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21s

March 11, 2020 | 0 Comments
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INTRO

21s are an old-school bodybuilding technique that pairs partial reps with an extended time under tension to overload the working muscle. It may be old-school but it is most certainly tried, tested and proven to work as an intensifying technique!

OVERVIEW

The technique of 21s utilises two overloading principles:

Partial Reps

Time Under Tension

As the name suggests the principle of 21s, is you complete a total of 21 reps per set. Those 21 reps are broken down to 3 different types of reps. Each one of these different types of reps is focused on a different range of motion throughout the exercise you are performing.

The 3 different ranges of motion are:

Bottom Half / Lower Range Reps

These are reps that are performed in the ‘bottom half’ of the range of motion for the exercise. If we use a bicep curl as an example; the ‘bottom half’ in the range from the arm is fully extended, elbow completely open and then contracting the bicep until the elbow is at a 90-degree angle and then returning back down to the fully opened/ fully stretched position.

Top Half / Upper Range Reps

These are reps that are performed in the ‘top half’ of the range of motion for the exercise. If we use a bicep curl as an example; the ‘top half’ range starts with the elbow bent at 90-degrees, you will then contract the bicep bringing the weight to the highest possible point while still maintaining the tension through the bicep. You then lower the weight back down but stopping the range of motion once the elbow opens up to that 90-degree angle. You then contract the bicep again staying within this range of motion.

Full Range Reps

The ‘Full Range’ reps are simply the combination of the ‘top half’ and ‘bottom half’ range of motion together. Using the bicep curl as an example; this range starts at our fully stretched, elbow completely open position. From here, contracting the bicep to raise the weight all the way up to the highest point where we can achieve the strongest contraction through the bicep and then lowering the weight with control and tension.

The structure for your set of 21s is this:

7 reps in the Bottom Half Range of Motion

straight into…

7 reps in the Top Half Range of Motion

straight into…

7 reps in the Full Range of Motion

(7 + 7 + 7 = 21 reps)

HOW TO PERFORM

Weight Selection:

Weight selection needs to be especially considered for this workout technique. Your set is a total of 21 reps which will be generally higher than you would go for a working set. However, you are technically only performing 14 ‘full-range’ reps (7 top half, 7 bottom half and then 7 full-range reps. But it’s not as simple as selecting a weight you would fail with between 12 – 15 reps, the restricted range of motion increases the time under tension and also the set length dramatically. We suggest selecting a weight you can comfortably get 20 – 25 reps with for your first set. If you can comfortably complete all 21 reps, then increase the weight for your next set… but not by much, these sets will start to burn!

Barbell Bicep Curls

Pick up your barbell with the appropriate weight selected for your first working set. Standing tall, shoulders back and the chest is proud. Brace through your core and also glutes to set up a strong foundation. Your arms should be completely open through the elbow and hanging straight down with the barbell at bottom of the range of movement.

Initiate the first rep by contracting your biceps and biceps only. Raise the bar away from the body ensuring the elbows stay exactly where they started, alongside the body. You are only bending through the elbows and nowhere else. Stop once your forearms are perfectly horizontal/parallel to the ground. This should make a roughly 90-degree angle at the elbow. Lower the barbell back down until the elbow is fully open. Repeat this 6 more times.

After your 7th and final Bottom Half reps, you bring the barbell to that 90-degree elbow position that was the ‘top of the range of motion’ for the first 7 reps. This is now the ‘bottom of the range of motion’ for the next 7 reps.

From this 90-degree elbow position, we contract the biceps and raise the bar up towards our shoulder. It is crucial you do not let your elbows leave the side of your body. Contract your biceps and only your biceps as much as you can at the top of the range of motion and then lower the bar back down to the 90-degree elbow position. Repeat this 6 more times.

After you 7th and final Top Half reps, we move onto our final 7 Full Range reps. You will lower the bar all the way down to the elbow fully open position which is the bottom of the range of motion (just like the 1st 7 reps of Bottom Half Reps). From here you will contract the biceps and raise the barbell all the way up to the absolute top of the range of motion (just like the 2nd 7 reps of Top Half reps). This will have you working the entire range of motion for this exercise. Repeat this 6 more times.

This training intensifying technique is most known for its application on bicep curls, but it can be incorporated into almost every exercise with the right form.

Dumbbell Flat Chest Press

Bottom Half / Lower Range Reps

Your first 7 reps of Dumbbell Chest Press will be using the bottom half range of motion. This range starts with the dumbbells at the lowest point in the movement, right alongside your chest, with your chest being in a stretched position. From here you will contract the chest to raise the dumbbells up but stopping halfway through the motion up. You will then lower the dumbbells back down to the bottom of the range, back alongside the chest. Repeat this 6 more times.

Top Half / Upper Range Reps

Your 7 Top half reps will start from the midpoint position which is where you were stopping the reps in your first 7 reps. From here you will contract the chest to raise the dumbbells up to the highest point in the range of motion ensuring you get the strongest possible contraction through the chest. You will then lower the dumbbells back down, stopping once you come halfway down at that midway position you started from. Repeat this 6 more times.

Full Range Reps

Your final 7 reps are simply the combination of the 2 partial reps before them. The bottom of the range of motion is with the dumbbells back alongside the chest with the chest in a stretched position. You will then contract the chest and raise the dumbbells all the way to the highest possible point allowing for maximal contraction through the chest, just like you got in the Top Half reps. You will then lower the weight all the way back down to the full stretch position at the bottom. Repeat this 6 more times.

Lat Pulldown

Bottom Half / Lower Range Reps

Your first 7 reps of Lat Pulldown will be starting from the stretched position with the arms fully extended and the bar being the furthest from the body. From here you will contract through the back and pull the bar in, stopping once you are halfway through the range. The bar should be halfway between the start position and about neck height. From here you will allow the bar to come back up to the stretched start position. Repeat this 6 more times.

Top Half / Upper Range Reps

Your 7 Top half reps will start from the midpoint position which is where you were stopping the reps in your first 7 reps. From here you will contract the back and pull the bar into the body as low as you can, ensuring you drive those elbows into the side of the body. You will then release the bar back up to the midway point ensuring you maintain tension through the back muscles you contracted initially. Repeat this 6 more times.

Full Range Reps

Your final 7 reps are simply the combination of the 2 partial reps before them. The bottom of the range of motion is with the arms fully extended and the bar is the furthest from the body. From here you will contract through the back and pull the bar in, this time, coming all the way into the chest (or as low as you can bring the bar) ensuring maximum contraction through the back. You will then release the bar back up through the range of motion all way to the starting point of full stretch through the back and arms fully extended up. Ensure you keep tension through the back as the bring the back to the start position. Repeat this 6 more times.

ADVANTAGES

Why would you subject yourself to a longer set, with more tension, restricted ranges and 21 reps? Well, there are a lot of reasons why you should incorporate 21s! First and foremost, it is a way to add variety and variation into your training routine. The body thrives on variation and variety, once the body has adapted to a routine you need to throw in some changes to ‘keep the body guessing’ (as they say) and well, 21s are a fantastic way to have the body having no clue what kind of set of work it just performed.

The increased time under tension you will subject the working muscles to will allow for better stimulus for growth and strength increases than a typical hypertrophy set. Yes, you may not be lifting a heavier weight as you would normally but the increased time under tension will create that greater stimulus to your muscles. The basis of hypertrophy training is working a muscle throw a range of motion under a load for a specific time. Time under tension is one of the oldest and most tried and true elements of muscle growth.

The partial reps will have you working in weaker and stronger ranges of motion separately. Shortening a range to specifically focus a partial range can have great strength boosting effects on that movement. If you are weaker in the bottom range and stronger in the top, conventional sets of full range reps will have you working harder through the first bottom half range but then power through the top half range, giving the bottom half range of muscles recruited a chance to catch their breath. 21s will have you force out 7 continuous reps throughout that weaker range forcing your body to realise it needs to become stronger in this range.

CONCLUSION

Should you incorporate 21s into your training routine? Absolutely you should! They are not only an amazing intensifying tool or an excellent technique to help push through strength and growth plateaus but they are honestly a whole lot of fun… especially those last couple sets where you really push yourself to get those last full-range reps.

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