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Did Charles Atlas Lift Weights?

Charles Atlas, despite having passed away in 1972, may still be the worlds most famous advocate for getting strong and developing your body without using weights. His system of "Dynamic Tension" exercises have literally sold in the millions. However in some circles he remains a controversial figure as many people believe he achieved his amazing physique by using weights. Is this true?

Why it Matters

And why does it matter? The reason it does matter, and why it can generate such heated debate, is simply because Atlas was such a major proponent of exercising without weights. If it turns out he "cheated" and trained with weights regularly what does it say about the true value of his "Dynamic Tension" system? What does it say about all bodyweight exercises in general? Everyone has an opinion on this. Here's mine.

Different Training Leads To Different Results

Charles Atlas

From looking at Atlas's career and how his physique changed over time I suspect he DID lift weights at some point, but gave them up later. My reasoning on this is that how you train will effect how you look. Consider the appearances of different athletes. Gymnasts almost always have extremely powerful upper bodies with broad shoulders. This is due to all of the hand balancing / ring work that they do. Speed skaters have tree trunk legs whereas their upper bodies are hardly developed at all. Boxer have lean, long muscles. Power lifters are very bulky. etc etc. The moral of the story is that different training methods result in different looks.

Atlas Over Time

As weight lifting often involves isolating the muscles the result is often a very "cut" physique. If you look at early pictures of Charles Atlas this is how he looked. Overtime however this physique gave way to one that was not quite so defined. From by experience with bodyweight exercises this is typical. The reason is that bodyweight exercises rarely isolate the muscles in the way weight lifting does. This results in powerful chests that are proportionally larger than the arms as compared to a weightlifter. This is the body that Atlas has in his later years.

My Conclusion?

So, in conclusion I suspect that Charles Atlas did use weights early in his career. There is nothing unusual about this. Most people when they want to get in shape and get stronger start by weight lifting. I know I did. However once you discover how much you can do just by training with your own bodyweight you realize it's not really necessary. I suspect Atlas came to the same conclusion.

Atlas and Isometric Exercises

On a side note I feel I need to point out that the Charles Atlas program of "Dynamic Tension" WAS NOT based on isometrics. His program, which I've read and reviewed here, was based on dynamic movement and bodyweight exercises like the Atlas push-up. My Power Isotonics program is basically a modern take on the Atlas program. Isometrics, which strongmen like Alexander Zass used and I teach in my "Power Isometrics" course, are all based on static postures. If anyone tells you that Charles Atlas taught a system of isometric exercises ignore them. They do not know what they are talking about.

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