"The strength of the flesh is as nothing. Shall I... demonstrate?"
In Real Life
, a person's physique, if not their physical size, is generally a dependable indicator of their physical strength. Muscle strength (force applied in Newtons) is proportional to the 'physiological cross-sectional area' (PCSA) or the total number of fascicles of the muscle.note
All things being equal, more muscle translates to more strength.
In fiction, all bets are off. Muscles? Who needs 'em?
The Pintsized Powerhouse
is able to physically outperform heavily-muscled guys ten times his size, and is more than capable of sending them flying with a single punch, physics be damned. A thin, wiry character may have no difficulty lifting or punching way above his weight class. This is generally done to show
just how Bad Ass
he or she really is. Usually lampshaded
by Super Strength
, and often more dubiously by a Charles Atlas Superpower
. Alternatively, The Big Guy
may not be very strong at all, but usually his strength is simply dwarfed in comparison. The Big Guy
being physically dominated is usually a Giant Mook
or similarly unimportant character. Generally, when it comes to important Big Guys
, Muscles Are Meaningful
Weaker characters beating the stronger characters is often a demonstration of the fact that skill and other factors can trump strength in a fight, which is Truth in Television
to a certain degree, but not really an example of this trope.
There are several related tropes:
Note that this trope is specifically about instances in which the person with the seemingly weaker body possesses more actual strength
than a heavily muscled opponent. This does not include characters who only win because of other characteristics that make them superior to their enemies, like speed or weapon proficiency. It's a common occurrence in Fighting Games
that a Fragile Speedster
is considered superior to the Mighty Glacier
due to their speed and ability to perform Combos
, but they only fit here if they are not only faster, but their attacks actually pack more of a punch as well, in which case "What the hell, game designer? Where's our Competitive Balance
?" Say hi to the Lightning Bruiser
, or don't.
Contrast Stout Strength
, where the character has the muscle, he just has fat on top of it as well, and Muscles Are Meaningful
, where the muscles DO make a difference. When it appears on comic book heroes, it is always a case of Heroic Build
. Compare and contrast Clark Kent Outfit
, when a character looks
meek... until he takes his shirt off, and it's revealed that he has abs of steel.
See also: Bishonen Line
, Cute Bruiser
, Little Miss Badass
, Boobs of Steel
, and Amazonian Beauty
for specific character design examples. May overlap with The Gift
, Hard Work Hardly Works
. See Monstrosity Equals Weakness
for a when this, and the other side of it, is case across the board.
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Anime & Manga
- Extremely common in superhero comics, for obvious reasons. By way of an example, Batman is a large and powerfully built man. Wonder Woman is a slim and athletic woman (Depending on the Artist), obviously a lot lighter than him. Guess which one can bench press a tank.
- Batman himself is experienced and Genre Savvy enough to be fully aware of this, even remarking on it when the situation calls for it. Once, when he hiding in the shadows and preparing to take down a drug dealer, he glanced at the man's two bodyguards and immediately dismissed them. Big guys. They've packed on a lot of muscle. Absolutely meaningless unless they've got fighting skills to go with it. Judging by the fact that they have callouses on their palms, from lifting weights, and none on their knuckles from practicing strikes, I don't think these two have spent any time learning how to throw a punch.
- Batgirl is noted in the comics as being far stronger (and faster) than even a highly athletic girl her size should be. This is mostly down to her training.
- Averted with some super-strong heroines; She-Hulk and Power Girl (to name two) are typically drawn with a body-builder's level of muscularity, being among the rare believers in the idea that just because you already have super-strength doesn't mean you can't benefit from pumping some iron to get even stronger.
- But much like Wonder Woman, it depends on the artist. There are times She-Hulk is drawn without muscles.
- So common in fact that when Kara Zor-El returned in 2004, writers were easily able to tease the fan base with the idea that the slender 16 year old girl might be stronger than her full grown powerfully built cousin Superman. Turns out, he just holds himself back due to living his whole life in a world made of cardboard.
- Though one of the teases was correct. She can fly faster owing to her smaller size.
- Batman: Crimson Mist: Though now little more than a walking skeleton, the now-vampiric Batman is nonetheless strong enough to easily overpower Killer Croc and nearly kill him.
- Fawcett's (and later DC's) character Captain Marvel Jr. looks about 12 and has a spindly physic, but thanks to the Shazam powers is one of the world's strongest heroes.
- Rogue is drawn as an athletic woman, but rarely with muscles anywhere approximating what she can do. Justified in that she stole the strength powers from another hero.
- Runaways's Molly Hayes. Or "Princess Powerful". Just do not call her "Bruiser". Her strength appears to be psionic in nature, based on the Battle Aura matching the visual cue of her parents' telepathic abilities.
- Spider-Man possesses incredible strength but also possesses a thin physique that earned him the nickname "Puny Parker".
- This highlights Sam's power in iFight Crime With Victorious - having her power prevents her from gaining extra muscle mass. Ricky Flame on the other hand can, and exercises regularly to increase his superhuman strength.
- Paul in With Strings Attached absolutely exemplifies this trope. He looks like a skinny normal guy (he lost some weight during his ďż˝depression eraďż˝), but don't get into a tug of war with him....
- John qualifies when he's wearing his illusion cloak, which makes him look like his normal skinny Earth self.
- Lampshaded and subverted in Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures - Guido is getting the "size doesn't matter in a fight" lecture from a drill sergeant, and muses that this only works if the little guy is very skillful while the big guy is very UN-skillful. He then proceeds to break the arm of the drill instructor, who had been planning to use him as a tackle dummy.
- In Power of Two (part of the "Fine Structure" series at Things Of Interest), it's noted that people who get superpowers don't look any different, and the narrator muses that "We don't even know if you gain anything from working out when you have these abilities".
- Justified in Codex Alera by Earth crafting, which is explicitly noted to provide strength but not extra mass, and Air crafting (though if it isn't backed up by Required Secondary Powers it can be quite painful) which provides speed, meaning one can make like the Flash.
- Sherlock Holmes is tall and wiry, but he is also extremely strong. After a burly man threatens him in "The Speckled Band" by bending an iron poker, Holmes casually straightens it.
- Ditto Erast Fandorin. Except that he has the justifying bonus of having been trained in ninjutsu for six years, meaning he can kill pretty much anything with his bare hands while hiding his strength under frail, bishie looks..
- Redwall: Continuity Drift makes it hard to tell whether the animal characters are supposed to be human-sized, animal-sized, or somewhere in between, but it's pretty clear that animals which are smaller in the real world tend to be at least a little smaller within the canon than animals which are larger in the real world. It seems to be a rule that the small cute animals are the good guys and therefore more likely to win in any given fight. Mice versus rats is okay, but when a squirrel can fight a wolverine to a standstill it looks a tad odd.
- The size difference between animals appears to have decreased between books. The original had Cluny vs. Matthias and Cluny was far larger, and Constance was even bigger than he was, indicating a roughly accurate size difference that continued through the early books. About halfway through the series or so the difference seems to have changed from a normal person fighting a T. Rex to a smallish person fighting a tiger or something. Actual physical strength doesn't appear to be different except in extreme cases like badgers etc.
- Elves and Riders in the Inheritance Cycle are often capable of feats of strength (and speed and magic too) beyond that of most humans, including humans with way bigger muscles. Eragon himself notes this in Brisingr by comparing his muscles to his cousin Roran's much larger muscles.
- Pippi Longstocking is perhaps the most famous example of this trope in literature. She can lift one of the area's strongest men... when the man is lifting 100-lb weights, and Pippi herself, as the article's image shows, has ridiculously skinny limbs.
- Her dad has Stout Strength, and when they meet they throw each other up in the air. When they playfully test each other in Pippi Goes on Board they're about even.
- This trope is also used in the Dragaera novels. Dragaerans average about a foot taller than normal humans (or "Easterners", as they call them) and are stronger in spite of rarely having visibly muscular builds.
- First played straight in Graceling, as Katsa's extreme talent, flexibility, and speed make her too Bad Ass for strength to matter much, but subverted once she meets another Graced fighter (though of course Po's Grace is a bit more complex than that) and realizes her size and relative weakness do disadvantage her.
- The Doctor, in the Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures, can easily carry a grown man around, has threatened one of his companions with the fact he could break any bone in said companion's body (he was really stressed out at the time), and once stabbed a guy with his thumb. He's 5'8", "slight", and "bony".
'Except that it took someone very strong to kill Macleb,' Cage said. 'To me that means a Canvine.'
The Doctor shook his head. 'Not necessarily.'
The Doctor turned and looked her dead in the eye. 'Would you say I'm very strong?' he asked.
This seemed to amuse her. 'Not really.'
But the Doctor was serious. 'Strange,' he said quietly, 'because I could break you in half as easy as sneeze.'
There was silence for a moment. Awkward silence.
- The Seventh Doctor in the Doctor Who New Adventures, while not being as physically active as his older counterpart, is often described as having an uncanny strength, and the grip of a bear, when need be. He's 5'6" and of a small build.
- Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: Yoko Akia. She is 4 feet 8 inches (1.46304 metres) tall, she weighs 90 pounds (40.82 kilograms), and just about everything about her is tiny. She can flatten just about anybody bigger, more muscular and weightier than her in a fight and her fellow Sisters and Vigilantes call her "the 90-pound stick of dynamite"! In the book Lethal Justice, Yoko (who supposedly has a brown belt) spars against Harry Wong, who is likely a Bruce Lee Expy, has a black belt, is bigger than her, has more muscle than her, and could supposedly flatten her without difficulty. Instead, the little "porcelain doll" (as Harry described her) ended up pinning him to the ground. Harry afterwards admits to Jack Emery that that was the first time he was ever pinned to the ground!
- Mistborn, those who can burn pewter gain Super Strength but no muscle mass, Vin, a 5 foot nothing skinny girl can beat the living crap out of several large men at once when burning pewter.
- Though also partially Averted: a naturally strong man burning pewter is still stronger than a naturally weak man who's also burning pewter.
- And totally Averted with Feruchemists, who actually get more muscles when they tap Strength.
- Stated in The Kingkiller Chronicle with the matriarchal Adem culture of warrior-philosophers. The hero's female mentor states that women are better fighters then men because they are more moral and therefore understand their fighting style better. The hero asks about men's superior reach and strength, which the mentor dismisses as irrelevant. Since Adem are far and away the most skilled warriors in the world, their views are apparently justified.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Loras Tyrell is still a teenager and frequently described as slender and feminine in appearance, yet he's one of the best fighters in the Seven Kingdoms and is seen kicking ass with full plate and battleaxe in one scene. He is, however, defeated by a larger, stronger fighter. (Although said opponent was psychotic enough to decapitate his own horse in a rage, so that was definitely a factor.)
- A more realistic example than some series. Leaner combatants can get by through skill or speed, but never or rarely overpower the larger fighters. No one has ever overpowered Ser Gregor Clegane, for example. But a lean warrior such as Oberyn could certaintly outmaneuver him into a killing blow.
- Dorina Basarab (a.k.a. Dory) from Karen Chance's second series describes herself as small and curvy. Vampires often underestimate her because she appears cute and harmless. She is still, however, a 500 year old dhampir who can easily tussle with all but the most powerful of vampires and other supernatural creatures. During one of her "berserker rages", two First-level Masters could barely hold her down, and are implied to only have managed because one is her father who has incredible mental abilities and hundreds of years of experience in dealing with her. It was revealed in the third book of her series that her "berserker rages" are a result of her her extremely old and powerful vampiric blood taking over, as she is normally in human mode.
- In Those That Wake's sequel, What We Become, once he gains access to the neuropleth the wizened Old Man becomes obscenely strong.
Live Action TV
- Pro wrestling usually averts this trope, but when WWE had The Hurricane, he would often chokeslam wrestlers several times his own size. (The chokeslam normally being reserved for huge wrestlers.) Hey, he is supposed to be a Super Hero, after all. Only when he was a good guy. When he first entered the WWE and was a villain, it was played for laughs.
- There was also He Who Must Not Be Named (Chris Benoit). Part of his "Silent But Violent" persona was that he was ridiculously strong for his size and able to perform power moves on wrestlers literally twice his size.
- In one of his books Mick Foley once wrote that when a wrestler had a less than stellar physique, the commentators would often cover for the wrestler's ability to throw guys around by claiming they had exceptional tendon strength. In some cases, such as with Dan "The Beast" Severn, it was true.
- While it is normal for lightweight wrestlers to be squashed by the big guys they are plenty of cases where the smaller guys (and girls) can get the win against them. This can normally only be done with high flyers who rely on hit-and-run type tactics.
- ECW's Little Spike Dudley made a career of this as a "Giant-Killer," who would run into the ring, low-blow his opponent and hit the Acid Drop (running-up-turnbuckles bulldog) and pin the big guy in about 15 seconds or so.
- If you're a muscular WWE Diva then it's not wise to assume the Waif-Fu girls will be an easy win. Just ask Beth Phoenix.
- Another classic example: Tazz. All of 5'9 in a sport dominated by guys who average 6'5 at least, and without a really heavily significant definition in arms or legs. He did, however, have a build normally associated with lumberjacks. He was known as the "Human Suplex Machine" and was able to fling guys a foot taller and 100+ pounds heavier than him. Like his namesake, he was also prone to yelling at you before dropping you on your head.
- David Otunga and Wade Barrett actually addressed this in the finale of the first season of NXT. Otunga (who is a bodybuilder) was teasing Barrett (who is a bare-knuckle fighter) about looking a little weak compared to him. Barrett promptly shot back, saying what amounted to, "You train to look pretty, I train to fight."
- The New World of Darkness plays this trope both ways. Many of the splats are physiologically human or at least somewhat human, so there is at least a decent correlation between their strength and their muscle mass. On the other hand:
- Vampires' bodies are preserved at the moment of their Embrace, but they can still increase their physical capabilities and boost them further through Disciplines, so that 90-pound wisp of a girl might be as strong as she looks - or she might be an elder that can tear someone's head off before they ever see her running at them.
- Mages can augment their bodies magically, giving themselves superhuman strength and speed without any visible sign.
- Prometheans are made of dead flesh animated by the Divine Fire, so muscle counts for something, but their Refinements let them smash conventional human limits out of the ballpark with a wielded telephone pole if they train up.
- Demons, spirits, and Abyssal entities can manifest physically, but their bodies are more symbolic than indicative of their power. Nobody should ever believe that the gawky, emaciated Prince in Tattersnote can't thoroughly ruin their day if they get within reach of its scrawny arms.
- In Exalted, the physical prowess of an Exalt is more linked to the way Essence empowers his body than to the amount of muscles. This is especially true for supernatural Strength level; someone with Strength 6 or 7 will usually look very strong, but not more than any well-built guy although he can casually bend thick steel bars, punch metal-reinforced doors out of their frames or lift horses.
- Also, the Celestial Exaltation is usually bestowed upon physically hale individuals in the prime of life, but it is not unheard of that it chooses unusually young (13-15 years old) or old (up to around 65) hosts. So this little girl or that old man can actually be a chosen of the Sun able to fight 20 elite soldiers and win without a sweat.
- In In Nomine Satanis / Magna Veritas, players play angels and demons who borrow the body of humans, and the body they get is basically the one that are available when they get incarnated, so there is no relationship between the abilities of the angel/demon and the appearance of the body. This skinny blonde can be a warlike angel and master swordsman able to cut through legions of demons, and that cute little boy can be a powerful demon that will casually break your neck the first time you look away.
- Warhammer has this to some extent, when one compares the physiques of the miniatures for warriors with the same Strength (S) characteristic. A standard Orc warrior, for instance, has a Strength value of 3, which is the norm, despite that Orc model having gigantic muscular arms bigger than a man's torso. An elite High Elf White Lion Axeman, however, has a Strength of 4, despite the model's slender and willowy frame. Admittedly the biggest disparities tend to come with non-human characters, and could be chalked up to their peculiar biology or magical nature, but it is still noticeable with human models too. Normally proportioned Empire State Troops, for instance, have the same S3 as Chaos Marauders, who are all built like Arnie in the wrong aspect ratio.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Kroot may not look as strong as Space Marines and Orks due to their slim bodies, but they will fool you. Their muscles work by rapidly contracting, snapping and whipping like elastic. They may not have a lot of lifting strength compared to the previously mentioned examples, but if they whack you, you will feel it, and they're fast too, so they can keep up with other races. According to Word of God, their design was inspired by Maasai warriors, who tend to be tall and lithe.
- In the same vein, the Eldar. Eldar look downright puny compared to humans, but, naturally, their musculature systems are very efficient and that makes them just as strong as we are. As a demonstration, this◊ is a Catachan Jungle Fighter, and this◊ is an Eldar Farseer. They're both Strength 3.
- Abberrant has Mega-Strength as one standard power, but since all Nova abilities are subconscious quantum effects, it has literally nothing to do with actual muscular strength, so you don't have to have big muscles if you don't want to. A lot of Mega-Strong Novas do have big muscles, but it's more because they think they should have them, not because they need to.
- Dungeons & Dragons: 3.5 has a rather infamous splatbook called Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords, which is an attempt to help shorten the gap between meleers and spellcasters through the usage of maneuvers, which are kind of like spells. One of the ninth-level maneuvers, Tornado Throw, fits this trope perfectly, as you can have a rather spindly human take a running start and hurl a dragon to the moon.
- In Super Smash Bros. Melee, the Fragile Speedster Fox is not only possibly the fastest character, he also has two of the most powerful KO-moves in his up-aerial and up-smash, the latter of which is the second-most powerful of its sort in the whole game, easily beating the much slower up-smashes of Donkey Kong and Ganondorf in terms of raw power. And the strongest up-smash? Pikachu's.
- Who has the strongest of all moves in the game? Is it Captain Falcon? Nah. Os it Donkey Kong? Nope. Is it Mewtwo? You're getting warmer. Surprisingly, it's Jigglypuff, which already unsettling seeing that she's a small Pokemon with absolutely no muscles, is even weirder because she is the second smallest Pokemon in the game. Although her Smash move is hard to connect and, if done wrong, can leave her sleeping and an incredibly easy target, if done correctly, she can send and opponent with at least only 50% damage flying off stage.
- This can be seen in MMORPGs as well. Since character appearances are purely aesthetic, a large muscular character could be defeated with ease by a smaller character.
- Extremely apparent in City of Heroes and City of Villains. A player making a Brute or Tanker character can take Super Strength, War Mace, or Battle Axe and the strength of the attacks will be the same whether you're an 8-foot high hulking man or a 4-foot tall anorexic-looking girl.
- Create a male draenei or orc mage in World of Warcraft, and you've got a Glass Cannon whom a boss can easily one-shot. However, due to all characters of any given race and sex using the same model, he'll still be huge and beefy. Roll a female blood elf paladin, on the other hand...your character appears to weigh less than her weapon, but is probably a Mighty Glacier.
- Or a gnome, who in many cases will be swinging weapons larger than him/her self, and is just as capable as a tauren of tearing you to shreds.
- Not just MMO's, any game with a customizable strength stat is susceptible to this because often the character model doesn't match the stats. Case in point, in Final Fantasy X, a properly-trained Yuna can do more physical damage than any other character, including Tidus and Auron. With a blunt stick, no less!
- Try attacking a Behemoth with a levelled up Yuna doing 99999 damage. The wimpy sound she makes as she swings her staff just makes it that much stranger.
- Mario as well; he can do things like lift Bowser by the tail, spin him around swiftly and throw him across an arena with just his arms in Super Mario 64, despite being a short, somewhat pudgy guy.
- In the third Gears of War installment features Female COG's to the mix, who have normal/slender builds. This is a very blatant contrast to the average Male COG and Locust drone, who are huge and muscular, easily outweighing the Female COGS by more than 100%. This has no effect on their effectiveness in combat, with female cogs just as easily dragging around heavy weapons, and going toe to toe in HTH combat. Very blatant in this◊ screen shot where a female COG bayonets a Locust and actually lifts off the ground. Note that the locusts arms are about as big as her torso.
- In a word, Disgaea. Someone who looks like this◊ should not even be capable of lifting the sword he is holding, much less be able to deal absurdly high amounts of damage or lift and throw ten significantly larger people at once.
- Kingdom Hearts' Sora, like most Kid Heroes, is short and has skinny stick limbs, their twiggyness only emphasized by his clothes and big shoes—yet he regularly beats the tar out of adult men and Mooks several times his size. For a villainous example, NPC Axel, especially the Bonus Boss version, should not be able to deal the damage he does with a frame like his.
- Same thing that applies to Axel, goes with Larxene and Saix.
- This is lampshaded early on in the first game, with Jafar openly stating that "the boy's strength is not his own". It's implied that a combination of the Keyblade's magic and The Power of Friendship is what allows him to kick so much ass.
- Lampshaded again in 3D when Xigbar tries to use it as a way to break Sora's resolve, He doesn't seem to care.
- Pick any One-Hit-Point Wonder Nintendo Hard 80s/early 90s game where you play a bare-chested, supermuscloid juggernaut. (Karnov, Ikari Warriors, Contra, Smash TV, Total Carnage). Not only do the muscles never come into play (you use guns and the like), but if you touch even the weakest, skinniest mook, YOU ARE DEAD.
- Link from The Legend of Zelda is generally on the small side and, even as an adult, doesn't get much bulkier than "wiry bishonen" (and, if you're willing to go outside canon and take SoulCalibur II as a visual reference, barely grazes even five feet). He also generally lacks any super powers beyond an absurd level of courage and maybe a few acquired spells. So how is it that the guy can fight toe-to-toe with the hulking Big Bad or spontaneously perform backflips while wearing chainmail? And that doesn't even get into the time he out-Sumo Wrestled a giant rock creature because he was wearing heavy boots.
- Little Mac from Punch-Out!! isn't even five feet tall and weighs a little over a hundred pounds, but he can defeat a variety of legendary heavyweight boxers such as Mike Tyson himself. This isn't due to his physical prowess but rather due to exploiting their stupidity and fighting patterns.
- Mega Man allows you to gain the same strength as Gutsman, a boss robot at least twice your size. The strength Mega Man shows in the end of the fifth game needs to be seen.
- Saber from Fate/stay night is a little over five feet tall and is built like a somewhat toned fourteen year old, and yet is capable of parrying blows from a ten foot tall crazed Berserker. This is because of her Mana Burst ability, where she consumes magic to perform superhuman feats of strength and endurance. When she's suffering from mana deprivation, she's about as weak as she looks. It is explicitly stated that without magical energy she is weaker that Shirou and Rin in terms of physical strength.
- Legacy of Kain: Physically, Raziel is barely more than a walking skeleton, but, as the Elder God states, he's actually stronger as a wraith than he was as a vampire. He can easily push and pull massive stone pillars and overpower vampires.
- Kinda averted in Tsukihime and the Nasuverse. Arc and Saber are stated to be as weak as they appear if not for their high levels of supernatural magical energies. Then again, it does fit this trope in that Muscles Are Meaningless compare to magical energies and just about everyone that matters uses magical energies.
- Played with in Prototype. Standard human-sized Alex can lift cars and kick helicopters apart with about 3 hits and the Supreme Hunter is a fair powerhouse despite not being much bigger. This is justified as both actually weigh far more than they appear on the surface. On the other hand, the standard human-sized Infected don't pose much threat in melee, Alex's Muscle Mass power (Exactly What It Says on the Tin) noticeably increases his melee power, and the various Elite Mooks that do pose a problem in melee are hulking bruisers towering over Alex.
- Makoto Nanaya of BlazBlue, despite being a squirrel girl who only weighs 49 kilograms (108 pounds), is one of the most powerful characters in the game, able to do a lot of physical damage with just her fists. This is not Gameplay and Story Segregation either. In one cutscene she drops from the air and leaves a large crater where she punched the ground and, to further let you know how powerful she is, she effortlessly picks up and carries off an unconscious Tsubaki like she were a rag doll.
- Female Shepard Mass Effect, unlike her reasonably built male counterpart, is something of a waif when out of armour. Nonetheless, this doesn't stop her punching krogan to death if she gets close enough. Due to the Lazarus Project in the second game, Shepard has been outfitted in cybernetic implants and a reinforced skeletal structure, allowing her to fire sniper rifles and shotguns designed by Geth and Krogan, which generate enough recoil to shatter every bone in a normal human's arm.
- In the second game, an over-amorous Turian makes the mistake of hitting on an Asari and a Female Shepard, before insulting them. Cue the sound of him being beaten to a pulp offscreen, then thrown clean across the room. Made even more amusing if Shepard's wearing the cocktail dress from Kasumi's DLC at the time.
- Even more obvious in Citadel where you get the chance to beat Vega at pull-ups, with a whooping score of 182
- One of the augmentations the Spartans received in the Halo universe was a thyroid implant that increases their muscular density significantly (tying in to the real life science mention in the description). Spartan II's were "7 foot tall walking tanks" but they became known that way before their strength enhancing Powered Armor made them into near unstoppable soldiers. In a story surrounding the augmentation of John-117, at age 14 he already had an adult Olympic-level physique and after recovering from the thyroid implant he was physically far superior to a pair of ODST special forces soldiers, who made the mistake of trying to push him around...
- While not as scrawny as some of the other video game characters listed, in Team Fortress 2, the Scout is able to sending enemies flying with a baseball bat, including the Heavy.
- Cloud from Final Fantasy VII. He's 5'7", making him the shortest human male in the cast. Also, while having very well defined muscles, is much smaller than Barret. Yet he's significantly stronger than anyone else in the party and in Advent Children he carries Barret one-handed at high speed.
- Fenris of Dragon Age II is an elf, which in this game means very thin and lanky, but specializes in two-handed weapons which not only include greatswords but hammers and axes as well. Helps that he has Lyrium laced throughout his body.
- A Female Hawke specialising in wielding two-handed weapons also falls into this trope, being less muscular than her male counterpart. Her proficiency with these weapons is somewhat justifiable however, due to both her and her brother Carver being trained in swordsmanship from a young age by their father, as well as being one of the few survivors of King Cailan's Army at Ostagar.
- In Saints Row: The Third, at your complete whim you can change your hulking, muscular beast of a character to a stick-like bishie twerp on the spot via plastic surgery, but you can still drop kick grown men, throw people across a highway, and manhandle a brute with a baseball bat like it's no big deal.
- As the result of an Emergency Transformation gone wrong, Gauldoth from Heroes of Might and Magic IV has a frail-looking undead arm that is powerful enough to break someone's neck.
- Most fist fighters and two-handed weapon users in Tales Series tend to fall into this category.
- Colette and Presea from Tales of Symphonia are, among other things, both shown to be capable of carrying things larger and heavier then themselves with ease despite being devoid of any noticeable muscle. This extends into gameplay in the latter's case, who wields enormous axes with ground shattering force.
- Senel from Tales of Legendia looks to be of slightly above average musculature at best, but is nonetheless capable of throwing around monsters about three times bigger than himself with ease.
- Karol from Tales of Vesperia wields hammers with heads almost as big as himself along with swords and axes that are twice his height and is a simple 12 year old boy. He does have a possible justification in the form of the blastia on his handbag, though.
- Amusingly, Rinoa from Final Fantasy VIII has the highest unmodified Strength stat in the game at level 100. She's stronger than Ward.
- Sammy "Skate" Hunter, the iconic Kid Hero of Streets of Rage, is by all accounts a Fragile Speedster underaged kid... whom can toss all variants of the notably heavy Bongo enemy around with as much ease as Max Thunder, who is at least three hundred pounds of pure muscle and near zero agility to compensate. In most of the games, none of the other adult characters are capable of the same feat: Bongo will just fall on them for some serious crushing damage.
- Averted with regards to normal enemies, though, as Sammy is the only character who can't throw an opponent using his strength alone. while even the short but muscular Blaze can throw out out a suplex or three, Skate's only actual throw comes from flipping over the opponent and using the momentum and leverage to toss them forward.
- Knuckles in Sonic the Hedgehog, as well as Mighty in the comics, are both roughly the same size as Sonic (Knuckles is a little shorter) but have the power to match the likes of Vector, Storm, Big, Omega, Wario, Bowser, and even Donkey Kong In Mighty's case, he was given super strength by Mammoth Mogul and while the comics explain Knuckles was experimented on at birth the games offer no such explanation for his power.
- This is averted in Knuckles' case in the upcoming Sonic Boom where his character design is noticeably more muscular.
- The Boss in Metal Gear Solid 3 seems the be built like an average woman, but is capable of firing an assault rifle with one hand and carrying Davy Crockett miniature nuclear platform weighing 300kg around effortlessly.
- In evidence in Tales of MU, where many characters' strength comes from magic. The protagonist Mackenzie Blaise is among the stronger characters, but appears to be an underdeveloped eighteen-year-old girl. Puddy is more muscular in appearance, but not enough to account for the fact that she's sometimes stronger than a dragon.
- In the web fiction Whateley Universe, you certainly can't judge strength by muscle bulk, because everyone at the Superhero School Whateley Academy is a mutant including plenty of the teachers. Sensei Ito is a tiny little old man.. who starts every term by demonstrating that he - an ordinary human with no mutant abilities - can beat the crap out of the most dangerous mutant in the room. Phase is five-foot-nothing and too skinny (he just grew three inches), but at full strength he can dead-lift nearly two tons.
- In RWBY, the main factor in strength is using one's Aura to augment it.
- Yang Xiao Long has no discernible muscle mass, but she can effortlessly carry an amp four times her size, overpower the 6'11'' Junior, and punch mechas to pieces.
- Nora Valkyrie is rather petite, but she can smash through a stone bridge and once hit Yang hard enough to launch her into the sky.
- Jaune Arc started out so weak he couldn't even pull Pyrrha's spear out when it pinned his hood to a tree. When Pyrrha awakens his Aura abilities, he becomes strong enough to block strikes from monsters with one arm and has no increase in muscle.
- Neo is the smallest human character introduced so far at 4'9'', but she utterly wipes the floor with Yang.
- Kim Possible:
- Usually, Kim: perfectly willing and able to knock down men twice her size. Even discussed when she and Shego faced two huge wrestlers while Trapped In Tv Land; "Well, this shouldn't be a problem."
- Ron and Drakken's henchmen wear muscle-enhancing rings in "Ron The Man", but it's still Kim and Shego doing most of the fighting, maybe even more than usual.
- Seńor Senior Junior is the most buff-looking of the regular villains, but doesn't get into fights. Maybe he doesn't want to mess up his hair.
- The Powerpuff Girls. They can defeat a muscular and super intelligent talking monkey, several large criminals, the finest in technology and human advances that money could buy, an extremely muscular (and kinda fat) pink hillbilly monster who's only truly terrifying when he actually does flex his muscles, several giant robots, monsters, genetic mutations, and even satan himself. Keep in mind that we're talking about three kindergarten girls.
- Disney's Hercules, especially in the beginning of the toon. Initially he is quite small and thin but superstrong no matter what.
- Bamm-Bamm as an infant on The Flintstones. Later, he becomes a buff teen.
- Ed, Sarah, and Rolf from Ed, Edd n Eddy have virtually no muscles but are incredibly strong, but Rolf does when he flexes or becomes enraged.
- Juniper Lee displays remarkable super strength compared to her appearance. Justified in that she's the Te Xuan Ze and her super strength is magical.
- Stewie Griffin of Family Guy can brutalize adults and fire an automatic weapon with no recoil problems despite being a baby. And then he'll get his ass whooped by an infant younger than him.
- June from KaBlam!. Judging by her usually adorable appearance, no one could believe that she's pretty buff.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Jun beats some huge guy at arm wrestling easily. Then again, she is badass.
- The Boulder is a very large man who's muscles are so impressive that even he can't help but perform a muscle show and a pec dance for his audience. Aang even questions learning earthbending from this manly earthbender. He defeats every man and woman he battled at an underground earth tournament, all with barely a scratch. Then, who does he face last? Toph, a little blind girl. Guess who wins and becomes a main character.
- In Toph's case, this relates specifically to her earthbending. She is clearly very strong for her size and age, often hurting her teammates, no pushovers themselves, with with playful punches. However, situations where she lacks earthbending tend to emphasize her helplessness. This is partly because it takes away the Disability Superpower that allows her to bypass her blindness, but she never demonstrates superior martial arts skills when not aided by her earthbending.
- Aang himself, being only ten, does not have the cut, muscular physique that most other male characters like Zuko have, since as a pre-pubescent, it is physically impossible for him to build significant muscle mass. However, he is the most powerful bender in the world and relies on superior speed and agility to take down much bigger opponents. In season 3, however, he switches to a costume that leaves his arms and part of his chest exposed, showing that he has an incredibly defined, but lithe musculature. The final battle between Aang and Ozai ends with a grown man in at least his thirties built like a brick wall being tossed around by a skinny child.
- Johnny Bravo, despite being a muscular Top-Heavy Guy, is regularly shown to be beaten by people at the most half his size.
- Dave the Barbarian is a very tall muscular guy but he's a total wuss who can't fight worth a damn and always gets his ass kicked by people and animals smaller than him.
- Zig-zagged by Cody of Total Drama. He's able to knock out Duncan in one episode but can't even lift a cardboard box in another.
- In SilverHawks, Genius Bruiser twins Steelheart and Steelwill exemplify this perfectly. Steelwill is huge and brawny, to the point his facemask looks like a football helmet. Steelheart looks like a very athletic woman, but even she looks positively tiny next to her brother. And yet, they're equally strong and evenly matched in any physical contest, making Steelwill's towering bulk look... inefficient next to his sleeker, more compact sibling.
- Ahsoka Tano from Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a rather skinny teenage girl, yet she can break Bx-series Commando droids with a single kick, pull up Obi-Wan from the edge of a cliff, throw opponents much larger and bulkier than herself over her shoulder, and protect herself in hand-to-hand combat against two meters tall Lizard Folk. She can also effectively parry multiple simultaneous lightsaber strikes from the cyborg General Grievous one-handed.
- She's also a Jedi, and considering Anakin's Papa Wolf tendencies, it wouldn't be out of character for him to teach her how to amplify her strength with the Force. It can be done, and this might be what happened, as up to about season two to mid season three (pre-timeskip) she possessed strength normal for a girl her age, i.e. unable to lift Anakin, a 6'1" adult man (which she later did in Season Five).
- All the ponies in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic seem to possess strength far beyond their size and figure, from earth ponies pulling a five-compartment train at full speed, to pegasi floating a moving car full of anvils, carts, and pianos.
- In "A Dog and Pony Show", Rarity (one of the relatively weak unicorns) could pull a cart full of diamonds with ease while three Diamond Dogs could barely move it.
- In "Dragonshy", a montage of the ponies getting ready to confront a dragon features Applejack's much larger brother Big McIntosh lifting a heavy set of saddle-bags onto her back with great effort. She sags under the sudden weight, but easily straightens up and leaps into the air. This may be meant to imply she's stronger than he is ("strong" is certainly a description associated with her) — but not necessarily, since he does have to lift it with his neck muscles rather than whole body.
- In "Hearts and Hooves Day", Big McIntosh is shown to be strong enough to tow an entire building, presumably having shorn it clear off its foundation. Likewise, in "Lesson Zero", he was shown to be strong enough to toss an entire mob of ponies—most of the town, in fact—off of him with just a shake of his frame. It's clear that, strong as Applejack is, her brother is stronger still.
- Slight inconsistency about this is shown in that Twilight Sparkle can't move a plough without magic (unlike the larger stallions), but can carry around a rock several times her volume.
- Partly Truth in Television. Ponies are known for possessing the ability to carry quite heavy loads, even those that match their body weight.
- Team Umizoomi has Geo, who can easily lift one person and several cartons of milk even for his size and age.
- Starfire from Teen Titans isn't noticeably muscular in build, yet she can bench more than Cyborg without difficulty. Her secret? "Boundless confidence!"
- Garnet from Steven Universe is physically the strongest of the 4 Crystal Gems, but she has very thin arms. Case in point, Amethyst in her Purple Puma persona is very muscular and strong, yet Garnet has no problem dealing with her during their brief fight in the episode "Tiger Millionaire".
- Black Canary demonstrated this in Young Justice as she easily bested Superboy in a sparring match despite the fact that being half-Kryptonian, he was much stronger than her. This is mostly due to A) her being highly skilled fighter, and B) Superboy's anger clouded much of his judgement.
Truth In Television
- Muscle implants. They are completely non-functional 'aesthetic muscles'.
- Olympic weightlifters usually have less muscle definition than bodybuilders while generally possessing superior strength.
- Typically, bodybuilders train for more visible muscles to win competitions based on showmanship. Powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters train for 'neuromuscular response' and hypertrophy, to attain maximal strength and explosive quickness, and generally have little concern for the appearance of their physique. There's a slogan amongst fitness communities, "Lift for strength, eat for size." The big difference between bodybuilders and powerlifters tends to mostly be diet. Bodybuilders will often diet down to increase their muscle definition, while powerlifters, who don't really give a rip, just let that physique-softening layer of fat stay.
- The strongest Olympic weightlifters are, in general, very large men (weighing in excess of 150kg, bigger than most bodybuilders.)
- Bruce Lee was about 160 pounds at his heaviest, and slimmed down in later years. By his movie-making prime, he was about 135-140 pounds, 5'7, and could do pushups with a 250 pound man standing on his back. Of course, Bruce was no average 160 pound man; his physique was extremely muscular.
- The biceps and pectorals are the muscles that many people (erroneously) believe to make up the bulk of physical strength. In actuality, muscles like the Latissimus dorsi and triceps contribute far more to functional strength (especially the Latissimus dorsi). Bruce Lee is an excellent example of this: his biceps and chest were not abnormally large for a man his size, but his Latissimus dorsi were enormous.
- A 6-pack abs does not indicate strength; muscle definition means that there simply isn't fat covering up the muscle.
- Joseph Greenstein, known professionally as The Mighty Atom (and likely inspiring The Golden Age DC Comics character of that name, and Astro Boy's original name) weighed only 140 pounds. His feats included changing a tire without any tools, biting through nails and chains, lying on a bed of nails with a 14 piece Dixieland band playing on a board on his chest, and stopping a plane from taking off by clipping it to his hair. He first became interested in developing his body and mind when a jealous suitor of his wife shot him at near point blank range between the eyes. The bullet broke his skin, but flattened itself against his skull.
- Coelasquid breaks it down for you.
- When someone is armed with the right knowledge (where to strike) and the training to match, a heavily muscled opponent can go down as easily as anyone else.
- In boxing, the guys who tend to be longer and lankier almost invariably wind up being the hardest punchers around. Alexis Arguello was famously known as the Explosive Thin Man and like his nickname implied, had true one-punch knockout power in either hand. This tends to be because leverage is much more important for generating knockout power as opposed to brute strength, and the most muscular fighters tend to be at a disadvantage because they typically lack the conditioning to go deep in fights.
- Averted by people like Earnie Shavers and George Foreman. It's extremely hard to tell what exactly makes a good puncher tick.
- Studies suggest that the synchronization of the wrist and shoulder movements is the key to a powerful punch, rather than sheer muscle strength.
- Humans are designed to have extremely high endurance rather than high peak strength; as a result, many animals, pound for pound, appear considerably stronger than humans do - chimpanzees, for instance, are roughly twice as strong as humans are for a given body weight. This is also why many animals seem very fast compared to humans. Even on a human-to-human basis, some people are better at things which require a lot of power over a short period of time and some are better at things which require less power over a longer period of time as a result of their genetics.
- The surge of adrenaline that occurs when someone is terrified can override the usual safety limits that stop us from contracting more than about 1/3 of a muscle's myofibrils at a time. This increases strength enormously, but at a cost: neither muscles nor tendons can tolerate such extreme tension without risk of injury, meaning that someone who uses all of that extra strength is likely to suffer tendon and muscle tears, or even broken bones.
- Soldiers are seldom very big; often they have a bit of a gut to them.
- Most special forces and infantrymen tend to have either a skinny but toned build or a (very) slightly chunky build. You're not going to see a group of guys like Arnold, Weathers, and Ventura in Predator. (Note: Ventura is a rare exception, he was a Navy UDT.) If you look at a group of SEAL trainees for example, they're more likely to have a little gut than a six-pack. For them, it isn't about looking good, but its about being good (having to combine raw strength, power, endurance and agility all at once). According to Dick Couch, almost all the bodybuilders that show up to BUD/S drop within days because they cannot keep up because of their mass.
- In one episode of the Military Channel's series Surviving the Cut, the trainees in question were wannabe Army combat divers. Unlike episodes featuring other elite units where there was a large variety of body types, the trainees in this case all looked relatively massive: they had to be very good swimmers before they arrived at the course, and anyone putting in that much time in the pool to get ready for the course is going to have big shoulders and arms. It's very possible to not get selected for being TOO big if you survive selection.
- One discovery made during World War II regarding cold weather combat was that soldiers with less than 5% body fat tended to have the most trouble with shivering. The reason is that when the body is put under stress fat cells are the quickest and easiest source of energy the body can tap into to counter the stress, this is why exercise burns fat and why you lose weight when sick. It's now recommended to never get below 5% body fat for that very reason, as it leads to other health problems.
- This is why "fit or fat" is a misnomer. "Fitness" means appropriate to the environment, not thinness or athleticism. Inuit and other Alaskan Natives eating their traditional food are fit to their surroundings.
- While machines were adopted for weight training because they keep the weight from moving around in an unsafe manner, this has turned out to cause more injuries than traditional methods because it works out major muscle groups without also engaging stability muscles. In recent years, there's been a shift to "strongman"-style training with awkward loads (sandbags, water tubes, medicine balls, etc.) to give athletes control to back their strength.
- Varya Akulova. Amazingly strong and has been lifting weights since a very young age. At her early teenage years she could lift 350 kg (770 pounds) and herself only weighed 40 kg (88 pounds).
- Abraham Lincoln was unusually tall and thin, but according to several sources, was quite a good wrestler in his youth.
- Alain Robert, aka "French Spiderman", is, like many professional rock climbers, fairly short and lean, but also very strong and has a high level of endurance. In his autobiography he recounts stories about how, during some of his short stays in jail, he won the respect of bigger and bulkier inmates by perorming feats of strength such as doing forty one-handed push ups in a row.
- This is an interesting thing about performing a suplex. Most women's centers of gravity are low, whereas most men's are higher. Men also tend to be taller than women on the whole. This means that it's actually extremely easy for a lot of women to suplex the majority of men, even if they aren't physically strong— grab them under the butt around the thighs, and then just lean back (or, if they grab you from behind, cling onto their arms and roll forward like you might have done as a child, aiming to land on your shoulder). It's a pure case of physics over strength. You can see a beautiful example of this here.
- Roger Moore was mocked by critics for not looking tough enough to be an action star. Moore beat up one of his critics, Lee Marvin, and proved that while he doesn't look like it, he's built like granite.