21’s are an old tried and tested scientific method of increasing the amount of exercise intensity onto the deltoid muscle group by making the resistance (weight) appear to be harder to apply (lift) during a high intensity period of a training program. The purpose of this article is to clear up exactly what 21’s are and how to properly perform them.
But first, let’s get one thing straight. 21’s are not for the biceps! This misconception is derived from the current trend of doing seven reps at the bottom”, “seven reps at the top”, and then “seven reps all the way through” on bicep curling movements. The truth of the matter is that 21’s in fact only truly give you an advantage on three headed muscle groups such as the deltoids.
In recent years 21’s have been ‘re-invented’ as a ‘new and revolutionary’ training method, where the rather clever inventors have taken the original concept of lifting a weight three times for sets of seven repetitions on a muscle, and coupled it with the three ranges of movement performed during an exercise.
These are namely the outer-range (starting point and first third of the movement) the mid-range (middle third of the movement) and inner-range (final third of the movement where peak contraction is reached). Is the story starting to click? This is why you now see trainers doing the famous one-third movements for seven repetitions and for most, waste a lot of valuable training time on a technique which in general will leave you with zero results compared to traditional bicep training.
When training we will always have our strengths and weaknesses. The idea behind 21’s is that even though you may not currently have the strength you need when performing a shoulder press to further increase the development of your deltoids, you can overcome this plateau. This is because the 21’s method is focused around “super pre-exhausting” the deltoid muscles with dumbbell raise movements first.
Where did 21’s come from and who has made the concept popular?
It is commonly believed that 21’s were first made popular in bodybuilding training by the Californian training guru of the 1960’s Vince Gironda. This trainer of champions had many followers, and for me is immortalized by his ability to turn out competitive bodybuilders trained to perfection with great muscularity and symmetry, and more specifically, those all-important striations in the deltoids!
Gironda was and still is a legendary figure from the classical period of bodybuilding. This was where muscularity and sensible size were seen as something naturally achievable and to aspire to. Not like today’s almost “over the top” freak physiques, who most people do not aspire to look like at all.
How do you perform 21’s?
First, gather three sets of dumbbells. These should be at the training weight you would start at for the following exercises:
Grab your dumbbells for one set of seven repetitions of front dumbbells raises. Once completed, immediately put down the dumbbells and pick up the weights you are going to use for lateral dumbbell raises and perform seven repetitions. Again, once completed, immediately put down the dumbbells and pick up the weights you are going to use for dumbbell bent-over lateral raises and perform seven repetitions.
You have now completed one set of 21’s! For the next set you may want to lower the weights as this exercise will become very difficult as the sets progress. So don’t expect to be lifting your max weight for seven reps each time as 21’s it is energy sapping to say the least!
Because this is an advanced bodybuilding strategy, you will be repeating this for a total of up to four sets. Once all four sets are completed, you may now begin your shoulder pressing routine.
The idea is that because you have completely pre-exhausted all three heads of the deltoids you will not need to lift nearly as much weight for the rest of your exercises to get the same results. In fact, you will be so exhausted from this isolation strategy, you may only be able to use less than half your “normal amount” of shoulder pressing weight, yet it will feel as if it weighs twice as much!
This super intensive training is not for beginner athletes, or halfhearted enthusiast, as the muscle burning pain experienced will be as effective as if you were being tortured!
Be sure to spread the word that 21’s are meant for the deltoids, not your biceps. The concept of 21’s on biceps was a great mismatch of information popularized by greedy wannabe trainers, desperate to squeeze every last penny out of their clients by offering them some ‘wonder training method’ even though it doesn’t work!
Beware of any trainer who tells you they have a great technique for working your biceps and they call it “21’s”!
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