Hysterical strength

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Hysterical strength refers to a display of extreme physical strength by humans, beyond what is believed to be normal, usually occurring when people are in, or perceive themselves to be in life-or-death situations.[1][2] It was also reported to be present during situations of altered states of consciousness, such as trance and alleged possession. Its description is mostly based on anecdotal evidence.

The name refers to hysteria, a nosological category that included bouts of superhuman strength as one of the possible symptoms, but in Europe this had also been an attribution in previous cases of alleged demonic possession.[3][4][5] Charcot imputed to the phase of hysterical attacks called clownism the presence of strength and agility not consistent with the age and sex of the person, which before in the Catholic ritual of exorcism was attributed to demonic force. Thus, the cause of the phenomenon began at that time to be addressed by the investigation of insanity.[5] During that period in the 19th century, the term hysterical strength could also be found in the intersection of such fields, scientific and religious, for instance appearing in a statement by a physician for the Society for Psychical Research.[6]

It was also described in reports of trance or possession in several other cultures, as for example in the New Testament (Mark 5:4) or in shamanic practices.[7][8]

Unexpected strength is claimed to occur during excited delirium.[9][10]


The most common anecdotal examples based on hearsay are of parents lifting vehicles to rescue their children, and when people are in life-and-death situations. Periods of increased strength are short-lived, usually no longer than a few minutes, and might lead to muscle injuries and exhaustion later. It is not known if there are any reliable examples of this phenomenon.

  • On 18 March 1915, Corporal Seyit Çabuk lifted bombshells that weighed 276 kg (608 lb) in the Gallipoli Campaign.
  • Tibetan oracles, such as the Nechung Kuten or Sungma Balung,[11] are reported to display superhuman strength during possession. Eyewitnesses described the Nechung Oracle wearing a 80 or 90 pounds headdress, that normally outside the trance could break his neck.[12] The 14th Dalai Lama also stated that the oracle could barely walk with the total weight of his outfit (70 pounds) when not in trance.[13]
  • Comic book artist Jack Kirby claims he was inspired to create the Hulk after seeing a woman lift a car to save her baby in 1962.[14][15][16]
  • In 1982, in Lawrenceville, Georgia, Tony Cavallo was repairing a 1964 Chevrolet Impala automobile from underneath when the vehicle fell off the jacks on which it was propped, trapping him underneath. Cavallo's mother, Mrs. Angela Cavallo, lifted the car high enough and long enough for two neighbors to replace the jacks and pull Tony from beneath the car.[17]
  • In 1988, in Waialua, Hawaii, while working a construction contract two weeks after filming the finale for the television show Magnum P.I., pilot and Vietnam Veteran Steve Kux lost control of his Hughes 500D helicopter and crashed into a drainage ditch. His coworker, Warren Everal (also known as "Tiny") lifted the 1,400 pound[18] helicopter enough to allow another person to remove Kux from the cockpit. [19]
  • In 2006, Ivujivik, Quebec, resident Lydia Angiyou saved several children by fighting a polar bear until a local hunter shot the bear.[20]
  • In 2006, in Tucson, Arizona, Tom Boyle watched as a Chevrolet Camaro hit 18-year-old Kyle Holtrust. The car pinned Holtrust, still alive, underneath. Boyle lifted the Camaro off the teenager, while the driver of the car pulled the teen to safety.[17][21]
  • In 2009, in Ottawa, Kansas, 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in), 84 kg (185 lb) Nick Harris lifted a Mercury sedan to help a 6-year-old girl pinned beneath.[22]
  • In 2009, in Newport, Wales, Donna McNamee, Abigail Sicolo, and Anthony McNamee lifted a 1.1 ton Renault Clio off an 8-year-old boy.[23]
  • In 2011, in Tampa, Florida, 1.91 m (6 ft 3 in), 134 kg (295 lb) University of South Florida college football player Danous Estenor lifted a 1,600 kg (3,500 lb) car off a man who had been caught underneath. The man was a tow truck driver who had been pinned under the rear tire of a 1990 Cadillac Seville, which had lurched forward as he worked underneath it. The man suffered only minor injuries.[24]
  • In 2012, in Glen Allen, Virginia, 22-year-old Lauren Kornacki rescued her father, Alec Kornacki, after the jack used to prop up his BMW slipped, pinning him under it. Lauren lifted the car, then performed CPR on her father and saved his life.[25]
  • In 2012, in Michigan, Austin Smith (age 15) lifted a car to save his grandfather pinned underneath.[26][27]
  • In 2013, in Oregon, teenage sisters Hannah (age 16) and Haylee (age 14) lifted a tractor to save their father pinned underneath.[28]
  • In 2013, in Salvage, Newfoundland and Labrador, Cecil Stuckless, a 72-year-old man lifted a Jeep to save his son-in-law pinned underneath.[29][30]
  • In 2015, in St. John's, Newfoundland, Nick Williams lifted a four-wheel-drive vehicle to save a young boy pinned beneath its tire.[31]
  • In 2017, in Temple Terrace, Florida, Kenny Franklin, lifted an SUV from a state trooper after an accident.[32][33]
  • In 2019, in Ohio, Zac Clark, a 16-year-old football player, lifted a 3,000 lb car when he heard his neighbor call for help.[34][35]


Early experiments showed that adrenaline increases twitch, but not tetanic force and rate of force development in muscles.[36]

One proposed explanation is Tim Noakes' "central governor" theory, which states that higher instances in the central nervous system dynamically and subconsciously control the number of active motor units in the muscle. Normally, in order to guarantee homeostasis, the entire motor neural capacity is not activated and, therefore, the total capacity of the muscle during performances outside of an emergency situation remains inaccessible: this would lead to exhaustion of energy resources and even physical injuries. However, in life-threatening situations, it is adaptive for the central governor limits to be removed or modified.[1] People in high load weightlifting training are able to activate more motor units, which ensures more strength and efficiency in muscle contraction, even though they had the same amount of muscle mass compared to people in low load training.[37]

Exercise physiologist Robert Girandola has pointed out that most cars have a 60/40 weight distribution, as the engine block puts the center of mass slightly towards the front of the car. In most instances, the individual is lifting one or two wheels of the car from the back. Therefore, they are only actually lifting a small fraction of the vehicle's weight. While the fight or flight response allows for increased lifting capacity, it would be hundreds of pounds rather than thousands. [38][39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Evans, Daniel R.; Boggero, Ian A.; Segerstrom, Suzanne C. (21 June 2016). "The Nature of Self-Regulatory Fatigue and "Ego Depletion"". Personality and Social Psychology Review. 20 (4): 291–310. doi:10.1177/1088868315597841. ISSN 1088-8683. PMC 4788579. PMID 26228914.
  2. ^ "From the archives: Unlocking the mystery of superhuman strength". ESPN.com. 2 May 2020. Retrieved 12 February 2023.
  3. ^ Levack, Brian (22 April 2013). The Devil Within: Possession & Exorcism in the Christian West. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-19538-5.
  4. ^ Ferber, Sarah (11 January 2013). Demonic Possession and Exorcism: In Early Modern France. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-61520-9.
  5. ^ a b Grossi, Roberta Vittoria (1 June 2020). "Demonic Possession and Religious Scientific Debate in Nineteenth-Century France". In Giordan, Giuseppe; Possamai, Adam (ed.). The Social Scientific Study of Exorcism in Christianity. Springer Nature. pp. 40, 44. ISBN 978-3-030-43173-0.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: editors list (link)
  6. ^ Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. Vol. 7. Society for Psychical Research. 1895.
  7. ^ Keener, Craig S. (2010). "Spirit Possession as a Cross-cultural Experience". Bulletin for Biblical Research. 20 (2): 215–235. doi:10.2307/26424297. ISSN 1065-223X. JSTOR 26424297. S2CID 40571982.
  8. ^ Huiying, Meng (14 February 2011). "Characteristics of Shamanism of the Tungusic Speaking People". In Ma, Xisha; Meng, Huiying (ed.). Popular Religion and Shamanism. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-17455-9.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: editors list (link)
  9. ^ "White Paper Report on Excited Delirium Syndrome" Archived 11 October 2010 at the Wayback Machine, ACEP Excited Delirium Task Force, American College of Emergency Physicians, 10 September 2009
  10. ^ Sztajnkrycer, Matt D.; Baez, Amado A. (2005). "Cocaine, Excited Delirium and Sudden Unexpected Death" (PDF). Emergency Medical Services. 34 (4): 77–81. PMID 15900873. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  11. ^ Bell, Christine (23 August 2021). "Ceremonial Attire of the Oracle Priest Sungma Balung chö je". In Tekcan, Münevver; Corff, Oliver (ed.). Expressions of Gender in the Altaic World. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. ISBN 978-3-11-074887-1.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: editors list (link)
  12. ^ Tung, Rosemary Jones (1 January 1996). A Portrait of Lost Tibet. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-20461-4.
  13. ^ Pearlman, Ellen (1 December 2002). Tibetan Sacred Dance: A Journey into the Religious and Folk Traditions. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-59477-522-2.
  14. ^ Hill, Dave (17 July 2003). "Green with anger". The Guardian. London, United Kingdom. Archived from the original on 5 May 2013. one of the Hulk comic books' artists, Jack Kirby, has said he was inspired by seeing a woman rescue her child from beneath a trapped car.
  15. ^ Groth, Gary (23 May 2011). "Jack Kirby Interview - Part 6". The Comics Journal. KIRBY: The Hulk I created when I saw a woman lift a car. Her baby was caught under the running board of this car. The little child was playing in the gutter and he was crawling from the gutter onto the sidewalk under the running board of this car — he was playing in the gutter. His mother was horrified. She looked from the rear window of the car, and this woman in desperation lifted the rear end of the car. From The Comics Journal #134 (February 1990)
  16. ^ Lipstak, Andrew (30 August 2015). "The Incredible Hulk Was Inspired By A Woman Saving Her Baby". Gizmodo. Jack Kirby witnessed a woman lift a car to get her child out from under it. The moment helped inspire one of his most famous creations: the Incredible Hulk.
  17. ^ a b Clark, Josh. "How can adrenaline help you lift a 3,500-pound car?", 11 December 2007. HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
  18. ^ "Magnum Mania! - T.C.'s Chopper". magnum-mania.com. Retrieved 12 December 2022.
  19. ^ vlogger (7 July 2011). "Man Lifts Crashed Helo to Save Vet". Military.com. Retrieved 12 December 2022.
  20. ^ Jane George (17 February 2006). "Polar bear no match for fearsome mother in Ivujivik". Nunatsiaq News / Nortext Publishing Corporation (Iqaluit). Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2009.
  21. ^ Huicochea, Alexis. "Man lifts car off pinned cyclist", Arizona Daily Star, 28 July 2006. Retrieved 21 November 2010.
  22. ^ Associated Press. "Kansas dad somehow lifts car off 6-year-old girl", 18 December 2009. news.yahoo.com. Retrieved 19 December 2009.
  23. ^ "Neighbours help lift car off boy". 4 June 2009. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  24. ^ Greg Auman (23 June 2011). "'MIRACLE': USF'S ESTENOR LIFTS CAR TO FREE TRAPPED MAN". Tampa Bay Times (Tampa Bay, FL).
  25. ^ Newcomb, Alyssa (August 2012). "Superhero Woman Lifts Car Off Dad - ABC News". ABC News. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  26. ^ "Video Michigan Teen Lifts Car Off Trapped Grandfather - ABC News". ABC News.
  27. ^ "Boy's strength muscles car off grandpa, saves life". Deseret News. 4 March 2012.
  28. ^ "Oregon man pinned under 3,000-pound tractor saved by teen daughters". Fox News. 11 April 2013. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  29. ^ "72-year-old N.L. 'superman' lifts SUV off son-in-law | CBC News".
  30. ^ "Septuagenarian Superhero? Man Lifts Car Off Son-In-Law". NPR. 22 July 2013.
  31. ^ "Shea Heights hero finds strength to lift vehicle off injured boy". CBC News. 28 September 2015. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  32. ^ "FL Man Lifts Car Off of Pinned State Trooper - Patrol - POLICE Magazine".
  33. ^ "Passenger lifts SUV, rescues Florida trooper after Uber driver has medical emergency". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 20 October 2020.
  34. ^ "Ohio high school football player lifts car to save neighbor's life". 27 September 2019.
  35. ^ "This 16-year-old football player lifted a car to save his trapped neighbor".
  36. ^ Hoh, JF; Rossmanith, GH; Kwan, LJ; Hamilton, AM (1988). "Adrenaline increases the rate of cycling of crossbridges in rat cardiac muscle as measured by pseudo-random binary noise-modulated perturbation analysis". Circulation Research. 62 (3): 452–461. doi:10.1161/01.RES.62.3.452. PMID 3342474.
  37. ^ Schrage, Scott. "Does strength depend on more than muscle? Husker study suggests so". Nebraska Today. Retrieved 12 February 2023.
  38. ^ Romm, Cari (4 May 2016). "You Could Probably Lift a Car, If You Really Needed To". The Cut. Retrieved 15 January 2023.
  39. ^ Hadhazy, Adam. "How it's possible for an ordinary person to lift a car". www.bbc.com. Retrieved 15 January 2023.