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Whether or not you have dreams of standing on the Mr. Olympia stage one day, if you’re like most lifters, there’s a good chance that you want bigger biceps. When your progress plateaus, one of the best things you can do for your arms is to try the muscle-shocking technique of bicep 21s.
21s are an old school bodybuilding method that is still in use today. They can be adapted to nearly every exercise, but today the focus is on the arms. Here’s how to perform a set of bicep 21s. First, choose the weight you’re going to be using. You can do 21s with a barbell, dumbbells, a cambered (EZ) bar, or a thick bar, but it’s going to be something you’ll use for curls.
“21” refers to the total number of reps per set that you’re about to perform. To begin, lift your forearms and curl the weight to what would be the midpoint of a normal curl, with your palms facing up and your forearms parallel to the floor. This is the starting point for a set of bicep 21s. Starting in that position, perform 7 reps, curling the bar up, stopping just short of lockout, then lowering the bar to the same point–arms parallel to the floor.
Once you have performed 7 reps, lower the weight all the way down to where you would typically start a bicep curl. From there, perform 7 reps of full range of motion curls. By this point your biceps will be insanely pumped with blood and you’ll want to stop, but you’re not done yet.
Finish the set of bicep 21s by performing 7 reps of curls from the bottom to the midpoint, reversing smoothly and finishing the set without cheating or using too much momentum. When you’re done, even though the whole thing probably only took 30-40 seconds, your arms will feel like you’ve been curling for a year. To summarize briefly, a set of bicep 21s means 7 reps in the top half of the curl, 7 full range of motion curls, and 7 reps of the bottom half of the movement, all without resting or setting the bar down.
No matter how intense your curl workouts usually are, you probably don’t spend as much time performing each set as you will with 21s. This increased time under tension (TUT) results in greater muscle stimulus, increased blood flow to the biceps, and an increased potential for growth.
Bicep 21s, by isolating your muscles in smaller, focused ranges of motion, force your biceps to work hard in each stage of the movement. It’s not that the bottom and top ranges don’t get worked during a normal, full range of motion curl. However, it is easy to shortchange them with momentum or by lowering the weight too quickly, particularly if you’re fatigued and trying to get to the end of the set quickly.
In his Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed biceps 21s as one of his favorite arm building techniques. There aren’t many guys out there who wouldn’t like to have arms like Arnold. 3-4 sets of 21s in your arm workout might not turn you into Mr. Schwarzenegger, but they will give a jolt to your biceps that will eventually result in arms you might not get any other way.