Intensity Training – 21s

21s are a volume intensity approach that you may have heard of for biceps training. This technique is also a very effective volume technique for other key lifts:

  • When used with squats, the first and second rounds thoroughly exhaust your quads, leaving the third round to depend largely on your glutes and hamstrings.
  • When used with bench press, the first and second rounds will pre-exhaust your triceps, forcing your pecs to perform much more of the effort for the third round.

This is a great technique for hypertrophy and to build muscular endurance.

Effective Lifts for this Technique

Use caution if you use 21s for lifts such as deadlifts. As you tire your form will begin to degrade, putting you at greater risk of injury.

Technique Classification

  • Volume
  • Pre-exhaustion

Technique Application

21s are simple, and brutal:

    • Perform the first 7 reps of the set using only a partial range of motion (ROM). The exact position of the stopping point is dependent on the lift, but it should be between 1/3 to 1/2 of the full ROM. This portion of the set will begin the pre-exhaustion of the muscle groups that are used at the top end/lockout of the lift (example: triceps for the bench press).
    • Perform the second 7 reps of the set going to the halfway point in the lift.
    • Perform the final 7 reps of the set using the lifts full ROM.

Bench Press 21s

Squat 21s

Strength Standard

  • Because of the high volume, use a relatively low weight for 21s. Target lifts should be in the 50-60% range of your 1RM.

Technique Safety

  • Maintain proper technique when performing partial reps.
    • Halting a lift at the midway point in the ROM can put additional strain on the supporting joints.
    • You will start to fatigue given the volume used for 21s. Concentrate on maintaining proper technique even as you fatigue.

Additional High Intensity Techniques

  • Cluster Sets
  • Drop Sets
  • Rest Pause Sets
  • Total Rep Sets
  • Double Rep Sets


Comments are closed.