Charles Atlas and The Business of Getting Strong

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Spotlight looks at Charles Atlas. He created a body-building program that continues to be successful today.

Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Adam Navis.

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And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1  

Do you have anything about your body that you want to change? Maybe you wish you had stronger arms or legs? Do you want to look more like an athlete? Charles Atlas wanted to change his body. He was small and weak. And he did not like it. He worked hard to become a strong man. He then used his success to create a very large exercise company. Today’s Spotlight is on Charles Atlas.

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In 1903, an 11-year-old boy moved to the United States – to Brooklyn in New York. He was from Italy. His name was Angelo Siciliano. His family did not have a lot of money. Angelo was small, and often sick. The other boys often beat him up.

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There is a famous story about Angelo. In the story, he was a young man visiting a nearby beach. He was trying to get a girl to like him. A much bigger man kicked sand in his face. Angelo felt shame. He was so small that he could not fight back. He knew he could not win the fight. So he decided to change his body. He decided to get stronger.

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There were not many exercise programs or classes for him to join. And he did not have enough money to pay for training. So Angelo started exercising by himself, in his own home. He started by lifting things that were heavy and making his own equipment. But this method was not very successful. And he did not have money to buy more equipment.

Photo by jean wimmerlin
Voice 1  

Then one day he visited the zoo. He watched the lion’s strong muscles as it moved. He understood that the lion was getting stronger as it stretched its body. This gave Angelo the idea to change how he was exercising. He would add stretching and call his program Dynamic Tension.

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Dynamic means movement. And tension happens when two things oppose, or are against, each other. Angelo’s system combined moving and stretching, tightening muscles for tension, and breathing. It did not require any equipment or weights. It used the weight of a person’s body to create strength. Today, this method is commonly called isometrics.

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Angelo practiced Dynamic Tension for a few months. As a result he was no longer small and weak. He was big and strong. His friends noticed his new body. They told him that he looked like a statue that was on the top of a local hotel. It was a statue of Atlas. Atlas is a god from old Greek stories. The story says that Atlas was so strong that could hold up the whole earth on his shoulders. Angelo liked this name. So he changed his name to Charles Atlas!

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With his new body, Charles Atlas began posing as a model for many artists making statues. Around this time, he also took part in competitions to find the “World’s Most Beautiful Man” and the “World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man”. He won both titles. Soon after this, he decided to make his success into a business. He found a business partner and started to sell his exercise plan. Now other people could become strong and well-developed just like him.

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Charles Atlas wanted to show people that his method really worked. He often demonstrated his strength. He worked in travelling shows. He lifted heavy weights. He balanced on his hands. The writer Jerry Cowle described meeting Charles Atlas at a summer camp.

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“First he tore a thick paper phone book in half. Next he bent an iron bar into a horseshoe shape with just his hands. Then he put a long iron bar in his teeth and had two men hang from it, one from each end. Finally he lay on a bed of sharp nails while the same two men stood on a piece of wood across his chest. We all cheered. Atlas deserved the title ‘World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man’.”

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Atlas made his Dynamic Tension exercises into a 12-week program. He used his own story to sell the program. Young boys read about the program in the back of comic magazines like Superman, Batman, or Spiderman. The comic story advertisement showed a small boy getting sand kicked in his face. Then the boy did Dynamic Tension. He was then able to defend himself.

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Charles Atlas never stopped building his business. He performed acts of strength often. He also cared about the people who bought his program. Many people liked that Atlas himself would write to people who bought the program. And he never stopped working to improve the program. He continued to make new and better exercises.

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By the 1950s, Atlas had sold over a million copies of his exercise program. People from all over the world bought it. They wrote to thank him for changing their lives. The program was translated into seven different languages. For the next 20 years it was the most popular exercise program in the world. In fact, people can still buy it today!

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Atlas also believed his success came because of how he lived his life. He did not drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. He encouraged people to go to church. He told people to get up early in the morning. He thought it was important for boys and girls to keep their rooms clean and organized. And even though he was a wealthy man, he lived in a simple home with his family.

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People still use exercise programs. There are many new kinds to choose from. People still want to change their bodies. Atlas’ Dynamic Tension program is just one of many exercise programs. But Charles Atlas showed the world that you do not need complex equipment to become strong. You do not need to pay someone lots of money to teach you to be healthy. All you need is your own body, hard work, and clean living.

Voice 1  

What do you think? Is it really that simple to get strong and stay healthy? Do you use an exercise program? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 2  

The writer of this program was Adam Navis. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from The United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Charles Atlas and the Business of Getting Strong’.

Voice 1  

Look for our free listening app in the Google Play Store and in iTunes. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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