Dynamic tension

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"Dynamic Tension" is the name Charles Atlas gave to the system of physical exercises that he first popularized in the 1920s.

Dynamic Tension is a self-resistance exercise method which pits muscle against muscle. The practitioner tenses the muscles of a given body part and then moves the body part against the tension as if a heavy weight were being lifted. Dynamic Tension exercises are not merely isometrics, since they call for movement. Instead, the method comprises a combination of exercises in three disciplines: isotonic, isokinetic, and some exercises in the isometric discipline.

Proponents assert that it is nearly impossible to be injured during exercise using this method because one's own muscles provide the force and, as they tire, so the force used also decreases. Likewise, the benefits can continue beyond the more traditional exercise methods because as the practitioner grows stronger, the exercise becomes more intense.

"Dynamic Tension" is a registered trademark of Charles Atlas, Ltd.


After being bullied as a child, Charles Atlas joined the YMCA and began to do numerous exercise routines. He became obsessed with strength. He said that one day he watched a tiger stretching in the zoo and asked himself "How does Mr. Tiger keep in physical condition? Did you ever see a tiger with a barbell?" He concluded that lions and tigers became strong by pitting muscle against muscle. The story may be apocryphal, but it captures the essence of Mr. Atlas' innovation. There were many other "isometric" courses available at the time and it wasn't until Atlas used an advertisement depicting a bully kicking sand in the weakling's face that the sales took off.[1] Some other notable users of this method include Joe DiMaggio, Max Baer, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Robert Ripley and Alan Wells.

Specifically, dynamic tension is a technique very commonly used within martial arts. This refers to the “dynamic tension” literally applied using a person’s movements. Tightening core muscles and applying dynamic tension allows a person to change the tempo of his or her movement. The reconstruction of such movements gives a person more power and speed. This especially becomes useful in performing or sparring. Taking a deep breath, and exhaling slowly while tightening the muscles, and sometimes even physically shaking the body part, portrays a stronger presence while performing. Following dynamic tension could be a series of quick movements to pick up the pace. Dynamic tension is a technique that is universal and could be used on any movement or any style.

Other uses[edit]

The phrase dynamic tension is also used in the business discipline of performance measurement to illustrate the benefits of competing priorities. People tend to behave in ways which will optimize their own rewards and recognition. If the business rewards the employee solely on one measure such as revenue, the employee will be incented to make sales even when they are unprofitable. On the other hand, measuring solely on profit ratios leads to cherry-picking of sales opportunities, lost volume and higher unit costs (because the fixed costs of production must be spread over fewer units). Any one key performance indicator can be manipulated. Rewarding employees based on both revenue and profit ratio is more complex but tends to lead to better alignment between the employees' incentives and the desired business results. Like the competing tensions of two arms pulling against each other, the two competing business priorities are said to be in dynamic tension with each other.

This principle was exemplified in the concept of the balanced scorecard.

The phrase dynamic tension is a key concept used in The Empowerment Dynamic which is used by executive, life, and leadership coaches to help people move out of the drama triangle and into a choice-based and outcome-oriented worldview.

This term is used by the religious leader Bokonon to describe the way to create a good society in Cat's Cradle.


  1. ^ The 20th Century History With The Boring parts Left Out, D. Wallechinsky, 1999

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