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The island of Themascryia is a nation of amazons, an all-female race that spend their lives training for battle. They are currently under siege by foreign invaders. This army comes from a powerful empire who seek to take them as slaves. Technology evens the playing field between men and women in terms of war. In a world of guns, physical prowess matters much less on the battlefield. However, this is the ancient world. In an open field plain with sword and shield, natural strength and speed make the difference. Due to these factors, an amazonian army would not be able to stand up to an invading, experienced, and trained military force of males, pound for pound without other strategic or tactical advantages. However, these warriors have a secret.

The human body is capable of amazing physical feats, such as lifting up cars to save a child. The problem is that the brain normally suppresses these abilities. Our muscles can only be pushed to the max in flight or fight situations when we are in danger, or when the adrenaline is pumping. This is to prevent over straining our muscles and prevent them from tearing. These amazons have the ability to unlock this potential at will, giving them access to 100% percent of their muscles when they need it. The drawback with this in normal humans is that continuously using our bodies in this manner will eventually lead to tearing and degradation of those muscles.

How can I make the biology of these amazons to be capable of sustaining such constant usage to make it useful without the negative drawbacks?

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    $\begingroup$ Women don't need to have 100% muscle activation (which is stupid for more reasons than wear and tear) to be stronger than men. The average trained woman will easily outpower the average untrained male when it comes to raw strength. Btw, strength is one factor in fighting amongst others. 100% muscle activation (naturally for a very short time) will barely turn a fight. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Nov 5 '19 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ It may not be needed to make them super-women. The ancient world was not static, and there were great differences in military technology and know-how between the various belligerent powers. The Greeks did not win at Marathon because they were bigger and stronger than the Persians, but because they had better military knowledge and training. The Romans did not expand their empire because they were bigger and stronger than the barbarians, but because they had a much better economic base (due to much better social structure) and much better military knowledge and training. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 5 '19 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ The Scythian/Sarmatian peoples who may have inspired the legends of the amazons may have done so simply because the women fought alongside men, and used tactics like horseback archery that are awkward to oppose for many conventional army tactics. Turns out a woman with a decent bow-arm can shoot you just as dead as a man could. Who knew? $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Nov 5 '19 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ As you point out, the human body can normally be pushed to this maximum in a fight or flight situation. You're talking about these women consciously pushing their bodies to this maximum for more power during a fight, which is exactly when the body would normally do this anyway. This conscious ability seems pretty useless considering that you'd only really use it when the body would do it unconsciously anyway. It's like having the conscious ability to dilate your pupils in the dark - you body does that already, so consciously controlling it is kind of pointless. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang Nov 5 '19 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ Firearms are most effective when you can see your target at a great enough distance to bring the firearm to bear. Distractions, vegetation, obstacles, obscurants, and darkness permit the Themascryians to negate most advantages of firearms and close undetected to demasculation distance. Since this entire society is prepared for war, it's reasonable that many ambush points would be already prepared and well known to the defenders...and the surviving invaders, eunuch slaves, will toil their miserable, short lives building yet more ambushes and placing yet more obstacles to defeat the next fools. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Nov 5 '19 at 21:55
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This is "Engineering 101". For a system, we have regular working conditions, and extreme working conditions. We can safely lift 100 lbs on a rope, or lift 200 lbs, but unsafely. To safely lift 200 lbs, we need a different, stronger rope. Then, for this stronger rope, 300 lbs would be an extreme weight, which can be lifted, but unsafely.

We can't construct a system without a safety margin. This margin ensures that the system is not failing at regular working conditions. We can build a stronger system, but it's going to have its own safety margin.

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  • $\begingroup$ IF you wish to always use the machine/body to the breaking limit, Then you will need a veritable army of medics to repair all the broken bones, sheared ligaments, ruptured blood vessels. $\endgroup$ – Gustavo Nov 6 '19 at 18:17
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You can't.

Sorry, but it's the truth. There's a reason that those normal inhibitions are in place and that's because straining your muscles like that on a consistant basis is dangerous bordering on near suicidal. It's a nice story that we have secret, hidden potential hidden and locked by our brain. But that's not the truth. The truth is that he use 100% of our potential on a normal basis and the burst of strength that gets released in a fight-or-flight scenario is overclocking muscles to past what they were designed to do. Humans are stamina-designed creatures - we can beat just about any animal in a race so long as its long enough. We aren't designed to keep taxing our muscles beyond their normal capacity - and if you artificially do, then there have to be consequences. Muscles will be torn and destroyed.

There are things you can do. Steroids, for instance. There may be plants which only grow on the island which have chemicals that act like natural steroids, for whatever reasons. There are defenses that can be specifically put into place on islands to make invading it a nightmare. And, as you pointed out, giving them the ability to mentally overclock their muscles constantly will give them an advantage. But normal human biology won't let it be done without consequence.

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The reason humans don't do 100%, unless it's an emergency, is specifically because it causes damage. Your body has been conditioned by evolution not to use that reserve unless it's life-and-death. Or breed-vs-don't-breed, which is evolution-wise, just about as bad.

So you have three choices. Lower the upper limit, make the body more capable of applying the force without damage, or accept the damage.

Lower limits is what being female is about. Testosterone makes men burn hotter and faster. And die younger. But it sort of defeats your whole premise.

More capable of applying the force without damage means, basically, all the features that differentiate men from women. Thicker skin, thicker muscles, thicker joints, thicker blood vessels, thicker layers of subcutaneous fat. Men get into fights more, so they have all this extra material to absorb the force. A wider joint distributes it. A thicker bone can withstand more impact or more torque before fracture. Pads of fat can cushion it.

You can, within limits, train a body to some of these things. Weight lifting, for example, will to some extent make bones harder and tendons stronger. In addition it builds the muscles so they provide padding to the bones. Women are at a disadvantage there purely due to lower testosterone. It's one of the primary chemicals involved in building muscle and increasing bone and tendon strength.

So if your Amazons could get themselves some testosterone, they might make some progress. There are some naturally occurring things that are reputed to increase T. I don't have any strong evidence any of them actually works. Maybe the ladies have found a way to extract it from cattle or something. This pubmed article says that cooking reduces growth hormones from meat but does not remove them. Maybe they ritualistically eat specially prepared raw cattle testicles or some such.

It would definitely have an effect on their appearance. And quite possibly on their health generally, possibly messing up reproduction, producing cancers, etc. Maybe only a special sub-group of the Amazons gets the full treatment.

As to putting up with the damage: Stoicism is possible. Providing you don't have to continue to perform at 100% after a fight, it is possible to train yourself to tolerate the pain. Also, it is possible to produce fairly potent painkillers from natural substances. Aspirin from willow bark, or opium from poppies. And to some extent to promote healing so the damage is healed faster or more completely. They may learn a lot about healing methods.

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That is already man's greatest advantage. The female form is not designed to match it.

The physical advantages of being a man in a pre-gunpowder fight go well beyond simple muscle mass. The hormones responsible for pushing the body past the safe zone when it comes to physical feats are adrenaline and testosterone. Men have more of these meaning that in a physical conflict where a man and a woman of equal size and skill fight, the man will still typically win because they are naturally better designed to push their muscles at closer to 100% when needed. The joint angles, muscle attachments, and leverage ratios in a man's body are also better designed to not deteriorate from extended and repeated pushes to these extreme, meaning an athletic man's prime will last longer allowing a man after 10 years of excessive training to typically still be getting stronger whereas a woman's body would have already started to deteriorate.

In short, your Amazons will not have any advantages in these areas because the optimizations you are asking about are already exactly what they are going up against.

Instead I would recommend that your Amazons rely on special tactics designed to accentuate their actual advantages:

  • Their smaller size give them mobility in certain situations that could help them with gorilla tactics. Firing a volley of arrows then disappearing into a cluster of tightly packed trees for example.
  • Women also have much better visual contrast. This means they could perform better at twilight when men tend to struggle more with mid-light washout. They can also fight better in boobytrapped battlefields because they could better see and avoid that olive green tripwire against a forest green backdrop.
  • Women are better at paying attention to multiple things at once; so, putting them on rough terrain could help maximize their ability to split focus between not getting tripped up with and being deliberate with their weapon.
  • Men are spatial thinkers, but women are spatial memorizors. This means that they will tend to do best staying on the defensive luring men into the places that they know if full detail rather than being drawn out into new environments which would be much harder for them to adapt to.
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You could.

However there are engineering and economic problems with that

Engineering:

The muscles have multiple fibers and those fibers take turns contracting. One reason is that it takes a while to deliver the oxygen and nutrients to that fiber. You also have to get rid of the waste products and the heat that is generated. To get all that strength, all the fibers have to contract at once.

To get more oxygen to the muscles, you need better lung capacity and much denser oxygen saturation in the blood. For nutrients, you would need to eat constantly and have a much more efficient digestive system. You would also use that extra circulation to get rid of the cells' waste products. Then those waste products would need to be eliminated by the body. Then we get at the issue of the waste heat. That may be the biggest issue. Sweating only works so far for getting rid of heat. If you sweat too much, you end up with an insulating layer of water on your skin. Sweating is even less effective on a humid climate. Such a human would only really work well in a very cold environment or in a cold ocean. The trouble then is finding enough food in those environments.

Another engineering issue is structural. Firing all the muscle fibers at once can tear the tendons (what holds the muscle to the bone) and can even break the bones. So, the tendons and bones have to be stronger.

All of these changes take a lot of resources to grow and support which brings us to:

Economics:

The issue is that you have to build a lot of systems and support them 100% of the time when you use them less than 1% of the time. That's a lot of overhead.

From an economical view, it would probably be cheaper to support two people than to support one person over-engineered to be consistently twice as strong.

Conclusion

You would end up with something that looks kind of like a human. External changes would likely be: skinny limbs, huge chest to support oversized and redesigned lungs, a large bulging gut to digest food fast enough to keep up with the body's demands, radiator fins growing everywhere but mostly on the limbs and the head (gotta keep the brain cool). It would eat and excrete constantly. They would have to be constantly moving as they mowed through the available biomass like a swarm of locusts.

I really don't think that anything like this would ever develop naturally. Engineering wise, the question would move from could you to should you.

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