The Miracle of 21-15-9

If you’re in the know, 21-15-9 is the rep scheme for many of the original "girl" workouts in CrossFit. Its usually a couplet of two somewhat antagonistic exercises. That refers to a push-pull, press-pulldown, or other combination. Sometimes I do what I call a heartbreaker WOD (workout of the day) that involves two aerobic exercises for calories or reps (running, rowing, ski erg, jumprope, boxjumps,…). So it doesn’t always have to be antagonistic.

21-15-9 is doing one exercise of 21 reps, then the other for 21, then 15 each, then 9 each.

These are the workouts I did the past 2 days:
– wallballs & close grip rows
– ski erg for Calories & kettlebell swings
– deadlifts & pec dec flyes

The beauty of 21-15-9 is how it feels on your body. Its painful. But you know the pain only lasts under 5 minutes. That point has to be highlighted. Make it under 5 minutes. If you don’t do a lot of pullups and you have to string together singles and doubles to get it done, you’ve just undermined the purpose of the workout. It should be fast. Instead, sub the pull-ups for lat pulldowns, ring rows, or even jumping pull-ups. For selecting the weight for a movement, make it so that 21 is possible unbroken, but just barely. Even one quick break is OK too. But don’t make it where you have to do doubles or triples to get it done.

I’ve been short on time and energy the past two days, so this WOD has been instrumental. I did a 21-15-9 Sunday morning when I only had about 10 minutes to workout. Then I did another later in the afternoon. Yesterday, I found out I was teaching a yoga class, so I did a quick 21-15-9 beforehand. Another huge benefit of 21-15-9 is that, even though it kills you, you are only dead for a short time. Then you can go about your regular day. You don’t even get super sore from it. Just very tone and your heart and lungs get a super taxing workout.

On a normal day, I may start or finish a powerlifting or bodybuilding style workout with a 21-15-9. Or it may surround an Olympic weightlifting session. I may also do several in a row. You can do the same thing with a different rep scheme, like 15-9-6, but make it super heavy or technical. For instance, if you are just developing your handstand pushups or muscle ups, this may be the time for a shorter rep scheme. Heavy power cleans, heavy squats, or stone loading may be other options. If the workout tends toward 8-10 minutes, that’s OK. Just make sure you keep moving. But its better if you can do it in 5 minutes. If you are stuck in a hotel, you could do pushups and situps.

In a Ben Greenfield podcast, he talked about research that said the time interval that produces the most testosterone response is 6 seconds. Yeah!! That’s it. Also, if you hear people talk about hypertrophy, the only requirement is that you lift a weight close to failure. If you set up a 21-15-9 knowing that it is near your maximum for the 21, then you’ll benefit from both a testosterone response and hypertrophy.

What we haven’t mentioned is entering into the glycolytic metabolic phase. This means you are reaching that super uncomfortable anaerobic glycolysis where you are taxing your system beyond the oxygen you have available. This is where we maximize all aspects of fitness from strength to endurance. This means you are beyond the Bro session of doing a set and then sitting around for 5 minutes before the next set. And its not a comfortable steady state jog that lasts an hour. Its where the two worlds meet in a Blitzkrieg fashion. Get the best of all worlds.

Try a 21-15-9 and see what it does for you. No, it isn’t meant to be the entire workout and your’re done. But it could be. There’s never an excuse not to workout. Ask yourself, do I have 10 minutes free? That’s all you need. And you can literally take yourself to death’s door in that amount of time. Believe me.

OTHER: Fran is the ultimate test in this realm. It is 21-15-9 of thrusters at 95 pounds for men and 65 pounds for women, then pull-ups. Thrusters are with a barbell in the front rack position. Squat down and then "thrust’ the weight overhead to full extension. Try it out and tell me what you think.

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