Dealing 21s Sparks Super Gains

By: Tim Rigby (courtesy of Inside Fitness)

You’re either well-versed with this very effective little training secret or you don’t know it at all.  For those of you who aren’t familiar, the 21s method is an effective means to manipulate reps in order to stimulate new muscle growth.  Performing a set of 21s can be challenging but fun.  You simply break down a set of 21 reps into three sub-sets of seven reps each with no rest between them, as follows:


* 7 partial reps through the first half of the range of motion
* 7 partial reps through the second half of the range of motion
* 7 full reps through the entire range of motion


Executing sets in this manner may seem like a radical approach to technique, but it’s a tried-and-true method that’s been used by elite athletes and pros for decades.  Furthermore, it has abundant scientific merit to support it.  The most popular application of the 21s method is for biceps curls, however, it’s equally as effective and very helpful for training your other muscle groups as well.  Make no mistake that you’ll elicit an excellent pump at the conclusion of a 21s set. It’s important, however, to understand that for whichever part of your body you’re training, you’ll have to decrease the weight substantially from what you’d use for straight sets of the usual 8-10 reps. It’s also important to understand that 21s are best applied to single-joint isolation moves, rather than the heavier compound moves that require involvement of secondary and stabilizer muscles.  Furthermore, 21s have a natural physiological partner in cables and machines, which make it easier to keep constant tension on your muscles at full flexion; when you use free weights, the tension is reduced in such a position during the rep. Why is it necessary to perform seven full-range reps after you’ve already done 14 partial reps?  It’s all about the pump and burnout, setting you on course for solid growth.  Use 21s for the first exercise of a muscle group only, then continue with straight sets of other exercises.  If you tried to do 21s for all exercises, you’d hit excessive exhaustion very quickly.

Sample 21s Applications:

Exercise                                Sets                 Reps

ROPE PRESSDOWN            3                      21 (7 first half, 7 second half, 7 full)
Followed by 2 more triceps moves
of your choice                        3 each              8-10

LEG EXTENSION                  3                      21 (7 first half, 7 second half, 7 full)
Followed by 2 more quads moves
of your choice                         3 each              8-10

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