Can You Get Strong With Just Self-Resistance and Dynamic Tension?

By on October 22, 2014

This is just a quick post where I’m going to share the results of some experimentation and ask a question I think a lot of people might have been wondering about. That question: ‘can you get strong with just dynamic tension and self-resistance?’. Let’s find out…

What is Self-Resistance/Dynamic Tension?

Self-resistance is the process of providing resistance for your own limbs during a workout by pulling or pushing against them. For instance, you might perform a bicep curl while pushing down on your arm with your free hand in order to provide the opposing force. Alternatively, you might push your own hands together while moving them in and out in order to train the pecs. Here, you are simply swapping out the weights you would normally use for your own limbs, meaning that you can train anywhere while providing a completely adaptable amount of force.

Meanwhile, dynamic tension is the process of simply tensing your muscles hard while moving them through a range of motion. In theory, it is the process of tensing muscles that causes the fibres to tear and your body doesn’t ‘care’ whether or not you’re actually holding a weight. Thus, by tensing your arms as hard as possible and simply moving them through the curling movement, you could theoretically train your biceps. You can get solid buttocks doing ‘bum clenches’, and even bodybuilders use stomach vacuums to train their transverse abdominis, so why wouldn’t the same principle apply to big biceps?

charles atlas advert


This was the training system proposed by Charles Atlas, though it also incorporated some bodyweight exercises.

Results of My Experiments

A lot of people say you can build big muscle using dynamic tension and self-resistance alone, but I had never heard of anyone actually trying it. In theory this would be great, because it would mean you could build big muscles without needing any equipment and could get a full workout while standing at the bus-stop. But it sounds a little good to be true, doesn’t it? I mean let’s be honest, even Charles Atlas wasn’t that ripped…

So I thought that I would put this idea to the test and see if I could build strength simply using these two techniques. For three weeks that’s all I used for my training. So what can I report?

Well, as you might imagine, the results weren’t good. In that time I actually lost muscle despite training regularly and I got a nasty crick in my neck. Before trying it myself, I couldn’t see any reason why this kind of training program wouldn’t work. Now I know:

  • Self-resistance and dynamic tension requires a lot of effort. In order to offer yourself enough resistance, you need to be really tensing and probably all throughout your body. This is exhausting, it makes you go bright red and it seems to wreak havoc on your joints. There’s a real chance of bursting a blood vessel.
  • There are a lot of body parts that simply can’t be trained with self resistance. For instance, it’s pretty difficult to train the lateral deltoids (though a wall can help).
  • It’s also hard to use dynamic tension for muscles like the lateral deltoid. Can you consciously tense your shoulders? Because I know I can’t… How about your serratus muscles…? That said, practicing this could be very good for your mind-muscle connection and proprioception… worth looking into maybe?
  • There’s no such thing as a compound movement using either system. Unless you’re telling me that tensing your whole body and waving your arms and legs around is going to do anything??
  • Dynamic tension changes the angle of the force on the muscles. I can’t put my finger on how, but you don’t ‘feel’ the microtears in the same way and I’m not convinced you can add enough resistance to trigger serious hypertrophy…
  • It’s very hard to train explosively using dynamic tension or self-resistance, meaning the fast-twitch fibres won’t get much of a look in.

More the point, even just one workout using solely these two types of training is so tiring, painful and lengthy that you probably wouldn’t want to do it again. In short, if you’re looking for a ‘quick fix’ for your workouts, then this isn’t it anyway. Even if it worked, it’s just as much of an investment of time and energy as a weights routine.

That said, self-resistance biceps curls do feel like they work (use a hammer curl position to avoid hurting your wrists). While you wouldn’t want to replace regular curls with them, you could use them to get in the occasional extra set for your biceps when you’re just standing around…

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About Adam Sinicki

Hi there! My name is Adam Sinicki, I’m an entrepreneur, psychology graduate and amateur bodybuilder interested in fitness, self improvement, technology and transhumanism. I run an online business (NQR Productions) which allows me to live the lifestyle I want: getting time to hit the gym and to work on my projects and apps. Stick around and I’ll be sharing my experiments and adventures in brain training, bodybuilding, productivity, business and technology.

  • Astrongman NonearelikeGod Brig

    I made my own program based on overcoming isos and TSCs against mostly your own body or a surface. See http://symbols.x10.bz/bod.html.

  • Kev Welton

    If you want to see someone who has built a muscular physique with self resistance training, check out Marlon Birch