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How A 'Superhuman' Really Saved A Man From A Burning Car

Bob Renning bent the door of stranger Mike Johannes' burning SUV to save his life. BUt how did he do it? What is 'superhuman' strength?
Posted at 12:19 PM, Jul 02, 2014

So, we see these stories every once in a while — seemingly superhuman strength in a moment of crisis.

 "Call him the super samaritan after seeing a fellow driver's SUV engulfed in flames." (Via Fox News)

"The driver couldn't get out until the other man defied the limits of human strength." (Via CBS)

The 'superman' talk is coming out of Minnesota, where Bob Renning pulled Mike Johannes out of his burning SUV Sunday night, saving his life. 

"When he tried to escape, he found the locks disabled. He started kicking the doors as smoke filled the SUV. Then, the glass cracked and a hand reached inside."

"He bent the door with his bare hands." (Via KARE)

Yes, with his bare hands, and Renning suffered no injuries — no burns or cuts. He didn't know Johannes before this — he stopped to save a stranger. Of course terms like 'superhuman' and 'miraculous' strength are being used... 

"With superhuman strength you bend that door and window open."

RENNING: "As far as the strength, I have no clue where that came from." (Via Fox)

We had to find out — what's really at work in the human body in situations like this?  A 2009 article from Scientific American says the body's "fear response" is responsible for these almost unbelievable acts.

"Under acute stress, the body's sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for sustained, vigorous action. The adrenal gland dumps cortisol and adrenaline into the blood stream. Blood pressure surges and the heart races, delivering oxygen and energy to the muscles."

But KARE reported Renning credited his "heart" for the feat, not fear. It's unclear exactly what he meant by "heart," but a 2012 NBC article might offer some insight. The reporter spoke to an expert in neurology, and presents the doctor's argument that adrenaline isn't the whole story.

"Fear, fatigue and pain prevent people from attempting feats of amazing strength in daily life. ... While the adrenaline fueled fight-or-flight reflex spurs people into action, the body’s entire stress response contributes to superhuman strength. Cascades of enzymes and proteins release, helping people sustain the activity."

That expert says the real key is endorphins. The body releases endorphins in that critical moment, making the person feel good, and making their brain focus on the task at hand. Even if that task is...

"Bending the door's frame with his bare hands."

"I owe a debt of gratitude to Bob. He saved my life." (Via CBS)

But whether it's adrenaline, endorphins or a combination, both experts agree that in moments of crisis, the body can access reserves of energy it doesn't normally get to, and can even stop feeling pain. It's unclear what caused Johannes' car to burst into flames, but he said he's just thankful he's still around for his daughter and wife.