Building Muscle With Dynamic Tension

So what the hell is Dynamic Tension and how will that help you build muscle?

From Wikipedia

“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.

So what do I think about Dynamic Tension? I say it could well be another killer home work out; and what is best about this is that not only can it be done at home BUT BASICALLY ANYWHERE!

charles atlas - dynamic tension

I am doing chest DTs right now as I am writing this one.

You see Dynamic Tension really makes sense – since you are not using any external resistance, you will just use the antagonist muscle of the target to generate the resistance. But I do realize that the term “antagonist”, “agonist”, etc might be jargon so let us explain them just a little bit:

Agonist muscles are your main target muscles – for example in barbell curls, the AGONIST muscle would be the biceps since it is the one that shortens or generates force upon the move.

The opposite muscle to biceps would be your “Antagonist” which is the triceps. The antagonist is pretty much the muscle that is designed to generate force or shorten at the opposing direction; you could imagine this one with your biceps and triceps right? If so, so are good to go.

agonist - protagonist bicep tricep

So here are some lists of opposing muscles:

Biceps – Triceps

Chest – Back (T-bar row motion)

Shoulders – back (lat pulldown motion)

Quadriceps – Hamstrings

Rectus abdominis – lower back

I have been doing DT all these years especially with martial arts training; and I didn’t even know it had a name.

The idea behind Dynamic tension is using the resistance from the opposing muscle to generate your own resistance – what‘s great about this is that it is possible to get greater amount of resistance here than a with simple bodyweight exercise like pushups – since the torque that your back generates may be higher than that is generated by your bodyweight (if the antagonist body part is already well conditioned).

Of course one can also use dynamic tension to increase the intensity of simple bodyweight moves. For example while doing simple situps – simply generate opposing resistance from your back until you feel that your abdomens are working harder.


So how do you maximize the effect of Dynamic tension and increase the workload? Use negatives! How the hell is that possible? Simple – instead of generating the “opposing force” only at the positive motion- generate it all throughout even at the negative motion.


Dynamic tension is good – it can add up to your results and it certainly is another way to add variety into your training and avoid stagnation. I say you can do a week of all DTs for a week if you have been training with weights and nothing more for a long time BUT in no way are we suggesting that you eliminate weight lifting altogether in favor of doing purely DTs.

For greatest result you should do lifting and weight training regularly. But for people who otherwise would not train at all  – yeah by all means do DTs as much as you want and of course with some body weight home workouts.


So if you are having difficulty with using this DT especially DOING NEGATIVES with it; just use the power of visualization “IMAGINE”. While doing chest DTs for example: imagine that you are actually hoisting a very heavy weight – 300, 400, you choose! Give it your all! Then Slow down while lowering it (the imaginary barbell) nice and easy…that’s how you do it! That is how you visualize for a more intense Dynamic tension; just don’t let the barbell fall at you!

Just a question! Have you tried DT before? What can you say about DT? How often do you do DTs?

A-Lifter- Don't forget to leave your comment/feedback below.  If this article was helpful, I am sure our book Real Talk Muscle will help you even more in your quest for muscle gain. Check it out you can read the first few chapters as well.
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13 thoughts on “Building Muscle With Dynamic Tension

  1. Hi there i am kavin, its my first occasion to
    commenting anywhere, when i read this article i thought i could also create comment due
    to this sensible paragraph.

    1. look closely.
      If you comprehended the principle you will be able to make your own.
      You don’t need an exact “program” with DTs since here we treat it as a supplemental work.
      You can do it with bodyweight exercises like squats, pushups etc BTW, you just need to increase the tension from the opposing muscles as you do so.
      You don’t need me to tell you how many sets or reps you can do.
      You can even do it while sitting in front of your monitor with chests; just move your arms like you are bench pressing while tensing your back – both your chest and back will get a good burn. Off course you must do this slowly to increase the time under tension.
      You can do this like for 3 sets or so and that is good.

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