Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension Concept

I mentioned Charles Atlas briefly back when I did the post on the Atlas Pushup. Today I want to start looking at the system he developed because he not only combined several of the various resistance training methods we've already looked at, but he added a unique twist that I think might determine how well you can stick with a fitness program.

But first, a little history...

Back in the early 20th Century, mail-order fitness courses became all the rage. If you're interested in such things, you can check out the Sandow and the Golden Age of Iron Men site, where you can find out all about some of the early legends and even download PDFs of some of their training manuals. (Not the Charles Atlas course, however; that's still for sale at Charles Atlas Lmt.. It costs $50, not too much more than it did way back then!) Charles Atlas is probably the most famous of these legends.

His real name was Angelo Siciliano, and he really was a 98-lb weakling who got sand kicked in his face by a bully on a beach. That happened 8 months after he was beaten and left unconscious by a thug one Halloween. After that first beating, he tried working out at the local YMCA but all it did was make him sick. According to legend, a depressed Angelo was watching how the big cats at the Brooklyn Zoo stretched their muscles while they paced in their cages, and decided to try the same thing. After some experimentation, he successfully began to gain muscle and became quite popular at the beach! The guys there had nicknamed him "Charlie," and one day while standing in front of the statue in front of the Atlas Hotel one of them said, "Hey, Charlie, you look even better than that Atlas guy."

And Charles Atlas was born. In 1921 and 1922 he was voted "The World's Most Perfectly Developed Man," and it wasn't long until he was in the mail-order fitness business. His technique, dubbed "Dynamic Tension," combined what I have called bodyweight, self, and imagined resistance methods with isometrics. It also included advice on nutrition and what he called "magnetic personality." It was perhaps one of the first systems to see all aspects of personal development as necessary components of health. I have a copy of the course, which I bought for comparison to what I had learned, and I was amazed at how sound most of his advice is, even though it's a century later.

You may wonder why Atlas left out weightlifting. Obviously he had a bad experience with it, but why didn't he add it later on? The reason is what I think is the real genius of his method.

Remember my post about how muscle builds? When I finally was successful putting on some muscle, I had to work out 4 times a week, divide the lifting work so that I didn't work the same body part two days in a row, make sure I allowed enough time to rest between workouts, etc. With the Atlas approach, none of that matters! Charles Atlas designed his program to be done every day without strain, so you never had to worry about that. You never strain yourself and you never tire yourself out, but you build muscle every day. Because of this, you shouldn't get hurt and you shouldn't walk around feeling tired all the time.

In a word, your workouts should make you feel good! And if you feel good, you keep doing them.

Starting next week, I'll be looking at some of the exercises that fit into a workout like this. Before the month is out, I'll also take a quick look at nutrition and aerobics (endurance exercises like walking, running, biking, etc.) and some golf-specific exercises. When we're done, I hope you'll have enough information to develop a program you'll enjoy doing, as well as how to prevent boredom in your workouts.

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