Powerlifting couple describe the differences between bodybuilders and superheroes


Pu Ying Huang

Co-founder of Stark Center for Physical Culture & Sports Dr. Terry Todd and his wife, Dr. Jan Todd (not pictured), discussed the realities of strength in humans compared to strength of superheroes at the SAC Wednesday evening. Both he and his wife were former champion powerlifters and are considered pioneers to the field of physical fitness.

Miles Hutson

Wife and husband Jan and Terry Todd said the appearance and feats of superheroes and other creations of the entertainment industry closely track developments in strength competitions in a presentation sponsored by the UT library system Wednesday.

The presentation, part of a twice-a-semester series entitled Science Study Break was the first for the couple, who competed and broke records in the weight training world in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The presentation featured clips from movies including “The Avengers,” “Spider-Man,” “Hulk” and pictures from comics over the years.

Jan Todd, who was once declared the “Strongest Woman in the World” by Sports Illustrated and the Guinness Book of World Records, said heroes have evolved over the years to keep up with developments in the weight training world. While Superman looked like a normal but athletic man in the early 1950s, she said he ballooned in size as athletes began using the first anabolic steroids.

“Our concept of what a superhero looks like has totally changed,” Terry Todd said. “Our notion of what a superhero looks like is really based on what the top male bodybuilders look like.”

Terry Todd, who won the first two official senior national weightlifting competitions in 1964 and 1965, focused on the way superheroes are presented.

“[Producers] want superheroes not to just do super things but to look super heroic,” he said.

He cited examples such as Batman, whose armor outlines his pectoral and abdominal muscles.

“You can understand why somebody who doesn’t have Superman’s abilities would want something that would stop a bullet,” Terry said. “However, the armor has very delineated muscles … why? That’s not needed.”

He also focused on Spider-Man, whose physique is prominently featured in movies, but is irrelevant to his abilities.

“Surely he doesn’t have the kind of musculature or physiognomy that would allow him to do the things he can now do,” Terry said.

Terry speculated that this is part of our desire to see a transformation in appearance in ourselves.

“They did it for the same reason they put the abs on Batman. It’s part of the magic,” Terry said. “It’s ‘wait, I can have muscles and I won’t be the little wimpy guy anymore.’”