The discipline of bodybuilding has seen numerous names pop up in recent years, those athletes who are admired for their superhuman physiques as much as they are their commitment and dedication to training and eating right. Even so, Arnold Schwarzenegger continues to loom large, like a giant amongst mere mortals. The Australian Oak is perhaps the best known physique athlete to ever grace the competition stage, putting the sport of bodybuilding on the map with such mesmerising documentaries like Pumping Iron, which gave viewers an insight into the culture surrounding bodybuilding and the community that surrounds it.
To look at Schwarzenegger in his prime during competition was to see a man with impossibly strong muscles that were all taut, bulging and seemingly perfect. You’d be hard-pressed to have selected a muscle he was most famous for, but if we had to pick one, our guess would be his biceps. As it turns out, Schwarzenegger was pretty proud of his arms, too. He claimed to have an upper arm circumference of 22 to 24-inches after a good pump which is pretty incredible.
So, just how does one achieve arms of this size you might ask? According to Schwarzenegger, getting big guns was largely down to a training technique called “21s”. Most often applied to exercises like bicep curls, 21s combine full and partial reps in the same long 21-rep set, which is often split into three parts and performed without pausing to rest.
1. The first 7 reps focus on the bottom of the movement, stopping when the elbow is bent 90 degrees.
2. The second 7 reps focus on the top of the movement with the upper arms never dropping below parallel to the floor.
3. The third 7 reps move through the full range of motion.
If you’re unfamiliar with 21s or unsure about the benefits, essentially they help maximise your muscle’s time under tension which is key for growth. As well as that, by allowing you to concentrate on each phase of a movement individually, this style of workout can also help you bust through a training plateau by helping you work through an exercise’s sticking point.
To get some Schwarzenegger-style guns, consider adding 21s up to twice a week to not only add variety to your training routine but also inject some fresh gains. Start with two to three sets per exercise using 40 to 50 per cent of your 1RM in order to complete all 21 reps with perfect form. Then, you can try variations by changing the angle and position to target other parts of your bicep.
Most importantly, don’t feel you have to stick to the bicep curl and limit yourself to one exercise or muscle group for 21s. What’s so great about this technique is that it can be applied to other exercises like the bench press and squat, including increased strength, greater hypertrophy, and the kind of definition that made Schwarzenegger not just revered in the halls of the gym or bodybuilding area, but a household name too.