Charles Atlas Superpower

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Side effects may include loss of hair.

Renly: Not everyone can be such a gifted swordsman.
Ser Loras: It's not a gift. No one gave it to me. I'm good because I worked at it. Every day of my life since I could hold a stick.


The human body is a lot more resilient than some people give it credit for. Pound for pound, human bone is around three times as strong as concrete—but we don't allow our bodies to use the full strength inherent in their makeup, because to do so would result in damage. The vast bulk of any martial arts curriculum is actually body-hardening exercises designed to overcome these unconscious limiters ("Are you afraid of the board?!"), allowing the student to strike with more force.

But that isn't cool enough for fiction—in the land of make-believe, training can literally give you superhuman powers! Intense exercise can let you split boulders, jump three stories straight up, "see" while wearing a blindfold, and make your skin bulletproof... somehow. A lot of characters in Shonen Anime have out-and-out superhuman abilities, as noted by minor characters. And the explanation for such powers is always just, "They trained really hard for several years. Train, and you, too, can bash mountains open with your head."

Western comic book superheroes, often stated to "lack superpowers", nevertheless are clearly able to hold their own and defeat villains with superhuman strength many times their own simply by knowing Kung Fu or something. "Non-superpowered" characters such as Batman could beat almost anyone in a fight, dodge bullets and withstand ridiculous amounts of damage because they spent a few years living on top of a mountain.

Although most of the western versions of this trope don't actually have explicitly supernatural abilities, they can do things that would be absolutely impossible for normal humans.

Asian and Asian-based fiction is somewhat different, as such examples are generally grounded in Eastern mysticism, involving the development and focusing of chi (AKA qi or ki). The superpower here is thus of a more traditional sort than in Western examples, though the training is still the significant factor; Average Joe can't harness his chi half as well as Krillin. You might as well go ahead and apply your own mental Justifying Edit to all such examples below, as this "explains" everything from Mortal Kombat to Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.

Use of actual Ki Attacks (e.g. Pure Energy blasts) blur the line between this and outright magic.

This syndrome is usually the result of the Badass Normal being portrayed as a little too Badass. May run in families.

Named after an early 20th-century bodybuilder, who advertised a program which swore it could turn any 97-lb. weakling into a hulking, muscular giant who could punch out a bully that kicked sand in his face. This sort of idea was around long before and after Charles Atlas, however, as the ever-brilliant David S. Zondy explains.

Note that training does have some effect other than ignoring limiters—hesitation can be an impediment; some martial arts teach you how to bunch your muscles in such a way that they stop blunt attacks; taking a punch correctly can negate most of its power; and bones put under stress are rebuilt by the body with higher density (this is why students in some elementary schools are supposed to jump up and down as part of their morning routine). However, that doesn't make the out and out superpowers anymore realistic.

The standard line here is that "the average person only uses ten to fifteen percent of their potential strength." It is possible for the brain to use far more muscle power than the person would normally consider their limit, but usually only by shutting down most other major body processes- digestion, the immune system etc.- and flooding the body with adrenaline. Otherwise known as the "fight or flight" response. In other words, it's a Dangerous Forbidden Technique only ever used for Big Damn Heroes moments.

See also Made of Iron. The same idea applied to the mind would be 90% of Your Brain. Contrast Hard Work Hardly Works. God forbid that you give the character actual superpowers and make him a Badass Abnormal. See also Weak but Skilled. May result because they Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training.

The inverse to this trope is Boxing Lessons for Superman, where an already-superpowered character trains in a mundane skill.

Compare Art Major Biology, The Power of Acting, and Supernatural Martial Arts. Contrast Enlightenment Superpowers. When repetitive training grants a character powerful skills without their knowledge, that's Wax On, Wax Off. If it turns out the "mundane"-level power actually was a gift, that's Real Life Super Powers.

Examples of Charles Atlas Superpower include:

Anime & Manga

  • Himiko Toga from My Hero Academia has a trick that makes her virtually unnoticeable. It involves clearing her mind and holding her breath. The setting's super powers are called "quirk"s. Himiko has a quirk, but this entry's ability isn't it.
  • The protagonist of One-Punch Man got has strong as he is by

One hundred push-ups! One hundred sit ups! One hundred squats! Then a 10k run! Every single day!

for 3 years. He also didn't use AC or Heat during the winter or summer and made sure to always have at least a small breakfast.
  • Sket Dance's Himeko (the "Onihime") is a beautiful bruiser who can take on an army of delinquents with nothing but her natural strength and a WOODEN hockeystick.
    • Played for laughs with Koma-chan who scares away/injures her suitors with her freakish strength. She also breaks her cellphone's keypad because of it.
  • Ranma ½: 99% of the cast. Of course, they cross the line between this trope and Training from Hell on many, many occasions. Ki Attacks via training are common as well.
  • In Naruto, even without the Functional Magic using chakra, ninja can jump dozens of meters, hit targets with inhuman accuracy, punch down stone walls, beat two-story tall bears in sumo wrestling contest, and gain a sense of smell equal to or greater than that of a dog through nothing but physical training.
    • Chakra is a fundamental part of the human anatomy in the series, so it is sort of Justified. The entire premise is that everyone is a potential Charles Atlas.
    • Not to mention Rock Lee who practically embodies this trope, even by ninja standards. Not having the ability to control chakra, he constantly trains with insane exercises like always wearing leg weights that appear to have the same mass as a small house. Each.
    • On a similar note, the show, and in particular, Rock Lee, seems to reference the unconscious inhibition that the mind places on the body via the Eight Gates. However, opening them to go into Super Mode will quickly lead to exhaustion, and opening all 8 gates leads to death. The purpose of the Gates is essentially to allow the user to go past the basic human limitations and use 100% of their full physical power.
    • Lee's mentor Might Guy possesses physical power that makes his student look like a pillowcase in comparison. In Six Gates Mode, Gai punches so fast that his fists set on fire simply due to friction, and in Seven Gates Mode, he punches the air so hard that it compresses into a giant exploding tiger head by physical strength alone.
  • Luffy, Sanji and Zoro, amongst many others from One Piece, can casually slap away sea monsters the size of whales and throw a whole building with minimal effort just because they've trained hard enough. Luffy has a superpower, but it has little to do with that.
    • In Luffy and Zoro's case, be glad that they actually showed/mentioned tedious training (Zoro exercises with weights roughly the size of monstertruck wheels). Almost every character in the series whose combat ability does not solely revolve around weapons possesses at least some form of super strength/speed, or at least a massive damage soak (seriously, Usopp surviving a 4-ton bat slammed into his skull? While being dragged along the ground at 30 MPH?).
    • CP9's Rokushiki are six specific Charles Atlas Superpowers, Soru, Tekkai, Geppou, Kami-E, Shigan, and Rankyaku. There is also a secret seventh skill, Rokuougan.
    • Jozu, 3rd Division Commander of the Whitebeard Pirates, is maybe the strongest in terms of brute strength yet in One Piece. His Diamond powers shouldn't affect his muscles, but yet, he can lift an iceberg.
    • Mildly subverted when Franky punches out a CP9 member while pointing out that even if his muscles are hard as iron, Franky's fists are made of real iron.
    • Haki is also a good example in One Piece. It could be considered a super-power by real standards. Haki makes you able to nullify Devil Fruit powers (which are the series' resident actual superpowers), feel an opponent's strength and predict their movements and, finally, knock out thousands of weaker opponent by your mere spirit - and to people who have never heard about it, it's often thought to be magic. Every human (and human-like beings) in the series has the potential for it, but only few manage to awaken that potential. So that way, it seems like an extraordinary superpower even though it's a power that every human has.
  • Taken to extreme levels in Dragonball Z. Apparently with training you can learn how to shoot energy beams, fly, be bulletproof, be telepathic, and have Super Strength that'd make them outright near Superman level. You'd still not really be much of a match for most androids and aliens, but still.
    • Being an alien (Saiyan) also doesn't hurt, but then the human members gain strength far surpassing what is possible (although they're still extremely weak in comparison to said aliens).
  • Whenever Hayate from Hayate the Combat Butler does something impossible (like pedalling a bicycle faster than a car (a common anime technique) or surviving a hit from Humongous Mecha), the only comment he or some other Combat Commentator will make is "It's all right, he trains."
    • It might have something to do with Athena unlocking his innate potential with magic when they were young.
  • Masaru from Digimon Savers, over the course of a single day (the first episode), beat up over a dozen thugs, fought a strong Rookie-level Digimon for a least a few hours, and later punched out a 20-foot chicken while dodging its laser blasts. Just how he does things like this is never explained, but seems to be due in part to the Digisoul/Digimon Natural Ability. Or Lamarck Was Right.
  • GetBackers has some characters with actual superpowers, but others are masters of obscure martial arts that allow one to make things such as a whip, strings, needles, etc. utterly rewrite the laws of physics.
    • Considering the GetBackers world is actually a giant virtual reality, the laws of physics are rather skewed as is and not as much of a stretch for "rewriting".
      • Well technically only Infinity Fortress was a quasi-virtual reality the rest was all real.
  • Parodied in Welcome to The NHK when Satou decides to test if he has gained powers like those characters have from training alone on a mountain from living alone in his apartment. He successfully karate-chops a beer bottle but cuts his hand.
  • Walter C. Dornez, the Battle Butler of Hellsing, even before he gets turned into a vampire. At over seventy years old, he's capable of acrobatics, dodging a veritable storm of bullets, and wielding his weapons -- long, floating, razor-sharp, hair-thin garrote wires—with enough strength and precision to cut apart an entire battalion of vampire soldiers.
    • He was even more badass during World War II, when he was only fourteen years old. Case in point: he jumped out of an Allied spyplane, hundreds of feet above the ground, carrying a coffin that probably outweighed him, without a parachute, and landed completely unharmed on the enemy leader's dining room table.
  • Fist of the North Star/Hokuto no Ken. Everybody without a mohawk has a CAS. Everyone with a mohawk is just cannon fodder, as weak and defenseless as fanged bunnies.
  • Guts from Berserk is a monster of a man who swings a BFS with frightening speed and has survived more than two years' worth of relentless demon attacks, many of which would have killed a normal man many times over. The justification is that he has spent literally his entire life on battlefields, meaning he's also spent most of it in battle. Wielding a sword most of the day for every day of your life will eventually add up, it seems.
    • The manga states that surviving the Eclipse allowed Guts to gradually turn himself into a literal superhuman through sheer willpower. Of course, he was tough enough to fight and wipe out a 100-men unit even when he was a perfectly normal soldier.
    • Some people have theorized that his constant contact with the spirit world via the Brand has had a hand in increasing his capabilities beyond human norms.
  • Taken to extremes by just about every single character in History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi.
  • Black Cat is rife with this—the setting includes an entire martial art dedicated to punching bullets—but what's notable is that the beneficiaries of this trope are for the most part more powerful than characters with genuine supernatural abilities: when Belze fights Kyoko, he notes that she's using her Taoist abilities to enhance her speed... then promptly declares that, at said speed, it's ridiculous for her to even be trying to hit him. The extreme example, though, is Sephiria's ability to disintegrate people (literally nothing left) with her sword just by hitting them a lot, really hard. Even some of the more normal characters like Saya and Kevin still have some ridiculous skills.
  • Gourry Gabrieve of The Slayers is able to flick acorns with enough power to put serious holes in the bodies of trolls (Lina had cast a spell on them to reverse their usual regenerative skills, but being able to put those holes there was all Gourry).
  • Mahou Sensei Negima has several: Kaede, Ku Fei, and Mana (the mercenary). Makie is on her way to this trope too.
    • Kaede wields shuriken that's taller than she is.
    • Ku Fei has taken down demons in fights.
    • Mana is apparently strong enough to flick coins at people with enough force to knock them over. This, at least, could be a faint residual from the earlier time in her life when she received regular physical enhancement from her mage partner. She does have weak unrelated magical powers (as well as the contacts to purchase enchanted ammo).
      • She's also a half-demonfolk.
    • Makie, the only one who's not a trained fighter, did some rather absurd things in an early appearance just with her gymnastics training, including using her ribbon as a whip to snatch a book from a large monster and Indiana Jones over a pitfall. Later on, she uses the ribbon to pick up and throw Negi.
    • Ayaka, despite Not Being Able To Catch Up, is currently the only Ordinary High School Girl to actually land any kind of hit on a member of the Ala Alba. Not even Makie or Yuna could pull that off.
    • Recent revelations show that Jack Rakan started out as a slave in a gladiatorial combat arena and became uber strong through 40 or so years of fighting in tournaments and wars. He also used magic, of course, but in the world he lived in this was hardly a superpower.
      • He is stated to be stronger than Fate, who could almost beat Negi in a stand up fight at the very end of the series. He breaks out of a dimension imprisoning him through willpower alone. He survives his own unmaking, though only briefly, by focusing hard enough. He is... well, you understand.
  • Every single Saint, Shogun, and Spectre in Saint Seiya, where even the kindest and gentlest Saint had to endure horrific experiences that later endowed him with supernatural fighting skills. In the case of Spectres (and Phoenix Saint Ikki), they endured a very literal Training from Hell. Considering they all started their training as small boys under the age of ten, and their weakest moves were at the speed of sound by his 13th birthday...
  • The protagonists in Hunter X Hunter manage to push open doors weighing several tons simply by going through the Training from Hell for a few months. Afterwards, the main character is shown projecting an obese strongman several dozen meters away simply by pushing him with a single hand. And that's before Nen is even involved. Of course, there's no visible muscular increase.
    • Also, Killua (and indeed, his entire family) is not only immune to every single poison in the world because he has ingested them when he was an infant, but he is also immune to electricity because he received electrical shocks along with the poisons. He can still feel pain, though.
    • Young Netero is shown practicing a thousand punches everyday, doing it faster and faster until he actually punched faster than the speed of sound. Even after turning into a 150-year-old geezer, he still moves so fast that superhuman creatures have no idea what's going on.
  • Suzaku Kururugi from Code Geass is stronger and faster than normal humans. This is demonstrated rather memorably when he dodges fire from an automated ceiling-mounted machine gun, runs up a nearby wall, and destroys the turret with a Hurricane Kick (and all of this before he got geassed). The writers implied that his abilities had something to do with the Geass, but unfortunately, the plot thread was dropped due to the hurried pace of the second season.
    • The geass placed on Suzaku was the command to live, it removed all hesitation during combat and gave him super human reflexes fast enough to beat even someone who could see the future.
    • In addition, Kallen performed a couple feats that could be said to be inhuman. In the first episode of the second season, Kallen jumps over a chess table and takes out several guards with a spin-kick. She can also karate chop a bumblebee in half while it's in mid-flight, without even turning to look at it. This isn't nearly as impressive as Suzaku... except that she's never said to be trained in anything. She just has a lot of exercise gear in her room.
    • Once more, in addition, there is Sayoko, who jumps her own height in a rather fabulous manner, and displays impressive combat skill. She's a maid. Well, a Ninja Maid. She was also trained as a Japanese SP... or a ninja, but she denies that. Of course, she spent at least the last five years in a very low-impact lifestyle, caring for Nunnally, so any training she may have had should have long deteriorated.
  • Ling Yao and his bodyguards from Fullmetal Alchemist are shown to be more than a match for the super human homunculi. All of them are able to survive jumps and falls that would kill a normal human. Ling himself duels King Bradley while carrying Lanfan.
  • Thoma from Fantastic Children, who can knock out even giant robots, for crying out loud!
  • Goro Honda/Shigeno, the main character from the baseball anime/manga Major. The guy can throw fastballs over 100 mph and he's not even using his natural dominant hand. Don't even get us started on his tenacity and endurance.
    • Arguably one's strength is not dependant on their handedness. Weight lifters for example don't lift with just one arm. Actual throwing accuracy however with one's off hand however would take a lot of training, just as writing with that hand would. But then it takes a while to learn to throw properly with your dominant hand as well when you're a kid.
  • Hei of Darker than Black is an extremely agile martial artist with amazing reflexes who can jump from heights unscathed. These qualities are also true of his sort of Evil Counterpart, Wei. And they both have actual superpowers to boot. Notably, in fight between the two, Bullet Time effects are somewhat implausibly used.
  • Roberta from Black Lagoon. Most other Badasses of the series have to make do with superhuman speed and shooting skills. She can all that while catching and shattering a thrown sword... with her teeth.
  • Claire Stanfield of Baccano! is inhumanly agile thanks to his experience in the circus, as his constant backflips and Wall Crawls on the top of a moving train demonstrate. He also apparently has the jaw strength to nonchalantly bite people's fingers clean off, but that's neither here nor there.
    • Although it's nowhere near as crazy as Chane, who can deflect bullets with knives (including ones fired from a shotgun) or Graham, who can catch bullets with his wrench or disassemble entire cars midair in seconds.
    • The OVAs make it clear that Claire is much stronger than Graham though. He's also probably stronger than Chane by transitivity. In fact, he's probably the strongest character in the whole series.
      • Actually, the author has said that the reason Claire doesn't get his own plotline is because he IS the strongest character in the series, and a story that consisted solely of Claire beating the heck out of everyone else wouldn't be a very interesting read.
  • One former page image from G Gundam gives us the infamous skyscraper-launching episode.
    • Domon and Master Asia get all the attention, but almost every Gundam Fighter is an example by necessity. Throughout the series we get several demonstrations that the top-class fighters (including the Five-Man Band and the Devil Gundam's Four Kings) are all perfectly capable of performing their Finishing Moves without their Gundams.
  • Ryoma Nagare in Getter Robo. Some examples of his martial arts prowess include: throwing a sword (by the blade) with enough force to sever a man's arm; jumping hundreds of feet from a helicopter onto a car and suffering only minor discomfort; climbing up the face of a rampaging Getter-2 to punch the pilot in the face; resisting an animal tranquilizer strong enough to kill most men even after nearly bleeding to death immediately beforehand; breaking a katana by flexing his chest muscles; and punching dinosaurs to death.
  • Chad from Bleach gains actual powers early in the first arc, but before he does he's shown to be inhumanly strong. A steel beam falls on him from several stories up, and he takes it like it was a weak punch. Also, his first encounter with a hollow was before he was able to see them, so Rukia told him where to swing his bat. Or at least the telephone pole he uprooted and was using as a bat.
    • Go Koga, a filler character, manages to beat up Ichigo using only his physical strength, which is odd at first because his race was established to rely exclusively on familiars to fight. He then explains that his strength is not the result of his Bount powers, but rather, it's the inherent strength of his human body.
  • Almost everyone in Katekyo Hitman Reborn who isn't a comic relief character (and several who are.) Practice something enough, and you'll gain godlike skill in it, no matter what it is. Are you good at boxing? Keep up the training and soon you'll be able to destroy half a gymnasium with one punch. Adept at ranking people's talents? Eventually you'll get so good at it, you'll develop a superhuman ranking skill so intense that you'll NEGATE GRAVITY AROUND YOURSELF AS A SIDE EFFECT OF THINKING ABOUT IT. Oh, and also, a one-year-old infant can earn a PHD in advanced mathematics without giving up his day job as the world's most feared and respected mafia hitmen. Inspiring!
    • Helps that Reborn is somewhere at least in his fifties chronologically, and was somewhere in his twenties before he became an Arcobaleno.
  • Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle's Syaoran Li. In a fight, he will kick damn near anything from a giant icicle blade, big muscular guy with superhuman strength granted by magic to a God Bird Thing. Might be why Syaoran is so awesome.
    • Kurogane, who, not counting his sword skills, can punch down a stone wall barehanded.
  • Quite a bit of the cast from Rurouni Kenshin, the protagonist being the most obvious. Of course, Kenshin did live through both a Training from Hell and a bloody conflict in which he served as an assassin. (The series itself does somewhat attempt to justify all of the Charles Atlas Superpowers: Soujirou spent his childhood carrying heavy objects and sealed away his emotions due to abuse; Aoshi is a Ninja and thus an expert in stealth techniques; Usui's blindness subsequently enhanced the senses already sharpened by years of training; etcetera.)
  • In Durarara!!, Shizuo's Super Strength is a result of taking both the "removing unconscious limiters" and "bones rebuild themselves with a higher density" explanations to their logical extremes. By the time he's in high school, he can shrug off getting by a truck and still find the energy to try and beat Izaya to death with a door (which he ripped off of its hinges, of course) in the same night.
    • Similarly, Shizuo's archnemesis Izaya is faster and more agile than any supposedly "normal" human has a right to be, and that's before we get into his ability to routinely shrug off physical abuse from Shizuo that should have left him a bloody pulp.
  • Baki the Grappler, full stop. Martial artists can easily hold their own against various wild animals such as bears, tigers and wolves, and Yujiro once punched out an earthquake. And it's relatively realistic for martial-arts anime.
  • Yu Yu Hakusho: It's understandable that Yusuke and Kurama can achieve this due to the fact that they're both human/demon hybrids in some way. But God damn it if Kuwabara isn't this trope, what with his ability to knock down trees with several punches.
  • Post Time Skip, Raki from Claymore is implied to be the most powerful pure human alive, or at least on their continent.
    • He might not be quite so pure anymore. His latest appearances have been showing signs he might be partially tainted from a combination of the Destroyer's spikes and left overs from Priscilla's hand. The left side of his body, the side he was most injured, especially seems to have veins popping out while fighting, while the other side doesn't. That said it's only speculation based on the art itself. Though one of the twins did say she could feel his strength.
  • Genjuro from Senki Zesshou Symphogear can do absolutely insane things like blocking Magical Girl Warrior attacks with his fists or stomp so hard it sends parts of the road flying because of his martial arts training. Martial arts training whose sole purpose seems to be copying the movesets of Akuma and Bruce Lee.

Chris: What happened?
Genjuro: I neutralized the explosion using a martial arts technique.


Comic Books

  • Batman seems to have miraculously avoided being shot in any way that could hurt him, recovered from having his back snapped in half with no ill effects (albeit with the help of a friend with healing powers), and constantly goes toe to toe with superhuman foes and triumphs, just because he's trained that hard. His various pupils, including all the Robins, show similar abilities.
    • More recently, Batman has moved away from this; he wins battles less because of training and more because of tactics. One could say that Batsy's power is Awesomeness By Analysis to an amazing degree; he makes sure he can analyze any weakness as quickly as possible. You never see him fight an amazingly powerful superhuman straight on. More often than not, he avoids gunfire by staying in the shadows where Mooks can't see, wearing the best bulletproof suit millionaire playboy money can buy, and/or disabling enemies before they have a chance to shoot.
      • Grant Morrison is largely responsible for switching Batman's primary ability from Charles Atlas Superpower to Crazy Prepared. His Batman is still impossibly capable. Having tea with a monk, he reflexively swapped cups, assuming his was poisoned (it was). In the time it took the monk to blink.
    • In The Batman Adventures #6, it was a plot point that Bruce Wayne is capable of an unassisted ten-foot vertical jump. The world record is four.
  • The Robins have their own variations on this. Dick Grayson (now Nightwing) is the child of circus acrobats and is thus incredibly agile. Tim Drake, on the other hand, is more methodical and uses strategy instead of strength most of the time. Jason Todd is powered by RAGE to the point where he uses battle tactics to bring you into a world of pain, even defeating his 'brothers' in combat on several occasions.
  • Cassandra Cain as Batgirl is possibly one of the most over-the-top examples in Western comics. Being raised as an assassin from birth is used to explain how she can dodge bullets being fired directly at her head from less than a foot away. As a means of explanation that strains credulity, she was not taught to interpret speech or writing but instead taught human movement as a language (e.g. through recognition of tensing in specific arm and hand muscles, avoids gunfire by reacting first away from the direction of a pointed gun). She is actually shown on multiple occasions as basically having Spider-sense. The list goes on with her, but the instances listed contradict the vast majority of her appearances, and are generally ignored.
    • She can dodge bullets she can't hear or see being fired from, perhaps, miles away.
    • There are multiple (and explicitly drawn) instances of her dodging gunfire not by predicting where the shot will be fired, but by only stepping aside after the bullet has already left the barrel and is halfway to her head. In some particularly bad examples she reacts to the sound, even though almost all bullets have been faster than the speed of sound since before Batman's creation with few exceptions.
    • Even when she is actually hit by a bullet, she can do so without flinching, because she was conditioned from when she was very young to ignore the pain.
    • She's kicked a man-sized hole in a steel-reinforced concrete wall
    • Thrown a Batarang at a target and then changed her mind and outran her own Batarang to reach the target first
    • Punched 50 men unconscious in less than five seconds.
  • In some story, Robin is amazed by the physical feats of Bane and, logically, assumes he's on venom. But guess what, he is not! Of course it's the training Bane had in prison, silly.
  • Green Arrow manages to shoot arrows in a physically impossible manner because he was stranded on an island for several years, where the only food he could find was the island's population of extremely agile animals.
    • Coy hints have been dropped here and there that Green Arrow is, in fact, a metahuman.
    • Red Arrow has perfect aim, and is faster than Green Arrow, and does not appear to be a metahuman despite being related to Vandal Savage.
  • Richard Dragon and Lady Shiva, who both helped train Batman and Vic Sage's Question, also exhibit this. Lady Shiva has very close to the same abilities as her daughter, Cassandra Cain.
  • Huntress has dead-eye aim with her crossbow and has unusually high endurance and fighting abilities, with her backstory establishing that she was trained to take vengeance on her family's killers. Also, she can perform acrobatics in high heels.
  • Daredevil's superhuman senses can explain his increased reactions—he notices tension, hints of movement, and so on before anyone else would—but his endurance and strength are pure training.
    • "Being blind, physics no longer applied to me." -- Riff Trax version of the Daredevil movie
    • His archnemesis, Bullseye, is another example; he has no superpowers, but both his ability to aim and his ability to throw projectiles (including incredibly un-aerodynamic things, such as playing cards and straightened paperclips; indeed, it's been said that anything is a deadly weapon in his hands) to lethal effect basically is one. It's one thing to be a brilliant marksman with thrown weapons. It's quite another to make the objects you throw defy the laws of physics.
  • The Punisher is hardcore enough to take enough damage to kill a thousand men, but just keeps coming back. Sample Inner Monologue after being blasted at point-blank range with a shotgun: "That's a rib gone. Not broken. Gone." His enemy, Barracuda, is essentially an evil version of the Punisher and just as hardy.
    • The Punisher once went up a mercenary named Roc, who was impervious to harm. The explanation given was that he was incredibly muscular and had no nerve endings. This doesn't explain how he was able to survive being shot at point blank range with a double-barreled shot gun, or how he shrugged off getting a large knife shoved between his shoulder blades.
    • The first incarnation of the Russian is another good example. He's never stated to have any explicit superpowers, yet exhibits strength far exceeding the limit for a comic book peak human. The guy accidentally actually squeezes a mook to death with a one armed hug. The real kicker is that he does this by accident, he was genuinely trying to be friendly!
  • Spider-Man, during the countless occasions that he, for one reason or another, temporarily loses his spider-powers.
    • Subverted by a still-powered Spider-Man. In a relatively recent arc, he underwent some "chi" training so he wouldn't always act on instinct. Later, when chased by homing bullets, he attempts to catch them out of the air. He does snag one, but the other drills straight through his palm and into his shoulder, at which point Pete passes out.
    • The Kingpin is very, very strong thanks to all that time in his gym.
  • Ozymandias from Watchmen. His feats are mostly believable through most of the story, but in the final act, he catches a bullet. (It tears up his hand.)
    • This is Lampshaded by him not quite believing it himself.
      • In The Movie, he wears thick Kevlar gloves. The bullet just mashes into his armor without hurting him.
    • There's an amusing lampshade in one panel, where one of the numerous products he sells is a muscle-building promotion clearly patterned after the Charles Atlas ads (although also based on training mental ability).
      • "I will give you bodies beyond your wildest imaginings..."
      • This is actually a case of the Eastern Mysticism version of the trope. The advertisement for said fitness directly mentions meditation and learning to use Chi. When the bullet is fired in the comic, he uses a classic ki invoking "Hi Yahh!".
  • Sometimes, writers go a little overboard. The Quality Comics hero Black Condor was raised as a Wild Child by (ahem) super-intelligent condors ... and as a result, learned to fly. When the character was incorporated into the DC Universe, retroactive continuity was invoked to credit the power to irradiation by meteor.
  • Unsurprisingly, Grant Morrison drove this trope to the hilt in his run on Doom Patrol with Flex Mentallo, a forgotten hero obviously modeled after old Charles Atlas ads with the ability to warp reality by flexing his muscles.
  • Karate Kid of DC's Legion of Super-Heroes exemplifies the Charles Atlas Superpower. The Legion's constitution requires every member to have an intrinsic superpower, and numerous Legionnaire hopefuls were denied membership because their powers were not sufficiently impressive. However, Karate Kid does not have an actual superpower; his abilities are instead the result of intensive training in (fictionalized) martial arts, and the Legion as a whole tends to gloss over the subject of just what Karate Kid's superpower actually is - after he demonstrated that he could put the ridiculously powerful Silver Age Superboy in a headlock, he was in.
    • Somewhere along his history, the ability to inherently determine the weaknesses of opponents became the official justification for why he was more than just a martial artist.
    • In Mark Waid's threeboot Legion, Karate Kid is noted as being not only a master of pretty much every human and alien fighting style, he's actually invented entirely new ones to take advantage of the abilities his flight ring gives him.
    • Then there's the time when he kicked Physical God Darkseid in the face.
      • Hell, he even beat Batman. Once. It wouldn't happen again.
  • In the world of Warren Ellis's Global Frequency, biofeedback not only allows you to unlock greater control of pain and strength, but accelerated healing, raising the question of why Mother Nature would lock away normal humans' potential in the first place. In GF #10, two biofeedback nuts throw down against each other. They ignore blow after punishing blow, shrug off gunshot- and stab-wounds, and continue functioning despite bent-backwards joints and a plucked-out eye. The fight only ends when one rips the other's arm off with his bare hands.
    • Which arm is then forcibly fed to its former owner.
    • It's worth noting what the backup plan if the good biofeedbacker lost was - destroy the entire building complex with an air strike.
  • The Golden Age of Comic Books Wonder Woman got her super-powers from training in "Amazonian concentration"—it was even a skill that Amazons could teach to normal human females. The Silver Age of Comic Books retconned Wonder Woman as a clay statue brought to life with powers straight from the Gods.
  • Flash villain The Top's lifelong obsession with spinning tops led him to teach himself how to spin really fast—fast enough to deflect bullets. Also, years of spinning increased his intelligence and gave him immense psionic powers because apparently, all the spinning caused dormant brain cells to move to the outer areas of his brain. And, of course, he also has the Required Secondary Powers of not getting dizzy.
    • The sheer absurdity of this did eventually lead to him being explicitly given psionic powers.
  • While most of Marvel Universe's Inhumans get superpowers from ritualistic exposure to the mutagenic Terrigen Mist, Karnak forewent the ritual and instead spent his adolescence in a monastery, training in physical and mental discipline. This left him with super-calloused skin, complete conscious control over his body's autonomic functions, and the extrasensory ability to sense the structural weakness in anything or anyone, allowing him to beat stronger opponents and shatter objects as hard as steel with a single well-aimed blow.
  • In Wolverine, the Gorgon is the ultimate example of this (despite having superpowers, as they are unrelated to his badassery). Wolverine even states that the Gorgon shouldn't be able to do the things he does (jump off buildings, beat Elektra into submission, get flayed and gutted by Wolverine and not care) and still be human, and that the Gorgon far surpasses him in badassery—in so many words.
    • This becomes especially apparent when the Gorgon returns in Secret Warriors and proves he can move too fast for an actual superspeedster to keep up with, even though logically that just shouldn't be the case.
    • Just to clarify, this is Gorgon as in the codename of Tomi Shishido. Not Gorgon of The Inhumans. Who is well . . . not human.
      • In fact, the Gorgon is so ridiculously badass that literally no one (That SHIELD can call in anyway) can beat him. Wolverine has to hoist him by his own petard to win.
      • Gorgon's badassery is proved beyond any shadow of doubt in Secret Warriors, when he kills Phobos, yes, the son of Ares, a freaking greek god.
    • Well, its implied in his first appearances that Gorgon was given various other powers by HYDRA and the Hand, in addition to his original mutant power (turning to stone those who looked in his eyes), such as telepathy, super-strength, regen etc.. Not to mention he is The Undead, given he committed suicide prior to his introduction, and was resurrected by the Hand who have numerous magical powers.
  • The Mandarin is known for his ability to beat the tar out of Iron Man with his bare hands. No explanation for this is given, beyond him knowing martial arts. It's never even mentioned what kind of fighting style lets one do that (although he claimed from the start to be the greatest Karate master who ever lived). It should be noted that none of his ten rings of power enhance his hand to hand abilities, although they are sometimes claimed to reinforce his structural integrity.
    • It's explicitly stated at one stage that he has Ki Attacks.
  • The Immortal Iron Fist Danny Rand, even when harnessing magic dragon chi, can do things most normal humans can't, like survive a massive explosion meant to take out an entire city and cutting through the achilles tendon of a giant with a karate chop. A few of the other Immortal Weapons also qualify, such as Fat Cobra, who is as big as a sumo wrestler and fast as a ninja.
    • "The bigger they are, the harder they fall when you cut their Achilles tendon"
    • Fat Cobra has even expressed the belief that with the power of chi, an ant can wrestle an elephant into submission.
  • The Phantom, the guy in the purple suit. Said to have trained by lifting a growing cow every day.
    • This was no doubt taken from history via a Greek man named Milo, who is held by legend to be the strongest man who ever lived. Milo lifted a growing calf until it matured into a bull, thus giving Milo incredible strength.
  • Ogun is such a great swordsman that it made him telepathic, as in he can attack people with a sword and then they turn into martial arts masters.
  • The Taskmaster, aside from his "photographic reflexes", has no superpowers at all. Yet he still can stand toe to toe with plenty of heroes or villains by virtue of the fact that he's incredibly fit, and those reflexes. He even can achieve a limited form of superspeed by watching recordings of himself in fast-forward.
    • One of the Taskmaster's favorite trainees in Avengers: The Initiative is Melee, whose power is that she knows martial arts. All of them.
    • MVP was at Camp Hammond before the Taskmaster, but he's a pretty strong example himself. His incredible physical capabilities mirror those of Captain America (comics), but are due to a severe, revolutionary diet and exercise regimen that he'd been put through since infancy. Contrary to what was assumed when MVP was recruited, his great-grandfather being the inventor of Captain America (comics)'s Super Serum was more or less a coincidence. Former Nazi scientist Baron von Blitzschlag is stunned to hear this; he'd never have imagined such a perfect specimen would be the sole product of eating right and working out.
  • In "Johnny Saturn" Johnny Saturn I, aka John Underhall, appears somewhat superhuman, able to defeat whole teams of super-powered foes, or leap from a great distance and catch hold of a careening semi. It is soon found out that Underhall has paid a tremendous price for these 'abilities,' and that his body is worn out, he's broken every bone in his body including his spine, and he's a pain killer addict.
  • John Doe of Nth Man the Ultimate Ninja is, by all accounts, a non-powered ordinary man. Even so, he can dodge bullets with Super Reflexes, kill a roomful of men in several seconds, and alter the perceptions of everyone nearby with a chant. Justified in that he has been trained as a Ninja since the age of nine.
  • Sin City has its fair share. Miho, Kevin, and Wallace all perform feats that should be impossible for normal humans, apparently due to their martial arts abilities. Miho kicked a man's head off his shoulders (granted, she sliced his neck first but that's still damned impressive), Wallace used a meditation technique to remember events after he was drugged and could catch a thrown knife in a dark forest despite not knowing he was being watched, and Kevin can apparently make people go numb with a quick jab. There was also the Elite Mook from Big Fat Kill who could cause intense pain just by touch.
    • Also, while technically not martial artists, characters such as Marv, Dwight, Manute, and even Hartigan display abilities that should be impossible even though they are technically normal people.
  • Elektra as seen in her Dark Reign crossover was dodging bullets. Mostly. Corrupt government agents were plinking at her. The commanding officer figures out the best BLAM! Don't go on about it too much and she can be hit.
  • When Storm lost her powers, she just relied on her natural abilities. She could have taken on Galactus like that. Same thing when Wonder Woman lost her powers too.
    • Speaking of the X-Men, a lot of them are capable of extraordinary feats unrelated to their powers. Somewhat attributed to the fact that, instead of gym, their students take Danger Room classes.
  • Moon Knight is also a notable example, being basically an Axe Crazy Batman in white.
  • The Luther Strode trilogy presents the Hercules Method which is a way to allow the mind to gain absolute control of the body. This is a partial case of Mind Over Matter as the students of the method can develop their bodies and push themselves beyond normal human limits. However, the series itself is a Deconstruction of having Charles Atlas Superpower in the real world and the students tend to be amoral with a Might Makes Right mentality at best to being psychotic Blood Knight monsters that Loves the Sound of Screaming and turning normal human beings into blood pinatas at worst. Beware the Superman is in full effect for this series.


  • Chiun in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins is a master of Sinanju, and by virtue of this ultimate martial art is able to dodge any attack, including bullets at any range, as well as run on water near the end of the film.
  • A necessary part of live action movies that feature actors who are clearly not trained athletes. In the final scene of Lara Croft Tomb Raider, Angelina Jolie, who is athletic but not particularly buff, takes a series of punches and kicks that would break the bones of an offensive tackle, then picks her 110 lb. body up off the ground, beats the bad guy, and sprints away at top speed.
    • This is from the video-game, not due to the actor: in the game, Lara has the build of a cheerleader, but is shown with the abilities of a super-athlete—as well as being near-superhuman in strength and agility, often taking multiple hits from firearms and other weapons which can likewise be cured instantly with a simple first-aid kit; the only thing that can really harm her is fatal falls and death-traps.
  • Kill Bill, where the bride punches her way out of a coffin and the rest of the cast are no slouches, either.
  • Pretty much every non-powered hero from the Watchmen movie. The Comedian is able to punch through brick, survive getting his head slammed into a granite counter-top and jump from an aircraft that looks to be almost 3 men off the ground and not give a damn. Ozymandias is not only able to catch a bullet, but can jump nearly his entire height (almost six feet) from a sitting position. Rorschach is shown to practically run up a tower in one instance.
  • Kick-Ass: Hit-Girl
  • Any ninja in Ninja Assassin can do things like "shadow-blending" (where they can literally disappear in front of you), moving at ridiculous speeds, and self-healing with sufficient training. Halfway through the film, they slice up a well-trained Europol squad but get the tables reversed on them at the end in a Big Damn Heroes moment. Can't really "shadow-blend" with floodlights in your face.
  • Sam Sei in Full Contact went from being a clumsy, abject coward to a fully fledged badass after committing the ultimate act of cowardice by agreeing to betray his best friend and work for his Bad Bad cousin in exchange for his life. In less than a year he is able to wield a gun like nobody's business and no longer fears death.
  • In Cinderella Man, Jim Braddock explains that he developed an unusually strong left arm when he had to use it to haul fish for his day job after injuring his right.


  • The Bene Gesserit in Dune train themselves to alter individual molecules in their blood streams, mind-control others by voice alone, being able to hold their breath for unrealistic amounts of time, stop aging, neutralize any poison or drug, and possibly see the future. Oh, and they get Batman-level Kung Fu, too. They only get the future-vision and molecular control from the Spice. Everything else is pure Charles Atlas, with a few hints of selective breeding.
    • The Honored Matres are even more badass.
    • Mentats as well are "human computers". They are trained to possess photographic memories and deduce perfectly logical conclusions from the barest minimum of information. A Mentat Advisor is one of the most valuable assets that a noble house can have.
      • They were also said to be capable of outperforming advanced computers—which were banned in the "Butlerian Jihad" since it was believed to be a horrible crime to create a mechanical brain. However somehow mentats still couldn't duplicate the computers necessary for space-navigation, which resulted in the need for "Spice" in order to give the future-clairvoyance necessary for it.
    • And what happens when you combine them? Duncan Idaho, Charles Atlas Squared. Generations of breeding, then brought back from the dead, a master swordsman with Mentat powers unlocking a millennium of genetic memory of Bene Gesserit training.
    • Not to mention the Mentat Emperor Paul Atreides, the Kwisatz Haderach.
      • It gets even MORE insane in Paul's case. He spent some of his life as a Fremen, which means he, in addition to being the product of generations of breeding, and very intensive training all round (Bene Gesserit, Mentat AND physical combat), he can do all the Fremen tricks. Yes, this includes riding the worms.
  • Doc Savage, from pulp era novels, is a result of a rigorous Training from Hell routine from birth initiated by his father. "Doc Savage Magazine" discussed the training routine, in 23 articles published from July 1935 to May 1937.
  • Rincewind from the Discworld series could probably qualify: he has spent so much of his life running away from things that he is almost supernaturally good at it, at one point briefly running across the surface of water.
    • Cohen The Barbarian is a better Discworld example. This very old man, having survived a lifetime of adventuring as a barbarian hero, is now, for all intents and purposes, unstoppable. The question one must ask oneself when confronting the aged barbarian is how Ghengiz Cohen came to be an aged barbarian in the first place.
      • This is described in Interesting Times as "Economy of movement", insofar as Cohen, and by proxy the rest of the Silver Horde (except Mister Saveloy), are simply always where they want to be, which is never where anyone's sword is.
      • It helps that narrative causality is a big factor in Discworld. The Silver Horde (and many other characters) recognize that the nature of the drama they are living through affects the outcome. Five or so noble men versus an evil army will enjoy some success.
        • They're so Genre Savvy that they became Trope Savvy. Then again, Discworld as a whole is notorious for this.
      • His daughter, Conina, is an even better example due to Discworld genetics. From her mother she got good looks and a voice that can make a porn star blush. From dear old dad, she got "sinews you could moor a ship with, muscles solid as a plank and reflexes like a snake on a hot tin roof" plus ahem heroic instincts and an ability to use anything as a deadly weapon. This doesn't really help in her chosen profession of hairdressing. Being able to disembowel someone with a pair of shears and blind someone with a pair of bobby pins from 20 paces doesn't really look good on her resumé.
      • Do not forget that on the Discworld survival is a learned skill. The longer you live, the longer you're liable to keep living.
    • Captain Carrot also has some degree of this, exemplified by being able to pierce stone column with his sword. When the above Silver Horde was confronted by him, they wisely chose to give up.
  • Tarzan's abilities are mostly this; growing up under very harsh conditions and among apes much stronger than any normal human, he grew to be able to keep up.
    • How strong is Tarzan, you ask? In one story, four burly sailors are struggling with Lord Greystoke's shipping trunk, so he casually picks it up and carries it himself! If the sailors can haul their own weight, a reasonable strength at the time, and weigh about 175 lbs., then he's casually shifting some 700 lbs. or more. Of course, he also wrestles gorillas, so...
  • The protagonist of Kristin Cashore's novel Graceling has this as a magical talent. In a setting where certain people are "Graced" with a magically-enhanced natural talent that can range from mind control to swimming to cooking, the heroine Katsa is Graced with superhuman survival skills that let her function perfectly without sleep or food for days, withstand blizzards, instinctively know how to live in the wilderness, see in the dark, navigate without a compass, defeat anyone in any kind of combat, and kill anything that she sees as a threat with her bare hands.
  • Claw from the Andrew Vachss Burke book Terminal trained himself to be able to crush steel, gaining his moniker through his vice-like grip.
  • In The Destroyer series of novels, knowing the Supernatural Martial Arts of Sinanju allows you to:
    • Kill instantly
    • Dodge (and catch) bullets
    • Speed seduce women
    • Expunge poison from your body
    • Ensure that you're the "10th caller" in a radio show
    • Greatly expand one's lifespan (Chiun's master lived to see his 250's before being murdered)
    • Retain more information
    • Walk on water
    • Outrun a police car
    • Pick up a police car with one hand
    • Decapitate a grown man with your pinky-nail
    • Count the number of people in a room by measuring the temperature
    • Make a man's intestines fall out with a touch
    • Hack security systems by touching a panel
    • Chiropractic castration (reversible)
    • Fall from any height without harm
    • Dry your clothes by raising body temperature
    • Blur your face by vibrating (fools security cameras!)
    • Perform chiropractic on dinosaurs
    • Not sweat
  • Yeoman from the Wild Cards series. His skills at concealment and archery verge on the superhuman, due to his being a highly-experienced Vietnam veteran who spent years using bows for silent efficiency on a great many jungle missions.

Live-Action TV

  • Twenty Four's Jack Bauer has displayed an ability to shrug off injuries that would put an ordinary human being out of commission for weeks, from a broken rib to being rendered clinically dead for seven minutes, due to his sheer badassery. This is not to mention the fact that he never seems to need the toilet. It's enough for him to be used in tedious memes that once focused on Chuck Norris.
    • To be fair, it is possible to condition one's body to not need to 'relieve' oneself for incredibly long periods of time, though this usually STARTS with not eating a heavy meal or drinking a lot in the first place. Also some folk say it's not medically recommended due to self-produced toxins, obviously.
    • Possibly supported by the fact that he never eats or drinks either (although that in itself could be considered an example of this trope too).
  • Xena: Warrior Princess. Just see the Wikipedia entry. Sometimes she does temporarily develop actual supernatural powers when the plot demands it, but most of her impossible abilities originate from the fact that she's Just That Good.
    • It is strongly hinted, if never explicitly stated, that Ares is Xena's father. Then again, this is purposely left ambiguous due to the extreme Squick of Ares having romantic relationships with both Xena and her daughter. Of course, that's the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, the Greek gods like it...
  • In The New Avengers, the Big Bad of the episode 'The Gladiators' was a martial arts expert who could punch through steel plate and swat aside automatic gunfire. His plan was to train an army of heavyweights to do the same.
  • Subverted in Lost. Locke tries to claim that the reason he survived a gunshot is that it hit meat that used to have an important but expendable organ; it wasn't there anymore. Other characters recognize that for the b.s. it is; a shot in the chest is nasty business no matter what.
    • Unless The Island still has business with you, in which case you are simply incapable of dying.
  • In Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Iolaus was able to stay underwater for a long time. He explains that he picked up meditation techniques that slow down your breathing and heartrate.
  • Warehouse 13 has Charles Atlas' underpants, which literally grant superpowers through density manipulation.
  • Series/Alphas is about a team of people using 90% of their brains to achieve this to fight crime.
  • The page quote comes from the Game of Thrones series. There are several characters that fit the bill:
    • The aforementioned Ser Loras, AKA 'The Knight of Flowers'
    • Jaime 'The Kingslayer' Lannister is quite possibly the most talented swordsman alive
    • If Ser Barristan 'The Bold' pulls his sword out you will shit yourself.
    • Syrio Forel: The First Sword of Braavos does not run
  • Somewhat unclear in Psych: Shawn Spencer's Hyper Awareness and Photographic Memory is described in a way that makes it seem like this trope—the fact that he was schooled to notice and recall details from a very young age by his father is given as the sole explanation for his abilities (and the source of much tension between him and his father), but his talents seem to be far more advanced than anything that can be simply taught. On the other hand, since some people do naturally possess such abilities due to unusual brain structure, etc, a simple logical explanation is that Shawn possesses a double-whammy of natural abilities and extensive training, but this scenario is never discussed.


  • Ask any guitar hero (or any great or at least techincally advanced musician) why they're so good, even if they seem able to pull things off that no human being should be able to do, and the response is the same: "Practice."
    • Steve Vai is one of the more extreme modern examples. Back in the 80's and early 90's, he practiced 10 hours a day.]] Now he's regarded as one of the best and most important guitarists of the twentieth century.

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40,000 gives us many examples in the Imperial Guard:
    • Ciaphas Cain can match genetically engineered super soldiers.
      • Subverted; Cain said he wouldn't have the endurance for a long fight against a traitor marine. His fight with the traitor marines and the ork warboss were won by cunning and practice rather than his ability to punch them through mountains.
    • Cadian Kasrkin have in fluff been comparable to Space Marines.
    • Sly Marbo is a version of this and an instory Memetic Badass; his reputation states that he:
      • Killed an ork warboss on his own
      • Destroyed an entire enemy armored column by booby trapping an entire ravine
      • Captured an enemy command post singlehandedly and killed the commander and his entire bodyguard.
        • Though it is stated if all of that were true he would have more medals than the God Emperor.
  • Given the speed at which a Dungeons & Dragons character gains experience, one can go from level 1 to level 20 in a bare six months—and that's if you use the optional training rules which make it longer and costlier. Given how Hit Points work in D&D, a normal person would have extreme difficulty killing a high-level character in his sleep by stabbing him in the throat with a two-handed sword.
    • The special abilities many classes gain bear some mentioning. Rogues can hone their reflexes to the point where they can dodge a fireball--while standing at the epicenter of its explosion (though a more technical read of the rules might indicate that they need at least a little cover or wiggle room to evade an explosion capable of leveling mountains unscathed), and Barbarians become so resistant to damage that an ordinary human with an ordinary knife could never hope to hurt them. Monks take this trope to a whole other level, training so hard that they literally no longer count as mortals and become Outsiders, stop aging, become immune to poisons, have fists that count as harder-than-steel magical weapons, and can heal wounds by meditating on them. And dodge fireballs like a rogue.
    • 4E averts this trope in regards to hit points, which no longer represent pure vitality and are more like "plot points" instead - minion monsters only have 1 hp regardless of level, a character isn't really considered "hurt" until they've lost half their hp, and large quantities can be easily regained by inspiration as easily as by magic. This is actually returning to a concept originally invoked in the first edition's Dungeon Master's Guide, which justifies hit points by saying that they do not represent mere physical toughness, but all the things that can make a character hard to kill (toughness, divine favor, sheer dumb luck, etc). Conversely, this trope is alive and well in regards to character abilities, and is the official explanation for the martial power source. How can a rogue turn himself invisible, or a warlord rally an unconscious ally back to fighting form? Training and practice.
  • This is explicitly the case in The World Of Aarn. In the setting, magic is a simple fact of life, often taking the role that electricity does in our world, and it's also present in every living thing. As a result, Mundanes, those who don't use straight out magic, end up having their intrinsic magic express itself physically, so they can hit much harder, take harder blows, jump 12 feet in the air, and resist magical attacks to a greater degree than mages can.
  • Mage: The Ascension:
    • Subverted with the monks of the Akashic Brotherhood, who gain tremendous powers through intense training, meditation and the practice of martial arts, but even the Brothers admit that they are breaking the laws of physics as the sleepers know them.
    • Played straight with the Technocratic Union. Humanly-learnable skill is one of the ways they wield magic, not that they'll ever call it that. NWO Operatives and Syndicate Enforcers may not have the augmentations and exotic equipment of their peers in Iteration X, the Progenitors or Void Engineers, but they can be trained to the point of analysing and reconstructing crime scenes like Sherlock, sweet-talking sympathisers into spilling secrets in a way that totally isn't mind control, and cutting down lesser Reality Deviants like redshirts in an action movie.

Video Games

  • Chris Redfield of Resident Evil fame is nothing more than a highly competent (supposedly unpowered) cop... who can punch a fucking boulder out of his way.
  • In Doom, all that is required to literally fight your way to Hell and back is to have trained at boot camp.
    • The story goes that Doom Guy was apparently a fairly/very competent trooper, who got reassigned to Mars as a grunt after punching out a superior officer when given a direct order to fire on innocent civilians. Of course, shortly after he arrived, shit hit the fan. Figures, huh?
    • In the first Doom novel, he gets the hell beat out of him a lot and has a lot of trouble going on. Thank goodness for the in-canon magical healing balls of creepy.
    • Also if you believe the Doom comic, Doom Guy was quite unhinged and seemed likely to be the kind of guy who you'd expect to be able to survive a trip to hell and back just because of his sheer lack of a grip on reality. Whether or not this came before or as a result of the Hell invasion is open to interpretation, however.
  • Final Fantasy lives and breathes this trope. It's got plenty of heroes with explicitly magical nature and cool powers, some nonhumans, a few cyborgs... and then it's got the non-powered heroes who easily keep up with them:
    • Starting from the very first Final Fantasy I, we have the Bare-Fisted Monk Black Belt class, fully capable of punching out an Eldritch Abomination.
    • Thanks to some slightly buggy code in Final Fantasy VI, Sabin the martial artist achieved Memetic Mutation by being able to suplex a Soul Train. In the actual game, he also held up a giant collapsing mansion for several minutes by simply standing under the doorframe and posing heroically; in the ending cinematic, he also saves Edgar from an I-beam that, if Sabin were not in the party, takes three people to lift.
    • Tifa of Final Fantasy VII accomplishes similar feats despite being a slim (but buxom) girl.
    • Ironically averted in the case of Zell in Final Fantasy VIII, whose extreme physical power comes from junctioning Guardian Forces to boost his physical abilities.
      • Well, except for that one limit break where he runs a lap around the entire goddamn planet and uses the inertia to damage the enemy.
  • The Fighting-Type in Pokémon would fit this trope for the most part. Most of them have some absurd combat abilities judging by the Pokédex data, such as Machamp's absurdly fast punches at a rate of 1,000 punches doled out per every two seconds. Fighting-Type moves, usually consisting of punches and kicks, can bring down Rock and Steel Pokemon in a single hit. They're weak to Flying and Psychic types though, and Fighting moves deal zero damage to Ghost Types.
    • Bruno, Chuck, Brawly, Maylene, and Marshall all specialize in Fighting-type Pokémon. And they themselves tend to be pretty buff too, but within human standards.
  • Nero from Devil May Cry 4, discounting the demonic right forearm called the Devil Bringer, is supposedly human, yet he can jump (several time) his own height, reload superhumanly fast, fight in air-to-air, parry the thrust of a massive demon one-handed, and do much of what half-devil series lead Dante can. Subverted when it's learned that he's a descendant of über-devil and father-of-Dante Sparda, so he innately has some superhuman ability... but it's not stated when the child of Sparda Nero descends from was born, so the extent of purity of Nero's demonic power is in doubt.
      • Given that Sparda only had two children (even accounting for the ham-handedness of the game's story, this detail seems to remain solid), Nero would have to be at least a quarter demonic. Supposedly, there is a novel floating around that gives official answers to many questions left open by DMC 4's story, including clarifying that Nero is Vergil's son.
    • This does not, however, explain Lady, who is quite mortal (albeit descended from an unnamed mortal priestess whose blood was used to seal Temen-Ni-Gru, yet is capable of incredible feats of agility, hauling around a squad's worth of firearms on her person, and takes a knife through the thigh and continues to stagger on out of sheer heroic determination. It's even remarked upon in-game that she has no real exceptional strength of body—it seems these kind of abilities are standard-issue in the Devil May Cry 'verse if you just believe hard enough.
      • Not to mention the fact that she had only trained for a year or less, before then having been a normal human.
      • What's also quite bizarre is that considering how much the thigh stab pained her, when Dante defeats her he has to have done one or more of the following- shot her, stabbed her, slashed her, beat the shit out of her with nunchaku, beat her up with spiked metal gauntlets, played a guitar at her in order to hit her with bats and/or lightning, etc.. And she apparently survives this despite being clearly a strong but not supernaturally so human.
  • The Church in Nasuverse has human members capable of predicting the intended firing paths of guns by watching muscle movements, crushing internal organs with blows and gripping thin swords between their fingers for effective combat.
    • The manual also says that the only reason most vampires have superhuman abilities is because they've had hundreds of years to train their human abilities to superhuman levels.
    • Fake Assassin in Fate/stay night is also capable of basically making his sword be in three places at once, despite having no supernatural powers at all, because he's just that good with a sword.
  • The Crusader games both use and subvert this trope. In the first game, the opening cinematic shows a single mech killing two Silencers, though to be fair it caught them off guard. The third (the eventual player character), not embroiled in their argument, managed to get out of its field of view and toss a grenade. The character then goes on to mow his way through hundreds of enemies in the game, shrugging off grenade blasts, and destroying a few dozen of the mechs that killed his compatriots. Then, in the second game, after sitting in a cramped lifepod for almost two days, he proceeds to kill two guards at range firing a burst from his assault rifle one-handed. Finally, the second game seems to take roughly a week, with no noticeable breaks for rest, or even eating or drinking.
  • Lost Odyssey is a recent example. Main character Kaim Argonar is shown in the opening scene working as a mercenary for Uhra, in the midst of a heavy battle. While Kaim's allies are getting stomped (roughly 20 of them seem to die for every one enemy soldier they manage to kill), Kaim is busy tearing the enemy to shreds by the dozens, and even killing an enormous war engine equipped with flamethrowers with a single blow. However, considering the fact that Kaim has lived 1,000 years and spent most of them fighting, the superhuman combat prowess and unbelievable swordsmanship he displays aren't really that surprising.
  • Street Fighter is full of examples on or near the line between Ki Attacks and Charles Atlas Superpower, but one that stands out as the latter is Blanka's power to discharge electricity, which he learned from electric eels.
    • And in the Manga backstory, during their final battle, Gouken and Akuma leveled a mountain range with a barrage of aerial Hadoken shots, even though firing a single one is already supposed to be extremely impressive.
    • Parodied with Sakura's backstory. After seeing her erstwhile teacher, Dan, perform a pathetic little Hadoken once, she's able to toss a full-powered Hadoken with very little effort. What makes her scary is that she's a normal schoolgirl who had never trained before in her life, indicating she could potentially become the most powerful warrior in the franchise before her 16th birthday if she had half of Ryu's dedication to training. (And she does.)
  • Kuzuki of Fate/stay night, being trained as an assassin, is able to fight on par with the superhuman Servants (while being buffed by his own Servant, but it still says something about his ability).
    • Archer himself. Saber notes that it's not that he has an exceptional amount of power or anything, he just trained and fought his entire life. She says that Shirou's style of fighting being patterned on Archer's is an excellent idea because with the proper work he could become Archer's equal, possessing similar latent potential. Makes sense considering he was Shirou in life and not some superhuman genius like Tohsaka or Hercules or King Arthur Arturia. All his power comes from training, a little bit of projection and his reality marble that lets him beamspam swords. He also happened to make that so it still fits.
      • Let's not forget the Church's Executors. Magi like Tohsaka Rin and Emiya Shirou can magically buff themselves up and sprint over fifty kilometers per hour. Exceptional Executors like Kotomine Kirei can do this without any magic; Kirei himself once smashed a tree trunk in half using just his legs.
    • Assassin from Fate/stay night has Tsubame Gaeshi, a sword strike that contains three slashes happening at the same time. This initially doesn't seem like a big deal, especially in comparison to some of the more ridiculous Noble Phantasms, like a sheath that bequeaths immortality and a spear that hits before it attacks, instead of the regular way around. The difference is that Tsubame Gaeshi is not a Noble Phantasm. It's not even magecraft. It's a physical technique. He was sitting around trying to think of how to cut down a swallow in flight, and decided that you'd have to be able to perform more than one slash at a time. He promptly decided that this was impossible, and then did it anyway. According to extra material, he actually brute forces one of the 5 remaining true magics by swinging his sword really fast.
  • Solid Snake of the Metal Gear series has fought and killed Mind Screwing floating psychics, giant nuclear-armed walking tanks, and everything in between, despite being a normal human (well, as normal as one of the clones of a legendary soldier can be). In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, he cuts through three war zones and two enemy bases while having the body of a seventy-year-old. Of course he is a clone with the recessive genes enhancing strength and from nanos and the fact that his Octocamo doubles as armor and a muscle suit.
    • Not to mention in Metal Gear Solid, he destroys a tank using only grenades because he didn't have any anti-tank weapons. This is referenced to by Otacon in Guns of the Patriots.
    • His clone brother Liquid Snake is similarly impressive, shooting down F-16s with a HIND helicopter, which he's able to pilot in the middle of a blizzard. Surviving the crash of said HIND, the destruction of Metal Gear REX with him aboard, falling 3 stores off REX's remains after a fistfight with Solid Snake, and being repeatedly shot with a machine gun. It takes FOXDIE to actually kill him.
    • Their clone father Big Boss is no different. Just read his medical history at the end of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
    • There's also Gray Fox who is also known as Null who even before he gained his exoskeleton was capable of blocking machinegun fire with his sword. Gene from Portable Ops was also disturbingly fast. To the point of dodging rail gun fire at point blank range
  • Due to the game's mechanics, City of Heroes and City of Villains includes 'natural' characters who shield themselves with protective balls of fire, regenerate instantly from near-fatal wounds, phase out of normal existence, or fly. Canonically, Malta's paramilitary forces have been quite capable of facing down evil interdimensional invaders assuming even numbers (who seldom took casualties when facing the American military), and can put up a hefty challenge to individual Heroes and Villains. Manticore's archery ability is similar to Green Arrows, in addition to being nearly impossible to kill.
    • Of particular note is the Ninjitsu power set. Most of its powers are fairly reasonable (increased agility, better perception, etc.), but the final power in the set (Kuji-In Retsu) allows you to alter the way time and space affect you, turning you into a nigh-untouchable blur of attacks.
  • Partly averted in The King of Fighters series, where several of the characters introduced in that series have powers due to "Orochi blood", and the China team's powers come from being psychics (and Athena's partly because she's the reincarnation of a goddess). The rest of them, though, can throw fireballs just because they practiced.
  • Every single crack X-COM trooper/operative ever probably counts. They can go from complete losers who can't hit the side of the barn at point blank (and these guys are meant to be the cream of the crop from the world's Spec Ops, Military and Police forces!) to absolutely amazing marksmen who can run for several kilometers in powered armour that doesn't assist them whilst lugging giant guns that are bigger than grenade launchers. Let's not forget the ammunition and other supplies either. They go through Field Training From Hell to get to that stage, though, and the mortality rate can be quite high... even if they get a good suit of armour.
  • Pretty much the entire point of the Xbox 360 game Crackdown. The agent you control is already enhanced by surgery and cybernetics, but you can drastically increase his already impressive strength and agility through sheer practice. The agent starts the game able to jog at 20 mph, leap 20 feet into air, and lift roughly 2 tons. Simply by jumping across rooftops a lot and punching lots of criminals to death, you can increase these abilities to jogging 40 mph, leaping 50 feet and carrying 10 tons. Even more ridiculously, you can also make your bullets hit harder and force cars to physically transform into better versions of themselves by training your firearms and driving skills, giving some cars powers like guns and jumping abilities.
    • As the announcer incessantly reminds you.
    • You forgot that training with explosives makes the same grenades you pick up off gang corpses explode bigger and harder.
    • Interestingly enough, the impressive agility (which is made even more impressive/ridiculous in the Keys to the City mode) is increased by collecting Agility Orbs, which contain supplements. If they had the ability to give you the power from the start, why not?
  • Xenogears. Granted, this is a setting where Asian mysticism and chi focus is in full force, but when humans can take Humongous Mecha apart with their bare hands, and the game's strongest fighter is a Technical Pacifist Badass Bookworm, it's a Charles Atlas Superpower.
    • Though the main character is The Slayer of God, so it's probably more than justified for him.
    • Xenosaga does the same thing, if not to the same extent; most of the characters are cyborgs, synthezoid, or some Biblical figure, but Jin Uzuki slices through a mecha with a katana. He's one of the few non-special-powered-people in the game, and while it could be argued that sharing the same mom with Shion might make him special, nothing is said to that end.
  • Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden proudly states that his "strength comes from training, not from some curse in my blood". It must really have been Training from Hell, as he performs undeniably superhuman feats. In the XBox version, he can launch armoured men with a single slash and keep them airborne while attacking, leap from wall to wall to continue a wallrun, block bullets with a wooden sword, run and leap unhindered by a 100-pound BFS on his back, and zoom with an unaugmented bow. As in, naked eye. That doesn't even cover the full extent of his abilities. Subverted when Doku's ability to awaken the Fiend blood in him suggests that his power comes from Fiend abilities, but then double subverted when this does absolutely nothing to affect Ryu's combat prowess, suggesting otherwise.
  • Lune Zoldark of Super Robot Wars. This Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter is sent away by daddy dearest to a space colony around Jupiter, where she trains endlessly. In the Super Robot Wars Original Generation sub-series, Master Rishu Togo states this particular Tomboy can dodge bullets...while eating breakfast. All that training around Jupiter's orbit must've really helped, because whenever she pilots her Ridiculously Human Robot Valsione, it can perform the machine skill "bunshin" (Mirror Image), which allows the machine to successfully dodge 50% of all enemy attacks. But here's the real kicker: the technology to perform Mirror Image isn't actually built into the Valsione, because Lune has just got that CRAZY REFLEXES to activate Mirror Image ON HER OWN. Talk about Charles Atlas Superpower...
  • A strange example is found in Touhou. Marisa is, originally, a Muggle and normal human who gained expressly magical powers through sheer training alone. Using this, she can compete with various Gods, demons, and monsters who by all rights should squish her into a thin red paste, while matching the growth of the power of the few other humans in the series, who all have innate superpowers. Her signature attack even seems to show this sort of clumsy mentality - Master Spark can be described as analogous to taking the magical equivalent of C4, placing it in a metal bowl to make an ad-hoc shaped charge, pointing it at the enemy, and detonating it without the bone-snapping recoil that would entail.
    • In a nutshell, her co-main character is said to never need to train because her natural magic power is just that good. Inversely, Marisa spends all her time practicing, copying spells from other characters, and looting spellbooks from the local librarian. After all that, she can only use her powers in the first place because she carries around what is essentially a magic battery (prior to gaining the Mini-Hakkero, she used magic mushrooms to fuel her spells).
    • Yuuka Kazami is considered by many Touhou fans to be either the most powerful or second most powerful character in the entire setting, generally ranked up with Yukari, who is in charge of the whole of Gensokyo. Yuuka's power is...a Green Thumb. A incredibly weak one, in fact, that allows her only to "make flowers bloom, shift the face of sunflowers towards the sun, or make withered flowers bloom again". However, Yuuka seems to have spent hundreds of years of Level Grinding and developing herself, resulting in more raw magical power, more physical strength and being more durable than any other character in the setting.
  • Even the weakest people in Team Fortress 2 can survive a direct hit at point blank range from a rocket. The amount of damage they can take ranges from an 88mm round embedded in one's skull, to the Heavy, who is so durable, there's an achievement for taking damage from bullets, fire, melee weapons, and shrapnel, all in one life. Said character also hefts a minigun weighing more than some of his coworkers. Other notables include the Medic, who can heal bullet wounds by waiting long enough, and the Scout, who can propel himself through the air with NO apparent canonical explanation.
  • Tekken: The only thing Heihachi Mishima seems incapable of doing is dying. While his father, son, and grandson all cheat death through demonic powerups, he has nothing like that to keep him alive when he's beaten to almost an inch of his life, tossed off a cliff, supernaturally drained by a god of war, slammed through a wall made of three-foot-deep brick, kneed about a foot into the ground, blasted with ethereal energy, beaten down again, then trapped in an explosion that levels the building he's in. Hilariously, everyone just assumed he was dead while he was under all that rubble, but of course he wasn't.
  • Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer allows you to do things like become immune to falling damage via the Commando Pro perk by killing enough people with your knife. Or carry extra ammo by Scavenging ammo from corpses enough times. Etc. etc.
  • Ayla of Chrono Trigger may not be able to learn magic like most of the other playable characters, but what she can do is beat the shit out of bosses with her bare hands. Her sheer physical damage output outranks Chrono's by the endgame, and has been hitting the damage cap with her critical attacks well before that point.
  • Scarface the World Is Yours. The extreme difficulty of killing Tony is remarked upon in game dialogue. One of your abilities is a Limit Break that grants invincibility, Bottomless Magazines and Life Drain, apparently through sheer Balls. To a lesser extent it is part of the game dynamics.
  • Ys: Adol Christin. He usually acquires at least some magical ability in his powers, but on at least one occasion, without any magic, he only failed to single-handedly kill a monster that normally takes an entire hunting party months to track down and kill due to it being physically impossible with the weapon he's wielding at the time, and does manage to fight it to a standstill and weaken it enough that it's easily dispatched by hunters carrying the proper armaments.
  • Non-magical classes in The Elder Scrolls, especially in Oblivion, can achieve superhuman abilities simply by training enough. When their skills are high enough, they can outrun deer and kill them in one punch, jump the length of some buildings, turn invisible simply by crouching, and kill bears with their bare hands.
  • The player-character in the Record of Lodoss War Dreamcast game learns magic like a child learning algebra, so most of the time you must rely on physical attacks. At level 100 you can punch sandworms and 'lighter' golems to death, despite the fact he's supposedly just an average well-trained knight once you take off his magical armours and weaponry. (And one of those swords, the Hakuring, was the sword of an OGRE. Yes it is expectedly slow as molasses, but if he were so 'normal' it should be CRUSHING him! Cloud's cricket bat pales in comparison and isn't even double-sided like this is. The hilt alone is the size of your shortswords.)
  • Alpha Protocol is a fascinating example. Through experience, Michael can learn to do things such as:
    • Curve shots from behind cover and nail up to six targets at once while using pistols
    • Temporarily give himself Bottomless Magazines with SMGs
    • Increase the time limit on hacking, improve the capability of otherwise off-the-shelf items just because he's using them and turn invisible to electronics if such a device is about to almost detect him
    • Increase the usefulness of other items, such as getting more ammo out of enemies, more healing out of health supplies with lower cooldown and being able to carry more gadgets and ammo without making changes to said equipment
    • Passively lower the vision range of enemies while remaining aware of their location and facing even without line of sight, as well as invisibility from humans either as an active ability or a "panic button" when almost detected
    • Increase his health and shrug off an otherwise fatal attack
  • Warriors in World of Warcraft. While most classes have magic, pets, or various tricks, warriors only have up-front melee combat. And they still fight Eldritch Abominations, Physical Gods, The Legions of Hell, and undead armies as easily as anyone else. Not to mention, they're the only class that can dual-wield two-handed weapons.
  • Similarly, the Barbarian from Diablo 2 and 3 is described this way in a number of places. Most fitting is the natural resistance skill, which helps the barbarian resist several types of magic damage, and is said to come simply from surviving tough environments.
  • In Battlestar Galactica Online, the skills your avatar picks up enable your starships to do longer FTL jumps, fly faster, make your guns more accurate and a variety of other things.

Web Comics

  • From El Goonish Shive, the "Anime Style school of martial arts" originally seems to be this. Turns out it is actually a form of magic.
  • Maytag and Bernadette of Flipside regularly perform combat feats that are physically impossible outside of Wuxia films.
  • Ken from No Need for Bushido. Just look at this
  • Fighter of Eight Bit Theater has not only survived repeated stabs to the brain with only temporary ill effects (one of them actually made him smarter), but also direct clashes with, among other things, a dark elf prince, a fire demon and an obscenely powerful Lich, successfully duelling the former two. References are made to strong armor, but we all know it's this trope.
    • Two things to be noted: First off, Fighter can obviously survive being stabbed in the brain for the same reason that most people are fine with having their appendix removed. Second off, for Charles Atlas Superpower to apply, he would actually have to be known to have trained. While Fighter is called Vargus' best student, he seemed to have spent most of Fighter Camp '86 watching TV. Let's also not forget to include Thief. Whereas Fighter is 'merely' able to wield four swords at once, Thief is able to regularly break enchantments and laws of physics by legal mumbo jumbo and just being that good and, amongst other things, he stole his class change from the future. To quote him, he's "stolen things that weren't even there."
    • Also, according to Thief his law ninjas are so well trained they are capable of being deployed and following people even though they are dead.
      • However, even Thief is scared of Fighter when he's angry. Fighter alone can actually easily intimidate both Thief and Red Mage combined if they actually want to do something he doesn't agree with. Usually related to abandoning Black Mage.
  • Bun-Bun from Sluggy Freelance can outrun a car, toss a grown man over his shoulder, claw his way out of an alien's stomach, skin a grizzly bear alive, and survive grenade explosions at point-blank range. Made all the more impressive considering that Bun-Bun is a small bunny.
    • Oasis and Kusari might count as well. It's currently unknown how much of their physical prowess is due to their training and how much is due to being Dr. Steve's lab rats.
    • It's not yet determined how much of Oasis's ability is due to development or origin, but in her last storyline it was shown that she's at least learning how to become more impossible through training. And old man Feng, for all his history of martial arts training, didn't seem that surprised at what she could do. Maybe he's the Charles Atlas Supercoach?
  • Frans Rayner from The Adventures of Dr. McNinja was able to completely change his physiology, moving his pressure points to make himself a better ninja, just by training hard enough. But he couldn't make himself grow a mustache, which was ultimately his downfall.
    • Gordito could grow a mustache by sheer force of will, though. This is made even more fantastic by the fact that he's twelve.
    • According to the comic, the greatest master of this was Bruce Lee, whose final act of body mastery was jumping to the moon. He teaches the titular character how to jump back. (Which is six times easier.)
    • There was on old friend of McNinja who did so much body building that his back muscles formed a biological jetpack.

Bandito: Wouldn't he grow wings?
Doctor McNinja: No. Animals have wings, man has jetpacks.

  • Naturally, Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer really does run on this trope. We're talking about the man who survived this, and then shortly afterward this. His adventurers in his Twitter feed are even more ludicrous.
    • To be fair, Othar Tryggvassen (Gentleman Adventurer!) is also a Spark. Who knows what kinds of mad science he's got up his sleeves. A better example might be Zeetha, who happily goes toe-to-toe with Jaegermonsters and usually wins, with no known mad science assistance.
  • O-Chul of The Order of the Stick, exemplified here. Hands bound, dumped into a pool of acid (while being dumped, knocks a goblin into the pool with his feet), lands on a pit of spikes, uses the spikes to cut through the bonds on his wrists, is attacked by an acid-breathing shark, punches it, breaking multiple teeth, gets to the surface. Finding himself unable to get out of the pool, owing to high walls, taunts the shark to attack him, uses the momentum from the shark jumping and biting him to get out of the pool, falls a fair distance to the floor, still covered in acid. Still conscious, he rushes the Big Bad Epic Level Lich Sorcerer, intending to take him down with his bare hands.
  • Subverted in an early Dresden Codak strip -- all the 'ninety-pound weakling' has to do to triumph over the 'bully' is 'be a zebra' (and buy a gun).

Web Original

  • The Global Guardians PBEM Universe features several: Hazard, Cold Comfort, Hip-Hop, Awesome X, Quarterback, Elite, and Action Man are all notable examples.
  • Lampshaded in the blog-novel Flyover City!, when the Hero / Load decides to pursue a career in crimefighting after his beloved 1975 Vespa is stolen.
  • Journeyman of the Whateley Universe is a baseline but incredibly well trained in martial arts to the point that he can take on superpowered characters like Bladedancer, ki mistress Chaka, and Person of Mass Destruction Tennyo. He once sparred with all three at the same time. And won.

Western Animation

  • Brock Sampson from The Venture Bros is a prime ultimate example of lampshaded Charles Atlas; through a combination of training and testosterone, he is capable of surviving in a vacuum for some time with no permanent harm, killing armies, mummies, crocodiles, wereodiles, and other foes, surviving hits by bullets, taking multiple hits from tranquilizer-darts with no effect, and otherwise being virtually impervious to pain. He also carries the trademark cartoon-characteristics of having an impossibly huge, gorilla-like upper body, but incredibly small and skinny stick-like legs.
  • Robin from Teen Titans routinely smacked around 20-foot-tall concrete giants with brute strength alone and shrugged off what should be near fatal injuries.
    • After all, he was trained by Batman.
  • Kim Possible is the female epitome of the trope. We're seriously supposed to believe that cheerleading did all that?
  • In one episode of Samurai Jack, Jack trains wearing heavy boulders; when they are finally removed, he is able to "jump good." So good, in fact, that it's mistaken for flight. The guy who trained him is essentially a normal human being who after running away to live with primates, has trained long enough to leap to the moon and back.
    • As another Samurai Jack example, in episode 5, "Jack in Space", when Jack is about to be launched from the pod to send him at superluminal speeds to go back in time, he sees the Aku-drones forming into a giant gun, disconnects from the pod and ends up fighting the thing in space. He reflects their energy blast with the sword, getting a good backwash of electricity himself. The explosion sends Jack plunging through the atmosphere to hit the ground like a meteorite. So how long does Jack spend recovering from that damage? About half a second, with a Power Armor but still.
    • He is also capable of hiding, literally, in broad daylight, this exclusively due to Rule of Cool.
  • Hong Kong Phooey subverts this one, with the main character's constant referral to his 'Hong Kong Book of Kong Foo', yet he is incompetent at it.
  • Kung Fu Panda gleefully takes the trope and runs with it off of a cliff. Apparently with enough training you can make someone else explode by flexing your pinky finger.
    • In general, it is implied if not outright shown that the Furious Five can handle just about anything thrown at them in a kung fu fight, no matter whether that particular animal is truly that strong or resilient in real life. Mantis, somehow, is able to hold up a broken suspension bridge with five other people on it, including the very heavy Tai Lung and Tigress, while Crane, though spindly as hell, is able to carry Tigress out of the gorge. It is Shifu, Tai Lung, and Po who truly take the cake however, as between the two climactic fights they engage in, these three somehow manage to survive things no one possibly could, emerging only with mussed fur, bent whiskers, and the occasional dazed stagger. The fact this is combined with Tex Avery style slapstick in the Po vs. Tai Lung brawl makes it even more Egregious. Fun though, and cool.
  • Valerie of Danny Phantom turned from spoiled rich girl into Action Girl. Despite being only fourteen, she has stated to be a ninth degree martial artist. Her older alternate future self even survived a fall with minor injuries from hundreds of feet high!
  • Suki from Avatar: The Last Airbender was a borderline case until "Boiling Rock, Part II" when she ran up a thirty foot wall.
    • Ty Lee has always fit this trope even more what with all the multi-story leaping.
    • Ty Lee's teammate Mai is a slightly milder case; similar to Marvel Comics villain Bullseye (mentioned above), her skill with throwing blades is basically superhuman.
    • Master Piandao has these in Warrior Poet form, in that he can fight on par with incredibly powerful bedners with just a sword and defeat ludicrous numbers of foes and so on, and Training Montages some of 'em into Sokka.
    • Zuko of course has actual superpowers in the form of martial arts pyrokinesis, but given he's insecure about his bending and all he seems to have paid special attention to developing some of these. He's not much better than Suki, but he's pulling this stuff all the damn time. These appear to be the standard for 'accomplished martial artist' in the setting, mind.
    • Do take into account this is a world where people can shoot lightning out of their finger tips. Maybe stuff like this isn't very strange there.
  • Korra from The Legend of Korra embodies this trope to a degree unusual even within her franchise. In addition to being able to wield the four elements and having a Super Mode that can expertly crack continental plates without mussing anyone's hair, her sheer brute strength allows her to effortlessly pick up and fling around grown men taller than her. Partially justified in that her whole life has basically been dedicated to achieving physical and martial perfection under the tutelage of the world's greatest masters.
  • This is the de facto way to learn spells in Huntik Secrets and Seekers.
  • In an episode of Justice League Unlimited, Wildcat becomes so frustrated with his lack of superpowers that he punches through a brick wall.
  • The Ripping Friends are superhumanly strong and tough. Their leader Crag once dragged the entire landmass of Quebec back to Canada with his bare hands and a rope. They got this way by training their asses off with their brutal mother. To them, having superpowers is cheating.
  • Winnie the Pooh: Rabbit gives Tigger shoes that are secretly filled with all sorts of junk (in order to stop Tigger from bouncing him) and then Tigger tries to jump to the top of the tallest wall, but with the shoes he can hardly get very high. But due to such training he can now jump to the top while sleeping.

Real Life

  • Some unscrupulous martial arts "masters" claim to have achieved supernatural abilities through training. The website is dedicated to debunking them. In spite of this, several martial artists and fighters have developed reputations for seemingly superhuman physical abilities.
    • There is also to debunk these things.
    • Bruce Lee was able to perform a number of spectacular physical feats that he put to good use in his acting career. His films made it seem that he could translate his physical abilities into nearly superhuman fighting ability, but his true skills were never thoroughly tested.
    • Mas Oyama, who was said to kill bulls by punching them in the face, before or after hacking their horns off with his bare hands. He was also said to crush rocks with his hands and fight one hundred people in a row with minimal breaks. The degree of truth to these stories is debatable. Youtube features a video of his bull exploits, though it only shows Oyama wrestling a harnessed bull to the ground and features a clearly faked portrayal of him hacking off a horn.
      • There is a testimony of an acquaintance floating around the net which claims he witnessed him punching a bull to the ground, but there had been an old an crippled bull.
    • A popular legend states that former boxing Lightweight champ Roberto Duran once knocked out a horse with one punch.
    • After Fedor Emelianenko was suplexed directly onto his head in a Mixed Martial Arts match, he got up and went on to win the fight in less than a minute. When asked how he managed to recover so quickly from such a harsh throw, Fedor explained, "It didn't affect me. I train to fall great distances." In reality, with some training, flexibility, and luck, professional MMA fighters can avoid significant damage from attacks that appear to be quite serious.
  • Many physical stunts appear to display superhuman abilities, but are not quite as impossible as they seem:
    • Legendary illusionist Harry Houdini could famously absorb extremely heavy blows to his abdomen with little to no effect if he prepared properly. In reality, the abdomen is naturally resilient to damage while the abdominals are being flexed. Ironically, a sucker punch might have caused or hastened Houdini's death from peritonitis, though it also might have simply delayed him seeking treatment.
    • Some martial arts and Le Parkour stunts that seem impossible, such as punching through bricks and falling from great heights, really just take some training and some fearlessness. Others take advantage of artful performance and stagecraft to appear more difficult or impressive.
    • In The Lord of the Rings, many of the CGI-assisted acrobatic stunts of Legolas were criticized as unrealistic, but some of his feats, such as mounting a horse at a gallop, are preexisting stunts that could be performed live by the right kinds of gymnasts, circus performers, or classic vaudeville stuntmen.
    • Even as fighting dogs and attack dogs are terrifying for most people, enough to blame it on some genetic memory of being chased by wolves in the distant past, trained dog breeders can neutralize the attack of the beast by simply sticking a closed fist between its jaws to keep them open and unable to bite. It's too counter-intuitive to be performed at home if untrained.
  • History is filled with people who thought they could perform supernatural feats with enough training and other preparations, but were proven quite mistaken:
    • In the Maji Maji rebellion in German East Africa during the colonial days, tribes thought something similar. Through training and washing in magical water blessed by local shamans, they thought they would become immune to machine gun fire. It didn't work.
    • The Society of Right and Harmonious Fists (more commonly known as the Boxers of the infamous Boxer Rebellion) believed that through training, diet, martial arts, and prayer, they could perform extraordinary feats and become immune to swords and bullets. Unfortunately for them things didn't quite work out that way and they were slaughtered by modern weaponry.
  • Tribal cultures who have not been exposed to the Instant Death Bullet trope sometimes get a reputation for unnatural toughness during warfare due to the fact that they haven't been conditioned to fall down after they realize they've been shot. In truth, most gunshot victims are physically able to remain mobile for at least a few minutes.
  • This is also why grand mal seizures are so dangerous; such involuntary convulsive movements use all available muscle power, and a person experiencing one is not only at risk of biting through their tongue or breaking their own spine, but unnervingly difficult to restrain.
    • Which would be why you're not supposed to restrain people having seizures, but make sure to move breakable and hard objects out of the way and leave them alone.
  • Similarly, a drowning person in a state of panic may exhibit much greater strength than normal for that individual, due to the rush of adrenaline. This is why lifeguards and others responsible for water safety are strictly cautioned to swim out to still-conscious drowning people only as an absolute last resort, when other methods of rescue such as poles, ring buoys and boats aren't available or feasible, due to the risk of becoming victims themselves.
  • It has been found that one can increase bone strength through their density but this requires heavy physical training and does not aid much more then allowing for a fewer broken bones later on. The easy way is to train in martial arts or other physical combats that create micro-fractures in the pores of the bone and allow them to heal and fill.
  • Well-disciplined Buddhist monks can reduce their metabolism by 64% and raise the temperatures of their fingers and toes by 17%, just by meditating.
    • Actually, it is possible for anyone to do a less extreme version of this using biofeedback.
    • The human body is always in a mild state of alertness while awake (it can remain in this state while asleep due to certain disorders), causing vitals to be consistently elevated above absolute baseline. By deliberately clearing the mind and shutting off outside stimulus, meditation can allow a person's physiological systems to settle down to a level comparable to deep sleep while arguably still conscious. This also explains the regenerative effects meditation seems to have as sleep also triggers healing and growth mechanisms.
  • Tori Allen, a champion rock wall climber, got that way by climbing trees constantly from the age of four. By chasing after her pet monkey when her own limbs were maturing, she acquired phenomenal grip strength and a disproportionately-powerful bone structure. Now, she could give Spider-Man a vertical run for his money.
  • Although films like James Bond and the Bourne Series get panned for showing the titular protagonists doing unbelievable stunts, in reality most of the actions shown are actually possible. Various studies and TV specials, including two from Discovery and the Science Channel, show that there are people who can pull off those insane driving scenes, marksman who can hit a dozen targets at various ranges with a pistol, and fighters that can take on five men at once and curb stomp them. The biggest problem in the portrayal is that NOBODY can do all of this; it requires an enormous amount of training not just to learn these skills but to maintain them as well.
  • There are plenty of stories of people who survived things that should kill most people. For example, this 7-year-old girl who took six bullets and not only survived, but is able to walk and talk like normal even after doctors predicted she'd be paralyzed and mute for life.
  • Many elite-level athletes have physiological "quirks" that allow them to excel at their particular sport, such as swimmer Michael Phelps,[1] cyclist Lance Armstrong[2] and ultra-marathon runner Dean Karnazes.[3] They still need to train religiously to compete at the highest levels.
  1. his arms are considerably longer than average
  2. his aerobic capacity is nearly double the average
  3. his body's production of lactic acid actually decreases the longer he exercises