Former ACE-certified personal trainer Lorra Garrick has trained men & women for fat loss, muscle building, more strength and more fitness.
Many have heard of 21s. This strategy can be applied to any movement, but few people think to apply it to chin-ups. One reason is because few people, relatively speaking, can actually do chin-ups, let alone a high number of reps.
And of those who can, the idea of 21s isn’t at the forefront of their minds. For many, 21s is a technique that’s limited to isolation exercises, particularly biceps curls.
How are 21s done?
The 21s technique consists of three segments of seven repetitions done consecutively with the same amount of resistance. The difference in the three segments is range of motion.
- Typically, the first seven reps are done full range of motion.
- The second set is done at only the top range of motion, and the third set is done at only the bottom range of motion.
- A variation is to swap the second and third set, so that the second set is bottom range of motion, and the third seven reps are done at top ROM.
It should be obvious, then, that the amount of weight chosen for 21s is lighter than what one would normally use.
Advanced Chin-up Routine Begins with Standard Chins
Perform seven full range chin-ups. This means get the chin over the bar. It also means do not “short-stroke.” Short-stroking is very common and is a cheat-move. This is when you lower to only three-quarters of the way before pulling back up again.
Many people do this because they want to convince themselves they can do chin-ups. They hate the idea of getting stuck at the bottom, unable to pull themselves back up if they complete the down-stroke.
Completing the down-stroke means lowering to a nearly complete hang, if not a “dead hang” (arms perfectly straight). A person may be able to do several incomplete chin-ups yet barely finish one true chin-up with complete range of motion.
If you’re short-stroking, you’re cheating yourself in a major way and should make a concerted effort to bust this lousy habit. This habit should not be tolerated any more than bringing a bar down only three-quarters of the way in a lat pull-down or in a bench press.
With all that said, the first seven reps in the 21s application are done using at least a nearly full hang for every rep. Immediately after completing these seven, do either only top range reps or bottom range reps.
Top Range Reps
For the eighth to 14th reps, lower only half-way, so that the angle between upper arm and forearm is 90 degrees. Don’t go lower and don’t stop higher. Try to get as high above the bar as possible at the top-stroke.
Bottom Range Reps
Do the remaining reps going all the way down (no short-stroking) and pulling only up to a 90 degree arm bend; no higher and no lower.
When 21s are applied to chin-ups, they are absolutely exhausting, though there are individuals out there who will have no problem doing these. For those, they should wear a weighted belt or hold a dumbbell between their legs.
In fact, if they have access to a medicine ball or heavy ball that’s the same weight as the dumbbell that they’d use, they should use the ball by holding it between their inner thighs. This will tax their inner thighs while they do the chin-ups.
The advanced chin-up routine is not over.
There’s a second portion: modified chin-ups. Make sure that the setup for this is near the chin-up station, because no more than 30 seconds should lapse between the two routines.
Modified chin-ups are also known as reverse rows. Instead of hanging vertically, one’s position at the bottom of the movement is angled, and their feet (heels) never leave the floor. Throughout the exercise, their body remains straight like a board; no sagging butt or bent legs.
A modified chin-up can be performed on a Smith machine, cable equipment or a suspension device with loop-like handles. When using cables, just make sure that the weight stack is set to a weight that’s at least equal to your body weight. This second portion of the workout can also be a hammer chin-up, in which the palms face each other.
What should the angle of the body be?
The closer that the body is to horizontal, the harder the exercise will be. Thus, if after doing the 21s, one is exhausted, they should opt for a higher angle.
The objective with modified chins is to pull yourself up as high as possible while keeping the body straight like a plank. After the 21s are completed with the regular chin-up, take less than 30 seconds to get positioned for the reverse row or modified chin-up.
- Then pump reps out to failure.
- However, don’t rush or be careless.
- Each rep is a committed effort to pull up as high as possible.
- Do not drop down; lower with control.
For those using the Smith machine, the bar may block some trainees from pulling as high as they’d like. For people this fit, they may wish to use a cable or suspension device, in which their chest can break the plane created by their hands.
The advanced chin-up routine can be done for three rounds, with several minutes’ rest in between.