Bicep curls are *the* quintessential, classic strength training move, and twenty-ones are my favorite variation on this old stand-by. If you really want to push your biceps to their limit, feel the pump, the burn, the soreness the next day, I can guarantee you’ll get there with these. I promise you an awesome challenge, and if you’re getting serious in the gym, that you’ll probably never bother with standard bicep curls ever again. Are you ready?
To do twenty-ones, you’ll ideally want a weighted bar. An EZ-curl bar is the best choice, being nice and easy on your wrists, but a straight bar works too. You can also do the lift with dumbbells, kettlebells, wrist weights, or exercise bands, though this makes it harder to complete the lift with good form. Pick a light weight at first to get a feel for this exercise.
The whole idea of twenty-ones, is that each set is made up of twenty-one reps, taking advantage of different ranges of motion from your elbows; seven reps in the first 90 degrees of motion, seven reps in the second 90 degrees of motion, and finally seven reps in the full 180 degrees. Starting from a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your back straight, hold the bar with your hands about shoulder width apart, palms facing forward, with the bar just in front of your thighs. Basically just let your arms hang down, but always keep a slight bend in your elbows. Hyper-extending the joint hurts!
From this position, keep your elbows at your sides and curl the bar up 90 degrees in a slow, controlled motion as you exhale, so that your forearms are now parallel to the floor. Pause briefly, and inhale as you slowly lower the bar back to the starting position. Repeat this motion seven times, but on the seventh rep, don’t lower the bar back to the starting position. Instead, pause briefly at the top of the lift, inhale, and exhale as you curl the bar the rest of the way up to your chest, so that your elbows are now fully bent and your forearms run into your biceps. Pause briefly, and inhale as you slowly lower the bar until your forearms are again parallel to the floor. Your elbows should still remain stationary. Repeat this motion seven times as well, but on the seventh rep, return the bar all the way to the bottom of the lift, so that your arms are again hanging down with the bar in front of your thighs. Now, exhale and curl the bar all the way up to your chest, and inhale as you lower the bar all the way back down, again in a slow, controlled motion, for seven repetitions. And that, is one complete set of twenty-ones. Intense! At first you may want to do only one set. Eventually work your way up to three complete sets of twenty-one repetitions.
If you find you can’t complete part of a set of twenty-ones, you have a few options. You can set down your bar and rest briefly or pause with the weight down at your thighs, or, you can pick up a lighter bar and complete the set this way. Either way, try to fight through and complete the full set.
Bicep curls get old, fast. This variation can be an excellent new challenge, and a great way to change up your workout and avoid boredom. Twenty-ones are also a great plateau buster if you’re having trouble building additional upper body strength or size, because they both switch up the range of motion you’re working with, and put more emphasis on endurance as well as power. Give twenty-ones a try!