Lost Bodybuilding Techniques – 21’s

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Posted October 15, 2012 by Tiffany Weekes
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Bodybuilding Techniques 21
One of my favorite things about bodybuilding is the wide variety of techniques created and used to get your body in the best shape possible. Having been in the iron game for years my bag is literally bursting with different ways to attack my muscles to ensure that by the end of a workout they will have gotten completely exhausted.

But not everyone has the same background and experience so their bag may be a little lighter. Well let’s change that by adding a classic technique known as 21’s to what you know!

Basics of 21’s

21’s are an old school technique where you hit the muscle on a partial range of motion twice and then the full range of motion once. For example, most commonly doing 21’s are used when training biceps and doing an exercise like barbell curls. You start by curling the weight on the lower half of the motion from full extension until you forearms are parallel with the floor, pause, and then back down. You do 7 reps like this. On the 7th rep you pause at the parallel position and then curl the top half of the motion only for 7 more reps. Then after those partial reps you immediately finish off with 7 full range reps (if you can) for a grand total of 21.

This technique was being used to blast biceps back in the 60’s by all of the bodybuilder greats of the time.

Why they Work

There are a few reasons why this technique is so effective.

  • It acts as endurance training. You are doing 21 reps with a heavy weight that you couldn’t do 21 straight reps with. The partial reps allow you a bit of leeway.
  • You practice working the muscle at both ends of the range of motion. Many people skimp out on the full range of motion in any given exercise, but you can’t during 21’s.
  • It provides an incredible pump to the muscles. Pumping up the muscle is always good.
  • The exercise focuses on the stretch, contraction, and belly of the muscle all in a single set. Many people neglect to use exercises that stress all three in the same workout.

You have the option of starting on the contraction phase or the stretch phase when doing 21’s. It depends on the exercise as to which I prefer first but in most cases it is a personal preference. Either way is very tough on the muscle.

This technique is great to use on a finishing exercise at the end of a routine for a bodypart. Because there is such a tremendous pump in the muscle it can be hard to do other exercises afterwards.

What to use 21’s On

21’s aren’t an all purpose technique. The chest, back, and shoulders have a harder time benefitting from this type of exercise. Part of that has to do with the shape of the muscle and how difficult it can be to work the three ranges of motion as easily with a single exercise. But biceps, triceps, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves can all be blasted with 21’s very effectively.

This is one of those bodybuilding techniques that should be used occasionally and not in every set or exercise in a day. You will find it to be very draining so use it sparingly at first until you get a good handle on how much it might take out of you when done properly.

Dan Hasseldorf is a personal trainer and writer on bodybuilding and fitness issues. You can find more health and fitness articles by Dan at the Nutribomb Blog. You can also get updates on new posts from our google plus fitness page.

  • ELBSeattle

    I love 21s. I’ve been using them to work my biceps off and on for several years. I would generally use a pre-loaded easy bar, but a trainer recently showed me how to do them sitting on a Swiss ball using two dumbbells. Curling the dumbbells slightly away from my body (rather than directly in front) worked a whole different region of the biceps. Awesome burn, great results.