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
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
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.
Different Training Leads To
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
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.
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
program is basically a modern take on the Atlas
program. Isometrics, which
strongmen like Alexander Zass used and I teach in my "Power
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.