If you've been around the bodybuilding world for a while, you might be familiar with 21s. This venerable technique, usually associated with barbell curls, works for just about every exercise you can think of, including bench presses. It's the perfect go-to technique to use when you're trying to get past a sticking point and rise above your current plateau.

The great thing about 21s is they allow you to separate out the parts of an exercise you struggle with from the parts where you're strong. Once you've isolated the weak parts, you can train them specifically, then recombine them to go through the movement's full range of motion.

To show you how this works in the gym, I'm going to do bench-press 21s, breaking down this one movement into three smaller ones. We'll do 7 reps for each of the three segments for a total of 21 reps. That's one set.

The best way to do bench-press 21s is to use a power rack instead of a bench-press station. You can take advantage of the ability to add safety bars to the rack, and use them to find your midpoint and break up the full motion into smaller parts.

Lie down on the power-rack bench. Do a test lift with an unweighted bar to determine the low and high points of your press. Use those two points to find the midpoint of your lift. Now, insert a safety bar so that the bottom edge of the bar marks this midpoint.

Once the safeties are in place, do the first 7 reps of the bench press, lifting the weight from your chest until you touch the bottom of the safety bar. For most people, the point where they touch the bottom of the safety bar is their sticking point, meaning the weakest part of the bench-press range of motion.

For the next 7 reps, reposition the safety bars so their top edge marks the low point of the upper range of the press. This is the same point you used for the first lift, but this time you're using it to mark the low end of the range of motion instead of the upper end. Now, instead of lifting from your chest up to midpoint, as you did for your first set, you'll be going from the midpoint up to the top.

Once you've completed these 7 reps, remove the safety bars and do 7 reps through the entire range of motion, from your chest to full arm extension.

The 7 reps from the bottom to the middle, 7 from the middle to the top, and 7 from the bottom to the top equal your 21. Now repeat it 1-2 more times to get in your full barbell-press 21s workout!

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About the Author

Jim Stoppani, Ph.D.

Jim Stoppani, Ph.D.

Jim Stoppani holds a doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Connecticut and has been the personal nutrition and health consultant to numerous celebrity clients, including...

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