Beyond Biceps: New 21’s for Chest, Shoulders and Back

Most bodybuilders and muscle-building enthusiasts are very familiar with Biceps 21’s, and often use 21’s in their workouts. That said, I’ve never understood why personal trainers, coaches and muscle-building enthusiasts only apply the 21s concept to the biceps? The way I see it 21’s are a simple and versatile enough overload technique that you can easily apply to virtually any strength exercise. That’s why, in the Performance U training approach, we’ve developed new versions of 21s for other muscles such as the Chest, Shoulders and Back.

With that said, as with all other overload techniques, certain techniques apply better to some movements than others. Check out these 21’s protocols we developed to help people interested in increasing hypertrophy (i.e. size) to get an insane pump, create more time under-tension, and add a new twist to classic Back, Chest and Shoulder exercises.

Note: As you’ll see, these protocols don’t stick with the traditional 21 method of 7 partial reps half way down, 7 partial reps half way up, and 7 full reps. Instead, we’ve incorporated some mid-range isometrics (7 second holds = 7 reps) and emphasize mid-range partial reps. The rational behind this is approach is beyond the scope of this post, but it is something I’ve covered in-depth in a soon to be published article on this same subject matter.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press 21’s

This protocol is performed with dumbbells. You can do it either seated (as shown in the video) or standing.

How to do it:

7x Mid-range partial reps

7-second mid-range isometric hold while opening and closing your arms (Arnold press style)

7x Full ROM reps

Chest Press 21’s

This one can be done using dumbbells (i.e. Dumbbell press, as shown in the video) or with a barbell (i.e. Bench press).

How to do it:

7-Second Isometric mid-range hold

7x Full ROM reps

7x Partial reps (at the top range)

Lat Pull Down 21’s

You can do this protocol using any grip you choose (neutral, wide, underhand). We like to use a different grip each time we do this protocol to create a different stimulus.

How to do it:

7x Mid-Range partial reps

7-Second isometric hold at the bottom-range (full contraction)

7x Full ROM reps

Bent Over Row 21’s

Just like with the Lat Pull Down 21 protocol, we really like this one because it forces you to really focus on the full contraction (top of the row), which is a part of this exercise that many people tend to cheat through.

You can do this protocol using dumbbells (as shown in the video), a barbell, or on a seated row machine.

How to do it:

7x Top-Range partial reps

7-Second isometric hold at the top-range (full contraction)

7x Full ROM reps

Is there a magic order the exercises?

The most common question I get from personal trainers and bodybuilding enthusiasts about the 21’s protocols shown above is about the order of the exercises. Some individuals ask if they can change the order, while other people suggest what they feel is a “better” order to perform the exercises in. My answer to those questions is: When we first teach them to a client, we stick with the order demonstrated because we’ve found that order best helps people get through the entire protocol while demonstrating good control (i.e. form). But there’s no “magic order” to these protocols, so I invite you to change the order as you see fit. In fact, once you’re familiar with performing these protocols, I encourage you to change the order up to keep things fresh.

Also, I encourage you to use the new-type 21 concepts I’ve provided you as inspiration for developing your own 21’s protocols. And, if you find a few 21’s variations that you really like using and believe to be beneficial, I’d be honored if you’d be kind enough to teach them to me.


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