CARVILLE: Impossible strength |

CARVILLE: Impossible strength

Phil Carville
Laura Elliott/ | The Union

Throughout our entire lives, a strong body is a huge benefit. I am defining ‘strong’ as muscular strength. When your muscles are strong you reduce the risk of injury and disease, including heart disease and cancer; your hormonal balance is improved; your posture is better; and you live more confidently and independently.

At the gym you can enrich and expand your life. Get an exercise program, follow it and change it. Hire a trainer to give you the routines that are tailored to your physical, medical and personal goals. But don’t limit your workout to just pushing weights: meet friends, workout together, swim, take yoga and Tai Chi, play some tennis, shoot some hoops, take a hot tub and enjoy the feeling of being strong relative to your age.

Most of us just want to be strong to live well. But there are some people whose feats of strength are incredible.

Hysterical Strength

We have all heard of people who are seemingly normal but have demonstrated enormous strength under stressful conditions. This is called hysterical strength.

When a jack collapsed and trapped young Tony Cavallo under a 3,000-pound Chevy Impala. His horrified 55-year old mother, Angela, saved her son’s life by lifting the car and holding it up for 3-minutes until help could arrive. She doesn’t know how she did it.

We are not sure where such strength comes from. Some think is it a huge surge of adrenaline produced by the adrenal medulla and pumped into the blood stream. Others think the source is Norepinephrine which has a different molecular makeup and is created by the sympathetic nervous system.

Hysterical strength is capable of phenomenal, seemingly super-human feats.

Incredible Strength

There is another type of strength which you develop yourself. This is ‘strength training’ we can do at the gym. A few people have the will and genetic makeup that allow them to create prodigious strength.

I am thinking of the 1950s and Paul Anderson, a back-country, young weight lifter from Toccoa, Georgia. To train, young Paul lifted barrels filled with concrete in his backyard. He eventually became known as the strongest human and astonished everyone with his feats of strength.

He could squat with 1,200 pounds. He once lifted 6,270 pounds in a back lift. He was 5-foot, 10-inches and weighed about 350-pounds. His thighs were 34 inches in circumference and despite of his weight he had a vertical jump of 36 inches. By the way, Michael Jordan’s vertical jump in the NBA was 46-inches.

In 1955, at the height of the Cold War, Paul was the USA National Amateur Athletic Union Weightlifting Champion and travelled to the Soviet Union for an international weightlifting competition. Before a crowd of 16,000 people outdoors in Moscow’s Gorky Park, the Russian champion, Alexey Medvedev, tied the Olympic Record for the two-hand press at 330-pounds and the crowd went wild.

The Russians snickered as Paul stepped up to a bar loaded with 402-pounds. Then without apparent effort Paul lifted the 402-pounds high over his head. The crowd was dead silent. After a few moments when the crowd realized what they just saw, they exploded into thunderous applause.

Your Strength

We don’t need the outlandish strength of Paul Anderson to realize the beneficial role strength plays in our daily lives. Keeping active and adhering to a consistent exercise regimen is all you need to gain and maintain strength. Focusing on your leg and core muscles along with overall flexibility is the key to longevity and good health.

How to do it?

Well, it’s easy… paraphrasing Hamlet’s advice to Ophelia in Shakespeare’s play, “Get thee to the gymnasium.”

Phil Carville is a co-owner of the South Yuba Club. He is happy to answer questions or respond to comments. He can be reached at

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