Charles Atlas – Real Strength Now Master Series


In my Real Strength Now training, I often go back to the old masters to find out what they had to say about exercise, but particularly, what they had to say about breathing. Today I'm going to talk about Angelo Siciliano; you may think you have not heard of him, but most of us my age really have.

Angelo Siciliano was born in 1892 and he was the 97-pound weakling who had sand kicked in his face on the beach, otherwise known as Charles Atlas, who trademarked the name Dynamic Tension, which is another name for something that I teach called Dynamic Resistance. Charles Atlas took his name from of a statue at Coney Island, New York, after a friend said, "You look like that statue of Atlas." So, in another example of great marketing, Siciliano became Atlas, and remained Atlas till he death a 80 years old.

Often when I'm talking about these old masters, like George Hackenschmidt or Charles Atlas, I think, "Yes, but he only lived to be 80, or 89, when we all want to live to 100 these days, or 95, or whatever." Well you have to understand that back then, in the 1800s, the life expectancy was 50 to 55 years old. These people were out living that life expectancy by 20 or 25 years. How did they do it? Let’s ask Atlas: ‘Live clean, think clean, and don't go to burlesque shows.’ And that was just one of his many inspiration quotes.

His Dynamic Tension includes many principles that I have studied over the years through martial arts, boxing, yoga, weight training and Pilates. One principle is visualization. Take, for instance, an Atlas exercise for the muscles of the chest. Performed by extending your arms and hands and pretending that you're holding on to a rope, really gripping it - tensing all the muscles in the chest – then while visualizing the rope, pull it down. Visualizing. Now take the rope back up, all the time tensing the muscles. This is an exercise in dynamic resistance. Moving while the muscles are in a contracted state, and that is, in essence, Dynamic Tension.

Atlas conceived lots of these exercises, but what really interests me – with all the old masters - is what did they say about breathing? Because in all my training, no matter what it was, whether it was boxing, karate, or Pilates or yoga, there came a concentration on breathing. Calm the mind with the breath; keep the body flowing with energy, maintaining endurance with the deep, steady breath. So... What did Charles Atlas have to say about the breath? I'm going to read this so I don't miss a word, because I think it's wonderful.

In his very first lesson, "Pure air, deep breathing, the very first thing in securing radiant health is the deep breathing of pure air. We can live without food for many weeks, without water for many days, but we cannot live without air for more than a few minutes. Air is equally a food as fruit and vegetables. As it enters into the composition of the body, it's value cannot be over emphasized, yet because it is so cheap, we ignore the real value.

The first step required is to practice daily, full, deep, lower breathing. There are some teachers who advocate blowing out the upper chest to an enormous extent, but this is both useless and injurious because as you get older, you neglect the deep breathing with the result that the cavities of the lungs are unused, and this forms a suitable culture medium for lung troubles and disease.

What I advocate is formal deep breathing so that all parts of the lungs are filled to the utmost in proportion to the size of the body without straining. Oxygen is life." That's from Charles Atlas and that's the first lesson, or one of the things in the first lesson, of his course. What's he talking about? He's talking about vital capacity. What's vital capacity? Well it's actually the amount of air you can exhale in one big exhalation after a deep inhale. However, vital capacity is synonymous with the elasticity of our lungs, the way the rib cage stays young an flexible. What else is he talking about? He’s talking about diaphragmatic breath.

Atlas does not use the word diaphragm; he calls it lower breathing, but if you're breathing with your bell, you're making full use of your diaphragm. Keeping the mechanism toned and youthful. Yes... Charles Atlas (born in 1892) lived to be 80 years old when most others of his era lived to be about 52 or 54; he had to be doing something right. “Think clean, live clean, don't go to burlesque shows.”


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