Charles Atlas was known as the “World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man” in the early 20th century. He is best known for his comic book style ads used to sell his dynamic tension training course. Not only did he have a great physique, but Atlas was a genius marketer.
What’s interesting is that the exercises he recommended were all bodyweight-based routines, implementing a system called dynamic tension. Today this system is known as isometric training.
What is Dynamic Tension?
Dynamic tension a.k.a. Isometric training is a movement where no movement occurs. An example would be holding a pushup at the top position. After 2-3 second you feel the tension building up in your muscles as you struggle to stay in position.
There are two main reasons why isometric training works:
Build Muscle Mass
A recent study found that a trainee can recruit 5% more muscle fibers during an isometric position compared to a typical concentric (lifting) or eccentric (lowering) action. Isometric tension is something most commonly used by advanced trainees towards the end of a set.
I’d rather use it for the complete beginner. If you’re someone who’s unable to do many pullups or pushups, then isometric training is a perfect system for you. Simply hold the top or bottom position of either the pullup or pushup (or any bodyweight exercise) to recruit more muscle fibers.
What often happens, especially with a movement like the chinup, is that we use momentum to pull ourselves up. Full reps become half reps which become no reps. I’m reminded of the CrossFit kipping technique. Now a generation of trainees believe swinging on a pullup bar counts for something.
Isometric is all about raw strength. If you can’t hold a position long enough then it’s because you’re weak. Momentum won’t save you.
Dissecting the Charles Atlas Physique
Charles Atlas is literally the picture of the male physique. He modeled for 75 statues which can be seen around the country including Washington at Peace on the Washington Square Park in Manhattan, and Dawn of Glory in Highland Park in Brooklyn.
Atlas was actually quite big at 180lbs, 17 inch biceps, and a 47 inch chest. What’s remarkable was that he very rarely touched weights.
Perhaps one can argue that the Atlas physique isn’t as cut and lean as modern-day bodybuilders or what we would describe as being ottermode. I would argue that it’s impressive what Atlas was able to accomplish with little reliance on weight lifting.
This shows you the power of bodyweight calisthenics when used in the proper sense. Charles Atlas maintained a discipline of training well into his old age, performing a morning routine of 50 squats, 100 situps, and 300 pushups.
Other Dynamic Dension Masters
Joseph L. Greenstein a.k.a the Mighty Atom (1893-1977) was a big believer in isometric training, high repetition exercise, and mental training. His strength feats included using his bare hands to drive a 20 penny nail through a 2 ½ inch thick board and changing the tire on a car without the use of any tools.
Max Sick was born in Germany, 1882. As a young boy he was very frail and sick. His parents would not allow him to lift weights for fear that the activity would harm him further. This compelled him to create his own isometric training routine. He called it Static Tension Isometrics, and it was what transformed his health and strength.
Alexander Zass built his strength during prison. Being a World War 1 POW, Zass would practice bending the iron prison bars. This form of isometric training slowly and steadily helped him become strong enough to a point where he was able to escape prison by bending the prison bars. He escaped 3 times in this manner.
Can Isometric Training help build the Ottermode Physique?
It all depends on where you’re starting from. Most people seeking the Ottermode body only need to pack on 5-10 pounds of muscle. You don’t need to lift weights in order to do this. Simply combine your regular bodyweight workouts with isometric training and you have a great formula to build your ottermode body!
There’s two ways of doing this:
Option #1: Use the guidelines in The Ottermode Workout plan and add a few isometric sets at the end of your training.
Whichever option you use, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you follow a regimen with a combination of bodyweight calisthenics and isometrics training.