Are comic book nerds actually jacked? According to a new study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, feeling a connection to your favorite superhero could make you feel as strong as one.
College students were asked to rate how much they liked and were familiar with either Batman or Spiderman, on a scale from 1 to 5, to measure their “parasocial bond” to the superheroes. (That’s a relationship in which you know a lot about someone else, but it’s one-sided–like your bond with celebs, TV characters, and yes, caped crusaders.) Students were then shown a muscular or a scrawny version of the heroes before having their own body satisfaction and physical strength (calculated by handgrip power in pounds) measured.
The results? After viewing pictures of the muscular superheroes, guys with the parasocial relationships generally reported higher body satisfaction and were stronger than those who didn’t feel a comic book connection. In fact, men who had a bond with the heroes gripped 26 more pounds in the handgrip. (Use this simple trick to Lift More Weight Instantly.)
Researchers aren’t sure how that number translates to your bench press, but the superpower at work seems to be the close psychological connection. When you have any kind of a close relationship with someone–even if you’ve never met them–you tend to assimilate some of that person’s traits, says lead researcher Ariana Young, a doctoral student at the University at Buffalo. Think about it like this: If you’re working out with your best friend who’s ripped and lifting more than you, you won’t be intimidated (like you may be if he was a stranger), but rather positively reinforced to work harder because you see a lot of yourself in him.
But good news: You don’t need to stare at your favorite bulked-up action figure all day to build your own super strength. Here are four surprising ways to boost power, prevent injury, and tackle every situation that comes your way. (Want to reach superhero status in just 82 days? Transform your body with Speed Shred, the new cutting-edge workout DVD series from Men’s Health.)
Choose Your Sidekick Wisely
If lagging motivation is your biggest nemesis, fight back with a fitness buddy. A recent study from Michigan State University found that working up a sweat with an exercise partner could increase how much time you’re logging in the gym. Being able to compare yourself to someone else will give you the drive you need to keep going, researchers say. But make sure to choose a partner who’s just a little more fit than you–that way you’ll push yourself to keep up, but won’t felt out of your league (if he’s way more fit than you) or bored (if he’s not quite at your speed).
Play Defense with D
When researchers from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York measured the levels of vitamin D in players from the New York Giants, they found something surprising. Vitamin D levels in players who had missed a game or practice the previous season due to injury were about 20 percent lower than those of healthy players–even when age, height, weight, and BMI were taken into account. What gives? Vitamin D keeps your muscles strong by helping to metabolize calcium, researchers say. (And that’s not all it does–learn why it’s also The Vitamin That Protects Your Heart.)
Re-Fuel with Apples
Ursolic acid: a natural substance found in apple peels–and your new must-have muscle food. According to a recent study in PLoS One, rodents that were fed the apple ingredient increased muscle strength, weighed less, and reduced their risk of pre-diabetes compared to their counterparts that didn’t take it. Ursolic acid changes levels of hormones related to metabolism, which can help boost muscle mass in adults, researchers believe.
Additional research by Markham Heid, Cindy Kuzma, and Jill Yaworski