more, have better ease of access, and more variability, hammer curls will likely be a better option.

Hammer curls and pull-ups are both great exercises and it’s hard to say which one is better than the other. While one may be better in some aspects, it may be weaker in others.

Ultimately, the one that is best for you will come down to your fitness goals, the equipment you have available, and your personal preferences. 


Pull-Ups Muscles Worked

Hammer Curls Muscles Worked