8, 10, 12, 15: That's the typical number of reps we tend to tackle when working out. But doing the same thing workout after workout isn't just boring for you. It can also bore your muscles, inhibiting growth and limiting the amount of progress you make with your training.
Fortunately, there are many ways you can repackage your favorite lifts to baffle your body into a state of shock and generate positive results. One of the most common, tried-and-true techniques is called 21s.
"Eccentric loading is one of the most effective ways to force muscles to grow," explains David Carfagno, D.O., owner of the Scottsdale Sports Medicine Institute in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Twenty-ones do just that. You vary three different ranges of motion in one exercise, instead of just completing the regular isotonic exercises that have a single range of motion," he explains.
Here's Carfagno's plan for taking some very familiar arm and shoulder exercises to a whole new plateau-busting level.
There are many reasons why 21s are worth including in your training program, at least occasionally, including:
Increased Endurance: You'll perform muscle-building exercises for longer amounts of time, challenging your muscular stamina and tolerance. While many single-joint exercises are performed in the 8- to 15-repetition range, 21s will require longer muscular endurance and vitality to support the grueling sets.
Muscle Confusion: By attacking repetitions from multiple starting and ending points, the atypical execution pattern will keep the body guessing and reacting to the shock value of the work.
Newbie-Friendly: Not only known for positive physical results, incorporating new training techniques into any exercise program can also enhance your physiological responses. Look forward to freshening up basic, no-nonsense moves, which can become monotonous and boring over time.
Time Saving: With 21s, fewer exercises per body part can be executed, due to the quick pump your muscles will feel during the longer sets and unique ROMs. One or two exercises per muscle group can be eliminated from your standard lifting plan when 21s are properly executed.
Your 21s Template
Just as all exercises have a range of motion (ROM), or road map, to follow, the 21s repetitions can be broken down into three parts: the bottom half of the contraction, or the lower ROM; the top half of the contraction, or the upper ROM; and the entire contraction of each muscle, or the full ROM of the exercise.
Beware, fearless lifters: The longer rep counts combined with three different ROMs per set will challenge your strength and stamina.
Be willing to accept that executing 21s can elicit a lower-weight selection choice than that normally tackled in your standard 12-15-rep, full-ROM training routine.
Here's how each eat set breaks down, with each ROM getting 7 reps, adding up to a total of 21:
1/ Lower Range Of Motion
Bottom half of the exercise - 7 reps per set
2/ Upper Range Of Motion
Top half of the exercise - 7 reps per set
3/ Full Range Of Motion
Full range of the exercise - 7 reps per set
Setup: Lie on a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor and your abs pulled in.
Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
Extend your arms straight up and position them directly over your shoulders.
- Lower ROM: Slowly lower the dumbbells until they're just alongside your head. Pause, then extend your arms until they reach 45 degrees and repeat.
- Upper ROM: Slowly lower the dumbbells, stopping when your arms form a 45-degree angle. Pause, then extend your arms until they're straight once again and the dumbbells are directly above your shoulders.
- Full ROM: Lower the dumbbells until they're just alongside your head. Pause, then extend your arms until they're directly above your shoulders.
Setup: Set one side of a cable pulley apparatus in the bottom position and attach a straight bar to it.
With your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, face the weights and grasp the bar with an underhand grip.
- Lower ROM: Flex your biceps and curl the bar upward until your arms form a 90-degree angle. Pause, then slowly lower the bar back to your thighs under control and repeat.
- Upper ROM: Curl the bar to your chest, squeezing your biceps for a second at the top. Lower the bar to a 90-degree angle and repeat.
- Full ROM: Squeeze to the very top of a biceps curl and lower to the fully extended bottom of the rep, combining both the lower and upper ROMs.
Setup: Stand in front of a high-pulley cable and grasp a straight (or V) bar with an overhand grip.
With your knees slightly bent, lean forward at the waist and position your elbows close to your sides, holding the bar at roughly chest height.
Look forward, keeping your back flat and your abs tight.
- Lower ROM: Press the bar toward the floor until your arms are extended. Slowly raise your arms until they're at 90 degrees.
- Upper ROM: Flex your triceps and press the bar toward the floor until your arms reach 90 degrees, pause, then return to start.
- Full ROM: Press the bar toward the floor, completing the full ROM, then release and return to the starting position.
Setup: Position the back of an incline bench at a 45-degree angle. Hold a dumbbell and your upper arm on the backrest.
- Lower ROM: Flex your biceps and curl the dumbbell upward to a 90-degree angle. Pause, then slowly lower back to the starting position and repeat.
- Upper ROM: Curl the dumbbell toward your chin. Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbell to 90 degrees and repeat.
- Full ROM: Flex your biceps and curl the dumbbell toward your chin. Pause,then slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position.
Setup: Get into a pushup, with your hands inside shoulder width, fingers pointed forward.
- Lower ROM: Keeping your body in a straight line throughout, lower your chest to the floor and come up to half of your full ROM; lower and repeat.
- Upper ROM: From the top position, lower your body halfway to the floor and then return to the top position.
- Full ROM: Engaging your entire body, lower yourself to the floor and press all the way back up.
Setup: Stand tall with your heels under your hips, abs tight, and shoulders relaxed.
- Lower ROM: With a neutral grip, slightly flare out your wrists as you curl up to a 90-degree elbow flexion. Lower back down until your arms are straight.
- Upper ROM: Lift the rope as you simultaneously turn out your wrists and contract your biceps to the highest point of a curl. Lower halfway down and repeat.
- Full ROM: Lift and curl the rope for a full-range curl, then lower all the way to the bottom.
Your 21s arms plan is fast-moving and includes three scorching supersets that blast your bi's and tri's, with a suggested 45- to 60-second rest between each superset.
Those new to 21s should incorporate the technique with only one exercise each for biceps and triceps. After you've gained experience, you can increase to two or three moves.
Any of the following workouts can be used for 21s. In this sample session, 21s are done only on lying dumbbell extensions and barbell curls.