Last Updated on 13 February 2022 by Ray Plumlee

Charles Atlas 97lb Weakling To Bodybuilder
Charles Atlas 97lb Weakling To Bodybuilder

We’ve all heard the story of the “97 pounds (that’s 44 kilos, for those of you more metrically inclined) weakling” who had sand kicked in his face by a bully while lounging on a beach. That sand led to an all-American success story, a bodybuilding makeover, and one of the longest-running and most successful advertising campaigns in history. Featuring his image and name; it was called “The Atlas Method”, which would make it even more notable among other bodybuilding methods that were in circulation at the time.

Angelo Siciliano was born in Italy in 1892. By 1903, young Angelo had immigrated to Brooklyn, N. Y., and began a career as a butcher. He loved to visit Coney Island, where he was particularly impressed by the strongmen featured in the sideshows. He soon embarked on a campaign to build up his slender frame, but was not happy about his progress with traditional exercise equipment. Siciliano was too poor to purchase sophisticated equipment or to hire a trainer, so he embarked on his own program to build his frame. Originally he used standard type equipment and calisthenics. He watched as others worked out and copied their movements. He frequented the Coney Island sideshows and befriended the strongman performers, asking for advice. Then, while visiting a zoo, he noticed a male lion stretching and maneuvering his frame in a particular manor. The lion needed no equipment, he reasoned, so why should he. He noticed that the animal used his muscles to create tension, playing them against each other, and that was how the idea for his bodybuilding techniques, marketed under the name “Dynamic Tension” was born.

The 1920s were kind to the Italian immigrant. In 1921, Bernarr Macfadden, publisher of Physical Culture Magazine, dubbed him “The Most Handsome Man in America”. The following year he was given, by the same man, the title “The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man.” Not too shabby for the former 97-pound weakling! In 1922 he met Dr. Frederick Tilney, a homeopathic physician with an interest in developing bodybuilding programs, through his business relationship with Macfadden. Angelo had developed a system he would call Dynamic Tension and wrote a fitness course describing it. He asked Tilney to edit his work. Dr. Tilney readily agreed, and the two went into business. Not coincidentally, this was also the year that Angelo Siciliano changed his name to Charles Atlas. An acquaintance remarked on how much he resembled the statue of Atlas at a Coney Island hotel. The bodybuilder figured that the name sounded much more American, and when it came to marketing a bodybuilding system, it couldn’t hurt to bear the name of the Greek titan tasked with supporting the celestial heavens upon his well-built shoulders. Throughout the years, there have been many notable individuals who have used Charles Atlas’ system of Dynamic Tension to build muscles. World heavyweight champions Max Baer, Rocky Marciano, and even the Brown Bomber himself, Joe Louis. Actor David Prowse used the technique to make Darth Vader look even more intimidating. In 1929, Charles Atlas incorporated as Charles Atlas Ltd. and trademarked the term “dynamic tension.”

Dynamic tension is a method of exercise that pits muscle against muscle to provide resistance. The user tenses the muscles in a body part and then moves those muscles in a way that mimics lifting an imaginary weight. Dynamic Tension exercises are often compared to isometric exercises, and, while they may be similar, isometric exercises require no movement, while Dynamic Tension does. The technique can be used in virtually any movement or style of exercise. It is particularly common in the martial arts, as it allows the user to build speed and power, used in sparring with opponents. The system of Dynamic Tension which Charles Atlas Ltd. has marketed for almost a century is not just concerned with muscle mass. He treats each customer as a friend, encouraging them along the way, and urging them to get in touch regarding their progress. 

The system consists of twelve lessons, with one final, perpetual lesson, as listed below:

  1. The first lesson concentrates on the chest. It provides a series of seven exercises to build and maintain strong muscles but does not stop there. The chapter discussed breathing techniques, the importance of proper sleeping habits, and even good grooming. Mr. Atlas is aiming to build the perfect body, not simply a well-muscled one.
  2. Lesson two is concerned with nutrition, and the importance of the quality of the fuel with which you stoke your buddy. It breaks down the seven classes of nutrients needed in a healthy diet and emphasizes the importance of drinking a sufficient amount of water every day.
  3. In this chapter, Atlas discusses one of the most unpleasant topics, constipation. The chapter tells us of the harmful effects of constipation, as well as the harmful effects of the overuse of laxatives. He offers diet and nutrition tips to avoid constipation and even beneficial exercises.
  4. Lesson 4 deals with the abdomen. What good are bulging biceps and well-muscled thighs without the washboard abs to accompany them? But this lesson deals, also, with the abdomen as part of the digestive system, offering tips on how to keep yourself healthy, in addition to a series of exercises to build the perfect tummy.
  5. Next up is the spine and back (and even the face), with a series to make you more flexible and tones.
  6. Lesson 6 deals with the back, providing a series of exercises to build and strengthen.
  7. Next, Atlas discusses what he considers the “true tonic of life,” water, and how to use it both internally and externally for health benefits.
  8. Lesson 8 is made up of a series of exercises for the shoulders, thighs, and legs.
  9. Finally, we get to that most displayed and admired icon of manliness, the bicep. After this chapter, you can flex with the best of them!
  10. By lesson 10, we are finally getting down to the bottom of the whole thing – the calves. You need a strong base to support everything also, and Charles Atlas is prepared to help you have one.
  11. Probably the most ignored muscles when it comes to bodybuilding are the muscles of the fingers and wrists. Atlas offers a wide array of exercises for these almost forgotten appendages.
  12. The 12th lesson involves acquiring physical magnetism the Charles Atlas way. This involves, for the most part, cleanliness and other good habits.

The last lesson is what Atlas describes as perpetual exercise. These are simple things to do each and every day to maintain a healthy and happy life. And a great body!

Charles Atlas has long been considered a pioneer in bodybuilding fitness and in bodybuilding itself. He was a successful bodybuilder who was a professional wrestler in the 1950s and an author of a number of books and articles about bodybuilding, dieting, and exercise routines.

Charles Atlas began his career as a professional wrestler and was a member of the original Olympic wrestling team. He later developed a training program that became known as “The Atlas Method.” This workout and diet regimen gained notoriety because of the fact that the creator, Charles Atlas, was known for his handsome physique and the fact that he was married and had a family.

Charles Atlas also developed a popular bodybuilding routine in which he would train for an extended period of time and then just stop and rest while eating only bananas or fruits while drinking eight glasses of water every day. This routine allowed him to eat whatever he wanted during his bodybuilding workouts. He was a master bodybuilder by the 1950s and became a household name due to the fact that he and his wife created a popular series of books called the Atlas Program that was very popular. Charles Atlas also was a well-known figure on television, where he presented a show called “The Atlas Family” for a number of years.

As you might expect, people often asked Charles Atlas why he was so successful. He answered that he had never stopped working out and had a very high metabolism, which is what helped him gain a lot of weight and develop a large build. He also said that he didn’t have to starve himself, since his metabolism was high, so he didn’t have to worry about gaining fat.

Charles Atlas also claimed that his training routine was easy to follow and that he could get the results that he wanted with a relatively short period of time, making it possible for him to work out six days per week. It’s important to note that this routine took several weeks to see real results. In addition, Charles Atlas always worked out his body with a minimum of twenty-five sets per body part and often with more.

Bodybuilder routines are very popular today, especially among bodybuilders who have achieved the physique that Atlas had as well as those who have just begun working out. The best bodybuilder routines have become so popular that many people have started to copy some of these routines, even though they might be too advanced for some beginners.

Charles Atlas is also remembered for having a famous slogan that read: “Training is the best medicine.” This is something that bodybuilders should try to incorporate in their daily workout routines.

Dynamic Tension Exercises | Dynamic Tension | Review | Charles Atlas | Course | Workout


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I’m Nick Wilkinson. I writer and radio personality who lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

With over 14 years of experience in the Behavioral Health Field, I’ve been working in close contact with kids from all walks of life.

Specializing in teenagers and young adults, I’ve been a career long supporter of “verbal de-escalation” and non-violent crisis intervention. I believe that what you say, and how you say it, are the keys to successful communication. I currently write about men's health topics, parenting and child abuse topics, and other social issues. You can visit my blog at

Tagged on: abdomen    Angelo Siciliano    biceps    bodybuilding    build muscles    calisthenics    Charles Atlas    constipation    Dynamic Tension    homeopathic    isometric exercises    Joe Louis    Max Baer    muscle against muscle    muscle mass    nutrition    perpetual exercise    Rocky Marciano    strongman
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