Earlier this year, Charlotte Heffelmire, a 19-year-old woman in Virginia, made headlines for a feat of superhuman strength: When her family’s garage went up in flames, she lifted up a truck to pull her father, who was pinned underneath, out of harm’s way.
It was impressive feat of strength for a woman who stands at 120 pounds — it’d be impressive for someone twice her size — but it’s also one example out of many. Every so often, a story will surface of a person who miraculously lifts a vehicle that no human would ordinarily be able to lift, saving someone pinned underneath. It shouldn’t be able to happen, theoretically; a car on the smaller end of the spectrum weighs around 3,000 pounds, but the world record for a deadlift is just over 1,100, and the average man can maybe do around a fifth of that. When people try to lift more than they can handle, one of two things happens: Either they tear a muscle or a tendon, or, more often, they do nothing — whatever they’re trying to pick up just stays on the ground.
But as the Heffelmires can attest, it happens nonetheless. In the BBC earlier this week, Adam Hadhazy broke down what scientists know about this type of superhuman strength, also known as “hysterical strength.”