Martial artists have long made equipment-free training the core of their conditioning routines. Now the appeal is spreading. Any on-the-go fitness buff thousands of miles from his hometown gym can borrow moves from gymnastics, yoga, and the teachings of old-school musclemen like Charles Atlas to keep fit. John Peterson, author of Pushing Yourself to Power and a lifelong student of Atlas’s work, combines calisthenics (such as the Hindu push-up seen at right), isometric holds, and muscle-against-muscle self-resistance exercises that have been off the radar for decades. He’s also living evidence that his system works: He chiseled his physique without ever pumping iron.
"Atlas advocated what he called dynamic tension," Peterson says. "You work the muscles by powerfully contracting them through a range of motion, or by pitting one muscle group against another."
The benefits of this type of training, besides the fact that it can be done anywhere, are that it’s easier on the joints, ligaments, and tendons than lifting heavy weights. And because any movement can become a resistance exercise, dynamic tension offers endless variety.
Do these 10 exercises without stopping, then rest for two to three minutes and repeat the circuit. If the movements don’t feel natural at first, keep at it. Like anything else, the exercises here — especially those that require self-resistance — take practice. Keep strict form throughout, and tense only the muscles involved in the movement, focusing on the contraction. And don’t forget to breathe.