November 11, 2020
If you’ve ever done a CrossFit style workout then you know just how brutal they can be. CrossFit is arguably the best type of training for functional, all-around fitness. With CrossFit style exercises and workout schemes, you can get stronger, bigger, and leaner. Not only that, but CrossFit workouts build mental strength too due to how tough they are, so long as you push yourself accordingly. We could go on and on about CrossFit, but today we are here to talk about one specific CrossFit WOD, the 21-15-9 workout. Although 21-15-9 WODs started in “boxes” across America, they have transcended CrossFit, and now they are a popular workout format for trainers and athletes from all walks of fitness. This is because of how effective and beneficial 21-15-9 workouts are for anyone looking to get into great shape and conditioning.
So, on that note, we want to discuss what exactly a 21-15-9 workout is and the various ways you can approach it, the benefits, and important tips you should know. We will also be providing you more than a handful of 21-15-9 workouts that you can do, tailored to different fitness levels and types of equipment (or no equipment).
Without any more fluff, let’s jump into it…
A “21-15-9” is a CrossFit style workout that uses a 21, 15, 9 rep scheme. Essentially, you do each movement in the workout, with a fixed weight, for 21 reps, then 15 reps, then 9 reps, for time. This is a high intensity workout so you are trying to complete it in the quickest time possible while maintaining good form. A 21-15-9 workout is quick, yet brutal.
As for how many exercises in a 21-15-9 workout, that is up to you.
You could do 3 exercises, each for 21 reps, then 15, then 9.
Exercise 1: 21 reps
Exercise 2: 21 reps
Exercise 3: 21 reps
Exercise 1: 15 reps
Exercise 2: 15 reps
Exercise 3: 15 reps
Exercise 1: 9 reps
Exercise 2: 9 reps
Exercise 3: 9 reps
Note: This kind of workout may take 10-15 minutes depending on your level. You are only resting if you have to, but the goal is to pace and push yourself through the workout unbroken.
You could also do 6 exercises, broken into two separate 21-15-9s. So, you do 3 of the 6 exercises for 21 reps, 15 reps, 9 reps, then you take a 2-3 minute rest and do the other 3 exercises for 21 reps, 15, reps and 9 reps.
You can even do just two exercises for 21, 15, then 9 reps.
You may want to do 3 sets of 2 exercises, for a total of 6 exercises broken into 3 21-15-9s.
There are literally countless ways go about a 21-15-9 workout, it’s up to you how hard you want to push yourself.
For a beginner, 3 exercises in total may be enough. However, for a more advanced athlete, they may want to do multiple 21-15-9s, which would take their total workout time up to other CrossFit workouts (i.e. 30-60 minutes).
On the other hand, even an advanced athlete can get a brutal 21-15-9 workout in by just doing 2-3 exercises in total. It depends on the exercises chosen and how much weight is used. This is what’s really interesting about the 21-15-9, you can tailor it to any fitness level and any degree of brutality.
While it is called a 21-15-9 workout, you don’t necessarily have to do X-amount of exercises for 21 reps, then 15 reps, then 9 reps. There are other ways to structure a 21-15-9.
As all of the numbers are divisible by 3, you could do something like this…
Exercise 1: 7 reps
Exercise 2: 7 reps
Exercise 3: 7 reps
- Totals 21
Exercise 1: 5 reps
Exercise 2: 5 reps
Exercise 3: 5 reps
- Totals 15
Exercise 1: 3 reps
Exercise 2: 3 reps
Exercise 3: 3 rep
- Total 9
And then do this for however many rounds.
If you are doing strength focused exercises like back squats, deadlifts, and presses, you could do this…
Presses or Thrusters: 8 reps
Deadlifts: 7 reps
Squats: 6 reps
- Total 21
Presses or Thrusters: 6 reps
Deadlifts: 5 reps
Squats: 4 reps
- Total 15
Presses or Thrusters: 4 reps
Deadlifts: 3 reps
Squats: 2 reps
- Total 9
Again, there are plenty of options in terms of exercises, workout time, rep scheme, and overall structure.
The 21-15-9 workout scheme is based on the famous CrossFit workout “Fran”, which was the 6th of 13 total WODs for the 2014 CrossFit games.
The Fran is a ‘for time’ workout, so once you start, you keep going until you’ve completed the entire 21-15-9 reps.
Because of its simplicity and the effect Fran delivers in such a short time, it has become one of the most popular CrossFit WODs. If you ask any CrossFitter, they will be able to tell you what their time is for a Fran workout. It is a benchmark WOD in CrossFit.
It may seem easy on paper, but Fran is a truly brutal test of total body strength, cardiovascular capacity and mental toughness.
All in all, the Fran workout is the originator of the 21-15-9 workout scheme and the reason for its mass popularity. People have taken from this idea of 21 reps, 15 reps, and 9 reps and created all different types of 21-15-9 workouts.
The creator of the 21-15-9 workout is Greg Glassman, CrossFit’s founder. He experimented with various reps schemes and he found that 21-15-9 worked best. It may seem random, but there is some logic to it. All of the numbers are divisible, i.e. 21 (7, 7, 7), 15 (5, 5, 5), and 9 (3, 3, 3). This makes altering the workout more practical, for the typical 3 exercise plan, and you can scale up the intensity while still allowing for even breaks this way.
Moreover, 21, 15 and 9 reps enables you to push yourself equally hard each round as you fatigue. It’s the perfect number for the decay in power output that you experience when using fixed weights or resistance during a workout. More on this below…
The 21-15-9 workout’s decreasing rep format allows power output to remain mostly constant throughout the entire workout. There is a decreasing “decay-rate” that you experience when using fixed weight or performing bodyweight exercises. So, you’ll do your first set of 21 reps, and when you do your second set of 15 reps, your strength has decreased, making the 15 reps feel as difficult as the 21 reps in the first set. The same applies to the last set of 9, it will feel as hard as the previous 15 rep set. This makes the entire workout consistently difficult, which means you should be able to push yourself at the same rate through the finish line.
What’s more to love about the declining rep scheme is how it benefits both muscular growth (high reps) and muscular strength (low reps), and it builds incredible endurance and cardiovascular capacity due to the “for time” goal of the workout.
The 21-15-9 workout is high intensity, so you can burn fat, but it also involves a lot of resistance training in a short time, which is great for hypertrophy, muscular strength, and muscular endurance. If you want great body composition, the 21-15-9 workout will be a great asset to your training regimen.
On top of all that, the workout is fun (albeit brutal) and it will never get boring because there are so many ways you can approach a 21-15-9 workout. From different training equipment to different exercises, you could create countless 21-15-9 workouts if you wanted to!
As we’ve mentioned, 21-15-9 workouts are brutal, even though most seem quite simple on paper. You’ve been warned.
That said, 21-15-9 workouts are suitable for beginners too. The workout can be tailored to any fitness level. All you have to do is adjust the amount of fixed weight you are using and/or the exercises you will perform. Moreover, everyone will be going at their own pace. Yes, you want to push yourself, but how hard you are able to push is determined by your fitness level.
All in all, anyone can reap the rewards of a 21-15-9 workout. Just plan it to your fitness level.
Now, let us show you some sample 21-15-9 workouts that you can do at home, outside, in the gym or at your CrossFit box…
The following 21-15-9 workouts require no equipment, you will be doing bodyweight exercises like burpees, push ups, air squats, pull ups and so on.
Note: If you can’t do a certain exercise, replace it! Make sure you replace it with a complementary exercise (i.e. if one is push, the other can be pull or if one is lower body focused, the other is upper body focused).
21-15-9 Bodyweight Workout (BEGINNER-INTERMEDIATE)
21 Air Squats
21 Push Ups
21 Inverted Rows
15 Air Squats
15 Push Ups
15 Inverted Rows
9 Air Squats
9 Push Ups
9 Inverted Rows
21-15-9 Bodyweight Workout (INTERMEDIATE)
21 Chin Ups
15 Chin Ups
9 Chin Ups
21-15-9 Bodyweight Workout (ADVANCED)
7 Pull Ups or Muscle Ups
7 Clapping Push Ups
7 Tuck Jumps
5 Pull Ups or Muscle Ups
5 Clapping Push Ups
5 Tuck Jumps
3 Pull Ups or Muscle Ups
3 Clapping Push Ups
3 Tuck Jumps
The following 21-15-9 workouts use either or both kettlebells, barbells, resistance bands and steel maces. These are all equipment that you can buy for your home or find at your local training facility.
Note: Choose a fixed weight that suits your strength level. Remember, you want to be able to go through the workout as unbroken (least rest) as possible while still keeping it very difficult, relative to your fitness level.
21-15-9 Barbell Workout
8 Barbell Rows
6 Back Squats
6 Barbell Rows
4 Back Squats
4 Barbell Rows
2 Back Squats
It’s ok to pop off weight and put it on for the various exercises above. For example, if you do 135lbs for barbell rows, but you want to do 225lbs for deadlifts, you can just pop on and off a 45lb plate.
21-15-9 Barbell Workout #2
21 Front Squats
15 Front Squats
9 Front Squats
21-15-9 Barbell Workout #3
21 Bench Press
15 Bench Press
9 Bench Press
21-15-9 Kettlebell Workout
21 Double KB Snatches
21 Sumo Deadlifts
21 Double KB Front Squats
15 Double KB Snatches
15 Sumo Deadlifts
15 Double KB Front Squats
9 Double KB Snatches
9 Sumo Deadlifts
9 Double KB Front Squats
21-15-9 Kettlebell Workout #2
21 Clean and Press
21 Goblet Squats
21 Deep Push Ups
15 Clean and Press
15 Goblet Squats
15 Deep Push Ups
9 Clean and Press
9 Goblet Squats
9 Deep Push Ups
21-15-9 Resistance Band Workout
21 Banded Push Ups
21 Seated Rows (band around your feet or anchored to a pole)
15 Banded Push Ups
15 Seated Rows (band around your feet or anchored to a pole)
9 Banded Push Ups
9 Seated Rows (band around your feet or anchored to a pole)
21-15-9 Mixed Equipment & Bodyweight Workout
You can also use different equipment and mix in bodyweight exercises all in one workout!
21 Kettlebell Thrusters
21 Banded or Bodyweight Push Ups
21 KB or Barbell Rows
15 Kettlebell Thrusters
15 Banded or Bodyweight Push Ups
15 KB or Barbell Rows
9 Kettlebell Thrusters
9 Banded or Bodyweight Push Ups
9 KB or Barbell Rows
7 Pull Ups
7 Kettlebell Swings
5 Pull Ups
5 Kettlebell Swings
3 Pull Ups
3 Kettlebell Swings
Here is a full length, 21-15-9 high intensity steel mace workout by Paulina Kairys. This follow along mace workout includes a warm up, movement prep and a cool down as well. Do this quick workout and you are good for the day!
21 Switch Squat Complex (2x Crossbody, 2x Horizontal Bottom, 2x Front Rack)
21 Battle Lunges
21 Plank Crossover Rows
15 Switch Squat Complex (2x Crossbody, 2x Horizontal Bottom, 2x Front Rack)
15 Battle Lunges
15 Plank Crossover Rows
9 Switch Squat Complex (2x Crossbody, 2x Horizontal Bottom, 2x Front Rack)
9 Battle Lunges
9 Plank Crossover Rows
If you have any questions about 21-15-9 workouts, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
Other CrossFit style workouts:
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