Friday, April 10, 2009

Dynamic Tension

As an unwelcome side effect of losing weight last year, my muscle mass declined in proportion to the fat. I ended up looking emaciated rather than trim and fit. Exercise was clearly required. A disciplined regimen of daily walks -- an hour each weekday and two hours every Saturday and Sunday -- firmed up my legs, but my upper body remained weak. My arm muscles were soft and stringy. To strengthen them, I began using a pair of dumbbells for bench presses and rowing exercises. Also, to supplement these push-out and pull-in dumbbell exercises, I added arm exercises in which one arm provides resistance to the other arm. The effect is similar to isometrics but allows the arm being exercised to travel through its full range of motion. For example, if I want to perform a curl exercise with my right arm, I will clasp hands and then use my left arm to resist my right arm as it bends up toward my chin. For some angles of motion it is helpful to grasp a sturdy towel with both hands and perform a one-man tug of war. I try to do five push and five pull repetitions for a half dozen angles of motion before every meal. I'm beginning to notice some slight improvement in the tone of my arms, shoulders, and chest.

My little tug-of-war exercises are similar to the "Dynamic Tension" workouts popularized by Charles Atlas (born Angelo Siciliano in Italy in 1893), who was the Schwarzenegger (the muscleman, I mean, not the politician) of the 1920s. The Dynamic Tension program was performed without weights and consisted of various calisthenics and isometric exercises. Allegedly, the program turned Charles Atlas from a 97-pound weakling to the competition winner for "The World's Most Perfectly Developed Man." Atlas's advertisements for Dynamic Tension were almost invariably present in the back pages of comic books I read during the late 1950s and early 1960s (along with the advertisements for X-ray glasses that could see through clothes).

Lester Dent evidently was familiar with the Dynamic Tension program when he started writing the Doc Savage book series back in the 1930s. He attributed Doc Savage's extraordinary muscular development to special exercises that pit one muscle group against another.

If I continue my exercises and visit a local tanning salon, someday I too can look like "The Man of Bronze." (Actually, I would feel content being a pasty-skinned middle-aged guy that doesn't look quite so scrawny.)