Some characters are strong. In many works, this can easily be justified - either superpowers are known to exist, or Charles Atlas Superpower is a fact of life. But in some settings, the author needs a more down-to-earth explanation for why one guy can throw cars around like they're made of tissue paper. When someone is called upon for said explanation, the following lecture will usually occur:
"You ever hear about moms lifting cars off their kids? The human body is actually capable of incredible strength, but the brain inhibits it most of the time in order to keep our muscles from tearing themselves apart under the strain. His body is doing the same thing, but he's in that state of strength all the time."
Essentially, this is Explosive Overclocking applied to human beings who lack the Required Secondary Powers to handle it. This can be used as a Hand Wave or Played for Drama; in the latter case, expect the danger of a Heroic RRoD resulting from overuse of this strength to be heavily played up.
The principle behind this is Truth in Television, but the idea of these inhibitors being permanently turned off or granting anything that could be considered true Super Strength is most emphatically not. Not least because the process is actually a bit of a Dangerous Forbidden Technique in that it involves temporarily rerouting more energy to your muscles by temporarily turning critical processes like digestion off. And even aside from that fact, it wouldn't take long to do serious damage to your body. The only way to utilize this phenomenon constructively is genetically engineering humans to have much more resilient bones, tendons and muscle fibers; in other words, giving a full set of Required Secondary Powers to use super strength safely. If it is done, then you actually can have a tiny waif or bishie boy throwing athletes around. Compare 90% of Your Brain, where powers activate the unused brain potential instead of unused muscle potential.
Compare Die or Fly.
- Shizuo Heiwajima from Durarara!! seems to have been born without the ability to control his own strength. As a kid, his bones would routinely break under the strain. However, he recovers stronger every time, so as an adult, he doesn't usually get that particular side effect.
- Ayumu, the titular zombie from Is This a Zombie?, can remove his inhibitors on his muscles in combat. The downside is that he's prone to damaging his own body from the strain and impacts. Since he's a zombie he doesn't have to worry about dying from the resulting injuries, but it can take time to heal from them. Especially if parts of his body get separated in the process, since they have to be collected and reattached.
- Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star gives a simple but amazing explanation as to how strong he is in comparison with other people.
Kenshiro: Most people only use 30% of their natural strength. That's not much. The secret to Hokuto Shinken is controlling the other 70% as well.
- In A Certain Magical Index, one of the many powers that Acqua of the Back gets from his ability Divine Mother's Mercy is to use 100% of his body's potential. Since he also has superhuman durability and endurance, he doesn't have to worry about burning out and damaging his body unless he faces something truly challenging like an angel-class being.
- In Berserk the Berserker Armor not only allows the wearer to completely ignore pain, but also unlocks the wearers full physical potential. Schierke explains that the brain imposes unconscious limits on the muscles and other parts of the body to prevent it from destroying itself through excessive strain; pain is the bodys way of telling a person to stop what theyre doing before they hurt themselves. When these limits are removed by the armor, the wearer gains superhuman strength, agility, and reflexes at the risk of his own life. Sure, Guts was already a Lightning Bruiser with Charles Atlas Superpower, but the Berserker Armor takes him to a new level: when he's berserk he can perform insane leaps and somersaults through the air despite carrying the weight of heavy armor and a BFS, and he becomes strong enough to even catch and stop the Tail Slap of Grunbeld's giant dragon form. The downside is that in the berserker state induced by the armor, Guts will keep attacking like a crazed animal no matter what damage it causes to his body; for example, he digs his feet into the ground so hard that he snaps his left tibia and fibula, and when Grunbeld sends him flying shortly afterward he also gets his arm horribly twisted out of joint. The armor compensates for any broken bones by piercing Guts's flesh with spikes that hold the bone fragments in place, and violently twisting things back into alignment, which allows him to keep fighting despite making him bleed profusely. It turns out that the armors previous owner, the Skull Knight, died because he kept fighting until he was devoured by the armor's steel teeth and bled out his last drop of blood. Although Guts with the help of Schierke manages to snap out of berserk mode and escape with his companions, part of his hair turns white from his ordeal and he almost doesnt survive when the armor is removed to treat his wounds. From then on he tries very hard to avoid using the armors berserk mode unless theres simply no other option.
- In Naruto, the first gate of the Eight Gates, the Gate of Opening, removes the brain's limits on the muscles allowing the muscles to use 100% of their strength.
- Lampshaded with Deku's One For All "1 Million Percent" Delaware Detroit Smash in My Hero Academia, which is explained later by a doctor as Deku using hysterical strength in a moment of desperation, combined with the full power of One For All, which already wrecks his body when he goes full bore with it, in a colossal attack that takes out a foe who Deku believed could even tank a full power hit from All Might himself. The result is the most damage to Deku's body he's ever had from a single attack, and even after Recovery Girl's healing powers are used on him it still results in lasting ligament damage.
- In City Hunter this is the reason people under the effects of Angel Dust (a more powerful version of the Real Life PCP, see below for more) are far stronger than they normally are. In a case of Reality Ensues, the extreme strength also causes long term damage: Mick Angel, one of two people who survived being dosed on Angel Dust, ended up with his right arm devastated, preventing him from shooting a gun ever again when before that he could fire a .44 Magnum Desert Eagle one-handed.
- In Kengan Ashura, the Kure Clan—and their predecessor, the Wu Clan—has a secret technique that allows them to remove the brain's limiters and allows them to enhance their strength and speed. They breed selectively in order to create superior genes that can withstand the strain this unleashed power puts on their bodies.
- After a Freak Lab Accident, this is the justification for the eponymous Darkman's strength and inability to feel pain.
- The alleged superpower of Mr. Furious in Mystery Men, though it's pretty obviously just him playing it up. Right up until the end, when he finally gets angry enough for it to actually work.
- Used in Rocket Man, when the titular character has to lift a rover that is lying on top of the mission commander. He asks he commander to call him "Mommy" in order to force this response. It works. It also helps that Martian gravity is 1/3 of Earth's.
- In Silent Fall, this is one of Tim's "savant skills." When pushed far enough, he's strong enough to break open a bolted door. Dr. Harlinger uses this as evidence that Tim murdered his parents after he had already been dismissed as a suspect for being too weak to inflict that kind of damage.
- The Dresden Files. During Skin Game, Butters speculates that this is all that Harry actually gains from the mantle of the Winter Knight and points out that it's going to take an immense toll on his body over the long term.
- Though since the Mantle also appears to amp up his wizardly Healing Factor, he might actually be able to get away with it.
- In The Zombie Survival Guide, the narrator points out that zombies don't have the mental limits preventing them from using 100% of their muscular power. This makes them very powerful, but prone to injuring themselves.
- In Of Mice & Men, Lenny has super strength presumably as a compensatory byproduct of his mental deficiency.
- In Poul Anderson's The Sensitive Man, the title character has not only this but many other abilities normally displayed only by psychotics. After a rescue in which he is taken for a mutant or an alien, he confesses to this — and how he's about to have a nervous breakdown.
- In The Stainless Steel Rat, Jim once used an experimental drug capable of bringing a person to this state. According to him, he wouldn't have dreamed of using it if not for the fate of the world being at stake.
- In Corpies, this is Zone's superpower (hence the name: he's always "in the zone"). He consistently performs at his physical peak. Unfortunately, it's quickly shown that his body is starting to break down from him overusing his ability (he frequently parkours through disaster areas). The Docs tell him to take it easy, but his job is too important for that. At the end of the novel, Titan gives Zone the phone number of a retroactive healer he knows, who can undo all the damage and restore him to his prime. Normally, such services are only affordable by the super-rich, but it's implied that the healer owes Titan, so this is Titan calling in his marker.
- In Tom Clancy's works, a drug referred to as "Thor's Hammer" creates this effect in the same way that PCP does in real life.
- Peeps and carriers can apparently invoke this at will, of course they can also live for centuries so presumably they have some sort of Healing Factor too.
- In Emergence, this is a plot point, called "hysterical strength". Candy uses it to extract Adam from a wrecked car. Please note, this is not Worst Aid, since they're in a post-apocalyptic world with no ambulance service and the entire area the wreck is in is on fire, so his survival requires extraction from the car. Later, Adam proves unable to use this ability until it becomes vital. Candy thinks he has an understandable aversion after nursing her through the effects of overuse of "hysterical strength" while she was rescuing him.
- Worm: This is part of Aegis's powers. He doesn't have outright Super Strength, but he can run on adrenaline far longer than a mundane can, and his powers also give him redundant biology so he can keep going despite the damage.
- Seinfeld. George plays with this in one episode: he had been faking a handicap for his employer, who provided him with an electronic scooter; later, George accidentally upsets a group of geriatrics, who chase him on their scooters, but since the battery dies, George picks up his scooter and runs with it... right into his employer. Afterwards, George tries to explain what happened by claiming that in desperate times, people have been known to perform feats of superhuman strength, and even uses The Incredible Hulk (1977) as an example.
- This is the origin of the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk (1977). Dr. David Banner, physician, scientist, searches for a way to tap into the hidden strengths all humans have because he wasn't able to save his wife in a car accident despite the scientific fact that some people can flip a car when given the proper incentive. It turns out that on those occasions there were solar flares going on, sending gamma radiation into Earth's atmosphere. Banner overexposes himself with gamma radiation but it doesn't seem to have any effect - until later.
- In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), this is a Discussed Trope. When Jake first lifts a vehicle off of a guy it was dismissed as "a fluke adrenaline thing", but he realizes he has Super Strength when he bench presses 800 pounds "stone cold calm".
- In Alphas this is Bill's power, he can activate an adrenaline rush at will for five minutes at a time, his heart can't handle anything longer.
- Wonder Woman: This is the canonical reason given for Wonder Woman's strength and the strength of all of the Amazons of Paradise Island as stated in "Fausta, the Nazi Wonder Woman". Note that Wonder Woman was under the influence of her golden lasso at the time.
Fausta Grables: What makes you so strong?Wonder Woman: On Paradise Island there are only women. Because of this pure environment we are able to develop our minds and our physical skills unhampered by masculine destructiveness.
- Paranoia: The mutant power Adrenaline Control allowed the user to boost their Strength to superhuman levels for a short period of time, at the cost of serious muscle damage afterwards.
- Red Markets: Vectors, newly infected "zombies" who haven't technically died yet, tend to be very strong and fast because the Blight doesn't care about tissue damage. They only have a couple days before Blight-caused hemorrhaging or bullets kill them at most anyways, and a couple days after that they'll rise again as a shambling Casualty.
- In Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten, this is how Fuka, who is otherwise an ordinary schoolgirl, is able to match her power with the likes of demons. The narrator explains that while this would normally put a huge strain on a human's body, Fuka is so convinced she's in a dream where she's the Invincible Hero, that she can fight at full power with no adverse effects.
- In Dies Irae, Shirou uses a mixture of drugs, his inability to feel pain and his foreknowledge to the release all restrains on his body and allowing him to keep up with with the super powered monsters of the L.D.O. However, due to things such as caution and common sense not existing in his vocabulary, this often ends up doing a number on his body.
- Humans are only capable of using around 65% of their muscles' potential strength, with trained athletes potentially going as high as 80%. Only a few people have gone past this with even fewer reaching full potential. Every one of those situations was a life or death situation, when special hormones such as adrenaline are able to allow us to override the block, hence how people refer to this reaction as "fight-or-flight". The reason why this Defence Mechanism Superpower can only remain as a defence mechanism is because the stress reaction deprives other systems of energy, like for example digestion (hence Bring My Brown Pants) and the immune system (hence why chronically stressed people are more likely to get sick), and also because any amount of exertion above the one-third limit causes our muscles (and even tendons) to tear themselves from the bone, rip themselves apart, or even start to liquefy. Of course, the severity of the damage depends on the intensity of the stressor, how far beyond the limits one goes, and for how long. Oh, and in addition to that, ever punched a wall? Imagine that, but worse. If you hit something hard enough, you're gonna break your own bones and limbs, short-term. Kinda contradicts that point of being about to do things if you break yourself doing it. So evolution fixed the problem.
- Certain hallucinogenic drugs such as PCP create this effect. This is where the stories of people on PCP being completely immune to pepper spray, fighting off a dozen cops at once, and not being stopped by gunshots come from.
- Mental illnesses and disabilities can also have this effect, hence the (admittedly quite rude) term "retard strength" and the Dumb Muscle trope.
- Loss of muscle control is also why it's dangerous to try to restrain someone who's having a seizure. Your best bet is to move objects out of the way until they're all right.
- Electrical shocks to the muscle may trigger the entire muscle to contract. This is why touching a live electric wire is sometimes said to "throw someone across the room" despite there being no momentum from the electricity - the shock runs down a bent leg, which suddenly straightens with enough force that the person throws themselves away from the wire. Do not try this yourself - electrocution is not to be taken lightly.
- The reason we have excess muscle capacity is because muscle fibers take time to recharge before they can be reused, so to be able to do rapid strong movements (or strong sustained movements, since sustained force requires repeated contractions) we build up reserve muscle strength, more than we need 'at any one moment'. So using this unrestricted muscle potential is mainly limited to sudden jerks, not smooth movements.