The seaside advertisement for Charles Atlas’ Dynamic Tension training program is among the most iconic marketing campaigns in American history. This is especially true of its reputation in fitness circles. An image of a skinny young man getting trapped by a beach bully, only to return to the scene of his humiliation after months of diligent training to kick his bully into an unconscious state and walk away with all the more of this beach. beautiful women are the distilled essence of bullying revenge fantasy.
This fantasy is undoubtedly as common as bullying itself, along with the desire to improve physically and the even more pervasive hope that many men have of being attractive. To its credit, the ad for Dynamic Tension fed perfectly on those desires, and the realism of that narrative was maintained by the muscular figure of Atlas, who positioned himself as the living embodiment of 98’s literal low. books who metamorphosed into an allegorical character. Greek God via Dynamic Tension training regimen.
Manufacturing the myth
The man who took the name of a Titan was born Angelo Siciliano in October 1892. By the time he emerged in 1921 to win his first of two $1,000 contests held in the New York area to own the most handsome male face and form in the world – a dubious claim given the geographical limitations of research – Siciliano had already acquired his professional pseudonym, having posed for many of the most prominent artists and sculptors of the time.
Obviously, being able to claim even a disputed claim to owning the world’s finest physique is valuable if you have the prestige of formal competition to back up your claims. A journalist from Buffalo Sunday Express quickly rushed to interview Atlas, and on February 19, 1922, the newspaper published Atlas’ first recorded answers to the question of how he managed to develop the lucrative physique that was so artistically in demand.
Atlas began by explaining how he knew of no other way to grow in size and strength other than natural growth. However, after moving to Brooklyn from Calabria, Italy, and wandering around the city, he came across the Brooklyn Museum of Art. It was there that he admired the Greek masterpieces contained in the museum and was explained to him by Dr. Davenport, owner of a local settlement house, how the physiques of these works of art were reproducible through physical training. At this point, Atlas went into great detail to explain the methods he employed to make his own body.
“I was too poor to join the YMCA, so I went home and made a bar out of two cobblestones from the sidewalk, which I tied to the ends of a stick,” he said. “I trained with this and imitated exercises I had seen at the gym. Finally, I was able to purchase a spring-loaded pulley weight, and worked out at home with it after I completed my task at the leather factory. I felt myself becoming noticeably stronger. Later I joined the YMCA where I started wrestling and gymnastics. I prefer light exercises. It is up to them, practiced tirelessly for years, that I owe the symmetry of my development.
After spending some time discussing the benefits of proper breathing and the highest quality air, Atlas went on to outline other muscle-building exercises he found helpful. “Pushing your body off the ground is another good exercise,” he said. “Chining and stretching are also good. These exercises should, in general, be performed about 25 times each.
Then, after explaining that he does not engage in any strict dietary practices and revealing that he likes to drink and smoke, Atlas concluded the interview.
To be clear, Atlas credited strength training and strength training — including push-ups and pull-ups, chin-ups, or both — for his powerful physique. If it is also true that he “took up” gymnastics, it is important to note that the gymnasts of the time trained with rings, horizontal bars, parallel bars, Indian clubs, steel and dumbbells, all necessary for very demanding bodyweight or strength exercises.
However his story is interpreted, Atlas certainly engaged in a diverse range of relatively common muscle activities when forging his aesthetic. The publication date of the article is also crucial, as it was not until November 1922 that Atlas teamed up with Dr. Frederick Tilney and began designing his own training courses.
A change in history
Shortly thereafter, in 1924, Atlas was interviewed by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and that’s when elements of his story started to move in a different direction, as Atlas was now a man with a training program to sell. The allusion to his initial training with a homemade bar remained, but the article clarifies that Atlas had soon “compiled his own series of exercises which he practiced diligently. These were mostly natural movement exercises without apparatus.
Despite Atlas’ assertion that he preferred not to use any type of device – for example, a barbell, stick, rope, pull-up bar or any other type of training device – he could not deny their contributions to development. of his muscles. When forced to tell the story of his initial discovery, Atlas explained how he got his break from his job demonstrating athletic springs in a drug store window for several hours each day. These springs were often referred to as “chest expanders”, but they were most often used for a host of shoulder and arm exercises, similar to how resistance bands might be used today. In other words, it is impossible to minimize the benefits of those hours of machine training granted to Atlas’ body.
It was in 1925 that Atlas began rolling out its dynamic tension exercises and completely changed its tune. In the magazine section of Tampa Grandstand on August 9, 1925, Atlas wrote the editorial “My program for a perfect figure”. The first set of exercises included push-ups with the upper body elevated between two stools, flexing the biceps to strengthen it, pushing the head against the resistance provided by the hand to strengthen the neck, standing and bending left, right, forward and backward as a torso trainer.
A week later, Atlas published a second series of exercises in the pages of the Tampa Grandstand. This time, he advised readers to perform straight-legged sit-ups, which he said would provide the added benefit of stimulating the internal organs and making them work properly. From there, he proposed that readers could train their triceps by bringing their hands together and pressing down against the resistance provided by the other arm, exercise their backs and legs simultaneously by trying to pull their legs up with their hands as they resist and practice more. their legs by stretching forward as far as they could, touching their foreheads to their knees, then returning to the starting position in what could generously be described as a lunge.
Apparently, giving away his exercise solutions for free, whether fake or not, was bad business. In May 1930, the Union Times of New York issued a bankruptcy notice for Atlas. However, Atlas bounced back with the help of publicist Charles Roman, and just four years later, Atlas’ first national advertisement for Dynamic Tension appeared in print.
Engage in the lie
In that first commercial, Atlas said it was “superfluous” that building muscle takes a long time, and further affirmed it in an awkwardly worded sentence by stating, “I will prove in the first seven days that you can have a body like mine! It was also the moment where Atlas departed completely from his previous statements saying “don’t fool yourself into thinking you need dumbbells, springs or any other contraption.” I don’t need a device either. I have no sympathy for the device — don’t believe it. It’s artificial – and it can strain your heart or other vital organs for life!
From there, Atlas officially declared their system to be known as Dynamic Tension. Five years later, the Federal Trade Commission dealt a blow to Atlas, but returned a phenomenal brand favor in the process. On the cover of Atlas reprimanded and banned for suggesting that adherents to his exercise program could acquire a body that looked like him at any time – an announcement that made headlines across several newspapers across the country – this notification was printed with the title ‘On Muscle: USA Tells Mr. Atlas He Can’t Be Duplicated.’ Of course, he was only claiming that a man who stood 5ft 9in and weighed 175lbs at his peak – from which he was almost 20 years removed at this point – remained the nation’s physical ideal and its leading expert in muscle development. .
After eliminating any projection as to how long it would take his clients to see appreciable results from their muscle-building efforts, Atlas simply capitalized on his reputation as a nearly 50-year-old man whose physique couldn’t be reproduced in another series of ads that have circulated in comic books and magazines for decades, including the famous beach ad that made him a national icon.
By the time of his death in December 1972, Atlas had sold several generations of young men on the idea that they could acquire his physique through a series of exercises that bore no resemblance to the training regime that Atlas himself even practiced when he was at his peak. Luckily for him, in a world where the printed word was quickly forgotten, he was able to edit and reframe the narrative surrounding his decades-long workout routine until he finally stumbled upon the story that would turn him into an enduring fitness legend and allow him to die a very wealthy man.
He essentially proved the rule of the legendary psychoanalyst Walter Langer“If you lie big enough and say it often enough, people will believe it.”