What is your superhuman strength

"Hysterical power": When suddenly you become a superhero in danger

One woman fights a polar bear, another lifts a BMW: Some people have already developed superhuman strength in dangerous situations. But is this even possible? And what is the scientific explanation for this phenomenon? We clarify.

In a duel with a polar bear

Lydia Angyiou watches her seven-year-old son and his two friends play hockey. Suddenly a polar bear approaches them. Without hesitation, she runs up to the gigantic animal and tries to keep it away from her child with kicks and fists.

When the responsible hunter rushes to the scene minutes later, he sees something astonishing: the 41-year-old woman is still wrestling with the bear. The animal does not react to the warning shots, whereupon the hunter finally shoots it. The mother is in shock. Her clothes are soaked in blood, but she does not suffer any serious injuries.

This incident described by Nunatsiaq News is just one of many in which normal people suddenly develop seemingly superhuman powers. "Abc News" reports from a 22-year-old woman from Virginia (USA) who lifted a BMW 525i to save her father. The jack slipped while repairing the car.

Life and death situations create such forces. They are also called "hysterical forces". There is still no proven explanation for the phenomenon. It is difficult to test such a situation in the laboratory. After all, such an experiment would require the test subjects to believe that their lives were in danger.

What are the explanations?

There are different approaches that explain the phenomenon of the "hysterical force". Professor E. Paul Zehr, who teaches at the University of Victoria in Canada, explains in an interview with the BBC: "Obviously we have this strength in us. It is not a supernatural power that creates this force."

In order to better understand the "hysterical force", it must first be explained that the expenditure of force is often less than one might expect. The 22-year-old woman did not lift the entire car, but only one wheel. The main weight of the car is in the engine block. With the BMW, this is in front and not on the rear wheels where she lifted the vehicle.

While it's still an immense weight for a woman who isn't a trained weight lifter, it's not impossible.

The brain saves energy

In addition, there is the fact that the body never provides full muscle performance. The brain automatically tries to mobilize as little muscle power as possible for tasks. Because muscle contraction requires energy and the brain is designed to save energy.

Full utilization of the muscles carries the risk of serious injury to the body. Muscles, bones and tendons can be affected.

It is assumed that even top athletes only use 80 percent of their theoretical strength. In a dangerous situation, in which it is a matter of life or death, this security is bypassed in the brain. So far more force can be mobilized than the brain would normally allow.

Another hurdle for the human body is the supply of oxygen. So the muscles need a huge amount of oxygen to do heavy work. The threshold of strength is also determined by how much oxygen the body can pump through the blood into the muscles.

The adrenaline high is crucial

In dangerous situations, the glands in the brain release a large amount of adrenaline. This hormone is instrumental in the "fight or flight" instinct of people. Adrenaline increases the heart rate and makes breathing faster. As a result, more oxygen is supplied to the body. The muscles can perform much better because they are supplied with more oxygen.

The adrenaline output also ensures a reduced sensitivity to pain. The pain, which is usually a warning sign for the brain, disappears. Thus the activity is not stopped. It cannot be proven how much stronger a person is in these situations. This depends on subjective factors that are not easy to test.

The "hysterical force" has less to do with a superhuman power than with the forces that are already anchored in the human body. Basically, it's just another brain survival mechanism.