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Full-Body 21s

The popular 21s technique isn’t just for biceps. Use it on every bodypart for huge muscle-building gains with this 5-day whole-body routine.

Full-Body 21s

You’ve probably done “21s” on preacher curls before – most longtime gym rats have – but if you’ve never used the technique on other muscle groups, let alone with full-body workouts, you’re in for a treat. A muscle-building, fat-burning treat, that is.

The last program of mine – Whole-Body Speed Set Training – broke each set down into three different rep speeds (fast and explosive, super slow, and regular tempo). The 21s technique, on the other hand, breaks each set down into to three different ranges of motion.

The end product is a 5-day program that taxes every last muscle fiber in all major muscle groups in every workout. Using varying ranges of motion in this manner, and with high reps, will not only promote hypertrophy, but fat loss as well, due to the high-intensity demands of the program.

21s Refresher

In case you’re not familiar with 21s, it’s a standardized technique where a single set of an exercise consists of three different parts, 7 reps each.

The first 7 reps are performed through the first half of the exercise’s range of motion (ROM). So if we’re talking about bench press, the ROM here will go from the bar touching the chest to pressing it halfway up.

The next 7 reps are performed through the last half of ROM. On bench press, this would be from the halfway point (where you stopped on each of the first 7 reps) to pressing the bar all the way up to elbows extended (but not locked out).

The last 7 reps are performed with full ROM – the manner in which you’d normally do the exercise.

Method to the 21s Madness

Most people who have done 21s before probably just think of it as a high-intensity burnout technique for the biceps. Not only can 21s be used for all other muscle groups, but there’s actually sound rationale for the protocol that goes beyond simple muscle confusion. 

Let’s start with the first 7 reps, those in the first half of the ROM. On a given exercise, this is typically the part of the movement where you’re weakest; your “sticking point” should reside somewhere in this range. That’s why you’re doing these reps first, when your muscles are at their freshest.

Not only will you be working on getting stronger in your weakest part of the ROM here, but you’ll also be training flexibility, as you’ll be starting each partial rep from the muscles’ fully stretched position. If you have a tendency to stop a little bit short at the bottom of your reps because of the intensity of the stretch, this will be a good habit-breaking exercise for you.

The next 7 reps will occur in the portion of the ROM where you’re strongest. These will be the most productive in terms of muscle growth, as you’ll feel stronger and will be able to squeeze the contraction hard at the top of each rep.

The final 7 reps, performed at full ROM, are for pure burnout. Your muscles will be fatigued after having performed 14 partial reps prior, so you’ll be gritting these ones out. Intensity will be at its highest level here, which will further promote muscle growth on the heels of the previous 7 reps.

By the end of the set (not to mention the workout), your muscles will be screaming. Not only will you have done a high-rep set, but those 21 reps will target the muscles in a way you’re not accustomed to. That’s where the muscle confusion comes into play. Confused muscles are growing muscles!

Back: The Exception

Back exercises, however, will take on a different order. Much like the bench press, where you’re weakest from the chest to the halfway point, with rows and pulldown you’re weakest when the bar is past the halfway point and closer to the body.

So with rows and pulldowns, the first 7 reps are done from the halfway point to the bar touching chest; the next 7 reps are done from the arms fully extended until you pull to the halfway point; and the last 7 are full ROM from full arm extension to the chest.

21s Guidelines

The 21s technique can be used on virtually any exercise. Some people feel 21s are more conducive to single-joint movements (ie, biceps curls), but I think they work great for compound moves as well.

In the workouts I post on my Facebook and Instagram pages in the coming days, you’ll see how diverse 21s can be. I’ll use the technique on all types of movements and with various equipment – single-joint, multijoint, free weights, machines, cables, even single-limb exercises.

Regardless of what exercise you’re doing, you’ll need to lighten the load when doing 21s – I recommend using a weight that’s approximately 50%-60% of your 10-rep max (10RM). Beside the fact that 21 reps is a relatively high count for most people who train for strength and size, the muscle confusion elicited from the partial reps will limit how much weight you can use. Err on the light side your first time or two through 21s. If your first set of an exercise ends up being too easy, you can always add weight on subsequent sets.

In my Full-Body 21s program, you’ll be doing one exercise each for 10 different muscle groups – chest, back, legs, shoulders, traps, triceps, biceps, forearms, calves and abs – per workout. You’ll be doing 2 sets per exercise, which will be plenty considering the intensity of each set and the fact that you’ll be doing Full-Body 21s workouts 5 days in a row.

I’ll be posting my personal Full-Body 21s workouts on my Facebook and Instagram pages as part of my ongoing “Train with Jim” series. You don’t have to do the exact same exercises I’m doing; those are just a guide. Plug in whatever moves you want that are comparable to mine and you’ll be experiencing the same effects.

It’s time to start building more muscle head to toe – 21 reps at a time.

Full-Body 21s instructional videos:


Full-Body 21s Workouts

(To download a workout to your mobile device, click on the workout title – Workout 1, Workout 2, etc.)

Workout 1

In this first workout, I'm showing you how to do 21s on single-joint (isolation) moves.

  1. Straight-Arm Pulldown
  2. Dumbbell Flye
  3. Lying Leg Curl
  4. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
  5. Dumbbell Shrug
  6. Seated Calf Raise
  7. Triceps Pressdown
  8. EZ-Bar Curl
  9. Dumbbell Reverse Wrist Curl
  10. Crunch

Workout 2

Here, I teach you how to employ 21s on multijoint exercises like the bench press. I designed this workout to be done in the power rack. Doesn't matter how busy the gym is – 30 minutes or less in the power rack and you've blasted every muscle from head to toe, 21s style!

  1. Bench Press
  2. Barbell Row
  3. Squat
  4. Barbell Shoulder Press
  5. Barbell Shrug
  6. Barbell Standing Calf
  7. Close-Grip Bench Press
  8. Reverse Curl
  9. Barbell Wrist Curl
  10. Hanging Leg Raise

Workout 3

Here, I keep the workout in the dual cable station for ease and quickness. But feel free to do any version of the 10 movements below – dumbbells, barbell, other machines, etc.

  1. Cable Crossover
  2. Standing Pulldown
  3. Cable Squat (box)
  4. Cable Rear Delt Flye
  5. Straight-Arm Pushdown
  6. Cable Standing Calf
  7. Cable Overhead Triceps Extension
  8. Behind-Back Curl
  9. Cable Standing Wrist Curl
  10. Cable Crunch

Workout 4

When I did this workout, it was early in the morning – I had to catch an early flight to Las Vegas for the 2017 Mr. Olympia. So, I chose all dumbbell moves to keep the workout fast. But feel free to do any 10 exercises you like, one per muscle group.

  1. Dumbbell Reverse-Grip Press
  2. Incline Dumbbell Row
  3. Dumbbell Deadlift
  4. Dumbbell Upright Row
  5. Dumbbell Shrug
  6. Dumbbell Seated Calf
  7. Lying Triceps Extension
  8. Prone Incline Dumbbell Curl
  9. Dumbbell Behind-Back Wrist Curl
  10. Dumbbell Crunch

Workout 5

For the final workout, I mix it up with my Alternating Rest-Pause technique. Here, you'll do 7 reps through the first half of the range of motion (ROM) with the right arm. Then, you'll do the same on the left arm, while the right arm gets a short rest. Then, you immediately switch back to the right arm and perform 7 reps through the last half of the ROM. Then, repeat on the left arm. Next, immediately switch back to the right arm and complete 7 full ROM reps, and repeat on the left side.

Due to the short rest you get between ROMs, you can go a bit heavier than with typical 21s. Try about 70% of your 10RM.

  1. One-Arm Cable Flye
  2. One-Arm Pulldown
  3. Reverse Lunge
  4. One-Arm Lateral Raise
  5. One-Arm Shrug
  6. Cable Toe Raise
  7. Triceps Kickback
  8. Behind-Back Cable Curl
  9. Dumbbell Reverse Wrist Curl
  10. Cable Woodchopper

View The Workout

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