Biceps 21s To Build Bigger Arms
Look at most training programs, and you’ll see things like three sets of eight (3 x 8) four sets of ten (4 x 10), or five sets of five (5 x 5). Unless you are told otherwise, these are straight sets. That means all the sets are done using the same weight and roughly the same rest period.
While straight sets are effective, some people like to shake things up with what bodybuilders call training systems. A training system is a method that increases workout intensity. Training systems are used to bust through training plateaus and generally make a workout more challenging and potentially more productive.
One very popular system is called 21s, also known as the Matrix system.
It’s generally accepted that 21s was first invented by Dr. Ronald Laura back in the early 1980s. However, some people attribute this method to English bodybuilder Wag Bennett, an early mentor of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the mid-1960s, and Bennet may have learned it from The Iron Guru, Vince Gironda.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter WHO invented 21s; they work and are a worthy addition to most bodybuilding workouts.
While you can use 21s with many exercises, in this article, we’re going to discuss the most popular way to apply this training method – biceps 21s.
Biceps 21s increase time under tension and metabolic stress and produce a great pump, all of which will hopefully trigger new arm growth.
As you undoubtedly have guessed, biceps 21s train your biceps! However, there is a little more to this exercise. Let’s take a quick peek at the anatomy of biceps 21s.
Biceps brachii – usually just called your biceps, this is the muscle on the front of your upper arm and the agonist or prime mover of biceps 21s. The biceps is a two-headed muscle with three functions: elbow flexion, forearm supination, and shoulder flexion.
Brachialis – located beneath the biceps, the brachialis is only partly visible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a crucial arm muscle. The brachialis is actually stronger than the biceps by about 50%, so it plays a significant role in all elbow flexion movements. Also, a well-develop brachialis helps “prop up” the biceps, making it look bigger.
Forearms – whether you do barbell, dumbbell, or cable Biceps 21s, your lower arms are going to get a good workout. After all, you’ll need to keep a firm grip on the weights so you can work your arms to the max. You can increase forearm activation by using a thick-handled bar or a thumbless grip.
Biceps 21s involve breaking your rep down into three ranges of motion. You do seven reps in each range, totaling 21 reps, which is what gives this training method its name. The three ranges of motion are:
You can do this exercise with a straight barbell, EZ bar, dumbbell, or cable machine. Here’s an explanation for EZ bar biceps 21s.
Get the most from this exercise with the following hints and tips:
As well as using an EZ bar, barbell, dumbbells, or a cable machine, there are a few other ways you can train your biceps with 21s. Use these variations and alternatives to maintain workout productivity and ward off boredom.
Preacher curls were a favorite exercise of the first-ever Mr. Olympia Larry Scott, who was famed for his amazing biceps. Preacher curls were such a big part of Scott’s training that they are sometimes called Scott curls.
Add a new dimension to preacher curls by combining them with 21s. As before, start with your arms straight and do seven outer range reps. Next, do seven inner range reps. Finish off your biceps with seven complete reps. You can do preacher curls using a barbell, EZ bar, dumbbells, or a cable machine.
Learn more about preacher curls here.
If you want to build your upper and lower arms simultaneously, reverse barbell curls are one way to do it. Using a pronated or palms down grip means you have to work harder to keep your wrists straight, which increases forearm activation. Doing this exercise 21s-style makes it even more demanding and effective.
Find out more about barbell reverse curls here.
Hammer curls emphasize your brachialis muscle. They’re so-called because, using a neutral, thumbs-up grip, you look like you are hammering nails. While doing 21s with this exercise is a little unusual, it’s an effective way to make it even more effective. You can do dumbbell hammer curls or on a cable machine fitted with a rope handle.
Read also: Bicep Curl vs. Hammer Curl
Dumbbell concentration curls are a good way to finish your biceps workout. Using your leg to immobilize your upper arm, it’s tough to cheat when doing this exercise. It also produces a nice pump effect. Why not work your biceps even harder by doing this exercise 21s-style?
Learn more about concentration curls here.
No weights? No problem! You can work your biceps using nothing more than your body weight for resistance and, as an added benefit, build your lats too. Needless to say, this is a CHALLENGING exercise, so you may need to do fewer reps per range of motion, e.g., 3-5 reps instead of the usual seven.
Biceps 21s are a great way to add variety to your biceps workouts. Even if you use them infrequently, you’re sure to appreciate the pump and burn they deliver, not to mention the next-day DOMS! Use them as a finisher to your arm workout to ensure that you have really worked your biceps as hard as possible.
However, while 21s are an excellent training method for arms, you can also use them for other body parts. Give leg 21s extensions and leg curls a try. Too easy? Try 21-style leg presses, squats, or bench presses.
21s increase time under tension and also produce a lot of metabolic stress, both of which are important for muscle growth. Use this method to avoid training plateaus, increase training intensity, and get more from your workouts.
Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine, gym owner, and fitness qualifications tutor and assessor. In addition, Patrick is a freelance writer who has authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos. He’s not just an armchair fitness expert; Patrick practices what he preaches! He has competed at a high level in numerous sports, including rugby, triathlon, rock climbing, trampolining, powerlifting, and, most recently, stand up paddleboarding. When not lecturing, training, researching, or writing, Patrick is busy enjoying the sunny climate of Cyprus, where he has lived for the last 20-years.
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© Copyright 2010 – 2021 Fitnes Volt IBC. All Rights Reserved.
This article was written by one of our qualified writers, and fact-checked by our experts. The numbers in parentheses (e.g. 1, 2, 3, etc.) throughout the article, are reference links to peer-reviewed studies.
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